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9 one Beginnings, 1797–1822 although little is known of Manuela Sáenz’s childhood, available sources offer a glimpse of the world that shaped it. They shed light on circumstances that affected her girlhood. These circumstances included her illegitimate origin and official, baptismal, status as a foundling, or hija expósita—that is, a child of “unknown parents,” a designation meant to disguise the fact of her parents’ illicit union.1 They also included an upper-class social background. Sáenz’s December 1797 birth to parents of elite status (a status based on wealth, access to public office, and noble or “pure” Spanish lineage) helped mitigate the dishonor that usually haunted a bastard child. More important was her father’s willingness to provide for her and, however informally, recognize her as his offspring. Because of this, young Manuela enjoyed many of the same privileges enjoyed by her half-sisters, the legitimate daughters of Simón Sáenz de Vergara; like them and other upper-class women in Spanish America, she would have the right to be addressed as “Doña” (Madame or Lady), for instance. She was also to be incorporated into her father’s legitimate family and into strategies designed to advance family interests. An example would be her arranged marriage to one of Sáenz de Vergara’s business T4770.indb 9 T4770.indb 9 8/12/08 11:19:07 AM 8/12/08 11:19:07 AM 10 for glory and bolívar acquaintances, a prosperous British-born businessman named James Thorne. Yet the young woman also would venture out beyond the paternal orbit. She would embrace the cause of Spanish American independence—a cause that would put an end to her relatively secure and conventional existence and, in time, open new doors for her. Manuela Sáenz’s illegitimacy was not quite what it might seem to a casual observer, someone unaware of the factors that determined its meaning for her. For Sáenz and other late-colonial upper-class Spanish Americans, the question of out-of-wedlock birth hinged on several variables. One variable was the precise definition or degree of illegitimacy. Spanish canon law recognized two main categories of illegitimacy: hijos naturales (offspring of single parents who could, in theory, marry each other), and hijos espurios (those born of incest, adultery, or a union involving a member of the clergy). Espurios embodied the more unfortunate category. The greater amount of sin or depravity associated with their parents’ sexual behavior translated into a correspondingly greater degree of dishonor and, thus, a heavier social stigma than that suffered by naturales. Other birth-related variables could attenuate the disgrace that was to some extent attached to all categories of illegitimacy. One was a child’s baptismal status , that is, the description of its race and natal condition (legitimate, hijo natural , or expósito) given at the time of baptism and recorded in the local church’s baptismal registry.2 As suggested already, the practice of designating a child as a foundling could help hide parental peccadilloes and thus allow elite parents to save face, that is, to maintain their honor and reputation. In cases in which the child was an espurio, designating it as a foundling or expósito was especially vital for preserving the ever-fragile honor and reputation of the mother. A final crucial variable was parental recognition; on this depended a child’s future status and life chances. Yet, as with virtually all things affecting the lives of illegitimates, this recognition was seldom a cut-and-dried matter. Parents often chose to recognize an out-of-wedlock child informally and in private. As research has shown, under certain conditions, they also might recognize the child formally and in public.3 Yet, in the case of Manuela Sáenz and her mother, Joaquina Aizpuru, circumstances mitigated against any kind of recognition. Joaquina Aizpuru was the unwed daughter (and second-to-youngest of ten children) of Don Mateo José de Aizpuru y Montero and his wife, a native of Quito, Gregoria Sierra Pambley. A native of Panama, Don Mateo José (1717– 1803) had established himself in Quito as an attorney (or relator) for the region’s highest court and governing body, the Audiencia of Quito, and as head of a respectable creole family that resided in the oldest, most prestigious part of the city.4 His daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy, fruit of an affair with a local T4770...


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MARC Record
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