La “Caballeresa del Sol” was the title Manuela Saénz earned as she joined the revolution with Simon Bolivar in the independence of “El Gran Colombia” from Spain, which included several northern Latin American countries.
Born in Ecuador in 1798, she survived until her final days in Peru (1856) living in exile. Manuela Saénz can be considered the first most notable feminist of the America’s and an important revolutionist of South America. She earned the highest decoration Peru can give to a revolutionist; the “Order of the Sun” and was affectionately named “Caballeresa del Sol”.
Described in books as an elegant beauty who enjoyed reading the Greek and Latin classics but dedicated to the revolution and Simon Bolivar. Manuela is most remembered as the lover of the “Liberator of South America”, Simon Bolivar. Providing him with information and contacts she became his confidante. She guarded his important documents at times during his travels to the different countries of the revolution. She is also responsible for saving his life three times. As an activist, she was very much admired by those who were in favor of the revolution.
The Venezuela government accepting her only as the lover, silenced her official story and never giving her the recognition she rightly deserves. She was an important figure in the liberation of Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Bolivia from Spanish rule gathering and passing valuable information to Simon Bolívar. Born in 1797 in Quito, Ecuador, Manuela Saenz was raised in a convent. Her mother’s modest family abandon because she was the illegitimate child of a married Spanish nobleman. Manuela remained on the convent until she was thrown out at seventeen years old when the nuns discovered an army officer had seduced her. She then lived with her father until a wealthy merchant Englishman twice her age arranged with her father to marry her.
She was married in Lima, Peru and lived as an aristocrat. Living in a grand house and mixing with the wealthy and powerful society that Peru offered. Being the hostess to social gatherings in her home, invited guests always included political and military officers. The revolution always dominated these conversations in which Manuela was always the leading inquirer. She would win the admiration of the officials using vulgarities to share their conversations of the revolution, building confidence among the militaries.
Her marriage having been an arranged one was one she never accepted and would eventually leave him. It was known that she would attract intelligent men that could teach and share military secrets about the revolution in intimate encounters. It was at the celebration of the “Order of the Sun” that Manuela Saenz met Simon Bolivar. There was an instant attraction that would grow and last until his death in 1856. It was in 1822, at 24 years of age that she campaigned for her decoration of the “Order of the Sun”. It was at the celebration party that she met the man that would affectionately call her “La Libertadora de el Libertador”, Simon Bolivar.
For the next eight years she would dedicate her life to the passion she had for Simon Bolivar and the revolution. The attraction for one another grew stronger over the years as the revolution grew. Manuela would receive love letters from Bolivar asking her to come and join her. She would travel through difficult and dangerous territories to reach the back ends of the revolution to be with her admirer. It was during these difficult revolutionary times that Bolivar contracted tuberculosis. Manuela would then travel to where he was to nurture him back to continue his work. As he moved from one country to another, letters carried by their confidants always exchanged expressions of love and information.
Manuela would continue on her own gathering information, distributing leaflets with information about the revolution. She also would protest for women’s rights. He passion for the revolution had grown so great that when she would go to meet Bolivar, where battles were being fought, she would wear her Coronal uniform and would go out and rouse the troops, brandishing her sword. After the revolution, President Bolivar stepped down from the presidency of “El Gran Colombia”, because of his loss in popularity due to the civil wars that continued. She was brought right down with him. Manuela Saenz and Simon Bolivar could not live together because she was still considered a married women and living together would only instigate more problems.
The Catholic religion would never allow divorce. The government considered her an instigator and only saw her as Bolivar’s lover. In an assassination attempt, Manuela did manage to save Bolivar one last time when he escaped from a window while she distracted his assassins. Bolivar left Colombia in 1830 and died on his way to the Caribbean from tuberculosis. In the same year, Manuela was exiled to Peru from Colombia, to live in a costal town where she lived selling tobacco until a fall kept her incapacitated. An old revolutionary friend who had come to live in Peru visited her regularly. They enjoyed the rest of their lives reading the love letters of Simon Bolivar to his adored Manuela Saenz.
Manuela Saenz died in 1856 from exposure to a disease brought in from a sailor that was put off a passing ship. The disease engulfed the community. Manuela Saenz was buried in a communal grave and burned. Her precious love letters from Simon Bolivar were also buried in the middle of the street along with her belonging feared from the contamination. Manuela Saenz had been removed from the memoirs of various writers with all records mysterious disappearing from government files.”
The Catholic Church of Merida averted a bust of Saenz from being erected in a square describing her as immoral and promiscuous. It was not until the mid-1980’s that biographies written included the story of Manuela Saenz. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel The General in His Labyrinth. Victor Von Hagen also includes her in his biography The Four Seasons of Manuela. The movie Manuela Saenz by director Diego Risquez, was filmed in 1997.
The Four Seasons Of Manuela. A Biography. The Love Story of Manuela Sàenz and Simòn Bolivar (1952).
Photo: Circa 1830. Von Hagen, Victor W. “The Four Seasons of Manuela“