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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

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