Good Charlotte

Following the international incident in Rome where Charlotte temporarily moved into the Vatican and refused to eat or drink for fear of being poisoned, her brother Phillipe finally agreed to visit her. His assessment of her condition convinced Phillipe that Charlotte could not go back to the life she once knew – either in Mexico or in Europe. She needed to be cared for. And so like most of the sad stories we cover here at ULTC, the time was ripe for a man to step in and take advantage of the empress’s vulnerable situation. That man was Count Karl Bombelles, a childhood friend of her husband Max who had recently returned from Mexico. In his mind, Charlotte was the one to blame for the dangerous predicament that Max now found himself in. Karl’s resentment of her ensured that his “care” of her would be more akin to that of a jailer than a caregiver. Bombelles brought in the help of “alienists”, an early word for what we would now call psychiatrists. These alienists declared Charlotte officially insane and so her family did not protest when Bombelles moved her to Miramare, the home that she and Max had built and had once shared and loved. Unfortunately for Charlotte, it was a brief stay, as she was soon moved to a smaller dwelling on the Miramare grounds where it was easier to keep her locked in. It would be her prison for the next ten months.

Famous Last Words

Ironically, Charlotte’s decline into mental illness almost saved her husband’s life. Upon learning about Charlotte’s concerning condition, Max was so upset that he had one foot on a ship back to Europe. Before he could set sail, his sketchy councilors talked him out of leaving and Max agreed to stay and fight for his crown. By staying he sealed his fate – in May 1867 Max surrendered to Benito Juárez’s troops and was taken prisoner. Because of his position and because he was the brother of an emperor, many of Max’s peers thought that Juárez would spare his life. Unfortunately, they were wrong. On June 13, 1867, Maximilian and two of his soldiers were marched before a firing squad. It is said that his last words were, “Poor Charlotte”. 

Max’s execution following his surrender in 1867. Clearly there was no favoritism for the former Emperor of Mexico.

Poor Charlotte indeed. Those around Charlotte who cared for her kept the news of Max’s death a secret, afraid that it would send her back to a dark place. In fact, it wasn’t until a year later that she was told. To her credit, Charlotte took the news relatively well, almost as if she knew all along what had happened. For the rest of her life, Charlotte was hidden from potentially upsetting news about the world around her, yet had the uncanny ability to always know more than she should have. It is said that she knew about World War I even though every effort was made to keep her oblivious. She is quoted as eerily saying, “one supposes there is something going on because one is not gay…The frontier is black, very black”. Spooky season is upon us…

I Need a Hero(ine)

It is hard to know exactly what happened during the months under Bombelles’ cruel watch, but whatever it was, it wasn’t good. There were rumors of straightjackets, chains, and beatings, and it was suspected that Charlotte may have been the victim of sexual abuse. Eventually, the empress found her savior in a very unlikely place – her sister-in-law, Queen Marie Henriette of Belgium, wife of Charlotte’s oldest brother Leopold II (who had refused to step in this whole time). Marie Henriette became so upset at the reports of Charlotte’s condition that she insisted on putting eyes on Charlotte for herself. And she didn’t like what she saw. As a queen, you would think that Marie Henriette would have been able to simply take her sister-in-law, but Bombelles was determined not to let her leave. It took several weeks, great persistence and the influence of the queen’s rank to finally free Charlotte from her prison.

Don’t be fooled by the stunning views of Castle Miramare – it is said that the castle is haunted by Charlotte’s ghost. Idk, sounds like an awesome slumber party to me!

The remainder of Charlotte’s life was spent surrounded by family as she fluctuated between lucidity and delusion. Her suspicion that she was being poisoned never disappeared completely, and she also developed new habits that confirmed to her family and friends that she would never be able to live a “normal” life. She wrote hundreds of intelligible and frenzied letters that were mailed to no one, she had frequent fits of rage and, like Maria I of Portugal, her ramblings became more and more biblically doomsday in nature. 

Yet Charlotte remained a perfect physical specimen. And let me tell you, this woman went through it. She narrowly escaped a devastating fire in 1879. She outlived all of her family members. She even lived through WWI. She had been so isolated from the outside world that she learned about airplanes for the first time when bombers flew over her property during the war. And Charlotte remained very self-aware of her state of mind, often openly acknowledging her “madness” to those around her. She also proved capable of managing her enviable financial situation – at the time of her death Charlotte was one of the richest women in the world. Yas Queen!

A photograph of an elderly Charlotte riding in style as one of the world’s richest women. You better werk!

Certified Lover Boy

Charlotte’s onetime Mexican Empire became a distant memory, as did her late husband. Charlotte rarely acknowledged Max, and so the nature of their relationship remained a mystery. Particularly their physical relationship, if there ever had been one. Her own family was under the impression that they had never been intimate once throughout their marriage. Of course, rumors like this led many to believe that Max was either gay or impotent. However, there were just as many stories of Max’s romantic trysts with local women in Mexico. This makes it even more puzzling as to why, if he cared for Charlotte deeply (and his letters indicate that he did), he would choose to turn his affections elsewhere, knowing the importance of producing an heir. For hundreds of years, royal couples with much more disagreeable marriages had grinned and bared it in the pursuit of continuing their legacy. Rumors of Max’s infidelities followed Charlotte for the rest of her life and beyond, most specifically in the form of a man believed by many historians to be his bastard son – Julián Sedano Y Leguízamo. Julio had eventually left Mexico and ended up in France, where he was recruited by the Germans to be a spy during World War I. He was caught after two years and was executed by firing squad, just like his (alleged) dad.

And Charlotte was not immune to scandalous rumors herself. There are many who posit that the empress was pregnant when she sailed from Mexico to Europe to ask Napoleon for his help. She was apparently sick throughout the journey (can’t imagine it was from spending months on a gross boat…) and physically hiding a pregnancy wasn’t out of the realm of possibility with the fashion of the time. The baby daddy was said to be General Alfred Van der Smissen, who Charlotte had grown close to while her husband was often absent. The evidence? An uncanny resemblance between Van der Smissen and the child in question, Maxime Weygand. But of course, Charlotte wasn’t the only woman in Mexico who Van der Smissen could have knocked up. Other theories claim that the real mother could have been one of her ladies-in-waiting. Weygand grew up to be a respected French general in both WWI and WWII (so in the battle of possible illegitimate sons, Charlotte definitely won). Could this taboo pregnancy, which then forced her to secretly give her baby away, have contributed to Charlotte’s mental decline? The theory certainly makes for compelling drama, but I’m not sure it passes the bar of historical credibility. 

General Alfred Van der Smissen on the left and Maxime Weygand on the right. What do you think? Any resemblance?

Legends Never Die

Charlotte’s time on the throne of Mexico is but a mere blip in history, since forgotten (or excluded) by textbooks. After kicking France out and eliminating Max, Benito Juárez went on to lead Mexico until a fatal heart attack four short years later. Following his death, the country again plummeted into a period of unrest as numerous characters fought to fill the vacancy. The man who eventually succeeded in grabbing power was Porfirio Díaz, who ruled Mexico as its president/dictator until 1911. And still, Charlotte lived for another decade and a half. Charlotte, Princess of Belgium, Archduchess of Austria, Empress of Mexico, passed away on January 19, 1927 at the ripe old age of 87. She outlived them all. 

As the song goes… “adios Mama Carlotta”. 


“Emperor of MEXICO EXECUTED.”, A&E Television Networks, 3 Mar. 2010,

Haslip, Joan. The Crown of Mexico; Maximilian and His Empress Carlota. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976.

Michel. The Empress of Farewells: The Story of CHARLOTTE, Empress of Mexico. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002.

Smith, Gene. Maximilian and CARLOTA: A Tale of Romance and Tragedy. Wm. Morrow & Co., 1973.

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