Iturbide was born in the town now known as Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico, then called Valladolid and part of the colony of New Spain. He was the son of Spanish parents who had come to Mexico shortly before his birth.
He joined the Spanish army in 1798 and by 1810 had risen to the rank of lieutenant. That year the Mexican War of Independence broke out, and Iturbide at first fought alongside the Spanish troops in attempting to surpress it.
He was an able military commander and in 1816 was put in command of the Spanish forces in the north of Mexico.
He gradually grew more sympathetic to the Mexican cause, however, and began secret negotiations with rebel leader Vicente Guerrero. In 1820 Iturbide joined the rebels, taking most of his loyal army with him. In February of 1821 Iturbide and Guerrero issued the Plan de Iguala, calling for a unified independent Mexico.
They succeeded in rallying the other rebels together and driving the Spanish royalists from the country. Iturbide became the head of the new government junta. In an historic mistake, he signed an agreement with the departing Spaniards that they could leave with the value of their land holdings in hard currency. As Spaniards held title to most of the best land in the country, this quickly depleted Mexico of all its currency; even silver church bells and gold altarpieces were melted down in an attempt to pay off the debts, and Mexico entered the world as a new nation in a state of bankruptcy.
Iturbide was backed and influenced by Mexico's Conservativos who favored an independent Mexico with a monarch from one of the European royal families as head of state. When no European royals accepted Mexico's offer (as Spain still had hopes of taking Mexico back), Iturbide was persuaded by his advisors to make himself Emperor in the manner of Napoleon I. Iturbide did this with some genuine reluctance, since he was a sincere believer in the divine right of kings, and thought that as someone without royal blood he was unworthy. On July 21, 1822, he was crowned Agustín I, Constitutional Emperor of Mexico.
Iturbide attempted to run the nation as he had led the army, giving orders and commanding that those who disagreed with him be imprisioned. Opposition to his administration soon grew, and in 1823 various regional governors and military commanders, among them Guadalupe Victoria and Antonio López de Santa Anna, issued the Plan de Casa Mata, calling for Iturbide's overthrow and declaring Mexico a Republic. On 19 March, 1823, Iturbide abdicated and agreed to leave the country without a fight, in exchange for which he was granted a pension. He sailed to exile in Italy, then moved to London where he published his autobiography Statement of Some of the Principal Events in the Public Life of Agustín de Iturbide. He decided to return to Mexico, and landed there in Tamaulipas on July 15, 1824, where he was immediately arrested and soon after shot by the local authorities.
see also: History of Mexico