Sunday, November 28, 2010
The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire
I could have picked up The Last Prince of Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo because of the lovely cover but I didn't. It was the title. It has a magical quality. I took it to be a metaphor for something because I was unaware of Mexico ever having had a prince. Chalk that up to my weak education and the Prince not being mentioned in the movie Juarez. The sum total of my knowledge of Mexican history comes from that movie so I was all over the Prince's parents: Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota having seen them portrayed by Brian Aherne and Bette Davis but the powers that be or rather were in 1939 chose not to mention any princes in that flick.
In 1864 His Imperial and Royal Highness Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, Prince Imperial and Archduke of Austria, Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia and his wife, Princess Marie Charlotte Amélie Augustine Victoire Clémentine Léopoldine of Belgium, became Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Carlota of Mexico. Prior to this they had not ruled a nation so this was a bit of a career change for them. From what I understand installing a royal family in Mexico was a plot cooked up by Napoleon the III of France with the support of Great Britain and Spain in order to make Mexico pay off loans on which it's President, Benito Juarez, had suspended payments. Maximilian, Carlota and some French troops were sent off to replace President Juarez and resume the payments but all under the guise of liberty. There was a small group of supporters of Maximilian within Mexico made up of conservatives and members of the clergy but this was really an invasion.
Those are amazing bones for a historical novel aren't they? You can add to them Carlota's madness, Maximilian's righteous beliefs in his own liberality and entitlement and we haven't even mentioned the Prince yet. What riches.
The Prince is two year old, half American Agustín de Iturbide y Green. A year into his reign the childless Emperor Maximilian adopts and/or buys Agustín and makes the boy his heir presumptive. Agustín's parents are at first somewhat enamored by the new royal court but soon after signing away their son they are desperate to get him back. Maximilian has them exiled. This on top of everything else going wrong in their kingdom have Maximilian and Carlota in the middle of an international scandal.
Have you thought "you can't make this stuff up" yet? There is obviously no shortage of plot to stuff into The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. Mayo manipulates all of these elements like a professional juggler. She alternates the narrative between Maximilian, Carlota, and Agustín's parents always keeping them believable. We see all sides of the custody battle, the coming revolution in Mexico and the geopolitics that have set this epic debacle in motion. It's very impressive that Mayo can present all this material and infuse it with immediacy and color without it either spiraling out of her control or becoming a laundry list of events.
The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire is unbelievable fact wrapped up in grand storytelling. C.M. Mayo started with one hell of a of little known chapter in history and made it even more captivating.