The Writer Miguel de Cervantes
Spanish novelist, poet and playwright, Cervantes was born in Alcala de Henares, a town 20 miles from Madrid, on September 29, 1547. He was named Miguel for Saint Michael, whose patron day is September 29. Being the son of a barber-surgeon, he traveled around a lot, moving wherever his father's services were needed. His family was large; he was only the fourth son out of what was to become seven children in total. Not much is known about his educational background. It is supposed that he studied under the Jesuits as a child and in his late teens and very early twenties, under the tutelage of the principal of a municipal school in Madrid named Juan Lopez de Hoyos. Unlike most writers of his time, he apparently did not go to the university.
In 1570, he left Spain for Italy, a move usually done by the Spaniards of his time to further their careers. Once there he joined the Spanish army in Naples. Around this time, the relations between the Ottoman Empire and the countries in the Mediterranean were very much strained. This was due to the fact that the Ottoman Empire was quickly expanding its power over these countries. In 1571, a Turkish fleet invaded Cyprus, an island country near Greece. This move made the confrontation between the Turks and the Spanish armies located in nearby Italy inevitable. Cervantes valiantly fought in the Gulf of Lepanto, an area near Greece. He was badly wounded in his left hand and thus earned the nickname "Manco de Lepanto" (Maimed of Lepanto). After that, he continued fighting in the Mediterranean.
Something incredible happened when he tried to come back home to Spain in 1575. His ship was captured by pirates and he was taken as a slave to Algiers, a country in northern Africa. It is believed that his life as a slave from 1575 to 1580 became the source of inspiration for some episodes in Don Quixote. In 1580, his family, with the help of the friars of a Trinitarian monastery, was finally able to raise the ransom money needed to free him.
Spain had changed drastically during Cervantes's absence. Prices had increased dramatically and the standard of living for people like his middle-class family had fallen. As a sad consequence, Cervantes would spend the rest of his life employment-hopping and being continually short of money. But it was his return to Spain which began his career as a major literary figure. In 1585, he published his first long work, La Galatea, a prose pastoral romance. Its publication brought him success with the reading public. After this pastoral romance, Cervantes decided to try his luck as a dramatist. His plays were average in comparison to the Don Quixote which he was to write in 1604.
When the First Part of Don Quixote came out in 1605, it was an immediate success. It was such a success that it was translated into English, French, and Italian within the next twenty years. In 1615, a year before his death, the Second Part came out and was just as successful. It is believed that the Second Part is richer and more profound than the First.
Unfortunately, all of this success resulted in no profit for Cervantes, who had sold the publishing rights of his work. The other major works that he published were 12 Novelas Ejemplares (12 Exemplar Novels, 1613) and Ocho Comedias y Ocho Entremeses (Eight Comedies and Eight Interludes, 1615). In the latter, Cervantes poignantly bids goodbye to the world in the prologue; he obviously foresaw his imminent death. He died the following year in Madrid, on April 22, 1616, and was buried on April 23rd.
The influence of Don Quixote on later literature was astounding. The work, which is in essence a parody of the time's popular chivalric romances, had been written in a realistic style. Cervantes' use of irony came to be admired and Don Quixote came to be seen at times as a comic hero and at others as a tragic hero driven by impossible dreams. It is believed that the influence of this work can be seen in such writers as Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Benito Perez Galdos and in painters like William Hogarth and Pablo Picasso.
Manuel Azaña: President of the Second Republic of Spain
(born January 10, 1880, Alcalá de Henares, Spain—died November 4, 1940, Montauban, France) Spanish minister and president of the Second Republic whose attempts to fashion a moderately liberal government were halted by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
Azaña studied law in Madrid and became a civil servant, journalist, and writer, figuring prominently in Ateneo, a Madrid literary club. He translated George Borrow's The Bible in Spain and was awarded the national prize for literature in 1926 for his biography of the novelist Juan Valera. His novel El jardín de los frailes (1927; “The Garden of the Monks”) was a vehicle for his strongly anticlerical opinions.
In 1930 he began to organize a liberal republican party, Republican Action (Acción Republicana), in opposition to the dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera. He was one of the signatories of the Pact of San Sebastián (August 1930), an alliance of republicans, socialists, and the Catalan left that called for the abdication of King Alfonso XIII. When Alfonso left Spain after the municipal elections of April 1931, this group became the provisional government. As minister of war in the new government, Azaña drastically reduced the army establishment. During the drafting of Spain's new constitution, he was the driving force behind the adoption of clauses restricting the rights of the clergy, establishing secular education, allowing the redistribution of land, and fully enfranchising women. When the anticlerical clauses of the new constitution caused the resignation of the Prime Minister, Niceto Alcalá Zamora, in October 1931, Azaña succeeded him.
Azaña held the office of prime minister until September 1933. His Republican Action was a small party, and he depended on the parliamentary support of the socialists and Catalan left for the continuation of his ministry. As prime minister, Azaña tried to enforce the progressive clauses of the new constitution, and he also pushed through a draconian Law for the Defense of the Republic (1931) and reacted harshly to opposition from the clergy, the army, monarchists, and anarchists. His severe treatment of dissent helped erode his popularity, and the slow pace of social reform alienated his socialist partners, who broke their coalition with him. He was driven from office in the autumn of 1933 by a coalition of centre and right-wing parties. In 1934 he was arrested by the centre-right government on suspicion of having abetted an uprising in Catalonia, but he was acquitted at his trial and won considerable public sympathy.
In 1935 Azaña helped form the Popular Front, a broad left-wing coalition that included liberals, socialists, and communists. In the elections of February 1936 the Azaña-led alliance was successful, and he again formed a government. When the Cortes (parliament) decided to remove President Alcalá Zamora from office, Azaña was elected to succeed him (May 1936). Azaña was meanwhile trying to prevent the left-wing parties from gaining complete control of his government, but he was able to accomplish little before a military revolt led to the outbreak of civil war in July 1936. Azaña reacted to the Nationalist uprising by appointing the moderate Diego Martínez Barrio to be prime minister. This attempt to widen support for the republican government was a failure, however, and control of policy soon passed from Azaña's hands, though he remained in office as a figurehead. With the victory in 1939 of the Nationalist forces under General Francisco Franco, Azaña went into exile in France, where he died.
Catalina de Aragón (Catherine of Aragon) – Queen of England
Born Dec. 16, 1485, Alcalá de Henares, Spain—died Jan. 7, 1536, Kimbolton, Huntingdon, England. First wife of King Henry VIII England (reigned 1509–47). The refusal of Pope Clement VII to annul Henry's marriage to Catalina triggered the break between Henry and Rome and led to the English Reformation.
Catalina was the youngest daughter of the Spanish rulers Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. In 1501 she married Prince Arthur, eldest son of King Henry VII of England. Arthur died the following year, and shortly afterward she was betrothed to Prince Henry, the second son of Henry VII. But subsequent rivalry between England and Spain and Ferdinand's refusal to pay the full dowry prevented the marriage from taking place until her fiancé assumed the throne as Henry VIII in 1509. For some years the couple lived happily. Catalina matched the breadth of her husband's intellectual interests, and she was a competent regent while he was campaigning against the French (1512–14).
Between 1510 and 1518 Catalina gave birth to six children, including two sons, but all except Mary (later queen of England, 1553–58) either were stillborn or died in early infancy. Henry's desire for a legitimate male heir prompted him in 1527 to appeal to Rome for an annulment on the grounds that the marriage had violated the biblical prohibition against a union between a man and his brother's widow. Catalina appealed to Pope Clement VII, contending that her marriage to Henry was valid because the previous marriage to Arthur had never been consummated.
For seven years the Pope avoided issuing the annulment because he could not alienate Catalina's nephew, the Holy Roman emperor Charles V. Finally Henry separated from Catalina in July 1531. On May 23, 1533—five months after he married Anne Boleyn—he had his own archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, annul the marriage to Catalina. Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy repudiating all papal jurisdiction in England and making the king head of the English church. Although Catalina had always been loved by the English people, Henry forced her to spend her last years isolated from all public life.