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.


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