Monday, September 13, 2010

September 15th in Mexico of 1865

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More anon.