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Manuela Sáenz

Born in Quito in 1795 (some sources say 1797) as the illegitimate daughter of a married Spanish nobleman, Manuela Sáenz led one of the most fascinating lives in the history of Latin America. After her mother’s death, she entered a convent for schooling and left at the age of 17 when it was discovered that she was carrying on an affair with a Spanish military officer.

Her father arranged for her to marry James Thorne, a wealthy Englishman who was much older than she. They moved to Peru, where Manuela lived as an aristocrat and became involved in the planning of the independence movement. She was a member of the revolutionary army, and fought alongside Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre at the battles of Pichincha (1822) and Ayacucho, Peru (1824), thus earning the rank of colonel.

In 1822, she left her husband and moved back to Quito and worked in the independence movement. There she met Simón Bolívar, the hero of South American independence, and they began a torrid affair. Although she lived with Bolívar for a short while, they spent most of their time apart as he traveled a great deal in pursuit of independence. On September 25, 1828, she saved his life by helping him escape an assassination attempt.

Bolívar died two years later of tuberculosis. After his death, anti-Bolívar factions in Colombia and Ecuador conspired to exclude her from any position of influence. She was exiled, first to Jamaica, then to the small port town of Paita in northern Peru, where she lived by selling tobacco and translating letters that North American whalers wrote to their lovers in various ports of Latin America. She died penniless in 1856 during a diphtheria epidemic.

Today, Ecuadorians (and Quiteños in particular) have embraced Manuela Sáenz as one of their own. She is considered a national heroine and is the subject of the first ever Ecuadorian opera, which opened in 2006. You can visit the Museo de Manuela Sáenz in Quito.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Ecuador: Famous People From Quito, Ecuadorian History, Human History of the Galapagos Islands, History of the Galapagos Islands, The Islanders Take Over, Natural History of Galapagos and Ecuadorian-Peruvian Border Dispute.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
23 Apr 2013

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