She was judged for making independent decision and it was only several years after her death when she was recognized as a heroine
Would you risk your own life for the person you love? To this puzzling question a heroine, whom we owe the liberation of many Southern American countries to, quickly replied: “yes, I would.” Manuela Saenz loved passionately and fought for freedom like no other, she was the woman responsible for saving the life of Simon Bolivar, also known as “El Libertador,” a leader whose intervention was essential in the creation of countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama.
Saenz' heroic acts even earned her the title of “Libertadora del Libertador,” (liberator of the liberator). She put her own life at risk after interfering with an assassination attempt against Bolivar. She could have led a comfortable and safe life among the richest circles of Peru, but instead she followed her beliefs and heart, and actively participated in the battles for independence against the Spanish Empire. Her image has become a symbol of female independence and power.
Saenz was born as the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish military officer and an Ecuadorian criolla. During the early 1800s, Spanish officials held the most prominent positions in Latin American society and often they would have affairs with local women. Given that Saenz’ father was a married man, her birth had to be kept a secret as it would have ruined his rising career. So, Saenz was sent from a very young age to a convent in Quito, Ecuador where her lineage would be hidden away. Once there, she would receive a thorough education, learning English and French, knowledge that would help her survive later on while living in exile.
During her time at the convent, she was rebellious, even escaping from time to time at night to meet with her lover, who was a Spanish officer. When her father heard of this mischief, he decided to marry her off to a wealthy, mature Englishman who would look after her. Obviously this was done against her wishes, but as we learnt later on, it wouldn't stop her from joining a cause close to her heart.
How she joined the rebels
Saenz then moved to Peru in 1819 while married to James Thorne, an established English doctor. There, she became a public figure who hosted lavish parties for the political and military elite. It was at that time that her appetite for politics and justice was whetted, as she heard the stories of the brave rebels and their advances from the very mouths of the commanders and lieutenants. Without a second's thought and against her husband's wishes, she joined the rebels who sought to liberate Peru. She left for Quito in 1822 and there she met the love of her life: Bolivar.
Her love affair with Bolivar
How exactly did Bolivar and Saenz came to fall in love is still a mystery, yet some say it was love at first sight. Despite their age difference (Bolivar was 15 years older) and the fact people talked behind their backs, she decided to follow him in his military campaigns.Whenever they were apart, they would send each other love letters that could have been easily interpreted as war reports or military strategies, since Saenz took control of Bolivar's most precious archive. She was also present during his strategic military meetings and in fact her presence in key battles allowed her to move up the ranks, from lieutenant, captain, and colonel, to second-in-command.
How she became the “Libertadora del Libertador.”
On September 25, 1825, a pair of assassins were ordered to murder Bolivar. According to the story of how it all went down that night, Saenz prevented this from happening by throwing herself against the hitmen. This gave Bolivar time to escape through a window. Anything could had happened that night, she could had even ended up dead. Yet, she didn't hesitate and she saved the life of the man she a loved, and who would become a driving force for independence across the whole continent.
Like many other women from her era, Saenz stood on the sidelines but her power and influence are unquestionable. She went against the current by rebelling against her family and following her beliefs. No matter the slurs thrown at her person, she forged on, intent on liberating entire nations and supporting the ideals of her partner. She spent the rest of her days in exile after Bolivar's death and what she learnt at the convent would serve her later on, as she would translate documents for sailors. She is La Libertadora of the whole of the Americas, a historical figure well worth remembering.
Images taken from the film El Libertador
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