Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton

Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian

Ferdinand Maximilian, born at Schonbrunn on the sixth of July, 1832, was the second son of Archduke Charles of Austria and the Archduchess Sophie of Bavaria, a clever and highly cultivated princess, under whose personal supervision the young Archduke received a careful and thorough education, in which Count Bombelles, whose son afterward accompanied Maximilian to Mexico, also had an important share.

From early childhood the prince showed that marked love of nature, and especially of the sea, which was so characteristic of his later years and which made his education for the navy—his destined career—an easy and pleasant task. To this chosen profession, indeed, he applied himself with such zeal and devotion that he may be regarded as the real founder of the Austrian navy.

His leisure hours were devoted to the study of the fine arts and to the practice of all sorts of athletic pursuits, in which he excelled, being tall and well built, and quick and elastic in all his motions.

In 1850, upon the completion of his scientific studies, he made his first long cruise, to Greece and Smyrna, followed by voyages to Spain, Portugal, and Algiers. In 1853 he was made captain of a corvette, and a year later received the appointment of commander-in-chief of the navy, soon after which, escorted by a squadron of seventeen warships, he visited Greece, Crete, Egypt, and Palestine.

The years 185657 were spent chiefly in European travel, during which time the Archduke made the acquaintance of his future wife, the Princess Carlotta, daughter of King Leopold Second of Belgium, to whom he was married in 1857 and who proved so loyal and devoted a companion in joy and sorrow until overtaken by the tragic fate of which we shall hear later. Soon after his marriage, Maximilian, then only in his twenty-fifth year, was made governor-general of the Lombardo-Venetian kingdom by his brother, the Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria—an office which he held for two years, and which served in some measure as a preparation for his subsequent mission in Mexico; for, as governor-general, he had many difficulties to contend with, even though they were of quite a different nature from those that afterward confronted him in America.

The war that broke out in 1859 between Italy and Austria put an end to Maximilian's political career and he retired to the seclusion of Miramar, the beautiful palace erected at Trieste some years before. Here he lived quietly and peacefully, occupied with his favorite literary and artistic pursuits, and it was here that he wrote the "Sketches of Travel," afterward published; also the "Aphorisms," which speak the thoughts and aspirations of a great soul.

Maximilian has been called weak and irresolute, and in fact he did prove hopelessly unequal to the task that was set for him in Mexico—a task far less suited to his gentle, kindly nature than to the bolder character of his rival, Juarez, a man of quite another stamp, who hesitated at no means to attain his ends and for whom the high-minded Hapsburger was no match. That Maximilian made many grave errors cannot be denied, but his entire administration should not be condemned for that reason. It is certain that he was inspired by the noblest aims and intentions, and had the Mexicans but realized this and given him their loyal support his plans might have been realized and ensured both the country's welfare and his own.