Wednesday, February 28

Almudena de Arteaga novel The Thousand Lives of the Countess of Gálvez

The writer and aristocrat Almudena de Arteaga / CR

Creole by birth and Spanish by adoption, she was viceroy of New Spain and the victim of an unjust exile from the court of Madrid for being afrancesada.

Michael Lorenci

“History has been unfair to her, a fascinating woman who lived a thousand lives in one.” This is how Almudena de Arteaga (Madrid, 56 years old) refers to Felicitas de Saint-Maxent (1758-1799), Countess of Gálvez, viceroy of New Spain and protagonist of her new novel, ‘La virreina criolla’ (Harper Collins ).

As she did before with the princess of Éboli, with Beltraneja or with Isabel de Zendal, the writer and aristocrat rescues from oblivion a lady “who lived halfway between the old and the new regime.” “She was a fascinating character, a cultured woman, capable of living in a palace and in a cabin,” says De Arteaga of this “Creole by birth and Spanish by adoption” whose life “encompassed that of many other of her contemporaries.”

“She is a great unknown who lived through crucial events in the history of the world at the end of the 18th century,” highlights the writer of this daughter of French emigrants, “a very young, cultivated, intellectual mother and widow, and the victim of an unjust exile.” With her second husband, Bernardo de Gálvez, she “collaborated in the independence of the United States and in the reconquest of Florida. She later wore the crown of the viceroyalty of New Spain and suffered, back in Europe, the consequences of the French Revolution for her defense of an incipient illustration ». “As graceful as intelligent, she promoted culture and fine arts throughout her life and she chose to be Spanish,” she celebrates de Arteaga.

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Daughter of the most powerful French colonist in New Orleans, she lived in family prosperity among the splendid mansions and palaces that her father acquired by trading slaves, furs, weapons and all sorts of merchandise that crossed the Mississippi River.

A 19-year-old widow of Jean-Baptiste-Honoré Destrehan and with a dependent daughter, when Louisiana passed from the French to the Spanish crown in 1763, her life changed drastically. In 1777, Ella Felicitas contracted a second marriage with Bernardo de Gálvez, the powerful Spanish governor of the territory, a key figure in the independence of the United States and the future viceroy of New Spain with whom she had two daughters and a son. “Felicitas witnessed the help that Spain gave to the independence of the United States, the seizure by her husband of La Mobila – today Mobile, Alabama – and Pensacola, on the Florida coast, or the boardings and murders to which the pirates of the Caribbean subjected the Spanish ships and their crews, without a doubt the most besieged at the time”, highlights the writer.

Widowed again, Felcitas fulfilled the promise she made to Gálvez on her deathbed and moved to Spain with her children, “who would also be Spanish and could be French or American.” «Instead of settling in, she made the return journey, the opposite of what so many European women did in search of a better life in America. She defended the heritage of her children, who she wanted to take away from the Gálvez family, and educated them in an enlightened Madrid in which she was the host of great writers, scientists and politicians». She treated Humboldt, Malaspina and Balmis, the great explorers of her time. But also to politicians and intellectuals such as her great friend Cabarrús, in addition to Aranda, Jovellanos, Moratín, Sabatini or the countesses of Montijo and Gausa.

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In his house in Madrid, French was spoken and publications from the neighboring country were received. She branded Frenchified, she was banished from court. She passed through Valladolid and Zaragoza. She denied in her letters the accusations of spreading revolutionary ideas, defending her gatherings as meetings without political content. She acquitted in 1793, she died five years later in Aranjuez, where she spent her last years. Her remains rest in Ontígola, a town near the Royal Site.

Founding Father of the USA

The writings of Professor Eric Berman gave De Arteaga “many clues” to investigate the trail of his Creole viceroy, of which he found references in the Archive of the Indies in Seville by reviewing the “well-known” story of her second husband, a citizen of honor of the United States and included among the founding fathers. Mixing reality and fiction, the writer walks the reader with her character through the alleys of a charming and opulent eighteenth-century Havana, the Pearl of the Caribbean that Gálvez ruled in his most glorious moment, or through the Mexico “in which he left his mark from the first day in which he arrives at the viceroyalty of New Spain».

The author does not believe that her viceroy was a feminist ‘avant la lettre’ «It is obvious that Felicitas was very actively involved in conflicts that used to be reserved for men, but to speak of feminism in the 18th century would be an anachronism of those I try to avoid when writing a historical novel.

Twentieth Duchess of the Infantado, with a degree in Law and a diploma in Genealogy, Heraldry and Nobility, Almudena de Arteaga is the author of twenty novels, most of them historical. ‘The princess of Éboli’ was her first and successful foray into the genre and allowed her to abandon the legal profession to dedicate herself exclusively to literature. With ‘María de Molina, three medieval crowns’ she won in 2004 the Alfonso X el Sabio 2004 award for historical novel. In 2012 she won the novel Azorín for ‘Capricho’, an intriguing historical journey through 19th-century Madrid.

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