Cervantes in the Azores

IND119216Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616) spent some time in Lisbon during his life – 2 years – from 1581 to 1583. By this time, Lisbon was one of the most lively and exotic capitals of Europe, by far one of the most important commercial cities of the Atlantic, receiving products from the African coast, Brazil and, of course, India.

Cervantes was a soldier, and had participated in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 where he was wounded after a bullet hit his left arm. On September 1575 he set sail on the galley “Sol” from Naples to Barcelona bearing letters of commendation to the King from the Duke of Sessa. The galley was then attacked by Otoman pirates off the Catalan coast and was taken to Algiers, where he was kept captive togheter with his brother Rodrigo untill 1580.

Cervantes - La Galatea (1585)After spending some time in Seville he then came to Lisbon in the following year. In my opinion, the Portuguese capital must have seemed like a sort of “Garden of Eden” after those five years of Otoman captivity, although Algiers was by that time one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the Otoman empire. He describes the Lisboners as agreeable, courtly, liberal and passionate, although very discrete, people. During his staying in Lisbon Cervantes had an affair with Ana Villafranca (or Franca) Rojas, wife of Alonso Rodríguez, an innkeeper, of which resulted an illigitimate daughter Isabel de Saavedra. Afterwards in Toledo, on 12 December 1584, he married the much younger Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, daughter of Fernando de Salazar y Vozmediano and Catalina de Palacios. It is believed that his first major work La Galatea, published in 1585, was written during the time he spent in Lisbon. The first part of his pastoral romance in six books received little contemporary notice, and Cervantes didn’t wrote any continuation for it, although he repeatedly promised to do so.

In 1581 , following King-Cardinal D. Henrique’s death, several  claimed the Portuguese crown including D. António, Prior of Crato, and Filipe II of Spain. This originated the  so-called War of the Portuguese Succession between Portuguese and Spanish forces. Filipe II was advised of the bad disposition that existed on the island of Terceira towards his reign and the refusal of Ambrósio de Aguiar Coutinho as the island’s new governor. An armada was ordered to secure the island of São Miguel. A fleet, under the command of Pedro de Valdez, was ordered to take Terceira. In Spring, Valdez departed for Terceira from his established base in the island of Santa Maria with seven large carracks and 1000 troops. His fleet arrived in São Miguel where he took on provisions. The group included eight galleons, one patache and a fire-ship. They arrived in Angra bay and cross in front of the port beginning to shell the city and the ships in the harbour. Troops disembarked the following day near Monte Brasil and strengthened their positions overlooking the city of Angra. Valdez sent an ultimatum to governor Ciprião de Figueiredo e Vasconcelos who refused the surrender of the city.

Lopo de Figueiroa was sent to the Azores with a small flotilla to support Pedro Valdez, thus becoming the commander of the Spanish forces in the archipelago. Knowing this, Valdez decided to disembark his forces in a pasture used by his troops to collect fruit and parlay with the local Portuguese. Valdez’s tactic was simple: dispatch troops to join some of his men on the mainland, take Angra and refortify the enclave until Figueiroa’s arrival.

On the morning of July 24th, Ciprião de Figueiredo guessed, based on the information gathered from the watch posts along the coast, that the Spanish were preparing for attack that day in the coast next of the parish of Santo António of Porto Judeu. He ordered a contingent of the local militia under the command of Domingos Onsel to meet there with 10 pikemen and 20 musket-armed infantrymen and to melt into the local population. In addition, the group was charged with defending the port and coast at the house in Bay of Salga. The group returned to Angra confident that there was no possibility of an attack in the area. Fearful of the consequences, Ciprião de Figueiredo sent to Porto Judeu a second group of infantrymen and horsemen along with the nobles Martim Simão de Faria, António de Ornelas Gusmão, Manuel Pires Teixeira, Manuel Gonçalves Salvago, ou Salgado, Pantaleão Toledo, Domingos Fernandes, and André Fernandes de Seia.

Bay of Salga, Terceira Island

On the morning of the feast day of Santiago (July 25th), finding the waters peaceful and wind favourable, Valdez ordered troops to disembark at Bay of Salga, taking the house, a mile from the vila of São Sebastião. As he recognized, Salga was a relatively large bay with a deep channel that allowed easy offloading of men and munitions, and which extended inwards along the valley into a vast plain that reached towards Pico de Garcia Ramos (at the parish’s northern limits).

 Finding no resistance, and led by João de Valdez, the Spanish offloaded their artillery and men, including Juan de Bazan (nephew of the Marquese of Santa Cruz), the nephew of the Count of Alba, and many other experienced men, advanced into the valley, while 50 men remained behind to defend the beachhead. As the battle progressed, a small group of local defenders under the command of Baltasar Afonso Leonardes arrived in the valley and joined the battle. The Spanish forces expanded into the plain of Vale, while the defenders gathered in the high ground near a spring and manor owned by the farmer Bartolomeu Lourenço, his wife Brianda Pereira (a nobleman’s daughter), and their children. Brianda was the object of Spanish attention, and the family home was the first conquest of the battle. But unfortunately for the Spanish, she was able to motivate and exhort the women in the nearby villages to stand alongside their men in the defence of the island. By this time, Pedro de Valdez had finally made it to shore, with the rest of his 1,000 troops and made camp at the beachhead.

At about 9:00 in the morning reinforcements arrived from Angra under the command of Sebastião do Canto, Pedro Cota da Malha, Bernardo de Távora, Gaspar Cavio de Barroso and Francisco Dias Santiago; from Praia contingents under Gaspar Camelo do Rego and Simão de Andrade Machado; from Vila de São Sebastião Baltasar Afonso, and André Gato from Porto Judeu; a contingent of French troops onboard António Eschalim’s carrack; and many other people that swelled their ranks to 6,000 combatants. This group slowly advanced on the Spanish in the plain and towards the coast. Captain Artur de Azevedo de Andrade arrived with an artillery piece, marching along the coast toward the beachhead, intent on creating confusion in the Spanish ranks, but was attacked and shamefully retreated. The Spanish dragged the cannon to their camp, and began singing songs of victory, secure in the belief that they had the advantage, protected the beachhead and ensured the safety of the armada. By midday, the Spanish on the coast had not seen any Portuguese soldiers and believed their leaders to be arrested or hiding in the mountains, or that the islanders had realized the folly and inevitable losses from Valdez’s 1,000 troops. This quickly changed as the Portuguese arrived within sight of the beach, forcing Valdez to escape to his ship (the Battle of Salga is depicted in the Hall of the Battles of El Escorial Palace, photo bellow).

Battle of Salga (Hall of Battles, El Escorial)

It is generally believed that Miguel de Cervantes participated in this battle as in the others that took place in the archipelago until 1583. Cervantes arrived in May 1581 in Lisbon with the purpose of rebuilding his life and to raise money to pay the debts of his family following the payment of a ransom to release him and his brother Rodrigo from the Algiers captivity. He was employed as a spy in Orán, for which he received 50 escudos. He returned to Lisbon by the end of the year he moved to Madrid. In February of 1582 he applied for a post in the Indies, with no success. Another argument is that his enjury wouldn’t allow him to continue his life as a soldier although, in my opinion, even enjured he was in Portugal to make money and the Azores campaign might have presented a fruitful oportunity.

By the contrary, we know that his younger brother Rodrigo, who was also veteran from Lepanto, was at least once in the Azores, among the victorious troops of Álvaro de Bazán in 1583. Another famous Spanish writer that was present in the battle for Terceira was Félix Lope de Vega (1562-1635). During this time we find the composer Manuel Mendes as mestre da claustra of Évora Cathedral, the author of this beautiful Alleluia (which I recorded with Ensemble Eborensis). From this period is also the vilanesca Prado verde y florido by Spanish composer Francisco Guerrero, one of most travalled Iberian composers who was in the Holy Land.


11 Comments Add yours

  1. John Rabling says:

    Fascinating story Luis.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. natalyadrian says:

    How interesting Luis! I haven’t been to Angra yet but it’s definitely on my list. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Nataly. Unfortunately the House that was in the center of this battle is in ruins. Researchers have called for its urgent restoration. Hope you can visit Terceira, it’s really worth it. all best

      Liked by 1 person

      1. natalyadrian says:

        We will definitely go to Terceira and we’ll also go to Flores. However, I heard that it is very difficult/almost impossible to find a flat to rent in Flores :( I do hope that they’ll find the funds to restore the house. Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. In Flores, it depends on the season and if you book it in advance. You can find my email in the “contact” section and I can give you some advice about this.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. natalyadrian says:

            Oh, that would be fantastic! We are planning to go sometimes in February and I will definitely email you in a couple of months to organize it. That would be so so so helpful! Thank you Luis. Have a nice evening!

            Liked by 1 person

          2. No problem :)

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful. But what amazing acoustics that building has! Incredible. Would that be ‘un-enhanced’?


  4. You are an excellent ambassador for your “fortunate islands”, and what a fascinating history they have. Unfortunately, their remote situation (which undoubtedly adds to their charm) may preclude our visiting – budgetary restraints when travelling from ‘down under’ :(


    1. Thanks! They are definetly beautiful… At least to me. I will be publishing some photos from my holidays soon. All best


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