(Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra)


Cervantes is best known as the author of Don Quixote, the most famous novel ever written in the Spanish language. The book was written in two parts, and it combines humor and farce with reflective philosophy and interesting character sketches. The main character is a slightly senile old Spanish gentlemen, obsessed with chivalry and romance novels, who dons an old set of armor and rides off on his ancient steed to seek adventures. His attempts at chivalry wreak havoc upon the country side, with both amusing and touching events. The popularity of Don Quixote was nearly unprecedented and for hundreds of years it has been regarded as one of the greatest novels of all time, and ground-breaking in many ways. For example, it was one of the first novels to extensively use the normal conversation of everyday people as part of its narrative.

Great authors often live quiet lives, but Cervantes was not one of them. His own life was filled with episodes of great interest and considerable hardship. Born to a middle class family near Madrid, he joined the Spanish navy just as Pope Pius V called upon the Christian countries of Europe to unite against the Turkish pirates of the Mediterranean. In 1571 he fought heroically for the Holy League at the Battle of Lepanto, and lost the use of his left arm as a result of his injuries. Four years later he was captured by pirates and imprisoned for five years in Algiers, waiting to be ransomed. On his return to Madrid, he was deeply in debt, and worked various jobs, including a tax-collector. When discrepancies were found in his book he was imprisoned again.

For twenty years he struggled financially while trying to raise a family. During this time he wrote plays and poems, but achieved no success until the publication of Don Quixote in 1605. It was an immediate sensation, and for the final ten years of his life he lived in relative comfort. The complete novel was published in two parts, the last installment only a year before Cervantes died. The two parts, taken together, lampoon almost every aspect of Spanish life at the time, from priests to princes to pastoral inn keepers.

Key events during the life of Miguel de Cervantes:

Birth of Cervantes to a middle class family near Madrid.
Became a soldier for the Holy League navy.
Fought in the battle of Lepanto, under Don John of Austria. Severely injured left arm.
Captured by Turkish pirates and taken to Algiers.
Ransomed by the Trinitarians, and returned to his family.
Helped to equip the Spanish Armada.
Arrested and jailed for embezzling taxes.
Published Don Quixote, part I.
Returned to Madrid.
Published Don Quixote, part II.
Death of Cervantes.

Book Links
Stories of Don Quixote  by  James Baldwin

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Two More Philips  in  A Child's History of Spain  by  John Bonner
Redemption of Captives  in  Barbary Rovers  by  John Finnemore
Spain Under the Hapsburgs  in  Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain  by  Charles F. Horne

Image Links

 in Stories of Don Quixote

Short Biography
Philip II Catholic king of Spain during Netherland revolt and Anglo-Spanish Wars. Great enemy of Protestant Reformers.
Don John of Austria Illegitimate son of Charles V. Hero of the naval Battle of Lepanto. Briefly governed Spanish Netherlands.