April 10, 1864 - Archduke Maximilian and Archduchess Charlotte of Austria become Emperor and Empress of Mexico
It was 1863, French forces had been fighting in Mexico which had only just come out of a period of internal conflict and the American Civil War had reached its bloodiest point. Maximilian was hesitant and his family strongly opposed the idea. It was still a dangerous country, divided, chaotic and poverty stricken, problems that seemed nearly impossible to solve, and the House of Hapsburg would be risking a lot getting involved. Charlotte, however, urged Maximilian to accept the offer. She was optimistic and had faith that this would be their chance to prove their own worth and talent as well as to put their own ideals into practice and make Mexico their showcase for benevolent, progressive monarchy. To Charlotte, it seemed like destiny and she also felt a humanitarian obligation to help the people of Mexico. Maximilian came to his wife’s point of view, but still refused to accept the offer until Napoleon III promised him that he was genuinely wanted and that French troops and money would support him until Mexico could stand alone.
Not everyone reacted to the news well. Charlotte’s French grandmother cried that, “They will be killed! They will be killed!” and Emperor Francis Joseph told his brother that he would have to renounce his rights of succession in Austria if he accepted, hoping this would dissuade him. Charlotte tried to dissuade her brother-in-law, but the stern monarch would not budge and eventually she persuaded Maximilian to agree to the terms. Along with the encouragement of Charlotte and French promises of support, Maximilian also received the results of a plebiscite held in Mexico in which the public voted in favor of restoring the monarchy with himself as Emperor. Little did he or Charlotte know that it was generally accepted that French troops had engineered the outcome to be in his favor. This, along with the opportunity to show the world what he could do finally prompted Maximilian to accept the offer and the Mexican delegation proudly hailed him as Emperor while a regency was set up to govern until he arrived. Also, unlike the Hapsburgs, the Belgian royal house largely met the news with great excitement and all of the optimism that Charlotte herself displayed. The new Empress changed her name to the Spanish version Carlota and she joined her husband in learning Spanish, studying Mexican history, custom and styles.
Nature formed her for an empress and her acquirements not less fitted her for the station. As she rose above the horizon of childhood, she appeared in all the splendor of the morning star, bright, beautiful…
’I send you seven thousand dollars of my own private funds, which is to be dedicated to the rebuilding of the House of Charity, the ruinous state of which made me feel so sad yesterday: so that the unfortunate ones may return to inhabit it who found themselves deprived of shelter.’ Charlotte