C.M. Mayo: I would like to dedicate this
podcast to the memory of Dr.
Konrad Ratz, the Austrian historian whose several works on
Maximilian von Habsburg and his circle have opened doors into
previously unimagined palaces of information and insight. And
a special thank you, muchos gracias, to the Twig
Book Shop of San Antonio, Texas, where this interview was
recorded in October of 2015.
with other writers, with your host, award-winning travel
writer and novelist C.M.
C.M. Mayo: Welcome. I'm your host, C.M.
Mayo, and this is the eighth in my ongoing occasional podcast
series. In this podcast, the other writer is historian M.M.
McAllen, who is the author of several books, most recently
the splendid Maximilian
and Carlota: Europe's Last Empire in Mexico, published
by Trinity University Press in 2014. McAllen is also the author
Would Rather Sleep in Texas and A
Brave Boy and a Good Soldier: John CC Hill and the Texas Expedition
For those of you listening in for the first time, in this podcast
series I interview other writers whom I'm curious to learn more
about, and whose works I admire and celebrate.
authors about their new books is a conventional form. I want
to do something different, talk to writers about their books
as a fellow writer. My own books include the novel The
Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, which is based on
a true story of the 1860s of the 2-year-old half-American grandson
of Mexico's first emperor in the court of its second emperor,
Maximilian von Habsburg. The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire
came out in 2009, so my research was still, in late 2015, relatively
fresh in my mind, and I had very much wanted, from the day I
first read the manuscript in 2013, to interview M.M. McAllen
about her book, Maximilian and Carlota. On the back cover,
there are 3 blurbs, and I'm really proud to say one of them is
I said, "Maximilian
and Carlota is a deeply researched book about a period of
Mexican history that, while vital for understanding modern Mexico
and its relations with the United States and Europe, is of perhaps
unparalleled cultural, political, and military complexity for
such a short period."
Another blurb is from William H. Beezley, co-editor of The
Oxford History of Mexico. He writes, "A thorough, complete
history of Mexico's second empire. The author leaves nothing
And finally, novelist Luis Alberto Urrea writes, "Mexican
history offers a phantasmagoria that beggars the imagination.
M.M. McAllen has written an important book that not only reads
like a novel of fantastic inventions, but is key to understanding
the soul of Mexico today."
sounds so strange, the Austrian aristocrat coming to be the monarch
of Mexico, propped up by the French, and yet, the idea was not
so exotic to Mexican monarchists at the time. And I think Mexican
monarchism is kind of a hot potato a lot of Mexicans don't want
to touch, but the fact is, there were some Mexicans who were
very prominent who supported the scheme, and who really worked
hard to make it happen, Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, Gutiérrez
de Estrada, and many other people.
So maybe I should back up, though, I'm getting too crunchy.
What inspired you to write this book?
M.M. McAllen: Mostly memories of my childhood,
going to Cuernavaca. People there, I found, would talk about
Maximilian and Carlota. They had a residence in Cuernavaca, and
they would speak of them as though they had just left the building.
And later in life, I had several friends who are collectors of
historical objects, and they collected items from the empire
which were very inspirational to me. And then, I think the culmination
was walking into Throckmorton's
Gallery in New York City one day, and this man, he features
Mexican photographers, and one of them was by François
Aubert, and it was of Maximilian in his coffin, amongst all these
beautiful, beautiful art photos. I bought the one of Maximilian,
and in his coffin.
is a gruesome, gruesome photograph.
M.M. McAllen: It is a gruesome photograph,
and I brought it home and I turned it to the wall so my children
wouldn't see it. And it just kind of preyed on me for a couple
of years, and then I just decided, you know, I'm going to take
a shot at it, because I wanted to read more about Maximilian,
and this is often how I get my book ideas, is that I read about
something and then I cannot find any book that I like on it.
So, I just started the research mostly organically, with my friends
who were the collectors, and then going back, and then doors
started opening, and it was just meant to be.
me back up. When you were in Cuernavaca, then, you would have
gone to the Borda
which was Maximilian's Imperial Residence there.
M.M. McAllen: Right. When I was a child,
Borda Gardens wasn't what it is today, which is sort of a botanical
center, but it was sort of a, what would you say, just a relic,
and so, people would talk about it. We went to Cortes's palace
quite a lot, where apparently the city fathers had tried to make
a gift of Cortez's palace to Maximilian, which I don't believe
he ever accepted, but they had parties there. And he belonged
to a men's club that might have parties there. But walking around
Cuernavaca, those landmarks are very prominent.
such an amazing image of this monarch in that time in Cuernavaca,
and for those who don't know Cuernavaca, the weather there is
probably the best in the world. It's the eternal springtime.
It's like living in a fantasy, in a way, with the super-tall
palm trees and fruit and the birds, and for someone coming from
Europe, it must have seemed, as they say in Spanish, a cuento
de hadas, like a fairy tale kind of setting.
M.M. McAllen: He called it a golden bowl,
Maximilian did. He said it was just so magnificent, the most
perfect weather, as you say, and that's why he wanted to go there
all the time.
were some of the things your friends collected that inspired
M.M. McAllen: My friends would collect some
of the joyería of the realm, the jewelry they would
hand out to people as
M.M. McAllen: The medals, right, and they
would also collect swords or weapons of the time. They had newspaper
articles. They had maps, letters too, some of the letters of
Maximilian or Carlota, or his generals. One man had a rosary
out of ebony and ivory that belonged supposedly to Carlota. It
was clearly an import piece, and we actually did, these collectors
kind of came together at the end when the book was published
to do a big exhibit and the Witte
Museum here, and that's where the book was launched, besides
here at the Twig. The other launching was at the Witte Museum.
So, we got to see the dishes and the silverware, and Maximilian
had a poncho that was very elaborate. His hat, all sorts of accoutrements
from his household. So that was wonderful.
That's something that I didn't really come across until after
I published my book and I started a little blog to put the
research on there, both to share what I had already done, but
I found people were constantly telling me things and showing
me things and bringing me things. And I was really astonished
at what a large number of objects are collected. Just the last
few years, there was an auction for Maximilian's
and I remember someone sent me something about Carlota's
a big golden piano that was a birthday gift from Franz Joseph,
and apparently had been sitting in a store in San Jose, California
for several years. And
if I recall, the price tag was a couple hundred thousand dollars,
so if you want the piano instead of an apartment somewhere...
Well, so that inspired you to do it, and then you launched into
what must have been a great odyssey, because there are a lot
of sticky wickets in this period.
What turned out to be relatively easy, and what turned out to
be surprisingly difficult in doing this book?
M.M. McAllen: Probably the biggest challenge
was deciphering the old German handwriting. When I got to Vienna,
a friend of mine's father, who had written extensively on Maximilian
in German, made himself available to me, Wolfgang Ratz is his
The son of Dr. Ratz, Konrad Ratz.
M.M. McAllen: Exactly.
we'll talk about him in more detail in a moment.
M.M. McAllen: He's a fascinating guy himself,
but he came with me to the Austrian archives and sat with me,
and deciphered as well as we could, because German has been changed
since that time. The eszetts are different and all sorts of handwriting
anomalies don't exist anymore. So, that was probably the biggest
challenge. Other than that, just the travel around, because Maximilian
in his short life got around a lot. So, it took going to Italy,
and Paris, and Vienna, and Mexico City, so
and Egypt, and Albania. He went to Brazil.
M.M. McAllen: Yes, and so, he let no moss
grow on him. Let's put it that way, and so, that was the greatest
thing. The greatest pleasure was actually working with all the
historians who did not care to write a story in English, and
so, a lot of them would help me, like Konrad Ratz. He would explain
to me certain things that I could not really understand, like
why would Maximilian go up to the roof of the National Palace
to walk, or the roof of Chapultepec to walk rather than go out
and stroll around the town. Well, those things I couldn't put
my arms around. So he helped me to understand, he put me in the
time period a little bit better.
And another great pleasure
was sort of, Barbara Tuckman, who was a great, great historian
whose work I admire, she said, "You know, a lot of historians
say you shouldn't fall in love with your subjects," but
she said, "I disagree. I think you must necessarily fall
in love with your subjects in order to explain who they were
to the sympathetic or unsympathetic reader." And I really
did fall in love with both Maximilian and Carlota. I could understand
them. Carlota just walked this fine line of genius and madness,
and Maximilian was so wrapped up in himself, and was really made
for other things than running a country. Like you mentioned in
the beginning of the interview, that wasn't an unusual thought,
especially on the part of the von Hapsburgs.
surprised you when you were doing this? What was the biggest
surprise for you?
M.M. McAllen: I think the biggest surprise
was, one, how Maximilian, toward the end of his life, in the
final fights in Querétaro, how he just seemed to get braver
and braver, and better and better at being a leader. The strength
of him finally came out, and you could see that in the ways he
would lead his men into battle. That was one surprise.
The other surprise was that despite being caged up in Europe,
Carlota, who had been taken ill when she had gone on behalf of
Maximilian back to Rome, she actually retained her genius side
of herself. Right before her death, she had a painting brought
close to her of Maximilian, and she just said, "They will
never let you live. They will never let this work."
She retained that sort
of genius until the end. That was the other surprising thing.
She didn't really deteriorate. It was her body that deteriorated.
Her mind kind of vacillated, but she always remembered. She never
forgot that time of her life, even though it was only 3 years.
want to talk a lot about Carlota, but I'm thinking, the beginning
of the entire enterprise of how this happened, the ideas of monarchism,
I'd like your reaction to this statement.
One of the problems for me, or the challenges for me in writing
my book, and one of the challenges I see for many readers in
Mexico and the United States is we do not understand the true
meaning of monarchy.
We see monarchs as these sort of celebrities mixed in with
rock stars and TV stars and People magazine, or maybe
Hola magazine or something like that, but we don't really
comprehend the true meaning. It's a mystical meaning of monarchism.
so, it's very easy for many people to say, "Well, the fact
that Carlota urged Maximilian not to abdicate was a sign of madness,"
and I say, "Well, no. She was trained from Day One to comprehend
the mystical meaning of monarchy." Of course you don't abdicate.
It's greater than your own human life. So, coming back to these
ideas about monarchy and how this whole thing kind of got concocted,
a combination of Louis Napoleon's ambitions, the US Civil War,
and Mexican monarchists, and the Catholic Church.
How did this all happen?
M.M. McAllen: Well, first of all, when Mexico
liberated itself from Spain in 1821, a series of leaders came
forward, aside from Augustin de Iturbide, dictators and presidents
and institutional presidents versus elected presidents, it was
crazy. And so
was gone by 1824.
M.M. McAllen: Exactly.
had been executed.
M.M. McAllen: And then there was just one
president after another, causing the monarchists to say, "Okay,
we have a failed state here. We're just spinning our wheels.
We're getting nowhere. We want to compete with Europe. We have
tremendous amounts of natural resources that we're not getting
out there. Nobody's making any money. There's no structure,"
and Mexican society was very stratified and very fragmented.
There was no coalescing for one Mexican idea.
much of the infrastructure, like the mining and the income that
would have come to the state from taxing
M.M. McAllen: Exactly.
had been destroyed in the civil wars and in the wars for independence.
M.M. McAllen: The only means of income pretty
much through that whole time period were through duties, duty
imports and exports, and those just weren't happening very reliably,
so that when Juarez won, he was already facing opposition as
he moved into office.
At the same year, Lincoln was reelected, and it was pretty inevitable
that the United States was going to fall into civil war, and
whether Mexico would admit it or not, the 2 countries have always
relied on one another. And without that support, Napoleon III
said, "Okay, it's time." Pedro von Hapsburg, who was
running Brazil, was apparently doing a terrific job, so they
thought, Spain had re-occupied Cuba, so Napoleon III said, "You
know, I've got to continue my work to generate reason and civilization
around the world."
He was already occupying
Crimea, northern Africa, parts of China, and to him, going back
into North America seemed like a natural idea, especially with
the Americans engrossed in their own civil war. So, the Mexican
monarchists who remember the good old days of the monarchy got
very aggressive with Napoleon to find somebody to come, and the
pretext they used was bond debt, and he engaged Queen Victoria
that was a very tricky business.
M.M. McAllen: That's right. He engaged England,
yes, the bonds that had gone unpaid, and had been augmented under
the race between Miramon and Benito Juarez for taking the presidency.
So, they used this excuse of bond debt to engage Spain and England
in the whole matter, and they launched a friendly flotilla. Bertita
Harding in her book called it "a friendly bond-holders war,"
but nobody really, well, if they knew it, they didn't wholly
admit it until they got to Veracruz that Napoleon had a bigger
agenda, which was to take the whole country. And so, England
and Spain quickly wrapped up their negotiation to repay bond
debt and got the heck out, and France wouldn't leave the highlands.
And soon, Napoleon sent more troops, and they lost a bitter battle
there at Puebla, and after reconnoitering, won the battle a year
battle at Puebla, let me just insert a little thought here. A
lot of people don't realize that Cinco de Mayo, they hear about
Cinco de Mayo and they think it's Mexico's independence day or
something like that, and no, it's the commemoration of the defeat
of the French, Cinco de Mayo in 1861.
The reason why that was so important was the French came into
Mexico from Veracruz at the Gulf Coast. They marched inland,
and in order to take Mexico City, they had to take Puebla first,
the city of Puebla, so that had to come first in order to proceed.
And so, the fact that they were stopped at Puebla for an entire
year was a massive victory for the Mexicans because the French
imperial army, correct me if I'm wrong, was considered the greatest
M.M. McAllen: In the world. In the world,
yes, that's absolutely
they didn't defeat the French at that point, but they held them
back for a full year, which was a great humiliation for Louis
M.M. McAllen: It was.
is Cinco de Mayo, May 5.
M.M. McAllen: Right. And just about a year
later, after sending more troops and sending another general
in charge, they managed to win Puebla. Of course, by then also,
Benito Juárez had lost some of his best generals to either
attrition or death. And so, they needed to take Puebla because
they wanted the assets of Puebla, which were the very strong
monarchist church party.
M.M. McAllen: Very Catholic, and the priests
wanted to see a restoration of the monarchy. And so, with that,
then, they could march into Mexico City uninhibited, and Benito
Juárez quickly moved his whole government north to Zacatecas
and to San Luis Potosí, and then eventually forced him
to the northern border of Chihuahua.
our US ambassador left at that point as well.
M.M. McAllen: Right.
the Union did not support
so the Civil War was continuing
at this point. The US Civil War was continuing, and then after
the French took Mexico City, Maximilian accepted the throne.
M.M. McAllen: He did, but he also called
for a universal vote, a plebiscite as they were called back then,
and he didn't want just a representative vote. He wanted a full
vote of the people. Mind you, this doesn't include women, and
only a certain class of Mexican, but he wanted a full vote. So
he kept the committee waiting for another 9 months until a "proper
canvassing" could be held to make sure that he was really
wanted, that it wouldn't be a disaster. Well
was a real tightrope walk. It wasn't clear that he was going
to accept the throne at all. He really wavered and wavered.
Let me interrupt by saying, one of the things I love about your
book, it's a very handsome book, and it has a lot of photographs,
a lot of pictures. It's very rich visually as well. One of the
pictures that you have on page 99 is "Jose Maria Gutiérrez
de Estrada and Mexican delegation officially inviting Maximilian
to be emperor of Mexico, 1863," and this is a picture that
will be familiar to anyone who's researched the period, this
group of Mexican delegates off to the right, and Maximilian in
his Austrian admiral's uniform off to the left of this big chandelier.
this is taking place in a place that is kind of unexpected, I
think, for a lot of people who don't know the story, which is,
it's actually in Italy. Can you talk about that a little bit?
M.M. McAllen: Well, when Maximilian lost
his position as a governor of Lombardy-Venetia because of a French
attack on Venice
that was originally, that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
M.M. McAllen: It was part of the Austro-Hungarian
Empire. With the defeat of the Austrians against Napoleon III,
Franz Joseph, Maximilian's brother, demoted him, and it caused
him to lose his governorship of the region. And having nothing
left to do, Maximilian purchased some lands there at Trieste,
and started to build a castle, a small castle known as Miramare,
and it's on the Adriatic. It's quite beautiful. It's a jewel
box of a place, but it wasn't enough for really him and Carlota.
They really wanted to run a country. They felt like they were
born to do those things, especially Carlota, who was the daughter
of the first king of Belgium. And so
first cousin of Queen Victoria.
M.M. McAllen: And first cousin of Queen Victoria,
so they had all this leadership to give
granddaughter of the ex-king of France.
M.M. McAllen: That's right. She definitely
had the lineage. He did too, but he was very liberal, so his
brother considered him to be too, what would you say? Loose-handed
or not firm enough. So, he lost his position there, and so the
Mexican delegation goes to see him at Trieste, and it is odd,
because that land had been switching around. All of Europe was
beginning to question its smaller parcels of land. German unification
was right on the heels of all of this, so Bavaria was under question.
Everything was under question, all the sovereignties of all the
lands. So, this was part of it, and I think part of the unrest,
Maximilian felt like he could regain his, what would you say,
his reputation, his stature as a real monarch by actually going
to run a country like Brazil, like his cousin.
His cousin was the emperor of Brazil.
M.M. McAllen: Right.
is an extraordinary thing to think.
M.M. McAllen: Probably Pedro of Brazil never
even saw but maybe 10 percent of that country.
Maximilian accepts the throne finally, after much dithering,
and comes to Mexico, and the idea is to set up a Catholic monarchy
in Mexico, allied with France, and hopefully with the buffer
between the Union of the Confederacy.
M.M. McAllen: He arrived the year before
the Civil War
there was one year when the Civil War was still going
M.M. McAllen: Going on.
was, like, the high noon of the empire of Maximilian.
M.M. McAllen: It was. In fact, you know,
France by 1863 had occupied both shores of Mexico. Every port
was dominated. Well,
and all the ports, Guaymas, everything but some of the parts
that we know today as Baja California. It was some of those areas,
were still as yet undetermined. And the French very much wanted
those as colonies, and Maximilian told them, "No, you're
not going to take apart my country."
tried to take Sonora.
M.M. McAllen: They tried to take Sonora,
and so, but Maximilian himself never got his arms around Mexico,
but he had a year or 2, actually, up until the end of the Civil
War to really rule as best he thought he could, propped up by
French bayonets. But then when the Civil War ended, you know,
Texas was one of the last places to stand down.
Just because Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, the
Confederates of the Tran-Mississippi department didn't feel really
necessarily the same way. So, they went on and prolonged the
war until May, and with the end of the Confederacy, thousands
and thousands of Confederate soldiers fled into Mexico to offer
their services to Maximilian von Habsburg.
And Maximilian welcomed
them, in fact, set up properties taken from the church lands
and gave them some of the lands to colonize, which didn't work
out very well, but those were the good days.
of the things about Maximilian, coming back to the Confederates,
that I think a lot of people miss is that because he welcomed
the Confederates, he thought that these were relatively educated
people, they were white, they were productive members of society.
He wanted them to come, but they wouldn't have come if they couldn't
bring their slaves. So he changed the laws of Mexico to
M.M. McAllen: To allow them
allow slavery, to re-instate slavery, and slavery was something
that had been very proudly eliminated in Mexico some time before
Maximilian's arrival. So, this, I think, is actually one of the
things where, when I present my book I'm sure you've run
into this too that in every group of people who come to
a book presentation about this, there's usually maybe 1 out of
30 people, maybe, who has this very romantic idea of Maximilian,
and they don't realize that he was perfectly capable of passing
very illiberal laws.
M.M. McAllen: You're right. I mean, especially
when he didn't really necessarily believe in that himself, but
that's the darndest thing about Maximilian, is that he would
pass laws that he previously wouldn't enforce in Italy for his
brother. So, he disdained whippings and corporal punishment,
so even the death decree
M.M. McAllen: Yes, that
you explain for listeners what that is? That was the reason Maximilian
M.M. McAllen: Right. Well, when the French
generals accused Maximilian, who loved to defer execution or
absolve peoples accused of crimes, when he continued to do that
in Mexico after the French would round up a passel of resistors
and want them tried, Maximilian would absolve them. And they
finally said, "Look, you need to get an iron hand or we're
never going to get this country under ourselves." And so,
in October 3, 1865, he agreed to put forward the Black Decree,
which is essence gave the French generals carte blanche to kill
anybody suspected of helping a resister or anybody who was thought
to be a resister, so
with a weapon.
M.M. McAllen: Or anybody with a weapon.
if you go back to people living in the country at that time,
of course you needed a weapon. There might be mountain lions,
might be rattlesnakes, might be bandits. If you were a farmer
or rancher, you'd have a weapon. So, this was basically license
to kill people at their own discretion.
M.M. McAllen: Right. And they did some pretty
cruel things to them. You have to understand too that the French
had imported men from 22 different nations, including the Arabs
and Egyptians into Mexico, and they were used to a terrible form
of fighting where they would behead people, and then the counter-guerrillas
would, in one part of the book, I describe how they would sport
the heads like footballs, like soccer balls, of these resisters,
and they would do terrifying things to the people, and not only
terrify the people, but made the leaders, of course, and leaders
of the world very angry. So, it pretty much backfired on him.
when Maximilian, we're skipping way ahead to the very end, but
when Maximilian finally fell and had a trial and was condemned
to death, it was because of the Banda Negra, the Black Decree.
M.M. McAllen: Right.
was the technical, legal reason.
M.M. McAllen: There was no death penalty
in Mexico at all, so there wasn't, I mean, Benito Juárez
used that as the basis for the prosecution, but the call for
death, there's really nothing cited, other than just the decision
of the jury to do it, and then Juárez had a lot of explaining
to do later, and he just said it had to be. It just had to be.
And really, what it was was, there was a great cartoon in a publication
called La Orquesta. It had Benito Juárez and Mariano
Escobedo shooting a cannonball across the Atlantic into France,
saying, "Take that, Europe. Don't mess with Mexico anymore."
have that picture in your book. You have so many wonderful pictures
in your book, from the cartoon to the maps to photographs to
back to the high noon. So, there is Maximilian and Carlota in
the spring of 1864, and they get their palace all appointed and
lovely, and we come to the winter of 1865. And they start having
these palace balls, which were just things never seen before
M.M. McAllen: No, they would spend hundreds
of thousands of dollars on parties, lavish parties at Chapultepec,
Castle in Mexico City.
M.M. McAllen: In Mexico City.
the National Palace.
M.M. McAllen: Yes, and at times, they could
hear even the cannon fire on the edges of Mexico City, and Carlota
at one point is writing to a friend in Europe, saying, "Well,
that doesn't really bother us so much. We have a system of alarms.
If we hear the cannon fire, we can protect ourselves," but
they would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars supplying all
sorts of champagnes and their cognac.
M.M. McAllen: Yeah, and Veuve Clicquot was
their favorite, and they would import lavish amounts of liquors,
and then she always served something French, and she always served
something rather Austrian, European, and then she'd always serve
protocol is something that I think so many people who are Mexican
or American have a hard time getting their mind around. This
was standard stuff in the courts of Europe to have these books
of court protocol. The one of Maximilian, he and Carlota wrote
on their way, on the boat en route to Mexico, was Reglamento
y ceremonial de la corte. It's very elaborate.
M.M. McAllen: It's the court ceremonial,
and it was to explain without them having to explain what they
expected as far as footmen, butlers, people to do the dinner
service, who was going to sit where at what sort of things. There
were dinners and lunch, well, they didn't do so much, they did
a light breakfast and an early dinner, and sometimes they were
oriented around the church hierarchy, and sometimes it was the
military, and who would sit where and what have you, and who
to who gets the velvet cushion and who gets to wear the black
M.M. McAllen: Exactly. They also had a book
designed for what all the uniforms would look like, which Maximilian
designed himself, what the plates, china, the everyday wear,
every aspect of the household was designed in what I like to
call a look-book. It's sort of like a, what you would do before
you send your fashions down the runway, but everything was designed
down to the buttons.
A lot of it was made in Europe before they left, even the carriages.
They remain in Mexico now.
And they had lavish fireworks and lavish orchestras and opera
groups brought in from Europe
brought in a whole orchestra from Austria.
M.M. McAllen: Yes, as their empire continued,
they kept importing pianos and all sorts of beautiful instruments,
and teaching music, and they developed an art school in Mexico
City, along with the science
was a great patron of the arts.
M.M. McAllen: A great patron of the arts,
and he also had music written just for his empire.
He also had a science school established so that... and he said,
then, this was ironic in a way, because he told his ministers
of the educational system, who were military as well, he said,
"The first thing we must do is get the church out of the
schools, and we have to reorder this country from bottom to top."
To them, that didn't seem so unusual, especially to Carlota,
whose father had done the same thing in Belgium.
So, they really made a huge effort to bring in European-style
arts and culture, but they didn't forget the indigenous, either.
They crafted coins with the Aztec calendar on them. They asked for the repatriation
of certain artifacts that had gone to Europe that belonged in
the Aztec period, or other indigenous groups, Mayan period, or
what have you. They very much wanted to mix in this new realm
with the old realm.
In fact, one man said, "As fast as the Spaniards tried to
burn all the temples, Maximilian wanted to uncover them and resurrect
he saw this as a kind of Egypt.
M.M. McAllen: Right.
he had been to Egypt.
M.M. McAllen: He had been to Egypt.
he had actually written his memoirs about going to Egypt.
M.M. McAllen: Well, and he compared Teotihuacan
the huge pyramid north of Mexico City.
M.M. McAllen: Yeah. He loved that sort of
indigenous theatricality of the indigenous groups. He really
liked it, but he of course, he remained above it in many ways.
I mean, he had Chinaco outfits sort of tailored to his taste,
and so, when he'd go riding
have this picture on page 135, Maximilian in charro attire.
He's dressed like an hacendado.
M.M. McAllen: Yes.
a big sombrero.
M.M. McAllen: And the people would kind of
laugh at him, because he was dressed as a traditional jinete,
going through the countryside with his jingling spurs, and people
were like, "Who is this guy?"
So, people did laugh at him some, not his toadies, not his
yes-men, but the ones who remained juáristas certainly
are two things to touch on in the "High Noon" moment,
I think. One is the prince, which is the story of my novel, which
is such a strange story.
And the other one is the travels of Maximilian and Carlota, and
maybe I'll just insert a little thought here, which is that when
I first heard about Maximilian and Carlota "adopting"
this little boy who was the grandson of the emperor Iturbide,
I imagined, as I think most readers do, an adoption. You know,
a mother and father adopt a child, and it took me quite a while
to understand that that was not what Maximilian understood.
It's a completely different concept. It was more that he brought
this child under his protection as part of his Casa Imperial,
as part of his imperial household, and in the Reglamento y
ceremonial de la corte, one of the things I happily discovered,
one of my small discoveries, is that there's actually 2 editions
of that, and the second one is the one with the all-new first
chapter explaining this very specific status of the Iturbide
princes, which is akin to that of the Murat princes.
And you know, the modern reader kind of scratches their head
and goes, "The who? The Murat princes?" Well,
those were the cousins of Louis Napoleon who were descendants
of the King of Naples. So, in other words, they had a very special,
very high status, but they were not the children of the sovereign.
M.M. McAllen: Well, in my neck of the woods,
it's a somewhat well-known tradition. It's called being an hijo
de crianza, and you're not actually really per se adopting
the child. You could, everybody did it a little different, but
some of the children would take the name of the patrón,
and some would not, but they were raised to benefit by the wealth
of the household. So, you would take a very bright kid whose
parents couldn't bring him up in a way that would maximize his
that was what Carlota continually harped on.
M.M. McAllen: Right.
that "the parents cannot educate him the way we would educate
M.M. McAllen: Right, and she points out,
it's a quote in the book, "I'm educating him with my own
money." So, which I don't know meant that maybe she resented
that, or whether she was proud of it. I couldn't really tell,
but she said, "we're doing this for you."
think she felt they should have been grateful, and they weren't,
and she couldn't comprehend why.
Well, coming back to the "adoption" of this little
boy, one of the things that had me a little confused at first,
and then I figured it out, was that Maximilian and Carlota at
this time, pretty much as soon as they arrived, they were constantly
traveling. So, for me as a novelist to imagine a scene where
we have Maximilian and Carlota and the child together... I realized
pretty quickly that that was going to be a very rare occurrence,
because they were constantly all over the place.
And as a matter of fact, Dr. Ratz, who you mentioned at the beginning,
Dr. Konrad Ratz, who wrote several splendid, splendid books about
the period, he's done so much original research and translation
about Maximilian. I'm just so grateful for his
work. But one of the books he brought out relatively recently
before he passed away was a book with Amparo Gómez Tepexicuapan
about the travels of Maximilian, in German
M.M. McAllen: And Spanish.
in Spanish. It's not been translated into English, but it's documenting
all of the many, many, many travels that Maximilian made throughout
And then Carlota went in his place to Yucatan in November of
1865. This is one of the most remarkable journeys in Mexico in
the 19th century. I think it's completely underrated.
M.M. McAllen: Yes, and she chose to go on
a boat that wasn't royal, and she took almost no help with her,
and she didn't take the boy. I know she took him on other trips,
but she didn't take him at that time, but for some reason, Maximilian,
and I'm pretty sure it's because he was so besieged at the time,
didn't feel like he could leave Mexico City. So she went in his
And the Europeans had big designs on Yucatan because they exported
so much hemp and sisal
they used for making rope.
M.M. McAllen: Rope and all sorts of things,
plantation production of this fiber.
M.M. McAllen: Right, and a lot of it was
going out of the country without proper duties being assigned
to it. So, the hemp-makers were just making a fortune, and so,
she ends up in Merida, and she said it's just odd that I'm even
here at all, and it was hot, and she had to wear boots to climb
certain different pyramids that they encountered.
And she went on a grand tour of the pyramids, and in fact, one
pyramid, there was a building that they called the Place of the
Priests, and the priests had put bloody handprints on the walls,
and she saw those, and it was rather shocking.
And she would say that she liked that part of the country all
right, except the food was revolting, because they would eat
this black sort of fig pudding and all sorts of things that she
didn't like. The comments that she made were pretty precious.
wrote a report
M.M. McAllen: A report, yeah.
I could not find in print until fairly recently. That really
surprised me. It's a wonderful document, and I saw a copy of
the original in the copy of the Maximilian [Kaiser Maximilian
von Mexiko] archive in the Library of Congress. And it's extraordinary
to see her handwriting.
M.M. McAllen: Yes, her handwriting was very
precise, very lapidary. When I saw her pens at Chapultepec, the
nibs were like needles, and she could write very tiny and super-fast.
So, like, when she would be in a meeting, she would often act
as the secretary to Maximilian. She would take the interview
of the general or the candidate and write up a whole report for
Maximilian. And she got to be so good at it that oftentimes he
would just stay in Cuernavaca and not come back to Chapultepec,
and she had to do all the business. So that was daunting, because
she still very much lived in a world of men, and the ministers
of the government would either not show up or laugh her off or
not do what she wanted done.
was, what, 25 years old?
M.M. McAllen: She was young, and she was
a woman. So, you know, what was her wishes were not something
they were going to, what would you say, entertain.
She was in a very difficult circumstance. Her husband was constantly
off traveling. She was surrounded by foreigners. She knew she
had enemies. There were a lot of enemies.
She'd been married for several years, and had not been able to
produce a child, and this is something that, for the average
person in Mexico or the US, whether that's a tragedy or not depends
on whether or not you want to have children. Not everybody does,
but let's say it's a sad thing for many people if you can't have
children. But for a sovereign, for a monarch, it is a crisis
you are an empress who cannot have children, it is not
paranoid to think that someone might try to get rid of you.
that is something that took me a long time to understand, because
the whole thing of monarchy was so foreign to me.
And when I finally understood this, was reading the history of
the uncle of Louis Napoleon, Napoleon Bonaparte, who had to divorce
his wife because she could no longer have children. And she was
constantly convinced that they were going to poison her.
then this idea comes to Carlota that she's going to be poisoned.
And I realized at that point that although, certainly, she did
lose her mind at some point, her paranoia was not unfounded.
M.M. McAllen: No, it was pretty common.
only because of the historical political context, it was not
M.M. McAllen: No. I mean, she thought people
were going to poison her with something called toloache,
which was made from a plant there in Mexico. Or some people asserted
that actually her doctors had poisoned her with opiates, just
by trying to treat her nervousness, because she'd get really
there is a smoking gun. Velázquez de León in Rome
wrote a letter where he mentions that she was just so out of
her mind that her doctor was dosing her coffee with a sedative.
M.M. McAllen: Right. It's in there. Yeah.
And she got rid of him when she found that out. She got rid of
her entire staff, because she was so worried they were going
to poison her, and so, you're right. I mean, it was probably
something she had been told from earliest age, especially
I just know that in those palaces, the way the children were
brought up with the nuns, a lot of times, those nuns could tell
some scary stories, and you could be very paranoid at times.
know, one of the things I did for my research in trying to imagine
Carlota's point of view was to read a lot of memoirs of palace
life, both from the 20th century and going back into the 19th
century, from various different countries. I read the memoirs
of Princess Di's butler [Paul Burrell's A
That was very funny. That's not the kind of book I would normally
read, but I was just trying to get a sense of the formality and
the etiquette and sort of the sociology and the intrigue of a
palace. And yeah, some of the stories are... not particularly
that one, but there was one of the princess of Spain [Court
Life from Within
HRH Infanta Eulalia], but it was a very scandalous memoir that
came out in the early 20th century, and she was talking about
how the nanny raised them, and it was just awful.
M.M. McAllen: Yeah. And sometimes the nannies
could be quite cruel.
M.M. McAllen: And so could the nuns. I mean,
Carlota would talk about the severity of being raised by nuns,
educated by them, anyway.
And I think that's part of the reason she was so intolerant of
a lot of things, and she'd say, "My wishes are orders,"
and she meant it. So, in Mexico, the people weren't buying it.
She had trouble putting together a court of women who would be...
she'd say they're all nice and lovely, but they take forever
when I send them to do something. [Laughs]
and the famous story of how the wife of Almonte gave her an abrazo,
which was the Mexican greeting of a hug. But you do not
touch the person of the sovereign. You do not lay a finger
on the body of a sovereign. She was absolutely horrified.
M.M. McAllen: And scared, I'm sure. Nervous
about that. She was nervous about everything.
those people were so completely clueless as to what to her was
M.M. McAllen: I know.
So, we've seen the beginning, we've seen the High Noon, and then
things started going really, deeply wrong.
They started going wrong in the fall of 1865 when the French
started losing some battles.
M.M. McAllen: Well, the French started facing
the Germans breathing down their necks. Otto von Bismarck was
trying to unify all the German principalities, and he was right
on France's border.
You know, even Napoleon III's the wife Eugenia, she said, "Why
aren't you doing more proactively to protect our borders?"
He turned to her and said, "Whose fault is it that my best
men are 16,000 miles away?" or whatever he said.
the empress had been a great champion, as a Catholic and a Spaniard.
She was a Spaniard. She was a great champion of Maximilian and
M.M. McAllen: She was very much involved
in sending the French to Mexico.
And so, [Louis Napoleon] decided to recall [his forces]. And
he was not getting the income that he thought he would have been
getting by then from Mexico. He wanted gold, and he wanted silver...
And the English had
already been in there in a very big way, mining, and continued
their own private mining prospects with their own guards, and
these every powerful English syndicates were taking the gold
and silver, and Napoleon wasn't getting any of it.
And Napoleon at the time was having a silver crisis. So anyway,
without enough return on his money, he said, "I've got to
have them back." So
he starts recalling his troops, and it was going to be in three
phases. Well, he dropped the three-phases thing, but then he
wanted them immediately.
And it did take a year to evacuate, but it was
the logistics of that were
M.M. McAllen: Well, and the instant the French
would leave a place, the juáristas would take over. So,
port after port started falling, and in fact, the most lucrative
port at the time had been Matamoros, which was up on the northern
Texas on the Gulf.
M.M. McAllen: With Texas on the Gulf, because
that's where a lot of the cotton went out of the country, and
that finally fell to, Tomás Mejía had to evacuate.
One of his best generals had to evacuate, and the juáristas
took that back over, and immediately started to enjoy the benefits
of those tariffs again, although it wasn't as much since the
war was winding down.
But by 1866, it was pretty much over. The Confederates were going
back to the United States.
Confederates started coming in 18
M.M. McAllen: '65.
after Appomattox or a little bit after Appomattox...
M.M. McAllen: Right, all through the summer
they had high hopes that were very quickly dashed.
M.M. McAllen: Well, some of them brought
their slaves and some didn't, but they all hoped to do things
like export fruit or grow fruit and export it. That was the big
idea a lot of them had, and some had farms and ranches.
What happened is they didn't get the support of the surrounding
communities, because they were indigenous folk who had their
ways, and these guys didn't understand that.
So, and some brought their families. Some never did. Some went
on back to Havana and never left. Some went on from Mexico and
established colonies in South America, and they did stay, a lot
So, things started falling apart as soon as Napoleon started
recalling the troops. And that was the big sign to Maximilian
that he needed to abdicate, and they mulled that over, and they
decided to first send Carlota back to Europe to plead with Napoleon
III first about not taking the troops, and rehearsing
and reminding him of all his promises he had made to Maximilian
and Carlota not to take his support away.
is a very dramatic moment, that Carlota, who's, what, 25 years
old, who has just toured the Yucatan in November of 1865, by
the summer, by July of 1866, she's crossing the ocean by herself...
well, with her retinue, but without Maximilian, to meet with
heads of state and with the pope.
M.M. McAllen: And there was a lot of speculation
among the people whether she was coming back or not. Everybody,
just like a modern-day princess, everybody gossiped about her,
whether she took all her jewelry or not, and if she did, that
meant she wasn't coming back, whether she took all of her possessions.
I think she herself was torn, and well, she said, "I'll
be back. Don't worry." But I think she was very torn in
that she wanted to stay and support her husband in every material
way, because she was sort of his, what would you say, they were
a good team together. They batted ideas back and forth. She would
calm him down and he would calm her down. I mean, they were kind
of a team, and so, she didn't know what was going to happen.
But she did want to go give Napoleon II a piece of her mind.
So, she did that
certainly did. It's a very dramatic moment.
M.M. McAllen: It was, and she paced back
and forth in his palace and yelled at him. She tried to be appealing,
she tried to be charming, she tried everything. She said it was
all slime from beginning to end. He's lied to us.
wasn't he having a kidney stone at that moment?
M.M. McAllen: A bladder stone. And he didn't
want to see her, and he was in a lot of pain. He was in very
bad health. And even though Eugenia said, "You're not going
to be able to see him, he's sick," and she said, "I
don't care. I'm going to break in on him then."
And so, she did get to see him several times, and he was reduced
to tears. She was reduced to tears. And at the end of the 3-day,
4-day siege, she said, "Fine, then we'll abdicate,"
and he said, "Fine, abdicate."
And of course, things got worse. I mean, she went on to Miramare
to see how the castle had been. It had never stopped being constructed
when they were in Mexico, so she went to see things, and then
she received instructions that she was to go to Rome.
Maximilian said, "Go
talk to the pope. Maybe he can talk Napoleon III into..."
and for a complicated set of reasons, Napoleon and the pope were
very close, but Maximilian had let down the Catholic Church,
and Pope Pious IX, being the most conservative pope probably
that was ever in the Vatican, wasn't all that inclined to help.
And she was starting to get more and more paranoid, and sort
of descended into madness.
M.M. McAllen: In the Vatican itself.
have to tell you, in my novel, the one review I got that really
let me have it was a reviewer said that what I had written about
her going crazy in the Vatican was completely unbelievable. And
the funny thing is, that was the chapter most closely based on
actual truth and actual lines of dialogue. [Laughs]
M.M. McAllen: Right. She thought she was
really happened. You know, truth is stranger than fiction.
M.M. McAllen: Well, she just fell into rapid-fire
paranoia, and she just thought people wanted to kill her, and
then ultimately that spread into that her own retinue wanted
to kill her, and she said, "The only place I'll be safe
is with the pope," and she did spend the night there one
it true she was the only woman to spend a night at the Vatican?
M.M. McAllen: Yeah. Some people assert that.
I'm sure that's not true, but anyway, it was pretty shocking
behavior. And then she fires everybody from the Alberge, where
she was staying, and they all appealed to her brothers, who finally
came and got her, but she seriously would not leave with, and
she wanted to say Mass with him, and he wouldn't say Mass with
her. She said, "I'll sit behind one of the pillars in the
church, because surely the assassins will be looking for me."
It was very sad.
father had died at that point, her father had died while she
was in Mexico. So now her brother Leopold was King of Belgium,
and he was the one who
M.M. McAllen: Not a nice guy.
got into the Congo, and that's a
M.M. McAllen: Bad, bad story. And her other brother was somewhat
deaf, and he's the one who came and got her.
They took care of her, but my understanding is that Leopold really
wanted to take care of her to attain her money.
just disappeared, didn't it?
M.M. McAllen: It did. Well, it went to the
Congo, you know, colonization.
was supposedly one of the wealthiest women in the world, and
her money just disappeared.
M.M. McAllen: Right, which I don't really
get into all that much in the book, because the book was starting
to go on and on and on, but yes. I mean, that's another story
that other people have written about, but yes. It was not good.
C.M. Mayo: So when she left [Mexico] in
July of 1866 to go to Europe, she never saw Maximilian again.
M.M. McAllen: No.
you must have seen the
letters at the Harry Ransom Center University of Texas Austin.
Let's see if you agree with me. I think that those letters reveal
a very different relationship between Maximilian and Carlota
than many people perceive on a more superficial level.
M.M. McAllen: Well, they were friends, you
know? They cared about each other deeply. Now, whether that fits
our terms of love, I don't think so, but they needed each other
very much, and they understood each other very much.
And when Carlota left Maximilian, he kind of went to pieces for
a while, although he had his girlfriends and all, that wasn't
the same. That wasn't his business partner, per se, his partner
in every way. And so, it was not ever the same.
But he did manage to summon his own strengths eventually.
He thought she had died, you know, at some point, and he heard
didn't want to tell him what had happened.
M.M. McAllen: Right. And so, he had to summon
the strength, and his mother never stopped writing him, and she
said, "You know, a Habsburg doesn't desert his post,"
and that noblesse oblige was totally ingrained in him.
So, after she [Carlota] sort of faded, he, from what I can gather,
they wouldn't let her correspond. I mean, she made no sense,
so she didn't correspond with him, but she would correspond with
cousins and others, and she was quite articulate. But there were
times when she wanted to correspond, I don't think she was allowed
to with him.
a really strange story of how she was kept prisoner. It's
a terrible story.
So Maximilian ends up by himself in Mexico in the summer of 1866,
and things are just going straight downhill, and in comes Father
M.M. McAllen: Oh, Father Fisher, right.
He was a dubious character, in that he had supposedly, he was
an American, but he spoke many languages, and he supposedly had
was a good-looking guy.
M.M. McAllen: A good-looking guy. But he
also persuaded Maximilian in deft ways of twisting and artful
talking to say, "Well, you're going to desert your post,"
and he would be the devil's advocate to Maximilian, and tried
to get him to not abdicate.
very closely allied with the arch-conservatives.
M.M. McAllen: He was.
the very Catholic, pro-Catholic Church faction. And really, that
was the only support Maximilian had left at that point.
M.M. McAllen: Right. And it frustrated the
men around Maximilian who deeply cared about Maximilian, who
could see what Father Fisher was doing. One was Felix Salm-Salm,
who just really went
M.M. McAllen: Also a fantastic character.
have to say about the Salm-Salms, let's talk about them for a
moment. I was so disappointed, because when you read any history
of the period, they're great figures, Felix and Agnes Salm-Salm,
but they didn't fit in my novel! And the reason is my novel ends,
my novel's about the prince.
M.M. McAllen: And when he leaves
the prince is handed back to his mother and father, story's over.
M.M. McAllen: Right. Well
that's when the Salm-Salms come in, at the very end! So I have
a little scene with Agnes Salm-Salm at the very end of the novel.
they are really Johnny-Come-Latelys on the scene. He was a mercenary
fighting for the Union, and when the Civil War was over, they
came to Mexico to get some action, and they were opportunists.
M.M. McAllen: They were carnival characters.
And she would drive this little fiacre, this little yellow fiacre,
and she had a terrier named Jimmy that would sit with her in
the wagon or on her saddle. And she could shoot and ride. She
was a daughter of a general, and she was quite the woman, and
he was quite the guy.
And Felix Salm-Salm would get very, very annoyed with Father
Fisher, and say he's being lied to, he's being twisted and turned.
But what Felix does reveal on his writings is what a good soldier
Maximilian had become.
But Maximilian was clearly depressed. He was very, very ill with
dysentery. He was taking opiates, so I don't know how effective
M.M. McAllen: In Querétaro, and he
when everything started going to pot, they had to withdraw from
Mexico City, go north to the city of Querétaro. That was
the final siege.
M.M. McAllen: Right.
that was where Maximilian was taken prisoner. He was very sick.
M.M. McAllen: He was sick. And I'm sure it
was because over the long siege at Queretaro, the juáristas
cut the water supply. They floated dead bodies in the river that
went nearby. So they ended up drinking bad stuff.
Under the long siege, all the food dried up too. They couldn't
make tortillas. The nuns kept some stores of wheat to make the
hosts, so they made them bread. Even the horses had to eat the
straw in the mattresses, because there just was not enough food
for all of them. They ended up eating their mules.
And even though he was so sick, he would get up and be with his
men, and he asked the men, "Did you get your pay,"
to make sure the pay hadn't been stolen from them.
he was this combination of a truly noble spirit, but also base
and narcissistic. He was good and bad, and was such a complex
Did it take a long time to kind of get your mind around him?
M.M. McAllen: It did, because so many people
wrote such negative things about him. But I think in order to
actually understand any historical figure, you've got to see
the good and the bad in that figure, and the mistakes they make.
And one thing I try not to do in my history books, my narratives
that I write... is I try to let the reader decide, because it's
just like you may have one opinion of one man, and someone has
another opinion of him. People are multifaceted, so I think it
was important to see that the best side of him... and this one
person put it right, in that, "Such are some people, they
are horrible in times of peace, but brilliant in times of strife."
And he was kind of one of those people. I mean, the hard times brought out the
best side of Maximilian. So, and I wanted to reveal that and
show the reader that he had evolved. And right when he was at
his best, that's when
and he wanted to make peace with
Juárez. In fact, Agnes Salm-Salm went twice to beg for
his reconsideration of any sort of harsh penalty for Maximilian.
me, that was what was amazing about the Salm-Salms. They just
show up, and boom, they're close to Maximilian. They're
acting as his emissary for things like negotiations with Juárez.
M.M. McAllen: Right. And so, she goes and
she begs, and she kneels before Juárez, puts her arms
around his knees, and he says, "It aggrieves me to see you
so, madam. Please, don't be like this." He said, "Even
if all the kings and queens of Europe begged for his protection
and begged that we not punish him, the people of Mexico would
fall on me. So I've got to kill him."
So, in a nutshell, Juárez admits to Agnes Salm-Salm why
poor Prince Maximilian has to die.
So, it was sad, very sad. It was sad to me. I mean, I was very
upset by seeing all the rigamarole between trying to save his
life and not. And in fact, when in Europe they found out about
his death, and it was at the Grand Exposition of 1867, and Napoleon
III had conducted this giant... in Paris, it was the biggest
exhibition I think they had ever had, hundreds of thousands of
people were there. And
people from all over the world brought exhibits. And after they
found out about Maximilian's death in the middle of the whole
thing, the whole exhibition fell apart. And Eugenie had to take
to her bed. I mean, it was bad. His death pretty much spelled
the end of the reign of Napoleon III.
was defeated almost immediately at Sedan.
M.M. McAllen: At Sedan, that's right, and
then he had to flee to England, where he later died from his
bladder stones. It was a surgery, yeah, but a painful death.
But it was never quite the same after all that.
I think the best legacy most people know Napoleon III for is
the renovation of Paris, the Paris that they know today. And
that's what Maximilian wanted to do for Mexico City, you know,
take Haussmann's examples of the restoration of Paris.
the Avenida Reforma, which is the main artery that was modeled
on the Champs-Élysées. It was the Avenida de la
M.M. McAllen: Some people say Emperador,
some people say Emperatriz. It's an ongoing, I think, debate,
yes. I've been corrected from different sides who tell me, "Oh,
no." You know, it was never formally called that, or it
was casually called that. You know, it's just interesting. But
everybody takes pride of ownership in the Reforma. Maximilian
certainly loved planning it, and he'd go up to his tower at Chapultepec
and get out his surveying equipment and make sure the street
was straight and all of that. Everybody likes it that I know
of. I mean, maybe some people, it's not indigenous, so yes, it
is very European, but it is a wonderful spectacle to many people.
just happened to be taking a friend who was coming to Mexico
City for the first time to Chapultepec Castle a couple months
ago, and there we were on the terrace at Chapultepec, and it
had just been an age since I had, I'd been to Chapultepec, but
I had just hadn't really been focusing on where is the Avenida
Reforma. And there we were, standing there, looking down upon
it, and it really is a majestic view. It really is a beautiful
M.M. McAllen: I can only imagine what it
looked like without so many buildings and houses around it, but
Maximilian bought up all the haciendas that were around there
just so the park could be made. And when I took a tour of Chapultepec
with Amparo Gómez, she showed me this secret window and
all the colored windows that I think Porfirio Díaz had
put in, the colored windows, and it was a secret window that
she opened, and we could see. It was the first time I had seen
since I was a child Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl right
there out that window. The day before it had been raining, and
that morning had been very blustery and cold, and there was no
smog, and it still gives me goosebumps to remember that moment,
because I hadn't seen those views for a long, long time.
M.M. McAllen: And they are.
people who aren't following, the Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl
are big, snow-covered volcanoes.
M.M. McAllen: Maximilian used to love to
write about them. He'd write at, like, 4 in the morning to Carlota
when she was leaving Mexico, he'd say, "You cannot believe
the moon on these snow-capped tops of these beautiful volcanoes."
He said, "This is a Mexico City I have not seen for some
time," you know? So, he loved the place, but he was just
so in love with art and beauty. He didn't really want to deal
with the day-to-day running of things, and plus, well, it was
a military government at that point. It's a tragic story for
Maximilian. What it did for the Mexicans is it gave them a purpose.
It gave them a unification that they hadn't had before to take
back their own government, and run it like they wanted Mexico
And I think that contributed
to Porfirio Díaz's success for the next 30 years in his
realm. He was heavy-handed. He ruled by the iron first himself,
but he also had the backing of a Mexico that said, "No more.
No more Europeans." So many people have come to Mexico and
tried to, and they say, I know people who say this today, "We
could run Mexico better." But Mexico doesn't want to be
run by anybody but Mexicans, you know?
gave it cohesion. The episode was sort of trial by fire.
M.M. McAllen: Right. Like, what kind of Mexico
do you want, you know? Part of the issue with Mexico is its geography
as well. I mean, it's so many mountains and so many indigenous
groups. People would argue today that there is no homogeneity
in Mexico, and there really kind of isn't, but
M.M. McAllen: It is very diverse, because
people are so proud of their heritage.
was a searing episode.
M.M. McAllen: It was. It was very glamorous,
but it was very wrong-headed in many ways.
your view of Mexico change, having written the book?
M.M. McAllen: My depth of understanding of
all the sides changed, because people sometimes, I think, are
very dismissive of Mexico, and I don't really know why. I don't
know if it's a superiority thing or what, but they don't understand
the diversity and the complexity and the sophistication of all
the sides in this situation.
You know, the rising of the Oaxaca and intellectuals, the assumptions
made by the Europeans that they could just come in and run this
country, and the sophistication too of the Church, and how connected
they really were to Rome, and how many extensions and how many
strings were there. I mean, so when people, Americans sort of
are dismissive of it, it just kind of galls me sometimes, because
there are so many levels and layers of Mexico that a lot of people
dismiss, and it wasn't all that long ago.
wasn't that long ago. You know, I'm 54, and I remember my great-grandmother,
and she grew up in the house of a Civil War veteran. Anyone who's
my age could probably say something like that, that we are one
person away from people who lived in that time.
M.M. McAllen: And life has changed so much
since then. My grandfather saw it in his time, you know, 1900
to the 1980s. I mean, just so much had changed, and then yet
we're changing again. Back then, you could see the changeability.
It couldn't happen again today, well, it could maybe, but it
would have to take so much more force than
but to go and
land a monarch on the other shore was not all that uncommon back
I mean, I think we're nearing the end of monarchy, of that as
a viable philosophy, which is actually, I think, a really interesting
moment, because the idea of republicanism, having a republic
with a democracy and a president was seen as very exotic and
radical and unviable by the mainstream shortly before that.
You know, when we in the United States had our revolution and
independence from England, I think most Europeans saw that as
a very exotic, a very newfangled and probably unviable, and then
in the space of a century, to have that just do a switcharoo.
You know, now to most Mexicans, the idea of a monarchy is just
M.M. McAllen: Freakishly weird, right.
But you know, I have
many dear friends that have moved over here from Mexico, and
they think that the way Americans do things sometimes is rather
but I think we have a lot in common, the US and Mexico, in how
we think about politics in that regard. I mean, no serious mainstream
American intellectual would promote monarchism for the United
M.M. McAllen: No, never, never.
neither would they do that in Mexico, and that's actually something
we have in common. So, we can look at England or we can look
at Spain and say, "Well, yes, there's a historical connection
to those countries, and they still have monarchies, and they
still serve as heads of state when there's a visit by one of
our presidents." But it's still, for most of us, it's just
the king and queen, they're just people we read about when we
go to the hairdresser's, you know?
M.M. McAllen: Because it's a constitutional
even read about them anymore. I have a Kindle now, so I read
books on my Kindle. I used to pick up People magazine
when I went to the hairdresser's.
Wow, what an extraordinary story you've written.
M.M. McAllen: Thank you.
is really a beautiful book.
M.M. McAllen: Well, likewise to you. You're
an amazing writer.
you. Your book is something really, really special. People who
want to get a copy of your book, where can they get a copy of
your book? It's available in hardcover?
M.M. McAllen: Hardcover and paperback now.
It just came out in paperback, and they can get it at either,
well, of course through the publisher, Trinity University Press,
but Amazon has it, and the Kindle version is at Amazon, or eBooks,
iBooks, any Barnes & Noble or what have you.
it's easily available.
M.M. McAllen: It's easily available.
would say, if anybody can shell out for the hardcover, get the
hardcover, because I'm sure the paperback is lovely, but this
is really a collector's item.
M.M. McAllen: Thank you.
really a beautiful book with a lot of pictures, and it has a
central section with higher-quality pictures as well, as well
as the ones interspersed. It's really so great to have the pictures,
because when we talk about this period and we say, like, "I
just happened to open it right now to the picture of Father Agustín
Fisher," you can see him. Here he is.
M.M. McAllen: Yeah. There he is.
for prime time.
M.M. McAllen: Right. And a French soldier,
and a groomsman of the horses, and all the ambassadors are in
there, and the aunt, Pepita, of Iturbide.
de Iturbide, the aunt of the Prince Iturbide adopted by Maximilian
and Carlota, 1865. She's the aunt in my novel. You just look
at that picture, and you know. You know all about her when you
look at that picture.
M.M. McAllen: You do.
is a very telling picture.
M.M. McAllen: She was very proud of herself.
was not someone you would want to tangle with.
M.M. McAllen: No. Yeah, poor thing. She was
scared to death when the French started leaving Mexico, and had
to depend on Maximilian to get her out.
leave the country at that time, you had to go with a military
M.M. McAllen: Yeah.
was that dangerous, to go from Mexico City to Veracruz.
M.M. McAllen: And then, Veracruz was a veritable
Babel. Once you got there, like a Babylon, people waiting for
boats, scary, scary time.
people dying of the yellow fever, which was kind of like Ebola,
you know? When Carlota went to Yucatan, 2 of the servants died
of yellow fever.
M.M. McAllen: It was a scary disease.
was a scary time, and Carlota lived a long time. Maximilian was
killed in 1867, in June.
M.M. McAllen: And she died in 19, it was
1927, that was it.
M.M. McAllen: And she had seen her first
airplanes during World War I, as they were bombing Belgium.
she was there in her castle.
M.M. McAllen: She was there in her castle,
and they didn't bomb her castle, miraculously, Bouchout.
an extraordinary story that you tell.
M.M. McAllen: Thank you.
for people listening, a really important point to make here is
that this is a trans-national episode. It's not just France comes
to Mexico, but that France brings army personnel from Algeria,
from China, from all over the world, and then we have aristocrats
who are Austrian and Belgian. They're all related, they're all
cousins to each other, but cousins of the emperor of Brazil,
And then we have the US involved, both the Confederate generals
and then people from the Union, in particular John Bigelow, the
US ambassador in Paris, big part of this story of getting Napoleon
to come. So it's this big conglomeration of international
complicated. Throw in the Church.
M.M. McAllen: Yeah.
involves sections of Mexico.
M.M. McAllen: Yes. It involved hundreds of
thousands of people, from the foot soldiers on up, and people
from 22 nationalities. I can only imagine.
just be able to put together a narrative, I know from my own
experience it took a huge investment of just reading, and then
you go to the archives in Vienna, in Miramar, and all over the
world there are archives. And you did all this work, so this
is a nonfiction narrative of the whole enchilada.
M.M. McAllen: Well, I could have written
M.M. McAllen: Yeah. You know, it could have
had another 300 pages. I had to really cut a lot of things for
you got it down to 410.
M.M. McAllen: Four-ten.
notes, plus there's an index. Four-ten is readable. That's very
M.M. McAllen: Thank you. I tried to put the
best parts in, the most interesting parts. And some of it, if
it was getting repetitious, I just cut, because it was a lot
of storytelling to put in between 2 covers of a book.
like trying to get a mammoth into a matchbox.
M.M. McAllen: Exactly.
people want to also, they know they can find your book pretty
much anywhere, but they can come to your web site too to
M.M. McAllen: And that will
on your web site?
M.M. McAllen: Basically, my web site is a
compilation of all the books that I've done, but there are links
back to how to buy the book from my web site, and then Facebook
also, M.M. McAllen shows how to get the book. I'd love your readers
to post on M.M. McAllen any of their thoughts.
they can write to you, and your web site is www
M.M. McAllen: MMMcAllen.com.
M.M. McAllen: Mary Margaret.
and you're also on Twitter?
M.M. McAllen: Yeah, Twitter.
they can Tweet you?
M.M. McAllen: They can Tweet me. I'm not
very good at Tweeting, but I mean
haven't figured that out.
M.M. McAllen: I always want to say more than
they allow me, but
kind of a strange medium.
M.M. McAllen: I know, but yeah, so I'd be
happy to answer questions of the reader.
you for this interview. It's just a joy for me to talk to you
about it. It's a wonderful book.
M.M. McAllen: Thank you. Thank you.
M.M. McAllen: Thank you.