Do you know Charlotte of Belgium, the cursed Empress?


The daughter of Leopold I, Charlotte of Belgium (1840-1927) was, for a short period, the Empress of Mexico before coming to a tragic end.

Princess Charlotte of Belgium is unknown to the general public. She has been studied by historians (as well as by mental illness specialists), but her reputation ends there. Yet, her troubled existence would make a wonderful story for a film.

The only daughter of Leopold I and Louise-Marie d’Orléans, Charlotte was born on 7 June 1840 at the Castle of Laeken. She was just ten years old when her mother died of tuberculosis, a sudden death which left a deep mark on the young princess. As a young adult, her beauty and status attracted many suitors. In 1857, she married one of them, the Archduke of Austria Ferdinand Maximilian (1832-1867), a husband who proved to be a disappointment in many respects.

The couple moved to Italy where the Archduke's brother was Viceroy of Lombardy and Venice. Maximilian was stripped of his functions because his brother did not like the way in which he governed the Italian territories. Therefore, the couple moved to its second home, Miramare Castle, on the shores of the Adriatic Sea near Trieste. It was an enchanting place which quickly became a golden prison where Charlotte grew bored.

The couple found themselves caught up in the political strategies of Napoleon III. Under pressure from the latter, Maximilian accepted the Imperial crown of Mexico in 1864. However, the Mexicans refused to recognise him as their Emperor, instead seeing him as a puppet of Napoleon who was occupying the country by force. Finally, the French Emperor decided to withdraw his troops in order to focus more on Europe. Maximilian was overthrown and was executed in 1867.

Charlotte, who had returned to Europe a few months earlier to seek help, found herself up against closed doors. Hearing of the death of her husband and the fall of the Mexican empire, she succumbed to hysteria and paranoia. Her brother Leopold II, who had become King of the Belgians, welcomed her at the Royal Palace. The deposed Empress, prey to persistent bouts of insanity, retired to her home country and died at Bouchout Castle in 1927.

However, Charlotte did reappear in 2018 as a character in a comic strip published by Dargaud, which recounts the life of the cursed Empress and her tragic fate.