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World-Changing Women: Manuela Sáenz

Updated Tuesday, 2 June 2020
Manuela Sáenz fought to liberate her Lima and Peru from Spanish colonialism and rose to be a general in Bolivar's rebel army. Discover more about her extraordinary tale...
Manuela Sáenz 1797 - 1856 South America Revolutionary Politics

Manuela Sáenz image Portrait of Manuela Saenz. In the early nineteenth-century, South America witnessed a series of wars and rebellions as Spanish American patriots fought to liberate their countries from Spanish colonialism.  Until recently, histories written about these events largely focused on the male protagonists and, where Manuela Sáenz has been mentioned at all, it has tended to be as Simón Bolívar’s lover. However, she was a political operator in her own right and rose to the rank of general in Bolivar's rebel army.

Sáenz was born outside of marriage and was raised in a convent. Following her own marriage she lived in Lima where she mixed in society, meeting military officers and becoming well informed about the revolutions taking place in Latin America against Spanish rule.  A rebel sympathizer, she joined the conspiracy to liberate Lima and Peru. By the time that she left her husband and met Bolívar on her return to her home town, Quito, she was already a recognised patriot.

In the following eight years Sáenz supported Bolívar and the cause of independence. She rode on horseback in military uniform and served as Bolívar’s personal archivist, informant, advisor and political supporter. She also saved his life from an assassination attempt, which earned her the title 'Liberator of the Liberator' from his supporters. She attained increasing influence, resisting Bolívar’s enemies and enduring, at various times, imprisonment and exile. She occupied the position of consort of the head of state during their time in Columbia.
Following Bolívar’s death in 1830, Sáenz was unable to hold on to her position, though she continued to be involved in politics throughout the 1830s and 40s. She died from diphtheria, impoverished and destitute, and was buried in a mass grave. In 2010, however, her remains were given a state reburial alongside Bolívar’s, in Caracas, Venezuela.

This article is part of the world-changing women collection. All the articles in this collection are specially produced for the How women changed the world interactive tour created to reveal the untold stories the history books left out.

You can also view these articles without the interactive feature here.


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