Maximilian I was Emperor of Mexico (everybody knows it) but also it was the last direct descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte (curious?).
Previously, he had been Archduke of Austria and Prince of Hungary and Bohemia, but he renounced to this titles to became emperor of Mexico.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the political situation in Mexico was really difficult.
The country gained independence from Spain, but it was torn between republicanism and monarchy, while successive wars against the U.S. (a cause of Texas) and the typical lack of control of a new nation produced an economic crisis in Mexico and a great hunger among its population.
Spain after its War of Independence against Napoleon Bonaparte was devastated and it did not intervene in America. But France, ruled by Napoleon III, the nephew of the old invader of Spain, wanted to replace Spanish flag and to create is new colonial empire.
Among coups of State and lacks of power, a group of Mexican conservatives (supported by the Catholic Church and France) wanted that Maximilian, our Austrian nobleman, accepted the crown of Mexico.
Why him? He was the son of Sophia (daughter of the Emperor of Austria) and (“officially”) of an Austrian archduke also. But everyone knew that the real father was none than Napoleon II, the only child of the great Napoleon Bonaparte.
The old love affair between Sofia and Napoleon II had been famous in Europe. She became pregnant but Napoleon II died suddenly of tuberculosis at 21 years old. Then, it was accepted another Austrian noble as a “legitimate” father. However, France hoped that Maximilian’s Napoleonic genes put Mexico in the hands of France.
The Catholic Church was sympathetic to Maximilian too because he was a man educated in the very Catholic Austrian court.
Maximilian arrived in Veracruz in 1864 and literally, he fell in love with Mexico and its inhabitants. Thus, he began a policy in favor of the country which angered France, also the Catholic authorities as he did not prohibit other religions.
One of his first acts as emperor was to restrict the hours of work and abolish child labor. He canceled all debts of farmers, restored the common property and banned all forms of corporal punishment. He also broke the monopoly of foreign companies. Furthermore, he made an enormous work preserving the indigenous culture of Mexico.
Too much social policy for that period! Abandoned by France and by the Catholic hierarchy and facing Juarez, who was supported by the United States as the future friend President of Mexico, that great man was captured, tried in a hurry, and shot in the Cerro de las Campanas (Querétaro) in 1867, July 19.
All European nations asked Juarez to spare Maximilian’s life and let him return to Austria. Of course, he did not.
Thus, it ended the life of the last direct descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Maximilian had no children.
To honor Maximilian I, emperor of Mexico, between 1867 and 1869, Eduard Manet completed a series of compositions depicting his execution. Great master pieces for a great person!