How did Maximilian become Emperor of Mexico

150 years ago Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico executed

The firing squad is ready, and the condemned man gives each man another gold piece. So that nobody aims at the face. His mother is supposed to recognize him when she gets the body. Shortly afterwards the shots.

"The emperor closed his eyes and slowly fell backwards, pierced by bullets."

This is how the court cook Maximilian of Mexico describes the execution of his master - and so ends on June 19, 1867 a drama that basically began when Maximilian was born, 35 years earlier, in Vienna: an archduke, but only the next younger Brother of Franz Josef, the future emperor - and the eternal second.

Maximilian is a beautiful spirit, imaginative, intelligent, but a dreamer. And he has liberal ideas, even sympathizing with the revolution of 1848. Maximilian is aware that the arch-conservative Franz Josef does not appreciate him, as a note from his posthumous papers shows:

"My frankness, my boyish, open nature are embarrassing, my liberal views shock him; he fears my untied tongue, my quick-tempered temper frightens him."

The second-born becomes Napoleon III's puppet emperor.

The emperor commissions Maximilian to modernize the Austrian navy. So he becomes a rear admiral, enthusiastically designs entire ships, promotes ocean travel for research purposes. In 1857 he married Charlotte of Belgium. The two move to Miramare, to the palace that Maximilian had built for himself, near Trieste, on a ledge by the sea. For the wedding, Franz Josef gives his brother the post of Governor General of Lombardy-Veneto. But in Italy there is national resistance to Habsburg rule. The emperor takes action with all his might. Maximilian would have preferred to make democratic concessions. Disaffected, he withdraws to his dream castle. Then Napoleon III knocks. at him. The French emperor seeks property overseas.

Mexico, which is rich in natural resources, would be fine with him. Although it has been a sovereign state since 1821, it is so heavily indebted to France that Napoleon believes he can legitimize an invasion. What is still missing: a ruler according to his will, a puppet emperor. Maximilian doesn't see through the game.

"Now suddenly I am approached by the Mexican crown proposal and with it the opportunity, in an honorable and legal manner, to resolve for ever the heavy burden of an inactive existence, of a forgotten vegetation."

Mexico terminus

On April 14, 1864 Maximilian sails with Charlotte and his court from Trieste to Veracruz. Here he is expected: not by cheering crowds, but by a few dozen beggars, the streets are almost empty, the city ailing. Maximilian, completely naive, had no idea that the Mexican people are deeply divided: on the one hand, the poor, the Indians, the increasingly rebellious masses. On the other hand, the high clergy and the big landowners. Maximilian tries a lot, but achieves little. He plans schools and hospitals - alone, it fails because of the money. Where is it supposed to come from? The imperial couple reside like the princes in feudal Europe. The renovation of the old government palace in Chapultepec devours enormous sums of money.

Maximilian's absurd, senseless and illegal adventure lasted three years. Then rebels kill him on behalf of Benito Juarez, the rightful president of Mexico. Charlotte is already back in Europe - and is losing her mind. She will live for another 60 years, mentally deranged.

Emperor Franz Josef ruled for another 49 years. Archduchess Sophie, both mother, is said to have made an exclamation at the sight of Maximilian's embalmed corpse, which to this day fuels conspiracy theories that Maximilian was not shot at all. What she said?

"This is not my son!"