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5.0 out of 5 stars great book on a forgotten piece of history, 14 July 2011
This review is from: The Crown of Mexico (Paperback)
The Mexican Empire of Maximilian of Austria is one of history's largely neglected episodes. It is telling that this more or less latest book on the subject - an edit of her earlier book "Imperial Adventurer" was written almost 40 years ago.

The story of Mexico's Empire makes however for fascinating reading. In the two years of its existence it had more high drama, intrigues, swashbuckling and political double-dealing than most other countries get in a century. Moreover, the story is told by an author who combines excellent research and analysis with a first rate narrative style and a sharp eye for the telling anecdote.

The author describes in vivid detail how Maximilian was never more than a pawn in the hands of an Imperial brother who wanted him out of the way because of his liberal leanings, of French emperor Napoleon III who needed someone to recoup the huge investments made in Mexico by French bankers and businessmen, his own half-brother being a prominent case in point, and last but certainly not least a highly ambitious wife for whom an imperial crown was worth almost any risk. It didn't help that Maximilian had not a single level-headed adviser to counterweigh their pressure. Moreover, he thought that financial figures and complicated documents were tedious, with the result that he had no idea that he was entering a country in the midst of civil war, completely bankrupt and with a ruling class where liberals, conservatives en the clergy were constantly at each other's throats. The group of Mexican émigrés who offered him the crown had for the larger part not set foot in Mexico in the last 20 years and fed him higly optimistic and often completely false information.

This was not to say that Maximilian was not warned. Unfortunately he was the kind of man to ask advice from too many people and invariably taking that of the last person he spoke to. Usually that was his wife, which did not really help. Even so, it finally dawned on him that he might be getting himself into a hornet's nest and tried to bow out, only to be reminded by Napoleon III that one of the documents that he had signed without reading was a promise to go, as a sort of collateral for a multimillion loan that in the meantime had been floated and that could otherwise never be repaid.

And so the newly created Emperor of Mexico went, having been promised by Napoleon III that he would 'never' leave him in a lurch. Thinking that things would now more or less work themselves out, Maximilian spent the voyage writing a bulky manual on etiquette rules for his future court and discussing whether Mexican worthies should be created Duke of Chihuahua or rather Prince of Veracruz. Maximilian did not waste any energy on a concept of how to rule once he got there, feeling that surrounded by reasonable men of good will he should be able to work things out as he went along. Sadly for him, it soon transpired that reason and good will were in extremely short supply. With Maximilian being basically a sheep in sheep's clothing, the infighting proved as bad as the fighting that had to be done outside the capital.

The end of his empire showed however his personal courage, never more so when the French forces pulled out, leaving him to face his many enemies alone and finally, to face the firing squad. His wife, sent to Europe in a last-ditch attempt for help, paid another price: faced everywhere with only the stone walls of polite refusal her her mind gave out and she spent the next 60 (!) years in psychiatric care.

A thrilling story, excellently researched and a total page-turner. Highly recommended!
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