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Sunday, July 22, 2012

WOMEN AND THE WAR II – part 3


AGUSTINA DE ARAGON

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.
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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.

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