On This Day: Execution of Mexican Emperor Maximilian

  June 19, 2017 at 4:00 am by

150 years ago, the Second Mexican Empire’s only ruler – Maximilian I – was executed by firing squad at the Cerro de las Campanas in Querétaro City. He had reigned for just over three years.

The 34-year-old Emperor had been captured by Republican forces, led by President Benito Juárez, who took the City on May 15 after several months of civil war between the two sides. Maximilian’s reign from the beginning had not received support from all sectors of the Mexican people (his supporters were the wealthy Conservatives and the nobility), with the liberal populace continuing to see President Juárez as their true leader.

Édouard Manet’s painting of the execution of Emperor Maximilian

His troubles became more severe when, in mid-1866, Emperor Napoleon III of the French announced he would be withdrawing French troops from the Mexican peninsula. The backing of France had been one element necessary for Emperor Maximilian to remain on his throne – after all, Napoleon III was the one who invited Maximilian to head up the Second Mexican Empire in 1863. Once the French had departed by September, it was only a matter of time until the Emperor was forced to abdicate (Napoleon even recommended he do this before the final French troops departed so he could evacuate with them) because Juárez’s side had support from the United States.

Once he was captured, Emperor Maximilian was sentenced to death in a court-marital. Pleas from the Emperor’s European counterparts (to many of whom he was family) fell on deaf ears, and he was executed on June 19 alongside two of his Generals. The Emperor presented each of his seven executioners with a gold coin before he took his place in the line of fire, requesting they “take good aim and not deface him” [1]. His final words were “I hope that my blood which is about to be shed will bring peace to Mexico. Viva Mexico! Viva Independencia!” [2]

Maximilian was born as an Austrian Archduke in July 1832, the second son of Archduke Franz Karl of Austria and Princess Sophie of Bavaria. His elder brother, with whom relations would sour as they grew older, would become Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria in 1848. The Archduke joined the Austrian Navy as a teenager, where he excelled. In July 1857, Maximilian married Princess Charlotte of Belgium; they had no children.

After his execution, his body was kept in Mexico by Juárez until November 1867 when it was allowed to leave Mexico and return to Vienna; in January 1868, Maximilian’s casket was placed in the Imperial Crypt.


[1]  and [2] J Haslip, The Crown of Mexico: Maximilian and His Empress Carlotta, Avon Books, New York, 19713 p. 499.

Filed under Historical Royals, Mexican Royals
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