Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Thin White Duke

Today is the 143rd anniversary of the execution of Emperor Maximilian in the hills of Querétaro. While we've long argued that he should have been granted clemency simply for introducing the parted-in-the-middle beard to Latin America, passions were running a little hot at the time, and Benito Juarez wasn't going to let some bitchin' facial hair stand in the way of a good firing squad. In case you were wondering what a recently-murdered 35-year-old inbred Austrian archduke-emperor looks like after a few days in the sizzling queretano sun, behold his embalmed cadaver, courtesy of the book Querétaro: The End of the Second Mexican Empire, by Konrad Ratz:


Max was embalmed by a local gynecologist named Vicente Licea, and legend has it that the glass eyes staring back in the photo above had been plucked from a statue of Saint Ursula. Dr. Licea also may or may not have clipped off parts of that beautiful beard to sell as relics.

After they killed the dumb bastard, no one really had a plan for what to do with him. For a while, his coffin resided under the stairwell in the building at Madero 70 (where it was pulled out once so Juarez could take a peek). Over the summer, it was decided that the body would be sent back to Austria. In early September, it was shipped to Mexico City, and...um, something happened en route. This is where our weak Spanish works against us, but according to the book, the body suffered dos caídas al agua, which we take to mean it fell into water...twice. We'd have a hard time understanding how that was possible if we hadn't lived in Mexico for several years.

Anyway, the three-months-dead body was deemed "unpresentable," and was re-embalmed. Dr Licea had plucked out Max's organs and stored them in lead containers, and these organs were stuffed back into the body cavity just in case the Austrians decided to cut the guy open for a third (fourth?...we're losing track) time and accuse the Mexicans of stealing them to sell. (Six years later, police would discover a preserved heart and some intestines in Dr. Licea's office, and accuse him of having stolen them from Maximilian. The good doctor explained that, no, he had actually stolen them from body of General Tomás Mejía, who was executed next to Max, and who he had embalmed at a house on Calle Independencia, down the street from Burro Hall HQ, and across from Restaurante Bhaji. Please update your guidebooks accordingly.)

Six months after he died, on Jan 18, 1868, Dead Emperor Maximilian arrived home in Austria. His beard was still intact and crisply parted.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The killing of his nephew Franz Ferdinand precipitated the First World War.

Anonymous said...

So Mexico was lucky... the family didn't take revenge.

Anonymous said...

And his wife, Charlotte of Mexico, Queen Victoria of England, and Albert (her husband) were all first cousins among them.

Richard said...

Uh... Franz Ferdinand was a great-nephew, not a nephew. He was the Max's younger brother's kid. He was the only heir left standing after Franz-Joseph's son, Rudolf, blew his brains out after murdering his mistress in 1889.

Max' sister-in-law, Empress Elizabeth, was assassinated in 1898. Franz-Joseph was apparently too mean to kill off, and didn't shuffle off his mortal coil until the Empire was about to collapse in 1916. The throne passed to Franz-Ferdinand's nephew, Charles. Who had the sense to realize the empire-biz wasn't all that healthy (nor was losing WWI) and abdicated in 1918.

Max was, in a way, lucky. He died before people realized what a blithering idiot he was (unlike Carlotta, who lingered on in a home for brain-damaged royals until 1929)

Anonymous said...

Uh... no, he WAS his nephew.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Sophie_of_Bavaria