Market Mad House

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche

Historical Insanity

What do you with an Ex-Emperor?

Historical change often presents leaders and peoples with an interesting problem: what do you with an Ex-Emperor?

What happens to former Emperors, Autocrats, Czars, and Khans after they leave their jobs. What do revolutionary governments, colonial conquerors, and occupying powers do with an Ex-Emperor?

The fate of of some ex-Emperors is well known. Most history buffs know Napoleon I died alone in exile on the remote island of St. Helena in the middle of the Atlantic. Similarly, many people know Bolshevik hit men executed former Russian Czar Nicholas I and his family in a Siberian basement.

However, the fates of some other ex-Emperors are more interesting and entertaining. Some interesting fates of Ex-Emperors include:

1. The Last Mughal Emperor of India Zafar

Bahadur Shah Zafar or Bahadur Shah II was the last Mughal Emperor of India. Theoretically, Zafar was the absolute rule of much of the subcontinent.

In reality, Zafar was a British puppet. Moreover, by the 1850s the Last Mughal’s “empire” comprised some land around the city of Delhi the British East India Company administered in his name.

Zafar was happy to serve as a puppet for the British East India Company, in exchange for a large pension (salary). All that changed during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 or Great Mutiny.

When Indian mercenary soldiers, or Sepoys, revolted against the East India Company, they realized they needed a political program to attract support. Needing a political leader, the rebels made Zafar, the British puppet, the figurehead of their anti-British revolt.

After the British reconquered Delhi, the Mughal capitol from the Sepoys, they put Zafar on trial for atrocities the rebels committed. Strangely, Zafar was innocent because he had no control over the rebels. A British court convicted Zafar but exiled him instead of issuing a death sentence.

The British exiled Zafar to Rangoon, Burma, where he died in 1862. Indian Muslims built a shrine to Zafar in Yangoon in 1991.

Interestingly, Zafar was not the last Emperor of India, King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II was. Queen Victoria took the title Empress of India on 1 May 1876. George VI relinquished the title on 22 June 1948, when India left the British Empire and became a Republic.

2. Maximilian I of Mexico

Mexico has a long history with emperors. Several Mexica (Aztec) emperors ruled the country until the Spanish conquest. Moreover, Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors conquered Mexico in the name of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

The first Emperador de México was Agustin I or Agustine of Mexico, who had one of the briefest reigns in history (19 May 1822-19 March 1823). In reality, Agustin I was Agustín de Iturbide, an army general who fought the Spanish during Mexico’s War of Independence.

The second Emperador de México; Maximilian  I was a far more fascinating character. Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph Maria von Habsburg-Lothringen was an Archduke of Austria and the younger brother of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joesph I. As younger brother Maximilian was unlikely to inherit the throne because the long-lived Franz Joseph had several children.

In 1859, Mexican monarchists approached Maximilian, then commander of the Austrian Navy, with the job of Emperador de México. The monarchists thought Maximilian had a legitimate claim to the Mexican throne because he was a descendant of the Bourbons, who had ruled Mexico for generations as Kings of Spain.

Maximilian’s imperial ambitions went nowhere until the American Civil War broke out. Another Emperor, Napoleon III, saw a chance to seize part of North America with Union and Confederate troops busy killing each other.

French troops invaded Mexico under Napoleon’s orders and captured Mexico City. Napoleon III’s true goals in Mexico are unclear, but the French Emperor’s probable target was California. Napoleon’s hope was that the Civil War could leave Americans too exhausted to defend California.

California, a former Mexican territory captured by Americans in the Mexican War, contained many rich gold mines. Not coincidentally, Napoleon III’s French Empire was broke and having trouble borrowing money. A strong probability is that Napoleon III was planning to use California’s gold to pay France’s debts.

Napoleon III was a cagey politician who needed plausible deniability for his filibustering scheme. As “Emperador de México,” Maximilian could provide that deniability. Instead of a colonial conquest, French troops were restoring Mexico’s “legitimate ruler.” Napoleon III ignored the fact that Mexico had another legitimate leader, President Benito Juárez.

Maximilian accepted the Mexican throne in October 1863. One person Maximilian’s Mexican adventure did not amuse was Franz Joseph. The Austrian Emperor made his brother sign a “Family Pact” renouncing his rights to the Austrian throne and his position as Archduke.

Maximilian and his wife Carlota moved to Mexico City and took up residence at the Chapultepec Castle. To legitimize their reign, the childless couple adopted two of Agustín de Iturbide’s grandsons as their heirs.

Instead of ruling Mexico, Maximilian threw the country into chaos. Mexico’s President Benito Juárez refused to accept Maximilian’s legitimacy. Juárez’s Liberal followers launched a brutal civil war against Maximilian and his French allies.

The end for Maximilian began on 9 April 1865, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Lee’s surrender marked the end of Confederate resistance. Within a few weeks, Confederate armies commanded by Kirby Smith and Joseph E. Johnson surrendered.

With the Civil War over, US President Andrew Johnson (D-Tennessee) recognized Juárez as Mexico’s legitimate president. More importantly, President Johnson moved a large US army under General Phil Sheridan into Texas near the Mexico border. Shortly afterwards, the US government began shipping arms to Juárez’s forces.

By 1866 Napoleon III had withdrawn his troops from Mexico, and many of Maximilian’s followers fled Mexico city. The Empress Carlota travelled to Europe and begged various governments and leaders for help, nobody listened.

Maximilian refused to abdicate or leave Mexico. Instead, Maximilian and 8,000 followers holed up in Santiago de Querétaro (modern Querétaro City). After one of Maximilian’s officers Colonel Miguel López opened the gates to let Loyalist or Republican troops in, Maximilian fled.

Maximilian refused to abdicate or leave Mexico. Instead, Maximilian and 8,000 followers holed up in Santiago de Querétaro (modern Querétaro City). After one of Maximilian’s officers Colonel Miguel López opened the gates to let Loyalist or Republican troops in, Maximilian fled.

However, Juárez regarded Maximilian as a filibuster, a foreign adventurer interfering in Mexico’s affairs for his own profit. Juárez wanted to send the message that Mexico would not tolerate filibusters, so the president let the death sentence stand.

At 6:40 a.m. on the morning of 19 June 1867 a firing squad executed Maximilian I. The Mexican Empire, and the title Emperador de México died with Maximilian I.

3. Napoleon III

Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte was the first president and last Emperor of France. Louis Napoleon was the nephew of Emperor Napoleon I.

Voters elected Bonaparte France’s first president in 1848. Bonaparte took the title Prince-President. However, France’s constitution term-limited Bonaparte to four years.

Instead of stepping down, Louis organized a coup by having troops organize Paris and dissolving the National Assembly. After some fighting Louis Napoleon held a national plebiscite asking if voters supported the coup.

When 7.4 million Frenchmen voted in favor of the coup, Louis Napoleon was free to declare himself Emperor of the French and announce a second French Empire. I consider the Second Empire the beginning of modern France. For instance, they built most of France’s railroads and much of Paris during the Second Empire.

The end for Napoleon III came during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Louis Napoleon tried to distract voters from a political crisis and a bankrupt government with a quick war. The thinking was that France had the most powerful army in Europe.

Unfortunately for France, its enemy Prussia had the most modern and powerful army in Europe. Additionally, all the German states except Austria-Hungary backed Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in his war on Napoleon. Napoleon’s backwards French Army was no match for Prussia’s modern force.

After several disastrous French defeats, Napoleon III found himself and his army surrounded by German forces at Sedan. On 2 September 1870, Napoleon III surrendered to Prussians. The Prussians kept Napoleon prisoner in the castle of Wilhelmshöhe until 1 March 1871.

On 1 March 1871, France’s National Assembly removed the emperor from power and declared a second French Republic. Napoleon III, now out of work, his Wife Eugénie, and his son moved to Chislehurst, Kent, England. The Emperor spent his time in Kent writing and designing a stove. He also had one famous visitor, Queen Victoria.

Gallstones killed Napoleon III on 9 January 1873. They buried the former Emperor in a Catholic Church in England. They moved the body to the Imperial Crypt at St Michael’s Abbey, Farnborough, Hampshire, England, in 1888.

Ironically, Louis Napoleon’s son; the Prince Imperial, or Louis-Napoleon, died fighting for the British Empire. Zulu soldiers killed Louis-Napoleon with spears during the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879 in South Africa. Louis-Napoleon was in South Africa to fight with the British Army.

A popular conspiracy theory blames Queen Victoria for Louis-Napoleon’s death. Ironically, the Zulus who killed Louis-Napoleon claim they would have spared the Prince Imperial had they known his true identity.

Bizarrely, Napoleon III’s most enduring monument is France’s presidency. The President is still the leader and symbol of France, even though Napoleon III is long forgotten. Thus, the office Napoleon III abandoned was a greater success than his empire.

4. Kaiser Wilhelm II

By November 1918, Germany’s leaders realized they were about to lose World War I. Consequently, the generals and politicians needed a scapegoat for their failures.

Fortunately, history made a perfect scapegoat available in the form of Germany’s last Emperor Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert von Hohenzollern. In public, Kaiser Wilhelm II was a swaggering and blustering militarist who offended non-Germans.

Conversely, in private Wilhelm was a weak and incompetent ruler who was incapable of controlling the military. In particular, the Kaiser could not stop the generals and diplomats from taking Germany into World War I, a conflict Wilhelm opposed.

During the war, Wilhelm signed off on many disastrous decisions including the invasion of Belgium which brought the British Empire into the war. An equally catastrophic decision was the declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare which gave U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (D-New Jersey) an excuse to enter the war

By 1918, Germany’s leaders had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by bringing America into the war. In November 1918, the German people were starving and the Imperial Navy was mutinying.

German politicians needed a distraction, so they sent out a press release announcing Wilhelm’s abdication on 9 November 1918. Instead of contradicting the fake news, the Kaiser fled to the neutral Netherlands.

Wilhelm was probably afraid the victorious Entente powers would try him for war crimes. Instead, everybody forgot about the Kaiser.

The former Kaiser lived in obscurity under the protection of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. The former emperor lived in a country manor house and chopped firewood for exercise.

In 1940, the German Army occupied the Netherlands. German officers placed an honor guard at the former Kaiser’s house. That action enraged Adolph Hitler, who ordered the guards removed.

Wilhelm II died on 4 June 1941 shortly before Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa the catastrophic invasion of the Soviet Union that led to Germany’s near destruction.

Wilhelm II and the German Empire are long dead, but the Kaiser’s legacy creates legal problems for Germany’s government and his heirs. Wilhelm’s great-great-grandson Georg Friedrich Prince of Prussia is suing the German government in an attempt to recover his family’s property. Georg holds the title prince of Prussia because his ancestors were kings of Prussia before they became German emperors.

CNN reports that the Prince of Prussia wants to recover his family’s ancestral home; the Hohenzollern Castle, and over 10,000 pieces of art. A legal battle is necessary because the German government charges that Prince’s family helped the Nazis come to power. Germany has a law that prevents Nazi enablers and their heirs from recovering lost riches.

Georg’s problem is that his great-grandfather Crown Prince Wilhelm was a Nazi in the 1930s and 1940s. Crown Prince Wilhelm wore a Swaztika and campaigned for Hitler in the early 1930s. The Crown Prince thought Hitler could restore the monarchy.

Once in power, Hitler ignored the Crown Prince and made himself Germany’s absolute dictator. Thus, the Prince of Prussia is paying for mistakes made by his great-grandfather.

Interestingly enough, the Prince is suing dozens of historians who criticized his great grandfather. On 18 February 2021, a German court issued an injunction prohibiting historian Winfried Suess’s criticism of the Prince’s plans for a museum honoring his a family, Reuters reports.

The German people are still wrangling with the problem of an ex-emperor. The Emperor and the Empire are long gone, but the controversy over their role in history lingers.