12 November 2015

Princess Spotlight: Charlotte of Belgium, Empress of Mexico

Portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Named for the unfortunate first wife of her father, King Leopold I of the Belgians, Charlotte of Belgium (1840-1927) was born 175 years ago to a German dynasty in a new Belgian kingdom and grew up to marry an Austrian archduke and become Empress of Mexico before returning to Belgium where she died and was buried in the royal crypt at Laeken.

Charlotte's life was marked by tragedy almost from the beginning. Her mother, Louise of Orleans, died of tuberculosis when she was barely ten, and young Charlotte grew up to be unusually close to her maternal grandmother, the Queen of France, who had been born Maria Amalia of Two Sicilies.
At the age of 17, she married the gorgeous and charming Archduke Maximilian, younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph II of Austria. In Austria, the lovely young bride found it hard to compete with her famously beautiful sister-in-law, Empress Elisabeth, who had also developed a close and playful relationship with Maximilian. However, their domineering mother-in-law Sophie of Bavaria did prefer Charlotte over Elisabeth, even though Elisabeth was her own niece.

Nevertheless, Charlotte was glad to move to Italy, where her husband served as governor of the Austrian provinces of Lombardy and Venetia. The couple enjoyed a happy marriage, but they had no children, an unfortunate situation for any wife of the day and especially for a royal/imperial wife. Slowly, life began to seem rather empty. They both wanted something more.

So, when the French Emperor Napolean III offered Maximilian the crown of Mexico, they were eager to take it, even though Emperor Francis advised them that Mexico was too politically unstable. Their idealistic dreams of bringing peace and European civilization were short-lived; within three years Napolean had withdrawn his support, Maximilian was deposed, and executed by firing squad.

Charlotte, who was in Europe at the time trying to raise support for her husband, suffered a complete mental and emotional breakdown. She had just turned 27. She was declared insane and sent back to Belgium, where she lived in seclusion for the next 60 years.

My Profile of Charlotte:
Belgian Highnesses Part I Mad Carlota

Other Profiles of Charlotte:
Carlota, Empress of Mexico on Historical Text Archive
Charlotte of Belgium on Mad Monarchs
Consort Profile: Empress Carlota (in two parts) on The Mad Monarchist
The Curse of Charlotte of Belgium on Tiaras and Trianon
Empress Carlota of Mexico on About Women's History
Max and Carlota on Mexconnect

More Resources on Charlotte:
Charlotte and Maximilian Collection at Rice University

Movies about Charlotte:
Carlota: A Serpentine Crown (2009), musical by Marcel Wick
Maximiliano y Carlota (1965), telenovela

Books about Charlotte:


  1. I find her story so sad, even though she did live a long life. Perhaps, she had some peace in those years of seclusion.

  2. I find her story so sad, even though she did live a long life. Perhaps, she had some peace in those years of seclusion.