The Last Emperor of Mexico: A Disaster in the New World by Edward Shawcross - review by Lucy Moore

Lucy Moore

Crown of Cacti

The Last Emperor of Mexico: A Disaster in the New World


Faber & Faber 324pp £20

Once upon a time, an ambitious ruler concerned about a rising power on the other side of the globe decided to place a puppet king on a nearby throne in a country that was beautiful, rich in natural resources, hard to govern and strategically important. Foreign troops would sustain him there until he became an established ally of the ambitious ruler, supporting his mentor against rival neighbours and enriching both realms through lucrative trading and mining deals.

The year was 1861 and the ruler dreaming of world domination was Emperor Napoleon III of France. Taking advantage of the American Civil War, he planned to create a monarchy in Mexico that would become a European bulwark in the Americas against an increasingly confident, alarmingly democratic United States. Neither Spain nor Britain was interested in supporting his project, but he dangled this imaginary empire in front of an unemployed Habsburg archduke, Maximilian, and found an eager, if indecisive, emperor-in-waiting. His story forms the subject of Edward Shawcross’s enthralling debut, The Last Emperor of Mexico.

Even before Napoleon suggested he might become Mexican emperor, Maximilian, the idealistic younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph, had commissioned for Miramar,

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