Mexico – the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867 (9/1)


Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867

The Liberals have taken the offensive with revived vigour. Guadalajara falls in the hands of General Uraga, and in July Matamoras, Monterey, and the port of Tampico are lost, which deprives the Imperialists of half their revenues. Bitter feelings are rising inside the Imperialist camp after these new setbacks. Each side accuses the other of double-dealing with the United States. The Mexicans accuse the French of delivering the empire up to the republicans, while the French accuse the Imperialists of trying to bring about such complications that it will keep France entangled in Mexican affairs..

To make sure that nothing more is lost, Bazaine orders the customs of Vera Cruz to be seized. Maximilian is furious. The enmity between them has reached a stage of open hostility. In a letter to Eloin, 29 May 1866, he writes: “The Marshal, by sloth or ill will, (…) does nothing, as he has never done anything, to organise the national army since the four years he has already spent in Mexico. I myself have personally taken the direction in hand, and I obligate the Marshal to attend once or twice every week the military Councils that I preside. I propose to send the Emperor Napoleon, by amicable letters, the minutes of these sessions so that he can finally clearly see who it is that works over here and who does nothing.” And: “Today, one sees clearly who is solely guilty, and why we haven’t been able until now to form a national army”.

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867Far too late, with the republicans virtually knocking at his palace doors, Maximilian has decided to put together a national army. Not that he has come to his senses. The rest of the letter, too, is that of a man who has completely lost touch with reality: “On 6 July appear the new coins, of which the die has cost so much work, but which will be so beautiful that few countries will have such a good minting”. From the tottering throne of a bankrupt country submerged in blood, this poor, incompetent fool is crowing about his new coins.

But when later that month Napoleon announces point-blank the end of the French intervention, the scales seem at last to fall from his eyes. He is prepared to abdicate. He is determined to abdicate.

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867

But Charlotte is still in fairyland. What envoys and letters can’t accomplish, she argues, surely the personal approach can. If she were to go to Paris to speak personally with Their Majesties, a way to save the empire will undoubtedly be found. Max is as easily convinced as ever. On July 9, the Empress starts for Europe, leaving Maximilian behind with a lengthy admonition not to abdicate: “Charles X and my grandfather (Louis-Philippe) were themselves lost by abdicating. (…) To abdicate is to pronounce one’s own condemnation, to give oneself a certificate of impotence. It is only admissible in the old or the weak of spirit (…) All that is not worthy of a Prince of the house of Habsburg (…)”


In Paris Charlotte pleads, reasons and argues, but it is, of course, useless. Napoleon has long ago decided to pull the plug. “Not a sou, not a man more for Mexico”. Charlotte takes the train to Rome, to try to secure a concordat with the Pope, and to ask him to press Napoleon to keep his word. But with Victor Emmanuel banging at his own door, His Holiness can’t afford to annoy the French. It is “non possumus”.

The strain of her unsuccessful, desperate mission; the fatigue of years of fighting a lost fight, the stress of an unhappy marriage; whatever the cause may be, she collapses. The poor woman suffers a complete breakdown, and is locked up in the castle of Miramar. Her last telegram to Maximilian: “Todo es inutil”.

©2010, M.S.F. Wick

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