The Year of Empress Elisabeth – Sisi & her sister-in-law Charlotte of Belgium (Part two)




charlotte
(public domain)

Read part one here.

In the early 1860s, Emperor Napoléon III wished to turn Mexico into a satellite state and needed a figurehead for the empty throne. He chose Maximilian, who needed a challenge, and he accepted the throne against his brother’s advice. There were many doubts about this, but he believed that he could turn things around once he was actually in Mexico. In rare agreement with her mother-in-law, Elisabeth also disagreed with the plan and blamed Charlotte’s ambition. Archduchess Sophie found a formidable opponent in Charlotte and soon found her almost as tiresome as she found Elisabeth.

In early April 1864, Franz Joseph visited his brother shortly after he had renounced his rights to the Austrian lands, and a lengthy discussion followed. Shortly after, Franz Joseph hugged his brother before boarding his train. It was the last time they would see each other.1 Maximilian’s parent sent a slightly ominous telegram, “Farewell. Our blessing – papa’s and mine – our prayers and tears will accompany you. May God guide you and protect you. A last farewell from your place of birth, where we may never see you again. Once again, we bless you from our deeply saddened hearts.”2 

On 14 April 1862, at two in the afternoon, Charlotte and Maximilian departed Miramare for Mexico. On 28 May 1864, they arrived a few days earlier than expected. There were no crowds to greet the couple.3 After travelling more inland, there were more people to greet them. The entrance into the capital was attended by thousands. It was a unique spectacle.4 The couple threw themselves into their new role and showed themselves to the public as much as they could. It was a pretty good start to their reign.5 

A new empire needed successors, but they had not had any children so far. For the time being, Charlotte herself was appointed Maximilian’s heir, and his younger brothers were also considered. In the end, the first Imperial family of Mexico became involved.  Agustín de Iturbide y Green and his cousin Salvador de Iturbide y de Marzán were to be the heirs. Their aunt Josefa also became part of the new Imperial family.6 

It remained a precarious situation, and French troops soon began to withdraw from Mexico. Maximilian desperately attempted to keep the Mexican Empire going. It was slipping away. Charlotte wrote to her husband that he should not abdicate.7 She offered to travel to Europe to find help for the suffering Empire. On 8 July 1866, Charlotte left Mexico City. Maximilian accompanied her until Ayotla. They probably didn’t realise that they would never see each other again. 8 She arrived in Saint Nazaire on 8 August, but Emperor Napoléon tried to get out of meeting her.9 She eventually met with the Imperial couple, but there is little they can do. They were impressed by Charlotte, and emotions were high. “Mexico is an abyss in which France is sliding. I must stop it”, the Emperor said.10 

Around this time, the first signs of paranoia in Charlotte begin to show. The situation was difficult for her, and after several meetings, she was at her breaking point. She travelled to Miramare, where she rested.11 On 18 September 1866, she travelled towards Rome, but after arrival, she received a visitor who told her that there was little that the pope could do. Nevertheless, she spoke with the pope for over an hour the next day. However, the conversation left her even more broken. She became hysterical and hid in her hotel.12 On 30 September, she begged the pope on her knees for help and refused to leave the building. The pope was forced to allow her to spend the night, and she became the first woman to stay the night officially. While there, she wrote her last message to Maximilian, “Dearest darling, I say goodbye to you. God had called me to him. I thank you for the happiness you have given me. May God bless you and bring you eternal salvation. Your always faithful Charlotte.”13 

Charlotte was eventually returned to her hotel, but her mental state was alarming. She was in constant fear of being poisoned, and food had to be prepared in front of her. Her brother Philippe finally managed to persuade her to return to Miramare.14 Once there, her situation improved somewhat.

Meanwhile, Maximilian was embroiled in a siege that lasted 71 days. The city of Santiago de Querétaro fell on 15 May 1867, and Maximilian was captured the next day. Following a court-martial, Maximilian was sentenced to death alongside his two generals. Maximilian wrote to his mother, “Sweet, darling mother, Steadfast in my faith and loyal to my honour, I go towards an undeserved death with a clear conscience. My last thoughts in this world I reserve for my dear, poor Charlotte and for you, beloved mother, to whom I owe so much good.”15

Read part three here.

  1. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 190-191
  2. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 194
  3. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 201
  4. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 203-204
  5. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 220-223
  6. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 284-285
  7. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 338
  8. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 341
  9. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 344
  10. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 347
  11. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 352
  12. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 356
  13. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 357
  14. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 359
  15. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 432






About Moniek Bloks 2255 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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