Tuesday, December 7, 2010

John Bankhead Magruder: A Military Reappraisal by Thomas M. Settles

UPDATE: See the complete review posted February 15, 2011 here.

This new biography of a key 19th century military figure is crucial reading for anyone interested in the U.S.-Mexican War, the Civil War, and / or Mexico's Second Empire. My review will be published in this blog early next year.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ein Kaiser unterwegs (An Emperor en route)

Maximilian accepted the throne of Mexico without ever having seen it-- he was crowned Emperor in 1864 in his residence in Trieste (then part of Austria, now Italy). Once he arrived in Mexico, however, he made strenuous efforts to tour the country and get to know its people, its moneymen and other key players, its natural wonders and, of course, the silver mines. As anyone who tries to write about Mexico's Second Empire soon discovers, Maximilian's (and his consort Carlota's) incessant travels make any chronology of the period headscratchingly complex.

Enter the indispensable Ein Kaiser unterwegs: Die Reisen Maximilians von Mexiko 1864-1867 nach Presseberichten und Privatbriefen* by Konrad Ratz and Amparo Gómez Tepexicuapan (Vienna: Böhlau, 2007), which details Maximilian's multitude of journeys in Mexico during the Second Empire. These include his inaugural tours of 1864 and then 1865 to the silver mines; 1865 and 1866 to Cuernavaca; October 1866 through January 1867 to Orizaba and back to the capital; and the final journey to Querétaro in 1867.

A hardcover edition with many rare photographs, documents, and new maps, a bibliography, and an index of biographical names, this is an essential addition to any collection concerning the period.

About the authors: Konrad Ratz has published many works on Maximilian and the Second Empire. His most recent is Tras las huellas de un desconocido: nuevos datos y aspectos de Maximiliano de Habsburgo. Amparo Gómez Tepexicuapan is curator of documents and flags in Mexico's National Museum of History, in Chapultepec Castle.

I understand the book will be available in Spanish soon.

*I would translate this as An Emperor En Route: Maximilian of Mexico's Travels 1864-1867, from Press Reports and Private Correspondence.

Next post: next Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Feria Internacional del Libro, Guadajara, November 27th

This Saturday November 27th at 6 pm at the Feria Internacional del Libro in Guadalajara, I will be presenting my novel, El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano (Grijalbo Random House Mondadori), which is the magnificent translation by Agustín Cadena of my novel The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books).

(Last year, I presented the English version, and blogged about the fair here and here--- and also about Literal, its editor, my amiga Rose Mary Salum, and a little literary history including about Tameme and El corno emplumado. One of the people I was especially happy to see last year was Spanish and Ladino translator Trudy Balch, who, alas, passed away last month in New York. Read Trudy's fascinating guest-blog post about Mexican activist Gaby Brimmer here.)

The two writers who will be presenting my novel at FIL are Carlos Pascual (author of La insurgenta, winner of the Grijalbo award for best bicentennial historical novel), and historian Alejandro Rosas. (Alejandro also presented the English version of the novel in Mexico City last year.)

P.S. Carlos is also an actor; I think he may read a section of the novel.

The details / Los detalles:
Presentación del libro
El último príncipe del imperio mexicano por C.M. Mayo
Carlos Pascual, Alejandro Rosas
18:00 a 18:50
Salón Elías Nandino, planta alta, Expo Guadalajara

The event is free and open to the public.

More anon.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Recollections of Maximilian by Marie de la Fère: A Rare English Language Eyewitness Memoir

The historian Robert Ryal Miller mentioned this rare manuscript, a circa 1910 English language handwritten eyewitness memoir of Maximilian, in a letter to me some years ago. He had found it at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, and was preparing an edited and annotated version for publication. Alas, Miller died in 2004 without, as far as I know, having published it. I have not seen what Miller wrote, I am sad to say, for I understand he had identified the author whose name was not — as I too, immediately suspected -- "Marie de la Fère." When I visited the Bancroft as part of my own research for my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, I dutifully looked up this manuscript. I was glad I did, for, among so many other things, it gave me insight into the strong feelings of the monarchists and Maximilian's character.

After Miller's death, as I felt this memoir deserved more readers than we intrepid few who have eyes for microfiches, I wrote to the Bancroft for permission to print it here. This was granted in 2006.

Would that I could offer a more detailed introduction, but this extraordinary memoir has been waiting in my files long enough. (For those of you looking for a basic introduction to Maximilian and the Second Mexican Empire, I can suggest my book, as well as others on the "Maximilian" webpage's links and my own bibliography. Also, Robert Ryal Miller's Mexico: A History gives a brief but fine and very readable overview of the French Intervention / Second Empire.) I have corrected some misspellings and punctuation, though in some places, where it reveals the author's charming linguistic melange, I have left it intact. A few notes appear in brackets rather than footnotes, for ease in reading on-line. In a few places the handwriting was unreadable; these I have noted with brackets around a question mark.

Aside from such very minor blemishes, here, dear reader, is a true literary treasure of the Second Empire.

It seems almost impossible that forty three years have passed since I was a witness and participator in the events connected with Maximilian's reign three brief years in Mexico. My father was a retired American banker and while traveling in Mexico had met and married my mother, who is of Spanish and French descent. When Maximilian landed at Veracruz, I was but seventeen years old. I was old enough to realize and know that Mexican affairs both political and financially were in terrible straights. My father conversed very freely to us in English regarding the status of affairs. His money he trusted to no Mexican bank; everything we had was in New Orleans and he lived on the income accruing from his investments there. When Juarez left the city and we learned that the French troops were steadily advancing in [?] first Orizaba, Puebla and were almost in Mexico City, father wished us to all leave and embark either for New Orleans or Europe, but my mother would not listen to it. Monseñor Labastida, who was always a welcome visitor, had thoroughly imbued her with his ideas of Mexico's coming greatness as soon as the Church party got control of affairs and she was determined to see it out. And again a letter from France notified us that our relative, Mama's uncle, an officer, was coming with the "Interventionists."

On June 10th 1863 my father came home in a hurry saying that the French troops were entering the city, which he had scarcely finished before the cannon commenced their salutes, also the bells of all the churches began ringing, the crowds in the streets were [?] Triumphal arches with pictures of Napoleon and Eugenia wreathed in flowers were in Plateros and San Francisco streets at the Cathedral a Te Deum was chanted in honor of the entrance of General Forey and Saligny with the French troops. In the evening a large reception was given by the Ayuntamiento at the Nacional [sic] Palace in honor of the French officers. CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Henry R. Magruder's Woodcuts of Mexico in 1866

All ten of Henry R. Magruder's woodcuts from his memoir, Sketches of the Last Year of Mexican Empire, are now on-line at my Maximilian on-line reading page. (Once there, if you click on an image, the link will take to you the high res 300 dpi of same.) Henry R. Magruder was the son of ex-Confederate John Magruder who came to Mexico to Mexico in 1866. More about the Confederates soon...

Read my previous post about the author and his memoir here.

Next post next Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dr. J. Marion Sims (January 25, 1813 - November 12, 1883)

One of the enduring mysteries of Mexico's Second Empire is why, after several years of marriage, Maximilian and Carlota could not have children. In my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, which is based on the true story of the scandal of Maximilian's "adoption" of the Emperor Iturbide's grandsons, I leave the reader to continue contemplating the mystery, for there were (and are), so many contradictory theories, many from murky sources and / or clearly and merely malicious gossip and propaganda, and not one of them do I find completely convincing.

That said, there is a theory I favor. I found it in the personal diary of John Bigelow, 1882, which I consulted in the Manuscripts Division of the New York Public Library. The U.S. Minister to France during Mexico's Second Empire / French Intervention, Bigelow later visited Mexico City as a tourist, and there he interviewed Doña Alicia Green de Iturbide, the mother of Agustín de Iturbide y Green, the "last prince." She told Bigelow that Maximilian had tried to engage a Dr Sims of New York to come to Mexico and perform an operation on Carlota, but Dr Sims asked for 30,000 dollars, a staggering sum at that time, and General Almonte refused to support such an expenditure.

Is it true? In all my forays in the archives, I have been unable to find any correspondence with Dr Sims (nor anyone else) on such a matter. However, it can be said that Doña Alicia de Iturbide is a far more credible source than most, for she knew General Almonte (he was the guest honor at her wedding to Angel de Iturbide in 1855, and, in Paris in the summer of 1866, the Almontes and the Iturbides would have been hovering together around the Grand Hotel, in wait for Carlota) and, of course, Doña Alicia herself signed the contract in which the childless Maximilian took custody of her son and nephew in 1865.

In a visit to the New York Historical Society, I did find out this: had Carlota needed surgery, the ideal candidate would have been, indeed, Dr. Sims of New York, for he was the leading gynecologist of his time, well known in Brussels, Vienna, and Paris. Originally from the south, Sims had moved to New York for his health. During the Civil War, he sided with the Confederacy and spent the duration in Paris, where one of his patients was none other than the Empress Eugenie.

Further reading about Dr. J. Marion Sims:

American National Biography, vol. 20, pp. 25-26, Oxford University Press, 1999

The Story of My Life by J. Marion Sims, edited by his son, H. Marion Sims (1884); republished in 1968 with a new preface by C. Lee Burton

Sexual Surgery and the Origins of Gynecology: J. Marion Sims, His Hospital and His Patients, by Deborah Kuhn McGregor, 1990

Women's Surgeon: The Life Story of J. Marion Sims, by Seale Harris, 1950.

And here is a photo and some information about his statue in New York's Central Park.

More anon.

UPDATE: J.C. Hallman has published a detailed essay about the controversy surrounding New York City's the statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, "Monumenal Error," Harper's, November 2017.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Researcher of a Different Empire: Roger Mansell 1935 - 2010

After a long battle with cancer, Roger Mansell, my dad, passed away early in the morning on October 25. He was a great father and he also left the legacies of his research, archive, and encouragement and example. After a career in business (mainly in the printing industry) he dedicated himself to researching the Allied POWs under the Japanese during WWII. He was never a POW himself; he had served as a lieutenant in Korea in the late 50s. It was his love of history and the opportunity to be of service that prompted him to dedicate more than twenty years to compiling an unprecedented data base on the POWs under the Japanese. He also dedicated many of his days to helping other researchers, both professional and amateur, including many family members of POWs who were trying to find out what had happened to their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and friends.

The data base, with its camp rosters and much more, is at www.mansell.com.

His forthcoming book, The Forgotten Men of Guam, is being edited by historian Linda Goetz Holmes. It tells the story of what happened to the military men and civilians (mainly Pan Am Clipper crews) who were captured on Guam after Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Over the years he had amassed a magnificent archive of World War II-era research materials consisting of more than fifteen linear feet of documents, including memoirs and interviews with survivors, some fifteen hours of video recordings, and approximately four hundred published titles (many extremely rare), which he donated to the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, last month. (Click here to read about the archive.)

Please visit www.rogermansell.com, the website I created for him, to read about his work, which I hope may continue to help people researching this period, and to tell this terrible story of the POWs, which had been so long buried in inaccessible archives.

As for Mexico's Second Empire / French Intervention, as many of you know, there are still hundreds of untold stories, just waiting for researchers and translators. Though he researched a different period and part of the world, my dad has been a great inspiration, both to me, and to so many others.

More next Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How Mad was Carlota?

Over the past year I've done several interviews about the research behind my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, which came out in 2009. While most this fall have been in Spanish (apropos of the Spanish translation, El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano), a couple of new ones are on-line in English, one at Maria Ferrer's Latinabookclub.com and the other at Margaret Donsbach's historicalnovels.info.

And here is some Q & A about Carlota, from an unpublished section of an interview by David Heath apropos of 2009's "Fall for the Book" festival:

David Heath: History forms a definite frame for the story, but between the conflicting accounts and gossip, much is left for the reader to decide. How mad was Empress Carlota, for example? After all, someone really was drugging her coffee, and Maximilian’s thoughts about how to help her made me think of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

C.M. Mayo: Yes, he said, she said, they said . . . there are many different “realities” floating around in there. To give one example, according to the memoirs and other documents I’ve seen, the party close to the Emperor Maximilian insisted that General Bazaine, head of the French forces in Mexico, was a corrupt brute, while the people close to General Bazaine held him in high esteem as a valiant soldier and capable administrator and they considered Maximilian lost in the clouds. Needless to say, Maximilian and Bazaine were at loggerheads.

As for Carlota, I think she was what we could call bipolar, and in the fall of 1866, she suffered a severe psychotic breakdown. According to her biographers, including one of her own family members, Prince Michael Greece, who had access to the family archives, she experienced psychotic episodes throughout her life, some quite violent, until she died in Belgium at the age of 86.

The bit about someone drugging her: according to an 1866 letter from Joaquín Velázquez de Léon, Maximilian’s acting consul in Rome, her doctor, Bohuslavek, alarmed by her severe anxiety (hysteria, they would have called it then), was dosing her coffee with a sedative. Well, if you were already stressed, under terrific pressure — at this time she was in Europe, desperately seeking help for the collapsing Mexican Empire — and you drank coffee but then felt oddly sleepy, wouldn’t that reinforce your paranoia?

One of the things few people realize about her is that, as the daughter of the King of the Belgians, first cousin of Queen Victoria and, most importantly, granddaughter of King Louis-Philippe of France (who abdicated after the insurrection of 1848), Carlota would have been acutely aware of the unfortunate history of the Empress Josephine. Empress Josephine, as you will recall, was considered an enemy of the State by many people, including some close to her husband, Napoleon Bonaparte, because she was too old to produce an heir. Josephine was terrified that she would be poisoned. In the end, no one killed her; Napoleon divorced her to marry an Austrian Archduchess who was, by the way, one of Maximilian’s aunts. (Yes, these royal genealogies are a tangle!)

So, Carlota’s paranoia about being poisoned was not unfounded. Furthermore, by this time there had been a number of attempts to assassinate Maximilian—and, by the way, Queen Victoria and Louis Napoleon and Maximilian’s older brother, Kaiser Franz Joseph. No doubt there were people who would have been glad to kill Carlota, though I doubt they would have bothered at this late stage (1866). Add to that the terrific stress she was under, both politically and personally. The family members closest to her, her father and her grandmother, had recently died; she was an orphan, in her mid-20s, and terribly isolated. And she was always supremely conscious of the need to maintain imperial prestige—which meant an elaborate etiquette, including the strict rule that no one could touch her, nor speak to her without her first speaking to them. No doubt this added to her sense of personal isolation.

How mad was Carlota? In the early 1880s, Alice de Iturbide, mother of the prince, openly said to Bigelow (I found that in his diaries also) that Carlota was not so mad as they made out. Well, let’s remember, Alice did not see Carlota after 1866. That said, someone who is bipolar can behave quite normally at times. And Alice was quite right that Carlota’s brother, King Leopold, famously avaricious, would have wanted control over her substantial personal fortune. But I don’t think it’s all that big a mystery. It’s just tremendously sad. Carlota was a person who had a splendid education, many talents, and an enormous capacity for hard work. She was dedicated heart and soul but, alas, to a project that shouldn’t have been launched in the first place. What I wonder is whether her mental health would have remained stable had she refused the call to Mexico. Perhaps so. We’ll never know.

Next post next Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sketches of the Last Year of the Mexican Empire by Henry R. Magruder

UPDATE: Mystery solved. See my review (February 15, 2011) of Thomas M. Settles' new biography of General John Bankhead Magruder.

Who was Henry R. Magruder? His Sketches of the Last Year of the Mexican Empire (London: 1868-- and I understand there is a different edition printed by Charles Ritter, Wiesbaden), a generously vivid memoir of a visit to Mexico in 1866, does not say. A reasonable guess, from the quality of the prose and the meetings and scenes the author describes, might be that he was a well-connected American in Mexico City on Church business, for the book is dedicated "with sentiments of profound respect" to His Holiness Pope Pius IX (Pio Nono, none other). In the final pages, however, he mentions his "own appointment ceasing with the departure of the French Troops," and that he left shortly before they did, which would have been at the end of 1866 or early 1867.

A few years ago, when I first came across this rare--- and indeed rarely included in bibliographies of the Second Empire--- 135-page memoir with its several woodcuts apparently by the author himself, I did a google search on the author's name and came up with nothing, except John B. Magruder, who was the ex-commander-in-chief of Confederate forces in Texas and came to Mexico as one of Maximilian's colonists. I wasn't sure what the relationship, if any, might have been between John and Henry Magruder. No doubt rolling up one's sleeves and delving into the works on the Confederates and perhaps an archive or three could solve the mystery... but for my purposes, now, happily, there are a few notes on genealogy forums. From one entry dated May 26, 2008:

The Washington (DC) Herald, 3 FEB 1907, p. 11, report had the headline: "Feared Burial Alive. Henry MAGRUDER Asked That Limbs Be Cut by Surgeon. Made Request In His Will. Former Baltimore Man Who Dies in Rome Leaves Gold Sword and Silver Pitcher to Smithsonian Institute. He Had Lived in Italy for More Than Forty Years."

"Special to the Washington Herald. Baltimore, Md., Feb. 2--The will of Henry R. MAGRUDER, a native of this city, who died in Rome, Italy, on January 31, was admitted to probate in the Orphans' Court to-day. He provided that $700 be given to the owners of the Allari Protestant Cemetery in Florence, Italy, for the preservation of the graves of his mother, sister, and himself, directing that the graves be decorated on All Saints' Day and April 25, each year, the latter date being the anniversary of the death of his sister.

"The testator showed in the document a great fear of being buried alive. He directed that the body be taken in charge by the American consul at Florence, who, after leaving the body in the church for forty-eight hours, must cut deep into his leg and arm, insuring that he is dead. A post-morten must then be ordered, after which the body is to be placed in the Allari Cemetery. For his trouble the American counsel is to receive $200.

"To the United States government, for the Smithsonian Institution, Mr. MAGRUDER left the gold sword and silver pitcher given his father by the State of Virginia and the State of Maryland; the portrait of his sister in pastel; a porcelain plate containing the picture of 'Jo,' with interpretation by his sister, and his decotration of Mexico and diploma belonging thereto. Should the government refuse the bequest it is provided that his nephew, Dr. Thomas BUCKLER, and one of the nieces of the testator designate some museum to receive the gifts... He left his household effects to Dr. BUCKLER and the four nieces of the testator.

"Mr. MAGRUDER had lived in Italy for the past forty years, though he was born in this city. His father was the late Gen. John Bankhead MAGRUDER, of the Confederate army. At the beginning of the civil war Mr. MAGRUDER and his family moved to Italy, living in Rome during the winter and at Florence in the summer. The MAGRUDER houses, both in Florence and Rome, were visited by many prominent Americans during their sojurn in Italy."

And now-- with a another google search-- I find there is a new biography of John B. Magruder by Thomas Settles, recently published by LSU Press. (As soon as amazon.com ships that one to my door, I'll check the index for Henry R.)

Back to Sketches of the Last Year of the Mexican Empire. Henry R. Magruder arrived in Mexico in the winter of 1866, just days before the murder of the Belgian envoy Baron Frederic Victor d'Huart-- a personal friend of the Empress Carlota's brother, the Duke of Flanders-- at Rio Frio, shot in the head by bandits. Politically, for Maximilian's government, this, though not the first, was the definitive slip down the fatal slope. As Sara Yorke Stevenson writes in her memoir, Maximilian in Mexico, "The news of this tragedy, when it reached Europe, must have cast a lurid light upon the true condition of the Mexican Empire."

Slowly and with several dangerous mishaps, Magruder made his way inland from Veracruz. For anyone looking for a description of the brutal and spectacular journey by stagecoach (diligencia), his memoir is one of the most detailed I've yet come across. Here he comes over the mountains nearing Puebla:

Certain portions of the road appeared almost perpendicular, having at the same time no parapet to prevent accidents, consequently if the mules had made a single false step the diligence would have been dashed down precipices the frightful height of which, caused one to shudder. Occasionally we stopped to rest the mules, and the driver would then rush to the rear of the stage to place a stone under the wheel, and thus relieve the poor over-driven mules from the great weight...

... Beneath us could be seen as far as the eye could reach, the "Tierra Caliente" with its peculiar red and grey soil, covered here and there by fields of Maguey plant, in form and colour like an enormous cactus, on all sides the valley, or rather plain, is bounded by tremendous mountains of varied shape, their appearance plainly showing their volcanic origin...

And sometime later:

... The road we had had been traveling over now lay hundreds of feet below and could be easily distinguished by the long train of dust, raised by the passing diligences. We met numerous waggons laden with merchandise on their way to the city of Mexico, some having as many as forty or fifty mules and horses harnessed to them; it appeared quite wonderful how the drivers managed them.

The descriptions of the food, lodging and rural poverty, make less than appetizing reading. But once in Mexico City, the scene could not be more different.

A brief digression. As I've noted in the epilogue of my book, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, which is based on the true story of Agustin de Iturbide y Green, the grandson of the Emperor Iturbide who was made an Imperial Highness and incoporated into Maximilian's court, in almost all the works on the Second Empire, the Iturbide affair is told only vaguely, or with serious errors and sometimes bizarre distortions. There are many reasons for this, but to focus on the book at hand: Magruder's is one of the very few to give the Iturbides a mention, and if not much detail, at least more than usual, and it appears that he met with Princess Iturbide (Josefa de Iturbide, daughter of the Emperor and aunt to the little prince). It is possible he or some of his family may have known the Iturbides in Washington DC. Certainly, Princess Iturbide would have shared Magruder's ardent feelings about the Pope.

Here is Magruder's description of what must have been one of the last of the court balls-- and his sympathies are blazingly clear:

...The toilettes of the Mexican ladies are strikingly splendid one suprassing the other; the jewels worn by them magnificent. At about half past eight o'clock the ladies took their positions along one side of the ball-room, whilst the gentlemen remained standing on the opposite side. Their Imperial Majesties entered at the upper end, followed by the gentlemen of the court and the dames d'honneur, prominent amongst whom was the Señorita Varela a pure Indian, said to be the sole living descendant of the Montezumas. The Court passed through the allée formed by the crowd. The Emperor and Empress were gracious and condescending to all, stopping now and then to speak in their own language to those who had been presented to them. The Emperor's appearance was all that could be desired in a man, tall, with a commanding and at the same time graceful figure, and far taller than all the splendid cavaliers who surrounded him, his face is amiable, and an ethusuiast might be forgiven for saying, angelic. But for his figure one could have mistaken him for a beautiful woman, so full of genial kindness and perfect refinement was the face; he was a man once seen never forgotten.

(For more about Maximilian, visit the Maximilian von Mexiko page; for more about the court balls, see the article by William Wells for the Overland Monthly.)

How quickly things changed for Maximilian. Out of money, out of political support, both in Mexico and abroad, Maximilian was defenseless against Louis Napoleon's decision to withdraw his troops. Writes Magruder:

Nearly every day large bodies of troops entered the Capital, it was interesting to see them pass and one could but pity them all covered with dust burnt almost black and apparently wearied out by the long and fatiguing marches; baggage waggons drawn by long teams of mules, and ambulance waggons conveying the sick, these ambulances are simple two-wheeled carts with a light canvas awning and without springs. Some of them conveyed whole families flying before the vengeance of the Liberals to seek safety in the Capital. Many of the horses and mules had pannier-saddles, which were occupied by the sick, who looked sadly forlorn and sallow.

If you know more about Henry R. Magruder, please be sure to leave a comment.

More next Tuesday.

UPDATE: I've posted all ten of Magruder's woodcuts here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Maximilian in Mexico: A Woman's Reminiscences of the French Intervention 1862 - 1867 by Sara Yorke Stevenson

Of all the English language memoirs of the Second Empire / French Intervention, Sara Yorke Stevenson's Maximilian in Mexico: A Woman's Reminiscences of the French Intervention 1862 - 1867 is the most lucid, informed, and balanced. That said, she introduces her book with this caveat:

[M]y aim is not to write a historical sketch of the reign of Maximilian of Austria, nor is it to give a description of the political crisis through which Mexico passed during that period. My only desire is to furnish the reader with a point of view the value of which lies in the fact that it is that of an eyewitness who was somewhat more than an ordinary spectator of a series of occurrences which developed into one of the most dramatic episodes of modern times.

Academic histories can be a bit dry and, as Yorke puts it, too often the personalities of a period, puppet-like, seem to appear "before the footlights of a fulfilled destiny."

During the brief reign of Maximilian, the author was a young girl living with her family in Mexico City. Every country's capital is a small town, in a sense, but in the 1860s, Mexico City was so small, both literally and figuratively, that this young girl, whose parents were well-connected in both and French and Confederate circles, became acquainted with many of the leading political and military personalities.

She writes, "to those who lived with them when they were MAKING history, these actors are all aglow with life. They are animated by its passions, its impulses," and indeed, she renders them beautifully, compellingly into life.

Before rejoining her family in Mexico City, in Paris, through her guardian, M. Achille Jubinal, a literary figure, antiquarian, and deputy in the Corps Legislatif, she happened to meet none other than the Duke of Morny, Louis Napoleon's half-brother and a key player in the tragedy that was Mexico's Second Empire.

One day in March 1862... M. Jubinal invited me to accompany him to the Hotel des Ventes, Rue Drouot, where an important collection of tapestries and other objects of art was on view to be sold.... My companion was pointing out to me the beauties of a piece which he particularly coveted when some one came behind us and called him by name. We both turned around and faced a middle-aged man whose dress, manner, and general bearing showed him to be a personage of some importance. M. Jubinal, who evidently knew him well, addressed him as "M. le Duc," and his strong likeness to the Emperor [Louis Napoleon], as well as a few stray words, soon led me to guess, even before my guardian had gone through the form of an introduction, that he was no less a personage than the Duc de Morny.

When he learned that her brother had killed by bandits on the highway in Mexico, and she would therefore be leaving France to rejoin her family there, the Duke said: "Lorencz is there now; our army will then be in the city of Mexico; the roads will be quite safe, have no fear." Aficionados of Mexican history will know that this was, in fact, two months before Cinco de Mayo, the massive, humiliating defeat of the French at the city of Puebla.

Her journey from France to Mexico, on an "old patched-up ship," was a sobering one. She writes:

There were only forty passengers on board, and, comparatively speaking, little of the animation that usually precedes the outgoing of an ocean steamer. I found without difficulty the French banker and his Mexican wife who had kindly consented to chaperon me during my lonely journey; and I soon discovered that she and I were the only women passengers on board.

Our fellow travelers were uninteresting-- mostly commercial agents or small tradesmen representing the old-established petty commerce with Mexico. The new order of things was suggested, somewhat ominously, only by the presence of two young surgeons on their way to increase the effective force of the military hospital in Vera Cruz.

Evidently the predicted exodus to El Dorado had not yet begun. Where was the advance-guard of the great army of emigrant capitalists now about to start, and of which I had heard so much?

This was the first serious disillusion of my life, and it left a deep and permanent impression upon my mind.

Later, of her new life in the Mexico City of Maximilian's Second Empire, she writes:

We then lived at Tacubaya, a suburb of Mexico [City] reached by the Paseo, where the marshal [General Bazaine]rode everyday for exercise. Our house was built at the foot of a long hill, at he top of which stood a large old mansion, the yellow coloring of which had won for it the name of the Casa Amarilla. It had been rented by Colonel Talcott of Virginia, who lived there with his family. Dr. Gwin was their guest; and it was arranged that the marshal , when taking his usual afternoon ride with his aide-de-camp, should call upon us one day, and leaving their horses in our partio with his orderlies, should join us in a walkup the hill, casually dropping in en passant at the Casa Amarilla.

The plan had the double advantage of being a simple one and of providing the marshal, who did not speak English, with suitable interpreters. The interview was a long one. The marshal listened to what the American had to say. Indeed, there was little to be said on his own side, as the Mexican ministry was absolutely opposed to the project, and any change of policy must depend upon a change in the imperial cabinet.

His Excellency, however, seemed in high good humor. As we came out, he merrily challenged us to run downhill, much to the astonishment of the few leperos whom we happened to meet. The Mexican Indian is a sober, rather somber creature, not given to levity; his amusements are of a dignified, almost sad nature. He may be sentimental, bigoted, vicious, cruel, but he is never vulgar, and is seldom foolish. Indeed, well might they stare at us then, for it was no common sight in the lanes of Tacubaya to see a commander-in-chief tearing downhill, amid peals of laughter, with a party of young people, in utter disregard of age, corpulence, and cumbersome military accoutrements!

In The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, my novel based on the true story, Sara and her mother, Mrs. Yorke, appear as minor characters in scenes set in the house of Doña Juliana de Gómez Pedraza, widow of the ex-president of Mexico, aunt of Pepita de la Peña (wife of General Bazaine) and landlady to Don Angel and Doña Alicia de Iturbide (parents of Agustín de Iturbide y Green). (Did I mention, Mexico City was a small town?) Alas, much as I nudged it, my narrative didn't find its wendy-way to Sara's pell-mell trot with General Bazaine. But the fact that Bazaine would do such a such thing informed my portrait of him. For this, as well as so many other portraits, vignettes, and more, I am much obliged to Sara Yorke Stevenson's treasure of a memoir.

Sara Yorke Stevenson went on to make what was then a very unusual career as an archeologist, a leading Egyptologist, and newspaper columnist, which you can read about here.

There is also a page about her on Wikipedia (caveat: it's a wiki).

More next Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Junta de los Notables Coin

A guest-blog post this week, from my Austrian correspondent in Los Angeles.

An Early Example of Merchandising in the Second Mexican Empire: The 1863 Commemorative Medal by the Junta de los Notables for Maximilian of Austria

By H.M. Brindl

Not too long ago, in a flea market in Los Angeles, I found an odd little gem of a medal which supposedly bears the image of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. A couple of dollars later, I made my way back home with this little medal in my pocket, to find out more about this mysterious piece of Mexican history.

If you try to value it by its precious metal content, you will be disappointed, because there is none; it is made of copper. Even the size, about that of a nickel, isn’t “Imperial” at all. The true value, for me, speaking as an Austrian who is deeply interested in Mexico under Maximilian, comes from the history and the irony that surrounds this medal of Maximilian, who, oddly, enough is not even portrayed on the medal commemorated to him by the Junta De Los Notables or "Assembly of Notables."*

As for the ironies: First, the medal remarks the beginning of the end of Maximilian’s reign as Emperor in Mexico; second, it also serves as a early metaphor for what has to became yet realty and the norm in Maximilian’s Imperio Mexicano ---already, from the beginning , nothing was quite as it was supposed to be or as it might have looked like; and last but not least, the medal shows us very clearly how both the Austrian Archduke and his future Mexican loyal subjects were uninformed and irrational about each other in many ways.

Following are scans of this rare medal and the results on my research on it.

From the American Journal of Numismatics, July 1880 (pp. 15-16):

“Taking up the Mexican Medals, we have first to call attention to one, size 13-1/2,** bearing date 1863, which leads in point of time. During that year there was a junta formed, comprising many Mexicans who were leaders in wealth at least, having for its object the formation of the Empire, placing Maximilian on the throne, of which this medal is commemorative."

Obverse, MAXIMILIANO DE AUSTRIA; a head to left (which did not in the least resemble him)

To left, "Maximiliano," and to right, "De Austria," all surrounded by a border of small pellets.

Reverse, JUNTA DE LOS NOTABLES MEXICO 6 DE JULIO 1863 (the date of resolution or invitation), brass; this piece is noticed in the American Journal of Numismatics, XIII, p. 22. It has probably never appeared in any American sale." [Note: This article was published in 1880; of course, since then there have been medals of this type up for sale. The article goes on to describe and discuss various other Maximilian coins and medals.]

American Journal of Numismatics, and Bulletin of American and Archaeological Societies, July, 1880. Volume XV, No. 1, Whole Number 89. American Numismatic and Archaeological Society.

Besides this coin which commemorates the Assembly of Notables in Mexico City, and another commemorating Maximilian's acceptance of the throne and the coronation at Miramar, there are also medals issued as awards for military and civic merit; for the encouragement of the arts and sciences; and for proficiency in school exercises; others are of a religious and personal character; and finally, there are the mortuary memorials of the closing tragedy at Querétaro on the 19th of June, 1867 [Maximilian's execution by firing squad.]

So, given that the image on the medal does not look at all like Maximilian, whose image is it? If you are an Austrian you might know already. For those who are not, I will reveal the mystery by translating a passage from fellow Austrian Dr. Konrad Ratz, an expert on Mexico's Second Empire. Konrad Ratz published in 1998 two epic books called Maximilian und Juarez, Volume I (The Second Mexican Empire and The Republic) and Volume II (The Queretaro Chronicle). Konrad Ratz, notes about the medal that an image of it was given to him by Senior Eduardo Rabell Urquiola from Querétaro; further on he writes (page 137 Volume I, my translation from German):

“As a matter fact the notables that offered Archduke Max the Mexican thrown, had not the slightest idea who the younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria was. When the Assembly of Notables, followed by the advice of Napoleon III, proclaimed the Archduke Maximilian as Emperor, they were not in the possession of a picture of him. The commemorative medal, minted to make the future Emperor popular with Mexicans, shows the profile of a man with a strong roman nose and with a hairstyle worn during the Middle Ages, which did not at the least resemble Maximilian of Mexico. One might suspect that the artist reproduced the portrait of Maximilian I, "the last knight," imagining that a future Maximilian I of Mexico must be a look like of his Habsburg ancestor…”***

Maximilian vs Maximilian:

Had both something more in common besides being Habsburgs and the name Maximilian? There is one thing that came to my attention: both were popular monarchs (at least at times) and keen supporters of the arts and sciences, and surrounded themselves with scholars. One has to admit that Maximilian I* was the more competent ruler; Maximilian of Mexico did not inherited many of the talents of his ancestor. Maximilian I created a huge empire mostly through political marriages which were summed up in the following Latin elegiac couplet:

Bella gerant aliī, tū fēlix Austria nūbe/ Nam quae Mars aliīs, dat tibi regna Venus,
"Let others wage war, but thou, O happy Austria, marry; for those kingdoms which Mars gives to others, Venus gives to thee."

Maximilian of Mexico’s attempts to create a huge South American Imperio, never left the early stages of wishful thinking. He wanted his younger brother Archduke Ludwig Victor to marry Isabel, Princess Imperial of Brazil. Maximilian and his wife Charlotte did not have any children. So Ludwig should succeed him. It was Maximilian's plan to rule over Mexico and Brazil one day - on condition that Ludwig and Isabel were married, but Ludwig refused. In 1865 Maximilian "adopted"**** Agustín de Iturbide y Green and Salvador de Iturbide y de Marzan, grandsons of Agustín de Iturbide y Arámburu), an earlier "Emperor of Mexico" who reigned from 1822 until 1823. They gave two-year-old Agustín the title of "His Highness, the Prince de Iturbide" -– similar imperial titles were accorded various members of the child's extended family -– and, apparently, intended to groom him as heir to the throne. The explosive events of 1867, however, dashed such hopes, and, having renounced all rights to the defunct Mexican throne, Agustín de Iturbide y Green went on to serve in the Mexican army, and eventually established himself as a professor in Washington, D.C.

On the other hand, Maximilian I was succeeded as Holy Roman Emperor by his grandson Charles V under whose reign, the territories in New Spain were considerably extended by conquistadores like Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro, who caused the Aztec and Inca empires to fall in little more than a decade.

Irony has it that what started with a Habsburg hundreds of years earlier ended with a Habsburg. Maximilian of Mexico stated once, “I want to die on the top of a hill,” in June 1867 at Queretaro, he stood at the Cerro De Las Campanas (The Hill of Bells) facing a firing squad, looked up in the magnificent, cloudless Mexican sky and said:

“What a glorious day! I have always wanted to die on just such a day.”

Austrians still call out on sunny days with cloudless blue sky’s like on June 19, 1867:

“Heute haben wir Kaiserwetter!” Which translates as, “Today we have Emperors weather -– an Emperor Day!”

Isn’t it ironic?!

*Established in 1863 by the head of the French forces in Mexico, General Elie Forey, the Assembly of Notables consisted of 215 Mexican citizens, called upon to decide the future government of the country. The assembly proclaimed that Mexico would be a hereditary monarchy with a Catholic prince as emperor. The chosen candidate, previously selected by Napoleon III, was the Austrian Archduke, Ferdinand Maximilian von Habsburg. In October 1863, a delegation headed by José María Gutierrez de Estrada offered the crown to Maximilian. He accepted the offer on the condition that the Mexican people should vote in favor of the offer.
Maximilian’s reply:

“I am profoundly grateful for the wishes expressed by the Assembly of Notables. It cannot be otherwise than flattering to our house that the thoughts of your countrymen turn to the descendants of Charles V. It is a proud task to assure the independence of Mexico under the protection of free and lasting institutions. I must, however, recognize the fact—-and in this I entirely agree with the Emperor of the French, whose glorious undertaking makes the regeneration of Mexico possible--- that the monarchy cannot be established in your country on a firm and legitimate basis, unless the whole nation shall confirm by a free manifestation of its will the wishes of the capital. My acceptance of the throne must then depend upon the result of the vote of the whole country. Further, a sentiment of the most sacred duties of the sovereign requires that he should demand for the proposed empire every necessary guaranty to secure it against the dangers which threaten its integrity and its independence I beg of you to communicate these my intentions, frankly expressed, to your countrymen, and to take measures to obtain from the nation an expression of its will as to the form of government it intends to adopt."

After this, Marshal Achille Bazaine, who had replaced Forey as French Commander in Chief, masterminded the infamous favorable plebiscite.

**13 1/2 is not a reference to millimeters; it is an archaic numismatic sizing system. Size 13 is about the size of a nickel.

***The German king and Holy Roman emperor (1493 – 1519). Eldest son of Emperor Frederick III and a member of the Habsburg dynasty, Maxmilian I retook most of the Habsburg lands in Austria from the Hungarians by 1490, and, after being crowned Holy Roman emperor, drove the Turks from the empire's southeastern borders. He fought a series of wars against the French, and, through his childrens' marriages, acquired Spain for the Habsburgs.

****[Editor's note: "Adoption" is probably the closest word in English; nonetheless, this was not precisely an adoption as we would normally understand it. Maximilian understood it as more or less analogous to the relationship between Louis Napolean, the Emperor of France, and the Murat Princes. Basically what Maximilian was saying was, I grant the Iturbides the status of Highnesses; as such they join my house. So he did not think of the child as his own but rather as a kind of cousin, a member of an extended family under his leadership and protection. In the contract with the Iturbide family, Maximilian assumes the responsibilities of the education of the grandsons of Iturbide, along with Josefa de Iturbide, the boys' spinster aunt. ---C.M. Mayo]

--- H.M. Brindl

Next post next Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Countess Paula Kollonitz's Eine Reise Nach Mexiko im Jahre 1864

Eine Reise nach Mexiko im Jahre 1864, pictured left, is an extraordinary memoir by one of the Empress Carlota's ladies-in-waiting. It has been translated-- as far as I know-- into Italian (by Marchesa Dondi-Dall' Orolagio as Un Viaggio al Messico, Florence, 1868); Spanish (by Neftali Beltrán, from the Italian, as México en 1864, FCE, 1984); and English (by Joseph Earle Ollivant as The Court of Mexico, London, 1868), and certainly it deserves to be translated into many more languages. In my novel, I based much of the description of Maximilian's voyage from Europe to Mexico on Countess Kollonitz's vivid descriptions. To quote from her memoir (Ollivant's translation):

... we went at eleven p.m. to the Coliseum. The moon shone clear and beautiful, when we arrived there: the first impression was overpowering, but soon a thick fog settled upon those gigantic remains of Roman splendour, of Roman pride; and when we had toiled up all the steps, a thick veil hid from us the view which we expected. I, however, was seized with giddiness, all beneath me rocked and moved as if I still had that uncertain, fluctuating element under my feet, which I had left only a few hours before...

Some ways into the journey...

Upon deck, where we were sheltered, when there was a lack of wind, from the rays of the sun by an awning, a splendid, pure, fresh air breathed around us. It enticed even the Empress out of her handsome, comfortable cabin, in which she ceaslessly read and wrote, on to the deck, where she made her uniform promenade, and continued her occupations in the fresh air. Even in the evening, when the rest of us were deep in contemplation of the setting sun, she paid but little attention to its glory, and remained faithful to her books and to her writing tables by the pale light of the ship's lanterns. During a solitary and earnest childhood, her delight in study, her joy in books, and her capability iof mastering quickly what she had read had been highly developed and, at the same time, she displayed a stern industry, and a power of abstract attention, which was much assisted by an excellent memory. She was very quick at languages and can write and speak German, English, Italian, and Spanish grammatically, and without the least hesitation.

(Carlota was working, among other things, on the thick tome that is the Reglamento de la corte.)

Then, out in open ocean, nearing Mexico:
Even the moon had changed her wonted aspect; her light is more golden, more ruddy, and the position of the crescent is different; it does not stand upright as with us, but lies horizontally, whether waxing or waning. Never shall I forget the calm splendour of these evenings, of these nights,--- the world of divine, exalted poetry, unlike aught else.

Neither did our our days fail in interests, in little variations; the sea, which for a long time seemed to us uninhabited, at length became animated. We were often guided on our way by dolphins, which with their bodies half out of the water, chased past us in their wanton sports with incredible speed; and as we looked down through the clear waves we could see the sea-hyena, or dog-fish, following us on its greedy look-out for prey. Swarms of flying-fish were frightened into the air by the ship; they hovered like flakes of snow at a little height above the sea, and then sank again, hardly pressed by their pursuers, to whom they serve as food. The seamen of the south of France give them the name blé de la mer.

Kollonitz also provides copious descriptions (alas, with all the clichés one might expect from a mid-19th century European tourist) of Veracruz, Orizaba, Mexico City, and environs.

There's a bit about the countess on the Mexico Desconocido website.

Later in life she had a brief and unhappy marriage to Felix Eloin, the Belgian engineer who had been Maximilian's chef du cabinet. (Click here to visit the webpage for his archives at Rice University in Houston.)

Countess Kollonitz does not appear in my novel, however, as she departed Mexico just before the action began. I would have liked to include her, but the cast of characters is already quite a crowd!

More next Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

15 of September in Mexico of 1865

This year marks both the centennial of Mexico's Revolution and the bicentennial of its Independence from Spain, the latter traditionally celebrated with "El Grito" (the shout) on the evening of September 15th, with a militrary parade and more celebrations to follow on the 16th. (Many Americans confuse Cinco de Mayo with Independence. In fact, Cinco de Mayo celebrates a temporary victory over the invading French Imperial Army at the city of the Puebla on May 5, 1862.)

A little awkwardly for a Republic, not one of the first but the definitive leader of Mexico's Independence was Agustin de Iturbide, known as "the Liberator" who crafted the Plan of Iguala, and then set himself up as emperor. As he was unable to pay the army (among other challenges), he had to abdicate soon thereafter and, to make a labyrinthical story short, he was executed by a firing squad in 1824.

For much of the past century, when modern Mexico was remaking its image in the wake of the Revolution of 1910, Iturbide was widely considered an embarrassment, almost a cartoon character-- an emperor, with a crown?! And it's not uncommon even today in Mexico to mention his name and get a chuckle. But in the 19th century, when Mexico was embroiled in revolutions and foreign invasions--- this a time when the monarchical form of government was still, and certainly in Europe, widely (if not unanimously) considered the most viable and stable model of government--- many people, and in particular, conservatives, and including the leadership of the Catholic Church, considered the martyred Iturbide a hero.

Ironically then, when Maximilian von Habsburg accepted the throne of Mexico-- with the support of the Church, not a few Mexican conservatives, and the backing of the French Imperial Army-- one of the first things he did, in 1865, was celebrate Mexico's Independence!

You might be shaking your head over this. Backed by the French Army, the ex-archduke of Austria celebrates Mexico's Independence?

But this was, in Maximilian's mind at least, a savvy politcal move, for he was also also celebrating Agustin de Iturbide--- that is to say, the hero of Mexican conservative nationalists--- and--- more irony--- Morelos, one of the original leaders of Independence (not an ally of the more conservative Iturbide, to be sure).

Why did Maximilian celebrate Morelos? Here's a key: Morelos's illegitimate son, Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, a general and ex-ambassador to the United States, had been a prime mover behind the offer of the throne. (Once the French occupied Mexico City, in the year before Maximilian arrived, Almonte had served as President of the Regency. When Maximilian arrived, Almonte became his Gran Mariscal de la Corte and his wife, chief lady of honor to the Empress Carlota.) In sum, Maximilian owed his position in Mexico, in part, to Almonte, and Almonte's ongoing support was necessary to keep the Mexican Imperial Army in line.

Maximilian's celebration of September 1865 was an elaborate one and it included a solemn ceremony in which the children and two grandsons of Agustin de Iturbide were elevated to the status of Imperial Highnesses.

Childless himself, Maximilan made a contract --- negotiated, though not signed, by none other than his wife, the Empress Carlota--- with the Iturbide family, in which the two grandsons of Iturbide would be handed over to his custody. Maximilian was to be "co-tutor" along with Josefa de Iturbide, a spinster aunt. The parents of one grandson, Salvador, had both died, and as Salvador was a teenager, he was sent to school in France. The parents of the two-and-a-half year old Agustin de Iturbide y Green, Angel de Iturbide (second son of the Emperor Iturbide) and Alice Green de Iturbide, an American from a prominent Washington DC family, were exiled, much against their will. They immediately went to Washington, to meet with Secretary of State Seward, and then to Paris, to lobby with U.S. Minister John Bigelow to try to get their son back from Maximilian.

Those of you have been following this blog know that the resulting international scandal is the subject of my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. To read all about it--- as well as my extensive original research in the Emperor Iturbide and Iturbide archives in Washington DC--- I invite you to visit my webpage which includes videos, podcasts, genealogies, photos, a bibliography, and an extensive Reader's Guide.

This week also marks the publication of the novel in Spanish, translated by Mexican novelist Agustín Cadena as El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano. It will be in bookstores in Mexico City this weekend, and in the rest of the Republic the week after that. The publisher is Grijalbo (Random House-Mondadori).

Here is the 3 and 1/2 minute trailer (double click to view the larger screen):

More next Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano por C.M. Mayo

Just in time for Mexico's 200th anniversary of Independence, the Spanish version of my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, as El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano, translated by Mexican novelist and poet Agustín Cadena, will be published by Random House Mondadori (Grijalbo) this month. I understand it will be in bookstores in Mexico City next weekend, and in the rest of the Republic a week after that.

I couldn't be more delighted about the translation. Of course, after some two decades of living in Mexico, I speak Spanish fluently, but as my Spanish is not at the same level as my English, and as this is a story that is part of Mexico's national narrative, I felt it was very important that a Mexican novelist do the translation. I have long admired--- and translated--- Agustín Cadena, so it was a great honor that he agreed to undertake the project. An added benefit: Cadena is an expert on 19th century literature.

A fun synchronicity: Cadena is also the translator of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, which, it so happens, John Bigelow--- then U.S. minister to France (and a major character in this novel)--- rescued. It had originally been published in a French translation from an unrevised manuscript. Bigelow purchased the original manuscript in France and then brought out the first reliable version in 1868.

For more about El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano, including podcasts (some in Spanish), I invite you to visit the book's Spanish language webpage at http://www.cmmayo.com/espanol-el-ultimo-principe-del-imperio-mexicano.html

More anon.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Court Ball at the Palace of Mexico by William Wells, Overland Monthly (1868)

Only a few years ago it was no casual undertaking to secure an 1868 magazine article. But now we have an cornucopia of digital material at our fingertips, and among the wonders, many gems, such as this one, William V. Wells' "A Court Ball at the Palace of Mexico." Published in the Overland Monthly in 1868, sometime after the event itself--- winter of 1865--- Wells' article recounts his experience as a guest at what was, without doubt, one of the most astonishing entertainments yet offered in the Americas. I've been researching this period for several years and I have yet to come upon as fine and detailed a memoir of any one of Maximilian's palace balls as this one.

Wells (1826 - 1876) also published a lengthy and entertaining article on an ascent of Popocatepetl (Mexican volcano) in November 1865 for Harper's. Read that one here.

P.S. In the bibliography for my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, I only had room to list "selected books consulted," so, alas, "A Court Ball" does not appear there, though I relied heavily on it (as well as others and the Reglamento) for the scene in chapter three. However, as a tip of the cap, I brough Mr Wells in as a character in the opening chapter, one of the journalists at the U.S. Minister Corwin's rooftop entertainment when the French troops marched into Mexico City in 1863. The scene with Alice Green de Iturbide (the American mother of the "last prince", then a tiny baby) and Mr Wells is fictional--- I don't know whether Wells was there or not. But I do know, from a family memoir I found an the Agustin de Iturbide Green archive at Catholic University in Washington DC that, indeed, Alice de Iturbide held the baby in her arms as she and her husband, Angel de Iturbide, witnessed the French troops marching in, from the vantage point of the roof of the U.S. Legation.

As for Mr Corwin, the ex-Senator from Ohio, and ex-Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, he was a popular minister (ambassador) in Mexico because of his well-known and adamant opposition to the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846. Shortly after the French occupied Mexico City, Corwin was recalled to Washington DC; the United States refused to recognize a French-supported monarchy in Mexico. Notably, Corwin served as one of the pallbearers in President Lincoln's funeral.

More next Tuesday.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Kaiser Maximilian von Mexiko archive in the Library of Congress

There was a period in the summer and fall of 1866 when Maximilian was seriously considering abdicating. Actually, "waffling" would be more apt. The Empress Carlota having left Mexico for Europe in July to plead with Louis Napoleon for more money, the Mexican Imperial Treasury drier than a sun-bleached bone, and the Juaristas ever-stronger, Maximilian--- and his French advisors, as well as some of his close friends--- saw no way out but to abdicate. On the other hand, his wife, and many of his most ardent conservative supporters viewed abdication as so dishonorable as to be unthinkable.

That October, Maximilian, still undecided, went so far as to pack up his archive and have it loaded onto the ship for Europe. Only his corpse made it on board, several months later--- but that's another story. Today his papers are in the Haus, Hof, und Staasarchiv in Vienna, Austria. A partial copy of this substantial archive was made in 1929 for the Library of Congress in Washington DC. (Missing, notably, is the files of correspondence with the Iturbide family.) To hear more about this archive and what I learned from it about the Maximilian and the Iturbide family, listen in to this podcast, from my lecture at the Library of Congress back in July of last year.

One of the things that most fascinated me was seeing the handwriting. Of course many letters were simply transcribed by secretaries (there are scads of official reports and bread-and-butter letters), but many are in Maximilian's hand (wildly, nearly illegibly arabesque), as well as Carlota's (school girl perfect), General Bazaine's (rapid, vigorous), and Father Fischer's (cramped, jagged, intense).

P.S. I aim to post a more detailed note about the archive in the Library of Congress on the Maximilian page soon. For anyone who wants to look it up at the Library of Congress, note that it is listed under the German title, "Kaiser Maximilian von Mexiko."

Next post next Tuesday.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reglamento y ceremonial de la corte (Maximilian and Carlota's book of court etiquette)

To a modern republican sensibility, one of the most ridiculous things about Maximilian's short-lived Imperial Court was its elaborate etiquette, and to many historians, a sure sign of Maximilian's superficiality his concern with such trivia as whose bench should be cushioned in velvet, what color stockings the lackeys should wear for a third-class dinner, & etc. Read the Reglamento y ceremonial de la Corte and I can guarantee some eye rolling and chuckles. But in context, the 1860s, when rigorous court etiquette was widely, from Austria to Spain to France and England, considered a crucial instrument to maintain the stability of the State-- and this when the upheavals of 1848 were a fresh memory for so many--- the Reglamento begins to look more sad than nonsensical.

It is still possible to find copies of the Reglamento y ceremonial de la corte in antiquarian bookstores, especially in Mexico City. I have seen an original--- it had been inherited, over the generations, by the daughter of a friend. It was crisply printed on luxuriously heavy paper, and beautifully bound in a faded scarlet linen cover. My first thought: this must have cost a fortune and a half to print.

My own copy of the Reglamento, which I came upon in Mexico City's antiquarian bookstore, the marvelous Libreria Madero, is not an original, but a xerox copy bound--- and this in itself is revealing--- in the heaviest, finest and extravagantly tooled sea-blue Morocco leather.

Important note: there are two editions of the Reglamento: the first, which was speedily written by Maximilian and Carlota in 1864, while en route to Mexico, and a second, published in 1866, which includes an all new chapter with elaborate detail about the Iturbide princes, whom Maximilian had elevated to the status of "Imperial Highnesses" in September of 1865. I aim to post a transcription of that 1866 chapter shortly. At this time I have a few bits transcribed, as well as some jpgs of selected chapters, and the index, on-line at my "Maximilian" page.

Here's the flashback in my novel when the Princess Iturbide (Pepa) recalls receiving her copy:

On her bedside table, next to a dish with the coil of rosary beads, is the Reglamento y ceremonial de la Corte, big as a Bible. It is being reprinted with an all-new Chapter One, "On the Iturbide Princes," specifying their rank, which is above all others with the exception of Imperial Princes (of which there are none); Cardinals; those rare few, such as General Almonte, upon whom the emperor has bestowed the medal of the order of the Mexican Eagle; and Their Majesties. Princess Iturbide may make visits in society and leave her card; however, she need not return visits except to Cardinals, Mexican Eagles, Ambassadors, Ministers of State, and their wives. When Their Majesties are on their thrones, she must place herself at their feet, on the first step, to the left of the empress. In church, her place is in the first row, and the bench covered in velvet. But she shall not be presented with the holy water. There is so much to study, too much to remember. But God will help.

"Please," said the Master of Ceremonies when he brought her this book, together with the loose manuscript pages of Chapter One. "I am at your service."

"I am obliged to you," Pepa had answered, but with the firm intention of making questions unnecessary.

But the Master of Ceremonies, rather than put the book in her hands, took a slight step backwards. Holding this tome as a waiter does his tray, he lifted the cover and then slid his glove over the small square of a certificate that had been pasted on the inside. "Please," he said, "you will see here that this book is for your personal use, however, it remains, now and always, the property of His Majesty."

Pepa had put on her spectacles. The Master of Ceremonies could have, but did not turn the book around for her to be able to read the certificate.

"Each book," he went on, "has a registration number."

"I see."

His tongue pushed against the inside of his cheek. It seemed the Master of Ceremonies was going to say something more; but no. With an air of infinite reserve, he closed the lid of the book and, dipping his head slightly, presented it to her.

It was so heavy she'd had to carry it with both hands.

More next Tuesday.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Website Design for "Maximilian"

Just revamped the website design for the Maximilian page. This is the original webpage I started a few years ago as a handy bucket-list of links, but it has grown so large that it made sense to break it up into several subpages: my works; photos; on-line articles and books; bibliography; podcasts, and links. No doubt it will morph further (the links can be broken down into various categories as well). Until next Tuesday...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

An Albany Engineer Dines with the Emperor Maximilian

A curious article from June 1865 reprinted on-line at the New York Times.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Maximilian Diamond

Warmest thanks to my Austrian correspondent in Los Angeles, who sends this news about a most interesting auction. See the Christies announcement in full here, and see my comments at the end of this post in italics.

"The Emperor Maximilian" was auctioned of at Christie's New York on April 22nd, 2010 as a lot in Jewels: The New York Sale, with The Catherine the Great Emerald Brooch and The Emperor Maximilian Diamond. The Estimate $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. Price Realized $ 1,762,500. That Friday at Christie’s was the first time the Emperor diamond had been on display to the public since 1982.

SHAPE & CUTTING STYLE: Cushion Brilliant
Measurements: 23.22 × 20.29 × 12.35 mm
Weight: 39.55 Carats
Depth: 60.9%
Table: 59%
Girdle: Medium to slightly thick, Faceted
Culet: Large
Polish - Very Good
Symmetry - Good
Fluorescence - Very Strong Blue

History of the Diamond:

Maximilian of Habsburg held a burning desire to visit the New World. In 1860, he journeyed to the tropical forests of Brazil on a botanical expedition. While in Brazil he acquired two exceptionally large diamonds which were to be named for him, the Emperor Maximilian and the Maximilian II.

The first was a 41.94-carat diamond with a strong blue fluorescence which gives the diamond a soft luminosity in daylight. The second diamond was of a greenish-yellow tint and weighted 33 carats. After his return to Europe, Maximilian presented the smaller diamond to his wife, who wore it mounted as a pendant. The Maximilian II is therefore sometimes called the "Carlota" Diamond. (Not to be confused with the pear-shaped pink stone of the same name.)

When Carlotta left Mexico during the summer of 1866, she left behind the 33-carat greenish-yellow diamond, which her husband had given her.

Legend holds that Maximilian was wearing the Emperor Maximilian Diamond in a small satchel tied around his neck when he faced the firing squad.* Following the execution, his remains were sent to Vienna and the Emperor Maximilian Diamond returned to Charlotte. Upon news of his death, Charlotte’s condition worsened and she shut herself off from the outside world. The diamond was subsequently sold to help pay for expenses during Charlotte’s illness and it disappeared for over three decades until, in 1901, two Mexicans attempted to smuggle it into the United States. It was seized by Customs and auctioned by the U.S. Government later the same year for $120,000, a quite large sum for a yellow diamond, even a larger one, in those days. In 1919, the Emperor Maximilian Diamond was purchased by a Chicago gem dealer, Ferdinand Holtz and was displayed in the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair as the highlight of the 'Century of Progress' exhibition, which reproduced a South African Diamond mine in operation with native laborers. Despite several offers to buy it, Mr. Holtz refused to sell the diamond and it remained in his possession until his death in 1946. It was subsequently sold to a private collector in New York. The name of the new owner has never been revealed and the diamond remained in her possession, mounted in a ring by Cartier, until Christie’s auctioned it in New York in 1982.

It was expected that diamond would fetch $330,000 but it eventually sold for $726,000 to Laurence Graff, the London jeweler, who has a vast collection of notable and historic diamonds. In January 1983, Graff sold The Emperor Maximilian, together with two other important diamonds, in a single transaction to the same buyer, Madame Imelda Marcos, wife of the President of the Philippines. Subsequently, it was sold and re-cut in the 1990’s, to its current weight of 39.55 carats, and finally it was acquired by the present owner.

According to the staff at Christie’s, the stone is believed to be a Golconda diamond but that cannot be proven conclusively. Golconda’s are absolutely exquisite stones. While many of the stones that end up on the auction block at places like Christie’s and Sotheby’s are top-notch Ds or Es, the Emperor diamond is actually only an I-color stone.

The stone’s strong blue fluorescence actually makes it look a few color grades better and, besides, there is for sure no denying this is one stone with a rich history.

View the Christies Video about The Emperor Maximilian Diamond.

*C.M. notes: This is quite a story! I should note, however, that I have developed a healthy skepticism for so-called "legends." I sincerely doubt Maximilian wore such a thing around his neck at the time of his execution. Never in all my years of research have I come across anything in a primary source about such a diamond being returned by the Mexicans to Carlota, and I find it extremely unlikely. There is in the Maximilian von Mexiko Archive in Vienna a copy of the detailed inventory taken when Maximilian was captured in Querétaro which includes everything, and it wasn't much, down to the last teaspoon. The Christies video talks about his liberal sentiments, but well... to give an idea of things, after an extensive trial in 1867, Maximilian was found guilty of several crimes against the Mexican nation, the most grevious--- and the one upon which his sentence of death was based--- for having signed into law the "Black Decree" of October 1865, in which anyone found in Mexican territory with a weapon could be treated, not as an enemy combatant, but as a common criminal and shot without trial. In 1865 and 1866, hundreds of people were executed by Mexican Imperial troops and by French troops under this "law." And this "Black Decree" was certainly not something trotted out at the last minute in a kangaroo court. John Bigelow, the U.S. minister in Paris, protested vociferously to the French authorities about the barbaric "Black Decree" just as soon as he heard about it. Even Carlota's own uncle, Joinville, wrote to her objecting to such drastic and cruel measures. (And Maximilian's tussles with the Iturbide family, the subject of my novel, which is based on extensive original research, shows no small degree of moral confusion on his part. Suffice it to say he had Alice Green de Iturbide, the distraught mother of the prince he "adopted," arrested and forcibly exiled. The entire, sad, file on that subject is perserved in own archive in Vienna.) After Maximilian was executed by the firing squad, his body did not fit into the temporary coffin, so, not feeling beholden to delicacy, the Mexicans broke the legs to make it fit. The embalming of the body was another grotesque fiasco--- also well documented by multiple observers (read the memoir of an eyewitness here). So again, I find this story of the Mexicans, clearly not in a mood for charity, returning any such diamond to Carlota very difficult to believe.

But who knows? History is often stranger than fiction.

As for Carlota, she had suffered her psychotic breakdown in while on a mission to Paris and Rome in September 1866, more than six months before Maximilian's death (read an eyewitness account in José Luis Blasio's Maximiliano íntimo, and see the letters of Maximilian's consul in Rome at the CONDUMEX archive in Mexico City) and was taken back to Miramar Castle in Trieste and kept under guard until her family took her back to Belgium. For the rest of her long life, insane, (possibly bipolar and later, so it seems, suffering from senile dementia) she lived in a castle in Belgium with a highly vigilant entourage, including ladies-in-waiting and a doctor. Her personal wealth was sustantial, but most historians concur that her fortune must have disappeared into the hands of her brother, Leopold II, King of the Belgians.

Comments? More information?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

José Luis Blasio, author of Maximiliano íntimo (Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico)-- a few notes and reflections

Having just finished reading María del Carmen Cuevas Pérez's splendid 1998 thesis for the Universidad Nacional Autónomo de México's Department of History, "Don José Luis Blasio y Prieto: Historia de vida a través de documentos personales", a few notes and reflections:

José Luis Blasio (1842 - 1923) was the author of Maximiliano íntimo, a memoir of his years as the Emperor Maximilian's private secretary (and also, an intermediate period, serving the Empress Carlota in Europe in 1866, which coincided with her spectacular psychotic breakdown).

Published in Mexico City and Paris in 1905 and in English nearly three decades later as Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico (Yale University Press, 1934), Blasio's lushly vivid memoir is, without a doubt-- and never mind its less-than-correct political stance-- one of the literary treasures of Mexico.

As Bernal Díaz's True History is to the Conquest, so Blasio's Maximiliano íntimo is to Mexico's Second Empire. Yes, it's that good.

In Mexico's Second Empire (1864 - 1867), as in all periods of history, many people witnessed events of importance, or found themselves close to key personalities, but never, even if they lived into the ripest of lucid old age, bothered to share them in a memoir. ("Who has time?" they probably said. "Why should I care what people I don't know think?" "When I'm dead, I'm dead." & etc.) As for those who managed to put pen to paper, most cobbled together something useful for the interpid researcher but, alas, boring, and / or shot though with displays of personal vanity. Blasio opens his heart, but with the most gentlemanly consideration for the reader, and it is this informative spirit, this deep generosity, elegant in its simplicity, that lifts Maximiliano intimo into a realm beyond that of the other memoirs of the period.

To be fair, I should note two other superb memoirs: Sara Yorke Stevenson's Maximilian in Mexico and Charles Blanchot's L'Intervention Française au Mexique.

Just to give a taste of Blasio's memoir, here is his description of the Moorish room in the small castle on the grounds of Maximilian's Miramar Castle in Trieste, which Blasio visited in 1866 (my translation):

"[It] was upholstered in dark damask and its walls almost literally covered with exotic weapons that the emperor had collected and catalogued with his exquisite taste. The walls also had verses of the Koran handwritten in gold. In the center of the room a beautiful fountain played almost to the ceiling, a thin crystalline thread of water that refreshed that residence worthy of an oriental magnate. From the ceiling hung a canopy made of ostrich eggs enclosed within nets of green silk; the seats were plump pillows of red velvet, and the floor was covered with Turkish carpets of many colors. Everywhere magnificent censers let out plumes of perfumed smoke, and there within the visitor's easy reach, were to be seen long Arab pipes, the kind used by those refined smokers of the Orient."

Blasio's memoir informed many scenes in my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, among them, the chapters set in Mexico City in November 1865, Cuernavaca in January 1866, and Rome in September 1866. Blasio himself appears as a minor character in these chapters. As for Blasio's treatment of the subject of my novel, Agustin de Iturbide y Green, the toddler Maximilian made an Imperial Higness and brought into his Court: alas, Blasio makes some serious mistakes, mainly, that the child was 5 (he was only 2 1/2 years old), and that his father was dead. In fact, the child's parents, Angel and Alicia de Iturbide, were both quite alive and, after the mother changed her mind about the arrangement, wild with grief at having been separated from her child, Maximilian's response was to arrest her and have her and her husband expelled from Mexico. From Washington DC and Paris, they got up quite an intrigue against Maximilian, which is amply documented in various archives, including the Iturbide family archive in the Library of Congress (click here for a podcast about that research), the Agustin de Iturbide y Green archive at Catholic University, and in Maximilian's own archive in Vienna, which contains a file of letters from the Iturbides, including the child's father, Angel de Iturbide. My guess is that Blasio did not know much about it, as Maximilian's correspondence with the Iturbide family was direct-- without an intervening secretary-- or else through Castillo, who handled the Civil List. Blasio would have handled official correspondence, and I suppose, neither then nor later did he have the wish or the wherewithal to investigate this ugly episode.

But this is a mere quibble.

Until Cuevas Pérez's thesis, little was known about Blasio other than what he himself wrote about his few years in Maximilian and Carlota's service, which ended with Maximilian's execution by firing squad in Querétaro in June of 1867.

Cuevas Pérez's thesis is based on her research into Blasio's personal archive, which had been inherited by her father, who had been all of ten years old when Blasio died in 1923. They had lived under the same roof, for Blasio, a childless widower, found lodging with his distant cousin, Cuevas Perez's paternal grandmother. As Cuevas Pérez writes (my translation from the Spanish):

"When I was a little girl, my father, Ernesto Cuevas Alvarado, always told me about a man named José Luis Blasio, who had been the godfather at his baptism and, many years before that, had served as the private secretary for Maximilian von Habsburg, for almost the entire time he was emperor. At that young age, it seemed to me a story and after a few years, it didn't make sense because I couldn't see the people of that time in relation to my father. It was not until I was in highschool that I began to wonder, and then, when I began to major in history at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and moreso when I began my studies as an archivist at the Iberoamerican University, that I truly understood the importance of this archive, which my father had so carefully guarded. I decided to write my thesis based on these papers that no one, other than my father and Blasio himself, had read. And now I began to read.... "

María del Carmen Cuevas Pérez describes her own father's memories of Blasio, as told to herself (my translation):

"He was affable, with great political and social tact. Despite his well-known versatility, he never entered into any place, even if he found the door open, for he was very reserved, very polite and above all, noble and above rancor and vanity. He was an impeccably well dressed man. He would not go out to the street without his top hat, cane, jacket or frockcoat, or his most formal suit."

Epecially notable is Blasio's correspondence with his cousin, the Mexican diplomat and novelist Federico Gamboa (1864-1939). Writes Cuevas Pérez (my translation):

"Jose Luis Blasio and Federico Gamboa were very close; they were more than family; they were very close friends... From Washington [Gamboa sent Blasio] congratulations for having finished his work about Maximilian von Habsburg and told him how sorry he was to not have been able to offer his help with as a writer, and that he was very happy that, having advised him many times to write the book, he had finally conceded."

Ah, the labyrinths of literary fame. Here I couldn't help thinking of Guiseppe di Lampedusa's relationship with his cousin, close friend and and literary colleague, the poet Lucio Piccolo. In their lifetime, Piccolo was the senior on the literary scene. Guiseppe di Lampdusa, of course, was the author of one book, the beloved and now classic novel of the fall of Sicily's 19th century aristocracy, Il Gatorpardo (The Leopard).

In Cuevas Pérez's thesis, which you can read on-line here, there is more detail about Blasio's subsequent career as a bookkeeper for the Ferrocarril Mexicano (Mexican Railroad), the Blasio family, his spouse Adela, friends, and other details about his years in Mexico City after the fall of the Empire and up until his death in 1923. Cuevas Pérez's also includes a complete catalog of the archive, extensive notes, and a bibliography.

More anon.

Originally posted at Madam Mayo blog.


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