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.


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