Posted by: janecronin | December 21, 2013

Miguel de Cervantes 1547 -1616


Miguel de Cervantes was the creator of that eternally mad and hopeful character Don Quijote and his loyal side-kick Sancho Panza.  This parody of the errant knight, who was really a penniless “hidalgo”, could be inspired by Cervantes’ own restless existence. He was born in Alcalá de Henares, near Madrid but his family was constantly on the move, so as a child he lived in Córdoba, Sevilla, Toledo, Cuenca, Alcalá de Henares, Guadalajara and Valladolid, finally settling in Madrid.  

At the age of 22, Cervantes was being sought by the authorities for injuring someone in a duel, which probably explains why he escaped to Rome.    Two years later he joined the Spanish navy to fight in the Battle of Lepanto, which was part of a Spanish-led crusade of catholic countries against the Turkish empire.    He is reported to have fought valiantly, even when ill, but finally received serious injuries to the chest and to his left hand which was thereafter immobile.  This led to his nickname “el manco de Lepanto” (the one-armed man of Lepanto).   Despite this disability, he returned to military life, fighting in a succession of naval actions around the Mediterranean, followed by travels around Italy which eventually ended in a two-year stay in Naples.

On his return to Spain from Naples he was captured by Turks and taken to Algeria where he became a slave.   His capturers thought he was an important person and decided to demand 500 escudos for his release.   During this period Cervantes attempted to escape four times by various ingenious means, none of which were successful.  After one attempt he was kept in chains for five months and after the final attempt was discovered he was condemned to 2000 lashes.

Eventually through the sacrifice and efforts of his family and friends, his ransom figure was reached and he was liberated after five years of captivity and returned to his family in Madrid.  A year later Cervantes travelled to Portugal where the Spanish king Felipe II had his court.  His plan was to find gainful employment and payback the rescue money that his family had had to borrow. He was given a secret mission in Algeria at the end of which he returned to Madrid and fathered an illegitimate daughter by the wife of a local innkeeper. 

In 1589 Cervantes was in charge of finding supplies for Felipe II’s Invincible Armada.  This work eventually took him to Sevilla where he then became a collector of overdue taxes.  This job got him involved in innumerable conflicts and when the bank where Cervantes deposited the money when into liquidation, Cervantes was arrested and imprisoned on suspicion of embezzlement.  It was during this imprisonment that the ideas for Don Quijote de la Mancha started to take shape in his mind.

Cervantes died at the age of 69 and was buried under a convent in Madrid.  In 2011 there was an attempt to local Cervantes’ body, but its exact whereabouts still hasn’t been discovered.

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