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Second Mexican Empire (1864 - 1867)

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For the earlier monarchy in Mexico, see First Mexican Empire.
Mexican Empire
Imperio Mexicano

Flag Imperial Coat of arms
Equidad en la Justicia
"Equity in Justice"
Himno Nacional Mexicano
"National Anthem of Mexico"
Territory of the Second Mexican Empire upon establishment
Capital Mexico City
Languages Spanish
Religion Roman Catholicism
Government Constitutional monarchy
 -  1864–1867 Maximilian I
 -  1863–1864 Juan Almonte
Legislature Congress
 -  Upper house Senate
 -  Lower house Chamber of Deputies
 -  French Intervention 1861
 -  Maximilian I accepts the crown April 10, 1864
 -  Emperor executed June 19, 1867
Currency Peso

The Mexican Empire (Spanish: Imperio Mexicano) was the name of Mexico under the regime established from 1864 to 1867. It was created by the Mexican Congress with the support of Napoleon III of France, who attempted to establish a monarchist ally in the Americas. A referendum confirmed the coronation of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, of the House of Habsburg as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico.

Promoted by the powerful and conservative elite of Mexico's "hacendados", with the support of the French, as well as from the Austrian and Belgian crowns, the intervention attempted to create a monarchical system in Mexico, as it had functioned during the 300 years of the viceroyalty of New Spain and for the short term of the imperial independent reign of Emperor Agustin I of Mexico. Support came mainly from conservative Catholics, which were at the time majority within Mexico[citation needed], and the main means came from the Mexican nobility, who aimed to promote stability and end the constant cycle of unrest and revolution that had come to a terrible situation with the government of Benito Juárez.


The rule of Emperor Maximilian was blemished by constant conflict. On his arrival in 1864 with his wife, Empress Carlota of Mexico, daughter of King Leopold I of the Belgians, he found himself in the middle of a political struggle between the Conservatives that backed him and the opposing Liberals, headed by Benito Juárez. The two factions had set up parallel governments; the Conservatives in Mexico City controlling central Mexico and the Liberals in Veracruz. The Conservatives received funding from Europe, especially from Isabella II of Spain and Napoleon III of France; the Liberals found backing from United States Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, after they had finished their own Civil War in 1865.

The Offering of the Mexican Crown by a Mexican delegation, Miramare, 1863.

The United States government viewed Emperor Maximilian as a French puppet, and did not regard his reign as the will of most Mexicans or see him as the legitimate leader of Mexico. They demanded the withdrawal of French forces, and France acceded.[1] In 1867, Maximilian was executed at the orders of Benito Juárez, in the Cerro de las Campanas near Querétaro.

Maximilian proved to be too liberal for the conservatives, and too conservative for the liberals. He regarded Mexico as his destiny and made many contributions. Before his death, Maximilian adopted the grandsons of the first Mexican emperor, Agustín de Iturbide: Agustín de Iturbide y Green and Salvador de Iturbide y Marzán.

Territorial division[edit]

Departments of the Second Mexican Empire.

The Empire was divided into 50 departments (departamentos):

The role of France[edit]

Napoleon III had more ambitious goals in mind than merely the recovery of France's debts. Heavily influenced by his wife the Empress Eugenie, he was bent on reviving the Mexican monarchy. Prior to 1861 any interference in the affairs of Mexico by any of the European powers would have been viewed as a challenge to the United States and no one wanted to provoke a conflict with them. However in 1861 the United States was embroiled in its own bloody conflict, the American Civil War, which made the government in Washington powerless to intervene. Encouraged by the Empress Eugenie, who saw herself as the champion of the Catholic Church in Mexico, Napoleon III took advantage of the situation.

Napoleon III saw the opportunity to make France the great modernizing influence in the Western Hemisphere as well as enabling her to capture the South American markets. To give him further encouragement, there was his half brother, the Duc de Morny, who was the largest single holder of Mexican bonds.


  • 1832: Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian born on 6 July, the second son of Archduke Franz Karl and his wife Sophie in Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna.
  • 1851: Begins career in the Imperial and Royal Navy with the rank of lieutenant.
  • 1856: The construction of his castle of Miramar near the Adriatic port of Trieste began.
  • 1857: Ferdinand Max appointed the governor-general of the northern Italian provinces of Lombardy-Venetia. On 27 July marries the Princess Charlotte of Belgium in Brussels.
  • 1859: On 19 April relieved of his post as governor-general. War breaks out with France and Piedmont-Sardinia.
  • 1861: Napoleon III suggests Maximilian as a candidate for the throne of Mexico.
  • 1863: In October a Mexican delegation arrives at Miramar to offer Maximilian and Charlotte the crown. Maximilian makes his acceptance conditional on a national plebiscite in his favor.
  • 1864: On 14 April Maximilian and Charlotte leave Miramar on board the Austrian ship NOVARA to sail to Mexico.
  • 1865: End of the American civil war. Pressure on France to respect the Monroe Doctrine.
  • 1865: Maximilian adopts Don Agustin and Don Salvador.
  • 1865: Maximilian issues his Black Decree, condemning to death without trial more than eleven thousand Juarez's supporters, thus inflaming the Mexican Resistance.[2][3]
  • 1866: Napoleon III orders the withdrawal of French troops from Mexico. The Emperor Maximilian refuses to desert his Mexican supporters. Charlotte sails to Europe to plead for help, growing persecution mania robs her of her senses. Republican troops on the advance in Mexico. France and Mexico sign a series of treaties that allow France to seize the receipts of Mexican customs to pay for the French intervention.
  • 1867: Maximilian and his Imperial troops besieged in the city of Santiago de Querétaro. The city falls through betrayal after 72 days. On 19 June the Emperor Maximilian and two loyalist generals executed by a republican firing-squad on the Hill of the Bells.
  • 1868: On 18 January the body of Maximilian laid to rest among his ancestors in the Imperial Crypt of the Capuchin Church in Vienna.


Today, the Second Mexican Empire is advocated by small far right groups like the Nationalist Front of Mexico, whose followers believe the Empire to have been a legitimate attempt to deliver Mexico from the hegemony of the United States. They are reported to gather every year at Querétaro, the place where Maximilian and his generals were executed.[4]

In popular culture[edit]

The 1970 film Two Mules for Sister Sara was set in Mexico during the years of the Second Mexican Empire. The two main characters, played by Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine, aided a Mexican resistance force and ultimately led them to overpower a French garrison.

The 1969 film The Undefeated starring John Wayne and Rock Hudson portrays events during the French Intervention in Mexico and was also loosely based on the escape of Confederate General Sterling Price to Mexico after the American Civil War and his attempt to join with Maximilian's forces.

The 1965 film Major Dundee starring Charlton Heston and Richard Harris featured Union cavalry (supplemented by Galvanized Yankees) crossing into Mexico and fighting French forces towards the end of the American Civil War.

The 1954 film Vera Cruz was also set in Mexico and has an appearance of Maximilian having a target shooting competition with Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster's character at Chapultepec Castle. Maximilian was played by George Macready, who at 54 was twenty years older than the Emperor was in 1866.

The 1939 film Juarez featured Paul Muni as Benito Juárez, Bette Davis as Empress Carlota, and Brian Aherne as Emperor Maximilian. It was based, in part, on Bertita Harding's novel The Phantom Crown (1937).

In the Southern Victory Series of alternative history novels by Harry Turtledove, Maximilian's Empire survives into the 20th century, after the Confederate States of America is victorious over the United States of America after the United Kingdom and France aid the Confederacy in the American Civil War. The "Empire of Mexico" is an ally of the Confederate States of America, ruled by Maximilian II from an unknown date to 1922, and succeeded by Maximilian III who rules at least until 1946. The Mexican Empire throughout the series supplies troops to bolster the Confederates in their battles with the United States of America during the Great War and the Second Great War. Maximilian III also heads the Mexican Imperial Army and battalions of Confederate volunteers against Anarchist and Communist forces in a Mexican Civil War lasting from 1917 to 1925 (paralleling our timeline's Spanish Civil War). The fate of the Mexican Empire remains unknown after the Confederates and their allies are defeated at the end of the Second Great War.

In Mexican popular culture, there have been soap operas like "El Carruaje" (1967), plays, films, and historical novels such as Fernando del Paso's Noticias del Imperio (1987). Biographies, memoirs, and novels have been published since the 1860s, and among the most recent have been Prince Michael of Greece's The Empress of Farewells, available in various languages.

See also[edit]



  • Barker, Nancy N. : The Factor of 'Race' in the French Experience in Mexico, 1821-1861", in: HAHR, no. 59:1, pp. 64–80.
  • Blumbeg. Arnold: The Diplomacy of the Mexican Empire, 1863-1867. Florida: Krueger, 1987.
  • Corti, Egon Caesar: Maximilian and Charlotte of Mexico, translated from the German by Catherine Alison Phillips. 2 Volumes. New York: Knopf, 1928.
  • Pani, Erika: "Dreaming of a Mexican Empire: The Political Projects of the 'Imperialist'", in: HAHR, no. 65:1, pp. 19–49.

External links[edit]