Empress Carlota of Mexico

Deposed Empress

Empress Carlota of Mexico
Empress Carlota of Mexico, by Heinrich Eduard, 1863. Sergio Anelli/Electa/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Known for: briefly Empress of Mexico; serious mental illness after her husband was deposed in Mexico

Occupation: Empress of Mexico (1864-67)

Dates: June 7, 1840 - January 19, 1927

Also known as: Carlota in Mexico, Charlotte in Belgium and France, and Carlotta in Italy; born Marie Charlotte Amélie Augustine Victoire Clémentine Léopoldine, also spelled Marie Charlotte Amelie Augustine Victoire Clementine Leopoldine


Princess Charlotte, later to be known as Carlota, was the only daughter of Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, king of Belgium, a Protestant, and Louise of France, a Catholic. She was a first cousin of both Queen Victoria and Victoria's husband, Prince Albert.  (Victoria's mother Victoria and Albert's father Ernst were siblings of Leopold.)


Charlotte married Maximilian, archduke of Austria, younger brother of the Habsburg Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph I, on July 27, 1856. Carlota had been courted as well by Pedro V of Portugal and Prince George of Saxony but chose Maximilian.

Maximilian's mother Archduchess Sophia of Bavaria was married to the Archduke Frances Charles of Austria. Rumors of the time assumed that Maximilian's father was actually not the Archduke, but rather Napoleon Frances, son of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The young couple lived first in a palace built by Maximilian on the Adriatic, where Maximilian was serving as governor of Lombardy and Venice beginning in 1857.

In 1859, he was removed by his brother. Carlota stayed at the palace while Maximilian traveled to Brazil, and he is said to have brought back a venereal disease which infected Carlota and made it impossible for them to have children.

Napoleon III had decided to conquer Mexico for France. Among the motivations of the French was to weaken the United States by supporting the Confederacy.

After a defeat at Puebla (still celebrated by Mexican-Americans as Cinco de Mayo), the French tried again, this time taking control of Mexico City. Pro-French Mexicans then moved to institute a monarchy, and Maximilian was selected as the Emperor. Carlota urged him to accept.

In 1864, Maximilian and Carlota arrived in Mexico, placed on the throne by Napoleon III as Emperor and Empress of Mexico. (Her father had been offered the Mexican throne and rejected it, years earlier.) Maximilian and Carlota believed that they had the support of the Mexican people. But nationalism in Mexico was running high, Maximilian was too liberal for the conservative Mexicans who supported the monarchy, and the neighboring USA refused to recognize their rule as legitimate.

In a scandal, Maximilian and Carlota attempted to adopt as heirs the nephews of the daughter of Mexico's first emperor, but the American mother of the boys claimed that she had been forced to give up her sons. The idea that Maximilian and Carlota had, essentially, kidnapped the boys further eroded their credibility.

Soon the Mexican people rejected foreign rule. When Maximilian refused to leave after the French troops pulled out, the Mexican forces arrested the imposed Emperor.

Carlota convinced her husband not to abdicate. She returned to Europe to attempt to gain support for her husband, but, during that time, she slipped into what was likely a serious depression, described at the time by her secretary as "a grave attack of mental aberration."

Maximilian, hearing of his wife's mental illness, still did not abdicate. Finally, he was executed on June 10, 1867. His body was buried in Europe.

Carlota lived in seclusion for the last nearly sixty years of her life, in Belgium and Italy, never recovering her mental health, and apparently never knowing of her husband's death.

More About Empress Carlota of Mexico

  • Haslip, Joan. Crown of Mexico: Maximilian and His Empress Carlota.1971.
  • Ridley, Jasper. Maximilian and Juarez. 1992, 2001.
  • Smith, Gene. Maximilian and Carlota: A Tale of Romance and Tragedy. 1973.
  • Taylor, John M. Maximilian & Carlotta: A Story of Imperialism.
  • Maximilian and Carlotta of Mexico: an extensive bibliography, including works in English, Spanish and other languages.