The Tragic Rule of Maximilian and Carlota in Mexico

Empress Carlota and Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, circa 1864, from the Lusher Collection and included in exhibit at the Witte Museum February 1 through March 30
Empress Carlota and Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, circa 1864, from the Lusher Collection and included in exhibit at the Witte Museum February 1 through March 30

City of Mexico, Thursday, Jan. 10, 3 p.m., 1867 – Yesterday morning Col. Paulino Gomez Lanadrid, commanding 700 reinforcements of Imperial troops sent to succor the besieged garrison at Cuernavaca, was killed near that place during an attack by a body of Liberals, who were lying in ambuscade….

More than 500 families, mostly Mochos and French, will leave here on the 20th with 4,000 French troops….

Maximilian is waiting for the last French soldier to leave. The shadow of the last of the expeditionary corps will not be lost sight of by the Archduke, who is now residing in a humble house between here and the Castle of Chapultepec.

The New York Times

And so, Maximilian, the falling emperor of Mexico, awaited his fate.

"Execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico" by Edouard Manet, 1868
“Execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico” by Edouard Manet, 1868 (not part of exhibit at the Witte)

The French installation of the Archduke Maximilian and his Belgian-born wife Charlotte to reign over the politically unstable Mexico of 1864 was bound not to end well. But the story is a rich one of international intrigue on both sides of the Atlantic.

m-and-c-galley-coverAs Trinity University Press prepares to release Maximilian and Carlota: Europe’s Last Empire in Mexico by Mary Margaret McAllen, the Witte Museum is opening a companion exhibit, “Maximilian and Carlota: Last Empire in Mexico,” focusing on the fascinating lives of the ill-fated royal couple. The exhibit of portraits, photographs and artifacts opens on February 1, while the author will read from her book and be available to sign copies during a reception from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, February 8, at The Twig Book Shop.

Fell in love a few year’s ago with C.M. Mayo’s masterful novel, The Last Prince of the Mexico Empire, focusing on a child caught up in the political turmoil – Principe Agustin de Iturbide y Green. A Library Journal review in 2009 perhaps summarizes the complexities involved most succinctly:

Once upon a time, there was a little half-American boy who briefly became heir to the Mexican throne—until his distraught parents sued the doomed Emperor Maximilian for his return.

I highly recommend Mayo’s book, and am looking forward to reading McAllen’s. And if these and the exhibit leave you thirsting for even more glimpses into the lives of Maximilian and Carlota, Mayo maintains an ongoing blog Maximilian ~ Carlota, described as “resources for researchers of the tumultuous period of Mexican history known as the Second Empire, or ‘French Intervention.'”

I’m hoping one of the two authors will suddenly contact me with a sliver of information (a very unlikely record to stumble upon, so am certainly not holding my breath) about a San Antonio connection to the royal rulers. Among the Austro-Hungarians enlisted to serve in support of their reign in Mexico was Baron George Ritter von Tomasini (1818-1912). As the Second Empire of Mexico collapsed, Tomasini and his wife made their way to New Orleans and to San Antonio by 1872. Here, they joined the community of dairy farmers at the Coker Settlement, about which I am writing a book for the Coker Cemetery Association. Geographically, the heart of the Tomasini farm was located where the cluster of shops and restaurants known as The Alley on Bitters are found today.

Eva and George Tomasini, photo from
Eva and George Tomasini, photo from

February 3, 2014, Update: Read Steve Bennett’s review of McAllen’s book in the San Antonio Express-News

March 19, 2014, Update: David Martin Davies will moderate a discussion with McAllen from 10 to 10:45 a.m. in the Story Room on the 3rd floor of the Central Library during the San Antonio Book Festival on Saturday, April 5.

January 5, 2016, Update: C.M. Mayo has posted a podcast of a conversation with McAllen recorded in The Twig in October 2015.

‘More Flags. More Fun.’

But in whatever language, why should Cinco de Mayo matter to Texans?

That is the question posed to numerous children by reporter Vianna Davila in the San Antonio Express-News

Here is my answer.  If the neighboring Mexican Army under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza had not defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, undermining the power of the French-installed emperor, Maximilian (read C.M. Mayo‘s The Last Prince), who knows what flag might have ended up flying over Texas?  Perhaps, the ambitious Emperor Napoleon III might have used Mexico as a stepping stone to seize major portions of the United States, vulnerable and weak following years of civil war.

In Texas, the collective historical memory is selective.  Six (or more according to some historians) flags should mean more than a theme park.  And the American flag has only flown over this state half as long as those of Spain and Mexico. 

And at least this is not Arizona, whose “free to be” “brand essence” tourism campaign now rings hollow.  Below is cartoonist Steve Benson’s Cinco de Mayo greeting from The Arizona Republic.

The rich cultural mix in San Antonio makes this a great place to live.  As the Six Flags website says:  “More flags.  More fun.”

Note added on July 13:  C.M. Mayo now has a second blog for those seriously researching the “French Intervention” in Mexico and also provides podcasts online of some of her presentations on both her writing and writing in general. 

When I went to link to her new blog, came across an entry about Don Miles’ Cinco de Mayo.  The post also contains the news that Austin already is planning a four-day celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pueblo, including a reenactment of the battle itself, for May 2012.   Will San Antonio sit back and be upstaged?

San Miguel Writers Conference

As I spend much of my spare time “living” in the 19-teens while working on a novel about Hedda Burgemeister and Otto Koehler, the opportunity to hear Barbara Kingsolver (The Lacuna most recently) and C.M. Mayo (The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire) numerous times throughout a five-day period was irresistible, as though the setting of San Miguel alone would not be tempting enough.  My daughter Kate discovered it – the San Miguel Writers Conference – while exploring C.M. Mayo’s website or blog, and my amazingly-generous husband Lamar decided to give the experience to the women in his family as a Christmas present.   

Barbara Kingsolver and Kate
Barbara Kingsolver signs a copy of Lacuna for Kate.


Although I make my living “translating your thoughts into words,” I had not thought that much about the mechanics of writing since my last class with Mrs. Masterson my senior year in high school.  The conference was well worth the journey, and, hopefully, my clients will benefit. 

Note added on March 4:  Literary agent Nathan Bransford blogs about his conference experience in San Miguel de Allende. 

Note added on March 15:  An attendee at an evening event we unfortunately missed describes the “street food” served and throws in a photo of Barbara Kingsolver taking a swing at a Stalin pinata. 

Also:  Sandra Gulland’s notes from one of Barbara Kingsolver’s talks during the conference in San Miguel de Allende.