Hidden Belgium: The Belgian princess who was Empress of Mexico

Hidden Belgium: The Belgian princess who was Empress of Mexico

On 19 January 1927, a carriage pulled by four black horses passed through the gates of Bochout Castle. It carried the coffin of Princess Charlotte of Belgium, formerly Empress of Mexico. ‘One the most tragic lives in the history of royalty came to a close at 7 am,’ the New York Times wrote at the time.

It was a bitterly cold day with fresh snow on the ground as the funeral cortege departed from the castle where Charlotte had lived alone for 60 years. The daughter of Leopold I, and sister of Leopold II, Charlotte had married Maximilian of Austria, a handsome Hapsburg noble. They spent a few happy years living in Miramare Castle on the shores of the Adriatic. But then the couple got caught up in a plan by Napoleon III to establish a European colony in Mexico.

Appointed Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian sailed to his new empire with his young Belgian wife. But Napoleon’s plan went badly wrong as revolution spread across the country. Charlotte returned to Europe to beg for military reinforcements, but she was ignored. Finally, in 1867, Maximilian was captured and executed by firing squad, leaving Charlotte to spend the rest of her life wandering the corridors of an empty castle.

The castle is located in the grounds of Meise botanical gardens. Some of its rooms are open to the public.

Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.

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