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Manuela Sáenz de Thorne

Other names/titles:
Gender: F
Ethnic origin: Mestizo/a

Biographical details

She was the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish father (Simón Sáenz de Vergara) and a mestiza mother (María de Aispuru). Her year of birth is variously given as 1793, 1795, or 1797. She received some education in a convent. She married Jaime Thorne in 1817. They went to Lima in 1819, returning to Quito in April 1822. She was among the women of Quito who collaborated with the patriot army, finding supplies and food for the troops. On 16 July 1822 she threw a laurel crown to Bolívar from her balcony. Bolívar is said to have seen her as "la primera mujer capaz de montar a caballo como él, hábil en el manejo de las armas y versada en Tácito y en Plutarco." She accompanied the army to Junín, where she tended the injured, dressed in a captain's uniform. Jiménez claims that she fought beside Sucre at the battle of Ayacucho. She became Bolívar's secretary and confidant, and guardian of his archives. She saved his life one September night. After Bolívar's death she was a victim of prison and exile. President Rocafuerte ordered her exile from Ecuador. She lived in the port of Paita for almost 30 years with her faithful slave. She dressed in black and is described as being godmother to all the children in the town. (Jiménez, 22-24.)

She lived as a child with her mother in her magnificent hacienda, Catahuango. She was later educated in a convent for children of "good families", and stayed there until she was 17. Returning to Quito, she mixed with high society that supported independence. On 24 March 1809, she'd seen pro-independence prisoners Juan Pío Montúfar, Marqués de Selva Alegre, Nicolás de la Peña and others paraded before her house and had sympathised with their cause. While living in Lima she kept in close touch with her friend Rosa Campusano. Carvajel claims there were two faithful slaves, Janatás and Nathan, who lived with her until her death. (Carvajal, 41-43 )

She married Dr. James Thorne, and scandalised Quito society by becoming Bolívar’s mistress in 1822. This led to her exile. Her correspondence with Bolívar reveals her as one of the most active women in politics and society. She went against her husband’s and father’s wishes by joining the Independence cause. San Martín awarded her the Orden de Caballeresa del Sol in Lima. Her edited letters have been published in Carlos Alvarez Saá, (ed.), Patriota y amante de usted. Manuela Sáenz y el Libertador, Editorial Diana, Mexico, 1993. In these, Arambel Guiñazú and Martin claim she is one of the first women to affirm the integrity of her “I” and she uses anti-patriarchal discourse, against the male members of her family and the Spanish imperialist system. She writes in favour of separation from her husband and female participation in politics. They write that Bolívar tried to calm her enthusiasm and even recommended that she return to her husband. She took part in the battle of Junín (1824) and was outstanding in the battle of Ayacucho. Sucre made her a colonel of the light cavalry regiment. After Bolívar’s death, Sáenz’s enemies closed in. In 1833 she was imprisoned and then exiled to Jamaica. She tried to return to Quito in 1835, but was not allowed to enter by presidential decree. She lived until her death in Paita, Peru. Her documents, papers and letters from Bolívar were rescued by General Antonio de la Guerra. (Arambel Guiñazú, 32-35.)

Knaster notes there is a collection of letters written by her between 1822 and 1828. Most of them are addressed to Simón Bolívar. (Knaster, 473.) Reproduction of a letter written by her to Juan José Flores reveals Sáenz as "a determined and forceful woman who does not mince her words in her own defence". (Knaster, 495.)

In 1828 she staged a mock execution of Santander in Bogotá, "shooting" his effigy in the form of a rag doll under a tree. Protests reached Bolívar, but made a joke of it. Opponents of Sáenz and Bolívar then built a mock castle in which they hung a doll representing Bolívar with the nickname spicy sausage and another of Sáenz with the name tyrant. Sáenz ordered the cavalry to destroy the castle before the astounded inhabitants of Bogotá. (Alvarez Saá, Biografía, 37)

In 1828 she saved Bolívar's life in an assassination attempt by a man said to be a supporter of Santander. (Calles, 167-170)

Sáenz's correspondence has been purchased by Carlos Alvarez Saá. Some facsimile letters are on display in his Manuela Sáenz museum, Quito. He published many of them in Manuela sus diarios perdidos y otros papeles.

Arias notes her "vida ardiente", and that she was Bolívar's guardian angel. (Arias, 336)

Monsalve gives her probable year of birth as 1793. She was educated and read the Spanish classics, the history of Europe and America and Tácito and Plutarco. She was around 14 to 16 years at the time of the mass killings of patriots in Quito in 1809.

She was awarded the Orden del Sol by San Martín in January 1822. She is listed as Manuela Sanz de Tabuer by García y García, and as Manuela Saenz de Tuhner in the Gaceta de Lima. (Gaceta de Lima, 23-1-1822, p.4; García y García, 294)

She died from diphtheria in Paita, Peru on 23 November 1856.

Life Events

Born 1793She was born near Quito in 1793, 1795 or 1797.
Married 1817She married Jaime Thorne.
Other 1819She went to Lima.
Other 1822She became Bolívar’s mistress in 1822.
Other 1822She was awarded the Orden del Sol.
Other 1823She participated in the battle of Junín.
Other 1828She saved Bolívar from an assassination attempt on 25 September 1828. She staged a mock execution of Santander.
Other 1833She was imprisoned and then exiled to Jamaica.
Other 1835She tried to return to Quito in 1835.
Died 1856She died from diphtheria in Paita, Peru on 23 November 1856.


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Knaster, Meri, (1977), Women in Spanish America: An Annotated Bibliography from Pre-Conquest to Contemporary Times

Rendon de Mosquera, Zoila, (1933), La mujer en el hogar y en la sociedad

Neuhaus Rizo Patrón, Carlos, (1997), Las Mariscalas

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, (1950), Gaceta del Gobierno de Lima Independiente, Tomos I-III, Julio 1822-dic 1822

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Alvarez Saá, Carlos, (1995), Manuela : Sus diarios perdidos y otros papeles

Davies, Catherine, Brewster, Claire and Owen, Hilary, (2006), South American Independence. Gender, Politics, Text


Edited Book: Manuela sus diarios perdidos y otros papeles


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