Serenisimo Agustin Iturbide

On the left side of the colorful mural above the dais in the California state Senate’s largest hearing room, 4203, are names and dates important to California’s history prior to becoming a state in 1850.

Most are fairly recognizable explorers: Cabrillo, 1512; Drake, 1579; Portola 1769 and Kuskof, 1812.

But Iturbide?

Agustin de Iturbide crowned himself emperor of Mexico on July 21, 1822. Word reached California in November and, on November 27, Agustin I was proclaimed emperor. Those who ran the Mexican province of what was then called Alta California swore oaths of allegiance.

Here’s how he became emperor.

Iturbide was born in 1783 to a Spanish father and Mexican mother. He claimed however to be criollo – someone born in Mexico but of pure Spanish descent because criollos ranked higher than mestizos, mixed bloods, in the Mexican caste system.

Iturbide joined the army as a teenager. According to an article by Jim Tuck, Iturbide was brave but fleeced contractors who supplied the army, spending the spoils on women and wagering.

When the Mexican War of Independence from Spain began in 1810, Iturbide joined the rebel forces but when the leader, Father Miguel Hidalgo, refused to give him a top command, Iturbide quit.

He returned to the royalist army and earned a reputation for zealously persecuting Hidalgo and his followers.

In 1811, Hidalgo was captured, tried as heretic and executed. Command of the sputtering revolutionary forces shifted to Father Jose Morelos y Pavon. Like Iturbide, Morelos was a native of Valladolid, which today is named Morelia, after the revolutionary leader.

Capping a series of military successes, including the capture of Oaxaca in 1812, Morelos raised an army of 5,600 and marched on his hometown.

In charge of the city’s defense was another native son, Iturbide. Iturbide broke the siege with a cavalry charge that divided and scattered Morelos’ forces. Captured in 1815, Morelos was defrocked and executed.

For the next five years fighting against Spain was mainly done by isolated bands of guerillas. Among the leaders of those bands was Vicente Guerrero in Oaxaca, a future Mexican president.

By 1820, the revolutionary movement was near collapse. Spanish forces would deliver the deathblow by defeating Guerrero’s army in Oaxaca. In command, Brigadier General Agustin de Iturbide.

At the same time, a military coup occurred in Spain and the democratic reforms of the country’s 1812 constitution, which King Ferdinand VII had repudiated, were restored.

The conservative pro-Spanish faction in Mexico decided it should rule the country, not the liberal regime in Madrid. Iturbide saw the switch to home-rule as a way to increase criollo power.

When he attacked Guerrero, Iturbide was initially defeated. He held a parlay with the rebel leader.

Iturbide said he would come over to the rebel side if Guerrero agreed that Mexico would be independent, that Catholicism would be the state religion and that caste distinctions between criollos, mestizos and Indians be abolished.

Guerrero’s agreement created the Trigarante army, the Army of the Three Guarantees.

The war ended with the Treaty of Córdoba, which included a special clause leaving open the possibility for a criollo monarch being appointed by the Mexican congress if no suitable member of European royalty would accept the Mexican crown.

The Spanish government refused to accept Mexico’s independence and, in May 1822, after street demonstrations in favor of Iturbide taking the throne, Mexico’s congress named Iturbide “Agustin por la Divina Providencia y por el Congresso por la Nation, Primer Emperador Constitutucional de Mexico.” Agustin, by Divine Providence and the Congress of the Nation, First Constitutional Emperor of Mexico. His coronation was July 21, 1822.


As emperor, Iturbide controlled lands stretching from Oregon in the north to Panama in the South, including what are now California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.

Mexico’s flag is Iturbide’s design.

He titled himself Serenisimo, Most Serene Majesty, and made the crown hereditary. Iturbide’s father, Jose Joaquin, would have the title, “Principe de la Union,” and his sister, Maria, “Princesa de Iturbide.”

Advocates of a republic in Congress were critical of Iturbide. He shut Congress down.

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, of Alamo fame, swore loyalty to “El Liberador” Iturbide in 1821 and was rewarded with the rank of general. But he defected to the republican cause in 1823 and marched toward Mexico City.

Iturbide was forced to abdicate but cut a deal in which he would be called “Excellency” for the rest of his life and given a $25,000 annual pension provided he took up residency in Italy.

After a few months in Italy, Iturbide went to England in 1824, chartered a vessel and secretly returned to Mexico. In the interim, Congress made Mexico a republic and, on rumor of Iturbide’s return, passed a law saying if he entered the country, he would be treated as an outlaw.

When he landed at Soto de Marina in Tamaulipas, he was seized, hurriedly tried and shot on July 19, 1824 – five days after returning to his homeland. He was 41.


Filed under: California History


  1. thanks for the slice of history

    Comment by patrick johnston — 3.25.2009 @ 4:14 pm

  2. Good article, I have always wondered what California felt if anything regarding being a province of the Mexican Empire. I dont believe the Empirical flag ever flew over the Monterey Capitol. It surely did not over the Presidio at SF. The agreement beteween Iturbide and Guerrero was the not Plan de cordoba, but rather Ituirbides Plan de Iguala. Cordoba was to be accepted by Odonoju the last viceroy envoy from Spain.

    Comment by Max Macias — 7.01.2009 @ 7:36 am

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