1832–1867

Maximilian of Mexico: The woman at his side

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In 1857 Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian married Charlotte of Belgium. Their union was regarded as a perfect match, as the bride was highly educated, very pretty and above all immeasurably wealthy.

Charlotte of Belgium (1840–1927) was the daughter of King Leopold I of Belgium and his wife Louise Marie of Orléans. The Belgian royal family was one of the richest dynasties in Europe. The originally German princely dynasty of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha had only received the Belgian crown in 1830 and had amassed an immense fortune from industrial and colonial enterprises. Among the ancient dynasties of Europe Charlotte’s family was regarded as having something of the taint of nouveau-riche parvenus. Franz Joseph once disdainfully referred to his Belgian relations by marriage as ‘grocers’.
His brother’s wife attracted attention at the Viennese court on account of her ambition and found it difficult to accept her position in the second rank. Being herself of above-average attractiveness, she was regarded as a rival by her sister-in-law Empress Elisabeth.
Charlotte was also intimately involved in the plans to obtain the Mexican crown. Even when faced with the catastrophic situation in Mexico she did not lose faith, encouraging her vacillating husband to enforce his claims as emperor.
As Maximilian’s position in Mexico became increasingly threatened she sought in vain to obtain support from the European powers. During an audience with the pope she suffered a nervous collapse, which was followed by rapid deterioration in her state of mind. She became increasingly demented and lived in a world of fantasy where her late husband continued to reign as ruler of the world.
She outlived her husband by 60 years, living in seclusion in the care of her brother in Belgium, where she died at an advanced age in 1927. Her marriage to Maximilian remained childless.

Martin Mutschlechner