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September 18th, 2014 under West Texas Talk » West Texas Talk Highlight

The royal family of Mexico

By LONN TAYLOR

Tuesday was Diez y Seis, the 16th of September, Mexican Independence Day, a holiday that is celebrated in Mexico and wherever Mexicans live with far more intensity and for a longer duration than we celebrate the Fourth of July. I was once in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, on Diez y Seis and the streets were filled for three days with high school drum and bugle corps and parades of labor union members led by men shooting off skyrockets as they walked. The single day had become a three-day Fiestas Patrioticas. This year Las Vegas, Nevada, is planning a weeklong Mexican Independence Day blowout. Mexicans living in Paris, France will paint their faces red, white, and green and gather at their Embassy to listen to mariachis.

It was on September 16, 1810, that Father Miguel Hidalgo, the parish priest of the town of Dolores, Guanajuato, declared the Vice-Royalty of Mexico independent from Spain, which had ruled Mexico for 300 years. Hidalgo, who had no military experience, quickly raised an army of 15,000 poorly armed peasants and won some initial victories, but after a few months his army was defeated and he was captured and executed at Chihuahua City in July 1811. However, the fire Father Hidalgo lit continued to burn, and after 11 years of intermittent warfare Mexico finally became independent in 1821.

Father Hidalgo proclaimed Mexico independent, but he did not proclaim it a republic, and during the years of warfare before independence was achieved two factions developed. One saw Mexico as a federal republic, modeled on the United States; the other saw it as a constitutional monarchy, ruled by an invited European monarch. The second faction initially won out, and when no member of a European royal family would take the job a Mexican aristocrat, Agustín de Iturbide, put himself forward and was crowned Agustín I, Emperor of Mexico, on May 19, 1822. His reign lasted only 11 months before he was deposed by the republicans, and his only lasting contribution seems to have been designing the Mexican flag (the eagle wore a crown), but the fact of his rule gives me a chance to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes, venturing down historical rabbit holes. This particular rabbit hole is the story of Agustín de Iturbide’s grandson, the last prince of Mexico.

Agustín de Itubide was a wealthy landowner from the town of Valladolid (now Morelia), Michoacan. He married another wealthy Valladolidense, Ana Maria Huarte, in 1805, and they had 10 children, 9 of whom lived to adulthood. After his forced abdication in May 1823, Iturbide and his family went into exile, first in Italy and then in England. A year later Iturbide unwisely decided to return to Mexico and take power again. He was arrested as soon as he landed and was promptly executed by a firing squad.

Agustín de Iturbide’s widow and children lived in exile in England and the United States for forty years. His widow, the Empress Ana Maria, died in Philadelphia in 1861 and is buried there in a crypt at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. His oldest son, Agustín Gerónimo, died childless in New York in 1866, and the second son, Ángel, became head of the family. Ángel had lived in Washington, D.C. for many years and in 1855 had married a prominent Washingtonian, Alice Green, the granddaughter of Revolutionary War general Uriah Forrest. Ángel and Alice moved to Mexico City about 1860 and in April 1863 their only son, Agustín de Iturbide y Green, the last prince of Mexico, was born there.

A year later the ill-fated Maximilian von Habsburg and his wife Carlota arrived in Mexico, where Maximilian, with the support of a French army, became the second emperor of Mexico. Maximilian was disconcerted to find descendants of the first emperor living in Mexico, possible rivals for his throne. He and Carlota were unable to have children of their own, and he hit on a solution to both problems. He offered Ángel and Alice 150,000 pesos if they would permit Maximilian and Carlotta to adopt their son and would leave the country, never to return. Little Agustín’s unmarried aunt, Doña Josefa, was to remain in Mexico City as a tutor to the little boy, and become a member of Maximilian’s court with the title of Princess Iturbide, and little Agustín, who was 2, was to become a prince and live in Chapultepec Palace as heir to Maximilian’s throne. Maximilian thus sought to co-opt any nationalist monarchist sentiment that might coalesce around the Iturbides. Ángel and Alice, after some hesitation, accepted the emperor’s offer, but Alice soon had second thoughts, and for the next year and a half she bombarded Maximilian and Carlota with requests that they give her little boy back. The matter became an international embarrassment to Maximilian, as Alice went to France and asked the American minister to get Napoleon III to intervene in the matter, and the U.S. Congress passed a resolution demanding the return of the “kidnapped American boy.” Finally, in the spring of 1867, shortly before the fall of Maximilian’s government and his execution, Agustín and his aunt were put on a ship for Havana, where his joyful mother reclaimed him.

After Maximilian’s fall Alice and her son lived in England (Ángel died in 1872) and then in Washington, D.C. Prince Agustín graduated from Georgetown University in Washington in 1884 and on his 21st birthday renounced his rights to a Mexican throne and went to Mexico to become a junior officer in the Mexican army. He got into trouble there by criticizing President Porfirio Díaz in a letter to a newspaper and was thrown in jail for a year. When he was released he left Mexico and never went back. He returned to Washington, D.C. and took a job teaching Spanish and French at his alma mater, Georgetown University. At the age of 59 he married a Washington woman 20 years his junior, Mary Louise Kearney. They lived modestly in an apartment house near Dupont Circle until Agustín’s death in 1925. The other residents in the building, clerks and accountants in Federal offices, never knew that their scholarly neighbor was the last prince of Mexico and had once lived in an imperial palace.

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Lonn Taylor is a historian and writer who lives in Fort Davis. He can be reached at taylorw@fortdavis.net.    

Story filed under: West Texas Talk » West Texas Talk Highlight

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