Agustina de Aragon (nee Agustina Zaragoza y Domeneoh) (Combatants/Military Personnel)


Spanish heroine during the Peninsular War (1808-1814). Emperor Napoleon’s attempt to dominate Spain in 1808 was met with an outburst of fierce opposition by Spaniards from all walks of life—men, women, children, churchmen, nobility, civilians, peasants, and soldiers. One of the most spectacular examples of popular resistance occurred during the two French sieges-to-the-death on the city of Zaragoza in 1808 and 1809. It was during the first siege, 15 June to 14 August 1808, when the renowned heroine of Spain’s War of Independence, Agustina de Aragon, nee Agustina Zaragoza y Domenech, displayed both bravery and temerity against the French besiegers. Agustina became known as La Astillera (the Gunner) and La Defensor de Zaragoza (the Defender of Zaragoza).

Augustina de Aragon was born on 6 March 1786 in Barcelona of Catalan parents. In 1803, she married Juan Roca Vilaseca, a corporal in the Spanish Artillery. After Roca Vilaseca had fought the French invaders in several battles, he proceeded to Zaragoza. Agustina eventually joined him there. She had acquired a basic knowledge of artillery from her husband, and thus Agustina offered her services to the artillery soldiers. This explains the presence of Agustina at the Portillo Gate battery on the day of the major French onslaught at Zaragoza.

The French siege started on 15 June under the command of Brigadier General Charles

Agustina LVI.

Her lover sinks—she sheds no ill-timed tear;

Her chief is slain—she fills his fatal post;

Her fellows flee—she checks their base career;

The foe retires–she heads the sallying host:

Who can appease like her a lover’s ghost?

Who can avenge so well a leader’s fall?

What maid retrieve when man’s flushed hope is lost?

Who hang so fiercely on the flying Gaul,

Foiled by a woman’s hand, before a battered wall?

The renown of the Maid of Zaragoza (Saragossa) served as an inspiration during the American Civil War.

"The girls, one hundred and three rank and file, each in herself a Joan of Arc or a Maid of Saragossa, have completed their military organization, and are in for the war. They will leave here by steamer for New Orleans on Monday morning. Give them a warm embrace. Hurra [sic] for Mississippi!"

Lefebvre-Desnoettes. He was superseded by General Jean-Antoine Verdier, who started the attack in earnest on 30 June with a twenty-seven-hour bombardment of Zaragoza. This was a plan for an assault on several of the major fortified gates of the city. At the Portillo Gate, most of the Spanish defenders had been killed or wounded; as a result, the earthworks protecting a twenty-four-pound cannon had been destroyed. Early on 2 July, hundreds of French soldiers launched an offensive on the unmanned Portillo Gate battery. Observing the danger, twenty-two-year-old Agustina rushed forward to the cannon, retrieved the still-burning wick from the hands of a fallen gunner, and fired the cannon loaded with grapeshot at the advancing French column. Her bravery incited the Spanish defenders to continue the attack against the now-retreating French, who suffered five hundred casualties. Agustina’s courageous single-handed action and decisiveness had saved the Portillo Gate from falling into the hands of the French. The French soldiers were astounded to encounter women fighting against them. Her reputation spread throughout Spain and Europe. Agustina remained in Zaragoza during the first siege, which the French abandoned in mid-August. During the second siege of 1809, she was involved again in the defense of the city. Agustina was wounded twice during the two sieges. For her remarkable feats of bravery, Agustina was awarded military rank, the privilege to wear a special insignia, and a lifetime pension.

Throughout the remainder of the War of Independence, Agustina de Aragon fought against the French in numerous encounters; she was also present at the sieges of Teruel and Tortosa. When the war ended in 1814, she met King Ferdinand VII on his return to Spain. She later accompanied her husband to various military posts throughout Spain—Barcelona, Segovia, and Valencia. After her husband’s death in 1823, Agustina married a doctor from Cobos Mespe-ruza, and lived in Valencia, Sevilla, and Ceuta. She died in Ceuta on 29 May 1857, at the age of seventy-one and was buried there. The following inscription was etched on her tomb: "Here lie the remains of the illustrious Heroine, whose deeds of valor and virtue in the War of Independence filled the world with admiration." In June 1870 her remains were moved to Zaragoza and interred in the church of Our Lady of Pilar. In her honor, in 1876, King Alfonso XIII bestowed on her widowed husband and his legitimate descendants the title Baron Cobos de Belchite. On 15 June 1909, to commemorate one hundred years since the sieges, King Alfonso again honored the heroine of Zaragoza by his presence when her remains were moved to the parish church of Our Lady of El Portillo.

Agustina de Aragon personified the tenacious and heroic resistance of the Spanish nation against the French armies of Napoleon during the War of Independence. She became the subject of monuments, literary works, songs, philately, and movies. Agustina was also immortalized in paintings, especially that of Francisco de Goya, in the series, "The Disasters of War," with the title, What Valor!

Next post:

Previous post: