“Given its great historical backdrop and the significant implications involved, it is rather amazing that the French intervention in Mexico and the short-lived Mexican empire it spawned has not received more attention. Further, to the extent that they are covered, the period and the players involved are routinely misunderstood or misrepresented. All of this makes McAllen’s new volume a most welcome addition to the subject’s literature. The story of idealistic young Habsburg Archduke Maximilian and his gifted Belgian princess Charlotte (Carlota), the events that brought this unlikely couple to the French-imposed throne in Mexico, their misguided tenure as New World monarchs, and their tragic demise has it all—ambition, intrigue, war, romance, colorful characters, and villains that seem to come out of central casting. As one contemporary observer noted, this was the stuff of Shakespeare. And M. M. McAllen delivers a worthy rendering.

McAllen, a San Antonio-based author of well-received works drawn from the history of her native South Texas and neighboring Mexico, presents a well-researched and appropriately nuanced version of an amazingly complex international event that unfolded in the shadow of the U.S. Civil War, the onset of which opened the door to French intervention in violation of the Monroe Doctrine and the conclusion of which doomed the fragile Mexican empire. Although she relies heavily on strong secondary sources and published memoirs, the author also mined extensive archival collections in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe. The result is an impressively comprehensive account that captures the quixotic nature of Maximilian—a reform-minded liberal at heart, called to rule by conservative principles—and the ambitious yet frail Carlota. But the royals are surrounded by nicely fleshed-out characters such as French Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, whose imperial ambitions and failures sealed the young couple’s fate; the Mexican president-in-exile Benito Juárez, who triumphed over empire and by ordering Maximilian’s execution sent a message to the world; the duplicitous French General Achille Bazaine; U.S. Secretary of State William Henry Seward; and a host of roguish military men, mercenaries, unsavory priests, and all sorts of attendants and office-seekers.

While generally well-written and quite readable, the narrative is not without some distracting flaws, notably pronoun usage, and would have benefitted from more rigid copyediting. That said, McAllen admirably sets a stage and does a good job of describing complicated scenarios, of which there are many. Further, she displays a strong grasp of the material and, importantly, understands the significance of this brief, often overlooked, period in Mexican history. It would be easy to focus solely on the European aspects of this story, but McAllen gives considerable attention to prominent Mexicans on both sides of what was essentially a Mexican civil war: Juarista generals such as future president PorfirioD´ıaz and the sympathetic captor of Maximilian, Mariano Escobedo, as well as conservative leaders who backed the regime: former president Miguel Miram´on and General Tom´as Mej´ıa, who died with Maximilian before a Mexican firing squad in 1867.

Among this book’s many strengths is a fine collection of illustrations, including a standalone gallery of photographs of the main players in this Mexican tragedy. Completing the package, the author includes lavish endnotes, a helpful bibliography, and good index. There is, however, one major omission. This is a sweeping story full of references to cities large and small, roads and routes and castles, and places in Mexico and Europe with which many readers might not be familiar. A good map—at least one of Mexico—would promote a better understanding of the events depicted.

McAllen has produced a much-needed fresh look at an often neglected and misunderstood period in North American history and in so doing makes clear that this was a much more important episode, one with serious geopolitical implications, than is usually recognized. The period of intervention and empire ended in tragedy for the young monarchs and embarrassment for France, but in standing up to the foreigners and eventually restoring the republic, Mexico found something of a new identity and a way forward. However, as McAllen noted, the empire left its mark.”
— DAVID COFFEY, University of Tennessee at Martin
“On the 150th anniversary of the installation of Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian von Habsburg as emperor of Mexico , McAllen (I Would Rather Sleep in Texas) offers an authoritative, detailed, and engrossing account of the rise and fall of Mexico’s Second Empire. New republican president Benito Juáarez had defeated conservative factions in Mexico’s bloody War of Reform. However, French Emperor Napoleon III, seeking to enrich his country while curtailing the regional influence of a U.S. distracted by Civil War, invaded Mexico in 1861 under “the pretext of claiming unpaid bond debt.” In the wake of a decisive French victory at the Second Battle of Puebla in 1863, Juárez abandoned Mexico City for the northern desert. Mexico’s Assembly of Notables voted to reconstruct the Mexican government as an empire, and the crown was offered to Maximilian. Despite their charm and education, the new emperor and his wife Carlota became “victims of Napoleonic greed, their own desires, and Mexican pride,” alienating their base by upholding Juárez’s nationalization reforms. By early1866, after the U.S. threatened to enact trade sanctions against its neighbor to the south and also hinted at a possible alliance with Prussia, a country at odds with French regime, Napoleon withdrew his troops and funding; after the republicans vanquished the imperialists in battle, Maximilian was executed, while Carlota had already returned to Europe. McAllen ably demonstrates how the Second Empire’s collapse was one of the most spectacular personal tragedies and political failures of the 19th century.”
— Publishers Weekly
“In 1861, knowing full well we Americans had our hands full fighting ourselves, the clever French made an all-out bid to annihilate the regime of Benito Juárez and claim Mexico, gaining a prized place in North America. With the 150th anniversary in mind (April 10, 1864), Maximilian and Carlota details Louis Napol´eon’s intrepid scheme to install Maximilian von Habsburg and his wife as emperor and empress, but also details the intrigues and incongruities that occurred while nineteenth-century European leaders sought to remake the New World in their vision. Not long did this particular episode last: Max was executed by a Juárez firing squad in 1867.”
— Foreword Reviews
“World history is most engrossing when read not as a litany of dates, battles, and lineages, but as a drama of real people living messy, interesting lives, and McAllen does just that in Maximilian and Carlota. Maximilian von Habsburg and his wife, Carlota, were installed as the emperor and empress of Mexico 150 years ago, and their surprising story has rarely been told until now.”
— Texas Exes Alcalde Magazine
“Mexican history offers a phantasmagoria that beggars the imagination. Most writers seem to focus on three distinct eras: Conquest, Independence, and Revolution. But perhaps the most surreal, tragic, yet oddly comedic era in Mexico has gone largely unexamined, until now. 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.”
— LUIS ALBERTO URREA, author of The Hummingbird’s Daughter
“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.”
— C. M. MAYO, author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire
“A thorough, complete history of Mexico’s second empire. The author leaves nothing untouched.”
— WILLIAM H. BEEZLEY, coeditor of The Oxford History of Mexico