Monday, October 11, 2010

King's Advice on Mexico Adventure

When Mexican conservatives and the court of French Emperor Napoleon first concocted the scheme to revive the Empire of Mexico under Maximilian and Charlotte the Austrian Imperial Family was very much unimpressed with the idea. Emperor Francis Joseph thought it a terrible idea and feared the Hapsburg name would be tarnished by any cooperation with the parvenu Bonaparte clan. Ultimately he even disinherited his own brother in the hope of discouraging him. However, in Belgium things were very different. King Leopold I thought it would be wonderful if his beloved daughter could become an empress. He gave the young Archduke Maximilian advice based on his own experience. He said Maximilian should accept the offer of the Mexican throne but warned him not to be romantic about it but to address the matter in a practical way, like a business deal. Establishing a new throne would be expensive and the King advised Maximilian to hold aloof until he had solid financial backing. He pointed out that France, England and Russia had offered him a guarantee of 20 million francs to take the Belgian throne which went a long way to helping him put the monarchy and the new country on a solid footing.

The King was also wise enough to know that Napoleon would not go against his own interests to keep his promises of support to the archduke. “In regard to military support, even if you were to provide your own Austrian suite, the Emperor Napoleon is quite capable of recalling his troops from Mexico if anything goes wrong, in order to exonerate himself” the King said. Because of that he advised his son-in-law to get something in writing that would be as binding as a treaty. He warned Maximilian that once undertaken the success or failure of the enterprise would fall on him and so he must be stern in holding out until the French met all of his requirements. Leopold I told him, “To sum up it is folly to let yourself be confounded by polite phrases. One must guard against illusions.” It was very good advice from one of the most experienced and pragmatic royals in Europe. However, Napoleon did go back even on his written promises and treaties and Maximilian did not guard very well against illusions. Fortunately, he had our Charlotte there to help him in that regard and she was convinced that they could help Mexico and finally lift those people out of poverty, ignorance and constant civil wars between feuding factions of potential dictators.

Not everyone among Charlotte’s relations was proud to see her go become Empress of the Mexicans. Her grandmother, Queen Marie Amélie of the French, was shocked and frightful. She resented Princess Charlotte being part of any plan hatched by the Bonaparte who had displaced King Louis Philippe from the French throne and she feared what would happen to them, knowing Mexico only as a violent country full of bandits where governments changed by coup détat. When they visited the Queen Princess Clementine was praying her rosary and when they left the Queen lurched from her chair and shouted, “They will be murdered!” before collapsing. However, in Belgium the send-off was much happier. There were decorations everywhere, crowds of Belgians lined the streets cheering and King Leopold I, the Duke of Brabant (soon to be King Leopold II) and the Count of Flanders presided over the official ceremonies. The Duke of Brabant read out a rousing message, “The Hapsburgs, when joined with the Coburgs, find ever new opportunities to indulge their legitimate passion for doing good to the most different peoples.” As Empress of Mexico Charlotte would endeavor to do just that but who could have imagined the inveterate enemies and fair-weather friends they would have to deal with?


  1. King Leopold I was a very shrewd man. In this instance, however, perhaps Queen Marie-Amélie proved to be even shrewder.

  2. He gave Maximilien very good advice but who could have guessed Napoleon would be so untrustworthy? But no one can deal in a rational way with people who are being irrational.

  3. In politics, it is safer to assume people will be untrustworthy. At least, for the most part.

  4. I know what you mean. (I wish I didn't but I do)