June 19, 2011

The last emperor

Maximilian and Carlotta on their wedding day.

Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian had retired, with his wife Charlotte, to Miramare, their retreat in Trieste, more or less on orders from his brother, Emperor Franz Joseph, when a deputation came calling.

Ferdinand Max and his wife had been regents of Lombardy-Venetia for just two years – from 1857 to 1859 – when he was summarily recalled by the Emperor, mostly because the Archduke’s ideas were a little too progressive for the Emperor.  So there he was, the former Commander in Chief of the Navy, former Viceroy of an Italian city-state, out of work at the age of 27.

Still, though he received the deputation of Mexican nobility politely, he refused their offer.  They returned a few months later, urging him to reconsider and pointing out that a hastily called plebiscite had resulted in a very positive result – the populace were all in favor of his becoming their ruler.

This time Ferdinand Maximilian accepted and became Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico and his wife became the Empress Carlotta.

But the monarchists who had worked to install him soon became as dismayed by his politics as had his brother – Maximilian actually endorsed a number of reforms proposed by their bete noir, Benito Juarez.  Things like land reform, religious tolerance, universal male suffrage – he even offered Juarez amnesty.

Juarez refused and Maximilian spent his reign, from the day he arrived in 1864 until the last battle in 1867, fighting Juarez, which actually meant in no small part fighting the US, which was supplying Juarez with arms.  Maximilian countered by inviting former Confederate soldiers and their families to settle in Mexico.

It all ended in May of 1867 at Santiago de Queretaro, which had been under siege for weeks.  It fell on the 15th, Maximilian was captured, court-martialed and sentenced to death.  Despite pleas by all the crowned heads of Europe as well as notables like Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi, Juarez would not relent – he wanted to send a message and Maximilian was the unfortunate vehicle.  Juarez’s message was clear: no more Mexican governments imposed by foreigners.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault, main entrance.

Emperor Maximilian was executed by a firing squad in a public square on June 19, 1867.  He was 34.

* * *

The foundation stone for a kind of cradle of life was laid in Norway on this date in 2006.  Norwegians had decided to keep a duplicate repository of all the seed material stored in genebanks on earth – they chose a site on the island of Spitsbergen, not far from the North Pole. The duplicates are in an underground cavern in case of catastrophic failure of any of the banks scattered around the world.  While the effort is a Nordic Combined, the facility was entirely paid for by Norway, for which we say, ‘Takk!’



  1. Totally mesmerizing info today. Talk about an exciting short life! Max has risen in my esteem. It’s good to be reminded about the seed bank and think how important it can be and is to us.


    Comment by Carol — June 19, 2011 @ 3:09 pm | Reply

  2. CCOL! =)


    Comment by ninachat — June 20, 2011 @ 2:36 pm | Reply

  3. p.s. re. the seed bank. An interesting article in current National Geographic about when such an idea began in Russia in early 20th century.


    Comment by Carol — June 20, 2011 @ 5:30 pm | Reply

  4. Fastinating thank you Jean.


    Comment by avery — June 21, 2011 @ 12:07 pm | Reply

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