Welcome to my blog. Please feel free to roam around and learn a bit more about Portuguese History. To find your interests, please, have a look at the right side of the page, where you can find all the posts arrenged into labels, such as "Society", "Politics", etc. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 22, 2012



And to finish this female hero trilogy that I decided to share during this month for the 1 year anniversary of this blog, the (long awaited?) post about Agustina de Aragon.
Baptized Agustina Raimunda Maria Zaragoza y Domènech, she was 22 when she fought int he Sitios of Saragossa. She is the most know female hero of the War of Independence.
The text of the following picture sums up what Agustina did:

Agustina de Aragon, painted by Juan Galvéz and Fernando Brambilla in 1812/13.

« Agustina de Aragon – Conocida generalmente con el nombre de La Artillera. En el ataque del 4. de Julio quando los Franceses embistieron furiosamente á la bateria del Portillo, Agostina, viendo caer muertos o heridos á todos los que la Servian, trepa denodadamente por encima de los cadaveres, coge la mecha de manos de uno que acababa de espirar, y la aplica á un Cañon de 24., jurando no desampararle, mientras durase el sítio. Este heroyco exemplo alento á los Patriotas que corrieron á la bateria y rechazaron de ella á los enemigos. La heroina fue condecorada con un escudo de honor y com las insígnia de Oficial.»

«Agustina de Aragon – generally known by the name of La Artillera. In the attack of July 4th when the French furiously aimed against the battery of Portillo, Agustina, seeing the dead or wounded fall, bravely climbed over the bodies, took the fuse of the hands of one who had just died, and applies it to the 24th Cannons, promising not to desert them at the duration of this Siege. This example of heroism encouraged the patriots that ran to the battery and fought the enemy. The Heroin was awarded a shield of honor and an Officers badge.»

But the one fact she was known the best for was that she was the only woman accepted as an officer in Wellington's army. Agustina was given training from the British, even achieving the rank of captain. She was one of the battery commanders of the War of Victoria under the command of Major Cairncross.
Agustina de Aragon, Hero of Saragossa, painted live by and for Chermans in Gibraltar in 1809.

Her upbringing and origins are somewhat contradictory, even her 1st marriage. It is said she married at the age of 16 or 17 for pregnancy reasons but it's uncertain, not even of a child being born. What is known is that Agustina had a child, the gravestone with his name – Eugenio – proved it so and this 1st born died later by the hands of the French. Also her 1st husband – a Corporal of the First Regiment of the Spanish Royal Artillery by the name of Juan Roca Vila-Seca - is mentioned during her participation in the War of independence. She later married a doctor at the age of 37, never stoped wearing her medals and visiting the location of Portillo. Today, her remains lay in the Church of Nuestra Señora del Portillo. More details on her life at this link:

And back to her role as a hero in 1808/09: like the picture above says, when the French stormed the city of Saragossa through the gates of Portillo, the outnumbered Spanish army, mostly outranked buy volunteering civilians, was almost destroyed to completion. Popular romantic tales say that the maiden named Agustina was offering apples to the Spanish fighter when she became a witness of the death and destruction herself. She saw how they the remaining survivors fled when the French were just a few yards away. This is the exact moment that made her so famous: Agustina loaded an abandoned cannon and killed a few of the attackers. This gesture was enough for the Spaniards to turn around and return to the fight.
The 2nd Siege of Saragossa was the one that gave the French the chance to definitely overtake this part of Spain. It was nearly impossible for a starved and diseased population to fight them off. A final strike of a typhus epidemic of which not only Agustina suffered but also Palafox and thousand of Spaniards – civilians and military – were captured, after their capitulation and surrender. In February 21st of 1809.
When it became of the French's knowledge that amongst them was Agustina, the hero of the 1st Siege, they gave her a promise of mercy which consisted of letting her march with the remaining prisoners until their gallows. I guess in opposition of death... It is during this forced march that her son dies in her arms.
Popular tales also tell of a daring escape, probably planned by other civilians, but I couldn't found more infos on that. What is known is that she then became a undercover rebel, alongside with her husband and then joined the British army.
Agustina's life and actions are the most celebrated ones, not only in Aragon but in the entire country of Spain. A monument in honor of the volunteers with a spectacular statue of her on the top sits in the Plaza of Portillo.

Monument of the Plaza del Portillo in honor of Agustina and other civilian volunteers.

All of these female heroes stories are so very interesting to me, not only because of their gender but also, and in Agustina's particular case, of the fact that she was recognized as an equal by her military husband and had full liberty to organize her rebellious life and follow/join other regiments. In a time where women were not even recognized by law, it is very interesting to see that these women owned their own lives, did as they pleased and were official recognized by the government. I think it is true what they say: In times of trouble the best and the worst comes out of people.

Sunday, July 15, 2012



As I have said on this month's previous post, I will talk about 3 Spanish women that not only fought during the Napoleonic Wars but were also recognized as national heroes for their participation in the Sitios de Zaragoza.
The next lady's story I'll share with you is Casta Álvarez.
Born in 1776, perhaps in Saragossa or Algeria (North Africa), Casta came form humble backgrounds and was one of the civilians that rose against the French occupation. In the bloody sieges of 1808 and 1809 , only being of 22 years of age, she helped with the logistic and provisions, accompanied the battery of cannons at the Sancho gates, took part in the fightings in the Arrebal neighborhood and later, some say, took arms against the Polish Uhlans. But she is better for carrying a bayonet with which she used against the enemy.

Casta Alvarez in the painting "Ruinas de Zaragoza", by Fernando Brambila and Juán Galvez 1712-1813

Zaragozana, una de las mugeres que mas se señalaron en la defensa. Armada con una bayoneta que a 
manera de lanza llevaba en un palo, animaba a los patriotas y los guiaba a los enemigos quando se 
aproximaban. Donde dio a conocer mas su bizarria fue en la batería de la Puerta de Sancho. Se la 
premió con una pensión y un escudo de honor»

«Casta Alvarez, Zaragozana (woman from saragossa), one of the women that sttod out on defense. 
Armed with a bayonet used as a spear she wore on a stick, she encouraged the patriots and guided 
them to the enemy when they approached. But she was better known for her bravory in the batteries 
of the Puerta de Sancho. She was awarded a pension and the shield of honor.»

Her parents, who were peasants working in the fields outside Saragossa, refused the idea of the young woman living in a city occupied by the French and fearing for her life after her participation in the Sieges, they took her back to the country side where she married in 1814 and lived her remaining life.
In 1815 General Palafox and the Spanish King Fernando the 7th of Bórbon gave her the Escudo de Defensor de la Pátria (Homeland defense shield) and a life pension, but it was only in 1908 that she was given the title of National Hero.
Plaza del Portillo, Zaragossa, Spain, Chruch and Monument dedicate dto the heroes of 1808 and 1809.

It is in the church of Nuestra Senora del Portillo, built in the 12th century during the Reconquista period because of a miracle happened to the city of Saragossa after a Muslim attack, that a Chapel was built honoring the 3 female heroes, Agustina de Zaragossa, Manuela Sancho and Casta Álavarez. And every 5th of February the women of the city of Saragossa honor the relics of these ladies-in-arms preserved in the chapel. There's even a street named after her.
More on the monuments dedicated to that time period you can find it under the following link:

Sunday, July 8, 2012


To commemorate the 1st anniversary of my blog and the 1st post on the subject – Women and the War - I will add during this month a small research about 3 female heroes of the War of Independence in Spain during the Peninsula Wars. I hope to do more on this subject in the future and not only of Spain, since I found names of several women who fought alongside their husbands, lovers and nationals against or with the French.
So, here's one of the 3 female heroes, that I've chosen to be the 1st since I've found an excellent document in the Military Archives in Lisbon:


Born in 1784 in the region of Aragon, she fought in 1808 and 1809 alongside military and other civilians against the French rule, in what the Spaniards call the War of Independence, since Napoleon Bonaparte removed the Spanish King Carlos the 4th and put on the throne his brother Joseph Bonaparte.
The Sitios of Zaragoza or The Sieges of Zaragoza, was a civilian battle against the French troops sent by Napoleon in 1808 to restore order after the people's uprising in May 2nd of that year. It also involved the Spanish troops that were no longer loyal to the French, like they had been since the wars of the Pyrenees (Roussilion) and of the Oranges.
The uprisings, on e in 1808 and the other in 1809, were nothing more, even if bloody and extremely violent, then the union of the Aragonesses 1st and then the rest of the country against the political situation. Let's not forget that the region of Aragon is close to the Pyrenees, so therefore, France.
The important fact here, is not to discuss peace strategies by the King's Minister Manuel Godoy, but to enhance the bravery by 3 women that captured so well what was in everybody's heart and mind.
According to History these weren't the only women involved in the Sieges; so where Juliana Larena e Fenollé, Josefa Vicente, Countess of Bureta, Maria Lostal, Josefa Amar e Borbón, Maria Artigas, Madre Raols and Maria Agustin, but only Maria Manuela de Luna y Sancho, Augustina de Aragon and Casta Álvarez were the only women distinguished as national heroes (Casta Álvarez only in 1908) and Manuela and Augustina (this one only later) were given military honors by the Captain-General José de Palfox y Melzi and today all 3 rest in the Cathedral of Nuestra Señora del Portillo.

Manuela Sancho, as she was known, during the Sitios, painted by F. Jimenez Nicanor, 1887, painting found in Deputación Provincial de Zaragoza
So, what did Maria Manule did?
She participated actively during the 1st siege by helping wounded soldiers but she's known to have taken arms mostly in the 2nd siege of Zaragoza by defending the Convent of San José.
This is what Don Mariano Renovales, Comandante (Major) of the defense of the same convent, said about her conduct to Palafox:

«I recommend Manuela Sancho, both on the day of the offense on December 31 last year, as yesterday where she served as artillery and mortar, in such a way that it could have been done by the best scorer, giving cartridges to one and stones to the other, without having noticed the slightest change despite some men having fallen near her. She set fire to some guns, and did so with the trench gun as one from many, and seemed to me a hero, worthy of the distinction that Your Excellency has granted by the actions of late last year, for being included in them and to serve as motivation, have seen fit to sent this to Your Excellency.
S. Joseph, January the 3rd, 1809: His Excellency Mr. Don Mariano Renovales to His Excellency Captain General of this army and kingdom »

In the same month and year it was publicized in the “La Gazeta de Zaragoza” her distinction by Palafox, giving to her the distintivo de la cinta encarnada” for bravery and a pension of 2 reales a day.

She was taken for dead and lost amongst the piles of dead bodies but surprisingly we can find her in the Canary Islands in August, 31st of 1810 asking for monetary help through a letter to travel to England to heal the wounds of war. In the same document she is referred as by being nominated by the Spanish Government as “Artillera de Zaragossa”. If you can read Castellano, here are some good links:



Now, below I added a copy of a letter written for Maria Manuela de Luna y Sancho, perhaps because she couldn't write or because of her wounds, that I have found in the Military Archives in Lisbon (!!!) and that I had in my hands and read it and loved it This letter was written after she arrived in Portugal, at the island of Madeira, after the departure from the Canary islands and having no more money left to travel to London. It had to be written after she wrote for help in the Canary islands, in August but unfortunately I cannot decipher the month. It says:

Diz Maria Manuela de Luna y Sancho, a propria Heroina Artilheira de Saragoça, que por seu Heroísmo contra o Inimigo comum, recebendo graves feridas sem se render, teve a honra de ser graduada Capitam; que destinandose a mesma suposta a Londres, corte da Gram Bertanha, tendo salido de Canarias à Ilha da.Madeira.; não encontrando nenhuma vossa embarcação, se derigio a esta corte, e como afim tendo consumido o que destinava para a sua viagem verse obrigada a morrer sem(?) algum socorro; porem confiada na Benigna Piedade de N. A. R. que a todos se manifesta e compara da mesma maneira, para que em attenção às verdades expreçadas que distinguem a suposta em todas as Naçoens aliados contra o Inimigo comum, se faça a graça de a socorrerem com (?) for do seu agrado e Magificência de N. A. R., a fim de que possa concluir o seu destino.
Para a N. A. R. que com efeito de sua grandeza se faça a graça que suplica.(signature)
Lisboa, 29 de (?) de 1810
Maria Manuela Luna y Sancho»

And roughly translated into a simpler language:

Says Maria Manuela de Luna y Sancho, the same Artillery Hero of Zaragoza, that for her Heroism against the common Enemy, receiving serious wounds without surrendering, had the honor of being graduated Captain; that traveling to London, court of Great Britain, having left the Canary islands to Madeira; not having found any of Your Royal Highness' ships, addresses herself to this court, and having spent what was destined for her travel, has been forced to die without help; however trusting in the benign piety of Your Royal Highness that to all is equal, that in attention to the expressed truths that distinguish her in every Nation allied against the common Enemy, that graces will help her in any form Your Royal Highness chooses, so that she can finish her travel.»

You can read more about it in a book by Benito Pérez Galdos called “Zaragoza” written in 1873, found on wikisources:

Foto of Manuela Sancho Bonafonte, her married name, in yer older years. Photo found in "Mujeres. Los Sitios de Zaragoza 1808-1809" by Nuria Marín Arruego, Colección Editorial Fundación, number 8, 2008