1547 - 1575

Cervantes, times of childhood and youth

Archivos Estatales

Miguel de Cervantes was born in Alcalá de Henares in October 1547. Son of Rodrigo de Cervantes and Leonor de Cortinas, he spent his childhood roaming Spain until he settled in Madrid. In 1569 he travelled to Italy to commence a new chapter of his life, culminating in his capture in battle in 1575.

The origins
The life of a young man in Spain during the transition from the reign of Carlos V to Felipe II could be linked, as is the case, to a humanistic education. However, historical circumstances could drive a wedge into that unwritten fate.

Among the ancestors of Miguel de Cervantes we find lawyers and characters skilled in money management. For example, in this document the city of Cordoba pays Mr. Juan de Cervantes for his work as city attorney...

From 1535 to 1574, La Goulette and Tunis are part of the network of "penitentiaries" of the King of Spain in North Africa, in accordance with the policy designed by Cardinal Cisneros. These fortifications serve to protect the Peninsula from the long-awaited "Second Invasion".

In this document, aid is granted to a "Rodrigo de Cervantes" for his relocation to La Goulette as an accountant.

Despite the controversy arising over the place and date of birth of Cervantes, it is known that he was born in Alcalá de Henares on an undetermined day in 1547 and subsequently baptised in the parish of Santa María on Sunday 9 October. As the son of Rodrigo de Cervantes and his wife, Leonor de Cortinas, the baptism was carried out by the bachelor Bartolomé Serrano, who declared Juan Pardo and another unnamed third party as godparents.

Although no verified data exists regarding the house in which Cervantes was born, tradition and legend have established one particular property located in Alcalá de Henares as his birthplace, since magnificently restored and decorated and since 1956, known as the "Casa Natal de Cervantes" (Birthplace of Cervantes) since 1956.

Although unclear when, Cervantes studied with Juan López de Hoyos, who was appointed grammar tutor at the Estudio de la Villa in Madrid on 29 January 1568. The façade of the house that is thought to have been the Estudio de la Villa, displays two plaques, which honour the humanist movement and the educational institution itself.

"In this town hall, these lords having heard the lessons of opposition and the arguments read out and made by the schoolmaster Juan López and by Hernando de Arce [...] from the chair of grammar of this Villa, and informed of the votes and opinions that regarding the adequacy and people gave religious people and people of letters and experience outside the Town Hall were found, they said they commissioned that schoolmaster Juan López the chair of grammar of this Villa..."

Archive of the Villa in Madrid. Transcript of Alfredo Alvar.

López de Hoyos published the first printed Cervantes verses as a tribute to Isabel of Valois, on her death in 1569. The schoolmaster entered into dispute with the Jesuits to defend the Estudio de la Villa against the foundation of a competing Jesuit College. Curiously, in The Conversation of the Dogs Cervantes defends Jesuit education.

Juan López de Hoyos served as parish priest in the parish of San Andrés from April 1580 until his death on 28 June 1583.

In 1568, Prince Don Carlos and Queen Isabel of Valois died in the Court. It is possible that Cervantes went to Italy in the company of other the young poets, such as Pedro Laínez, who abandoned the palace and left for Rome with Cardinal Acquaviva (the papal nuncio sent to give condolences), who left after completing his diplomatic mission in Madrid. It has been suggested that another man by the name Miguel de Cervantes, was responsible for the wounding Antonio de Segura for which a warrant for his arrest was ordered. The historical facts concerning the reasons why Cervantes left for Italy are uncertain, but objective evidence of his stay in Rome is provided by a dedication appearing in the book La Galatea, which states that he was a "waiter" of Acquaviva in Rome.

This document is the Royal Provision to the bailiff Juan de Medina to arrest "one Miguel de Cervantes, absent" for the wounds that he inflicted upon Antonio de Segura.

"Tell me what you presume...", or "Thou wilt look well, Sancho..." (Don Quixote I,21)

A recurring theme within the Cervantes family was the attempt to prove the family origins as gentlemen or old Christians. Later, the obsession would be the demonstration of their heroic and virtuous acts.

In this document, the information from witnesses is gathered to prove the "limpieza de sangre" (blood purity) of Miguel de Cervantes, conducted at the request of his father Rodrigo in December, 1569, although the immediate purpose for doing so is unknown.

The departure to Italy
For whatever reason Cervantes left for Rome, whether he left in flight from Justice, or simply to join the group of young poets who accompanied Acquaviva, the move to Rome specifically and Italy in general, represented a critical transition in his life. Indeed, "Cervantes in Italy" or "Italy in Cervantes" are crucial issues. After a few months in Rome, he moved to Naples, to enlist in the Tercios.

From this moment on, documentary traces of Cervantes begin to become abundant due to the fact that the administration of the armies of Felipe II was complex. The study of the army administrative records have enabled the lives of many soldiers to be traced.

In the first paragraph, the monthly salary of Miguel de Cervantes is recorded as amounting to 3 escudos, in the company of Captain Manuel Ponce de León, of the tercio of Lope de Figueroa.

Finally, the naval battle to defend the Christian cultural core took place at Lepanto (modern Greece), on 7 October 1571.

Miguel de Cervantes, though ill and with a fever, refused to remain in the hold of the galley and requested a combat mission. He was sent to fight with another dozen soldiers from the skiff. He was wounded in the left hand and received two arquebus shots in the chest. There is no doubt that he fought as a military hero.

Many original documents of the Battle of Lepanto are preserved at the General Archives of Simancas. Among others, this "Order of Battle" (in Italian) is exceptional and unique in that the two armed formations, Christian and Muslim, are represented.

Over the following months, Cervantes recovered from his wounds at a military hospital in Messina.

Thanks to some "shore help", we know that Don Juan of Austria sent help to his wounded soldiers. From among them, on page 10 of this document, Miguel de Cervantes is recorded...

...but in this same record, on the last page, we find another "Miguel Cervantes, 22 escudos", which provides evidence that, at least two men by the name of Miguel de Cervantes existed during the same time period.

In the following years, Cervantes returns to combat, and from 1572 participates in military operations in central and eastern Mediterranean.

The descriptions that have been left of these actions (Don Quixote I,39 for example) are by a genuine chronicler.

Texts as important as his Discourse on arms and letters in which he compares humanist life and military life, Cervantes considers military life to be fuller than that of a lawyer (Don Quixote I, 38), while writing the other memoirs mentioned, of the disappointed soldier (Don Quixote I,39).

Maintaining so many armies (in the Mediterranean, Central Europe, Flanders, the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa) and their equipment "outside of the Monarchy" is extremely costly. Therefore the decision to licence some of the army corps is taken.

Miguel de Cervantes, a crippled soldier, and his brother Rodrigo, who dies in Flanders decades later, return to Spain.

On 26 September 1575, the galley Sol in which they sailed across the Mediterranean, is assaulted by other ships commanded by Dali Mami, a renegade of Greek origin.

Cervantes was transferred to Algiers, where he spent five years of gruelling captivity in the "baths".

Alfredo Alvar - Archivos Estatales
Credits: Story

Scientific Director: Dr. Alfredo Alvar Ezquerra (CSIC).
Archival Management: Julia Rodríguez de Diego (General Archive of Simancas).
Drafting of texts and palaeographic transcriptions: Alfredo Alvar Ezquerra.

This work is part of the work carried out under the research project of the National R&D Plan funded by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness of the Kingdom of Spain, which takes place at the Spanish National Council for Advanced Scientific Research (CSIC) under the direction of Dr. Alfredo Alvar Ezquerra, the title of which is "Tangible and intangible personal cultural exchanges (ss. XVI-XVII)” (ref. no. HAR2014-55233-P).

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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