Book of the Week: The Last Emperor of Mexico by Edward Shawcross

In the early 1860s, the “brutal” French emperor Napoleon III conceived what he believed to be “a wonderful wheeze,” Justin Marozzi said in Sunday Times. He will lead his army to invade Mexico, and install a puppet emperor on the throne. France would thus achieve a “Latin American empire on the cheap”, offering “unprecedented opportunities for French business”.

The man Napoleon chose to rule Mexico was the “surprise Habsburg superintendent” Maximilian, younger brother of the Austrian Franz Joseph I. Maximilian thinks it’s a great idea – he’s a “classical little brother looking for something to do” – and accordingly, when France gained control of Mexico, he was an old man. entered the country in May 1864, with his wife Carlota. Although his reign was short-lived, it made for an “interesting story”—one that Edward Shawcross related to the “real story and narrative punch” in the first book. his wonderful fairy.

Predictably, Maximilian’s time in Mexico proved disastrous from the start, Gerard Helferich said in The Wall Street Journal. A dreamer with a passion for poetry and drama, the young man is unfit for the task of ruling a country “still deeply polarized” after a brutal civil war. “Worse still, under his agreement with France, Maximilian was responsible for the costs the country incurred in invading Mexico.” (In other words, as Shawcross puts it, Mexico had to “pay the price for its own prerogative of occupation.”)

Paul Lay said in Time. No longer preoccupied with its internal affairs, Washington decided to take action against the European client nation being set up on its doorstep. In 1866, France issued an ultimatum: “Get rid of your army or it’s war”.

Tony Barber said the post is now “on the wall for Maximilian’s empire of illusions”. FT. Napoleon agreed to Washington’s request, which put the “self-proclaimed emperor” in an impossible position. A year later, his “unforgivable end”: captured by hostile forces of Free Mexico, he was executed by gunfire in June 1867 (a famous scene by Manet). Maximilian’s execution, above).

Shawcross described Napoleon’s attack on Mexico as a gamble “outrageous even by the standards of European imperialism”. In The Last Emperor of Mexico, he wrote a “wonderful and well-researched entertaining account” of this “tough escape”.

Faber 336pp £20; The Week Bookshop £15.99

The Last Emperor of Mexico

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