Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra Biography

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(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born in Alcala de Henares, Spain, probably on September 29, 1547, one of seven children of Rodrigo de Cervantes and Leonor de Cortinas. He was baptized on October 9, 1547. Although little is known about Miguel's childhood and youth, a few basic facts emerge. The poverty-stricken Cervantes family moved to Cordoba in 1553, and Miguel probably received his early education at a Jesuit school. The family then moved to Seville, probably in 1563.

Cervantes's later life can be plotted more accurately. In 1569 a warrant for his arrest was issued on the charge of allegedly wounding a certain Antonio de Sigura. Cervantes fled to Rome, where he found employment as a chamberlain to Monsignor Acquaviva. In the summer of 1570, Cervantes enlisted in the Spanish Army and fought against the Ottoman Turks. In the fierce Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571, Cervantes showed great bravery, suffered a chest wound, and lost the use of his left hand. Some years later, as he sailed back to Spain from Naples in 1575, some Algerian galleys captured the vessel and took Cervantes hostage. He remained in captivity in Algiers for five years, attempting several unsuccessful escapes. Released for a huge ransom, he eventually arrived home in Madrid in December 1580.

Before long, Cervantes turned his attention to literature and cultivated literary acquaintances. He finished his first novel, La Galatea, in 1583, but he had to wait a year before finding a publisher. Meanwhile, he also tried his hand at drama; unfortunately, all but two of the twenty or thirty plays he wrote from 1583 to 1587 have been lost. During a brief visit to Esquivas, Cervantes met Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, whom he married on December 12, 1584. During the early years of his marriage, Cervantes was often away on business. From 1588 to 1589 he worked as a commissary, collecting grain from towns in Andalusia. Not always a welcome visitor, he nonetheless continued to work as a commissary for about thirteen years. It was during these years of traveling around Spain and staying overnight at inns that Cervantes collected material for his masterpiece, Don Quixote. Cervantes spent from August 1597 to April 1598 in prison, charged with deficient accounts. He probably began writing Don Quixote during this time.

After returning to Madrid in 1600, he remained in the Castile region for the rest of his days. From 1600 to 1604 he continued writing the first part of Don Quixote. The first edition appeared in January 1605, and a second edition was published within a few months, testifying to the enormous popularity of the book. Over the next several years, Cervantes worked on The Exemplary Novels. In the fall of 1614, he learned much to his dismay that a forgery of Part II of Don Quixote was circulating in Madrid. This prompted Cervantes to finish his manuscript of Part II, which was already at an advanced stage. He finished the manuscript in three months; Part II was published in November 1615 and met the same enthusiastic reception extended to Part I. Although revered as one of Spain's greatest writers, Cervantes remained poor. He died in Madrid on April 22, 1616.


(Novels for Students)

Cervantes was born in Alcalé de Henares on September 19,1547. Little is known about his early childhood, other than that it was an itinerant existence; his father, a barber-surgeon, was constantly moving his family from town to town to find work. It is assumed that Cervantes's education was minimal although he does seem to have received some education from the Jesuits in Seville.

In 1569, his teacher, López de Hoyos, published four of his poems in Madrid. Cervantes then traveled to Italy, possibly as a result of a duel with Don Antonio Sigura. In Rome, Cervantes served the Cardinal-elect Giulio Acquaviva. In 1571 he enlisted in the Spanish militia to fight for Don Juan of Austria against the Ottoman-Turks at Lepanto. During this battle, he received two bullets to the chest and one to his left hand, which left him permanently disabled. In 1572, he joined Don Juan's campaign to fight at Navarino, Corfu, and Tunis. Returning to Spain in 1575, he was captured by Algerian corsairs.

Cervantes fetched a high price for his captors. Cervantes, as is recorded in the Informacion (a document based on eyewitness testimony to refute his enemies and avoid the Spanish Inquisition), kept up the spirits of his fellow hostages. He tried unsuccessfully to lead them in several escapes. Finally, in 1580, Trinitarian friars paid his high ransom, probably collected from family and friends. Now free, he returned to Spain a great hero. Despite his fame, he was without a job and his family was destitute.

He was unsuccessful as a playwright, because he was unable to compete with the monopoly of Lope de Vega. He wrote poems, but that brought in little money. His only child, Isabel de Saavedra, was the result of an affair with an actress named Ana Franca de Rojas. In 1584, he married a young woman, Catalina de Salazar y Palacios.

In 1585 Cervantes published La Galatea. He became a commissary agent, then a tax collector. Since his salary was often late, he made money by lending out his tax collections at interest. When such a transaction went bad, he was investigated. This landed him in jail several times. During one such jail term in 1597 he conceived of the story that became Don Quixote.

With the publication of El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, Cervantes became famous around the world. Although inadequate copyright protection robbed him of riches, patrons enabled him to settle in Madrid and write more novels. His last works included the second part of the Don Quixote saga and Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, completed three days before he died in April 1616.