Manuela Sáenz

Manuela Sáenz

Manuela Sáenz Aizpuru de Thorne, commonly known as Manuelita Sáenz (Quito, Ecuador, during the Spanish Empire, December 27, 1797 – Paita, Peru, on November 23, 1856) was a noblewoman, political activist, and heroine in the fight for independence from Spain. Although she did not publish her writings during her lifetime, she did leave behind a significant amount of correspondence, including letters to Simon Bolívar, which provide valuable insight into her life and her role in the struggle for independence. Sáenz became involved in the revolutionary movement at an early age and was the lover and confidante of Simón Bolívar before and during the war for independence. She was instrumental in saving Bolívar’s life on at least one occasion, which led Bolívar to give her the title “Libertadora del libertador” [Liberator of the Liberator]. She accompanied him on many of his campaigns and was present at the Battle of Ayacucho, which marked the end of the Spanish presence in South America. After the war, Sáenz was granted the Order of the Sun or “Dame of the Sun” [Caballeresa del Sol] for her role in the struggle. However, her political activities and her unconventional personal life, which included several affairs, made her the target of criticism and condemnation by many in the conservative society of the time. She ultimately died in exile and poverty. Nevertheless, her legacy as a revolutionary and a feminist icon has endured, and she is remembered today as a symbol of the struggle for independence and women’s rights in South America. She has been the subject of many books in and outside of Ecuador.

Early life

Manuela Sáenz was born on December 27, 1797 as the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish military officer and an Ecuadorian woman, Simón Sáenz Vergara and María Joaquina Aizpurru. Manuela was raised and educated by nuns at the La Concepcion Convent in Quito, where she received a proper upper-class upbringing. Her mother’s family disowned her after discovering her scandalous behavior. Manuela sparked her own controversy when, at the age of 17, she was forced to leave the convent after it was discovered that she was having an affair with a Spanish army commander.

Correspondence of Manuela Saenz

Manuela Saenz left behind a significant amount of correspondence, including letters to Simon Bolívar, which provide valuable insight into her life and her role in the struggle for independence. The best-known correspondence between Manuela Saenz and Simon Bolívar is between 1822 and 1830.

After her death, some of her letters and papers were collected by her family and passed down through generations. In the 20th century, historians began to take a renewed interest in Manuela Saenz and her contributions to Latin American independence. Some of her letters and papers were eventually published in books and scholarly journals, shedding new light on her life and legacy.

During the 1830s and 1840s, Sáenz maintained contact with Ecuadorian leaders despite her exile. These letters were addressed to various leaders in Quito, most notably President Don Juan José Flores, a close ally of Simon Bolívar. In her first letter to the President in 1834, she explained why she remained loyal to Bolívar after he had lost power and influence, as well as why she took certain objects when Bolívar was being pursued. She then claims that she is innocent and that she should be allowed to return home and reclaim her mother’s inheritance. In her second letter, written in 1843, she begins with a plea for permission to return home and a reminder of their previous friendship.


Manuela Sáenz was once Simon Bolívar’s romantic partner and closest confidante, but later she became an outcast and was forced to leave her homeland to live in exile. Despite this, she never lost interest or pride in Ecuador. She was exiled from modern-day Colombia after Bolívar’s death and attempted to return to Ecuador only to be refused entry. Sáenz died in poverty in the city of Paita, Peru, on November 23, 1856.

Selected works

Books and articles containing her writings attributed to their editors because they were not published during her lifetime.
  • Álvarez Saá, Carlos, y Rodrigo Villacías Molina eds. Manuela, sus diarios perdidos y otros papeles. Quito: Imprenta Mariscal, 1995.
  • —. Serie Colección Pez En La Red. Tomo 42. Bogotá: Fundación para la Investigación y la Cultura FICA, 2005.
  • Borja, Felipe Luis. “Epistolario de Manuela Sáenz.” Boletín de la Academia Nacional de la Historia 29 (1946): 228-46.
  • Guarín Martínez, Oscar Hernando, ed.»Bicentenario de la independencia: ‘Tobacco. English Spoken. Manuela Sáenz’.» Revista Numero 62. Sep-Nov (2009): 58-64.
  • Llinás, Juan P., ed. Simón Bolívar visto por Manuela Sáenz. Barranquilla: Universidad Simón Bolívar, 2008.
  • Perú de Lacroix, Luis, ed. Diarios bolivarianos. Colección Bicentenario. Buenos Aires: Biblioteca Nacional, 2007.
  • Quijano, Félix Antonio, comp. “Carta de Manuela Sáenz.” Boletín de Historia y Antigüedades 19. 219 (1932): 207.
  • Rojas, Ezequiel, Florentino González, y Francisco P. Santander, eds. La conspiración de septiembre: escritos varios. Caracas: Ediciones Escuela Superior del Ejército de Venezuela, 1975.
  • Villalba Freire, Jorge, ed. Epistolario: [1829-1853]. Colección Epistolarios, 1. Quito: Banco Central del Ecuador, 1986.
Books attributed Manuela Saenz and Simon Bolivar
  • Bolívar, Simón, y Manuela Sáenz. Manuela Sáenz en la leyenda y en la historia. Ed. Jorge Freire Villalba. Ser.16. Biblioteca de la Sociedad Bolivariana de Venezuela. Caracas: Sociedad Bolivariana de Venezuela, 1988.
  • Bolívar, Simón, y Manuela Sáenz. Patriota y amante de Usted: Manuela Sáenz y el libertador: diarios inéditos. Ed. Elena Poniatowska. México: Editorial Diana, 1993.
  • Bolívar, Simón, y Manuela Sáenz. Simón Bolívar y Manuela Sáenz: correspondencia íntima. Ed. Apolo M. Espinosa. Quito: Centro de Estudios Felipe Guamán Poma, 1996.
  • —. Colecc̨ão Memória. Quito: Taller de Estudios Andinos, 1999.
  • —. Quito: Editorial Trama, 2006.
  • Bolívar, Simón, y Manuela Sáenz. Las más hermosas cartas de amor entre Manuela y Simón, acompañadas de los diarios de Quito y Paita, así como de otros documentos. Comp. Gobierno Bolivariana de Venezuela. Caracas: Ediciones Piedra, Papel y Tijera, 1998.
  • —. Caracas: Fundación Editorial el perro y la rana, 2006. 2010.
  • Bolívar, Simón, y Manuela Sáenz. Cartas de amor entre Bolívar y Manuelita. Ed. Arturo Andrade. Santa Fé: Intermedio, 2000.
  • Bolívar, Simón, y Manuela Sáenz. Manuela Sáenz: coronela del ejército libertador. Ed. Petróleos de Venezuela. Maracaibo: PDVSA, 2008.

Source of header image

  • The image is a portrait of Manuela Sáenz from 1825. Pedro Durante/Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú

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