Known as Agustina de Aragón, Agustina Raimunda María Saragosa Doménech was a heroine of Spain against the invading forces of Napoleon.
Agustina was only 22 when she rallied the Spanish defenders at the besieged city of Zaragoza , in the region of Aragón, which was under French attack.
It is not exactly known where or when she was born. The most accepted place is the small city of Reus, in the in the northeastern Spanish province of Tarragona, and the probable date is March 4, 1786.
Something of a rebellious child and a tomboy in her early teens, Agustina liked to be around soldiers. She might have been pregnant when she married Juan Roca Vilaseca, a Corporal in an artillery unit, at age 16 or 17. They had a son, Eugenio.
Napoleon Invades the Iberian Peninsula
In 1807 King Charles IV, allowed the French army to cross Spain on their way to invade Portugal, setting off what is known as the Peninsular War. Little did Charles know that within a year, he would be deposed, his son Ferdinand would be placed in the throne and then Napoleon would do away with both. The French emperor then would select his brother Joseph to rule Spain.
The Spanish population, however, had other ideas. The people joined what was left of the army and began a fierce resistance to the invaders.
With the beginning of the war, Vilaseca was called to duty and Agustina, like many wives did at the time, followed him. They ended up in Zaragoza.
Zaragoza Under Siege
The French troops, however, took rapidly over most of northern Spain. By mid 1808, they were at the gates of Zaragoza, one of the few cities not in their hands.
The city, which had know 450 years of peace, was defended by a unit of less than 1,000 officers and troops under the command of José Rebolledo de Palafox, Duke of Zaragoza.
On June 15 , the French began bombarding the city. The defenses were not yet finished and they were somewhat completed under fire.
Even though the siege was not one of the most effective attacks ever by the Grande Armée, the French managed to break the Spanish defenses by the Portillo Gate on July 2.
That was when Agustina, who like other women was bringing munitions, water and food to the defenders, sprung into action. When a grenade wounded or killed the men working heavy cannon, she ran through the bullets, the dead and the wounded and fired the gun on the advancing French troops. Her actions inspired the rest of the area defenders who then forced the French to withdraw.
Palafox, whose actions were as heroic as hers, recommended Agustina for the army. She got a Royal appointment as a gunner and received a small salary. After these events, she was also known as La Artillera (The Gunner).
The Fall of Zaragoza
But Napoleon’s men did not give up. Two months later they resumed the attack , this time better organized and Zaragoza fell on December 21, 1808.
Like many other defenders, Agustina was suffering from typhoid fever but fought to the end. She ended up a prisoner and had to watch as her son died of fatigue and sickness.
Later on, she manages to escape and in 1809., after the fall of the city, is promote to Alférez (Second Lieutenant).
Agustina’s Fight Continues
Free again to fight, she joined a guerilla band that operated in the area of La Mancha.
Once the Duke of Wellington and the British helped the Portuguese get rid of the French, they moved into Spain. The Spanish Joan of Arc, became an officer in the allied forces under Wellington.
In the crucial Battle of Vitoria on June 21, 1813, which broke the French Army, Agustina, now a captain commanded a battery of cannons.
Such was the woman’s fame during this time that Francisco de Goya immortalized her in The Disaster of War and Lord Byron devoted many verses to her.
Later Life and Death
Widowed at 37 – Vilaseca died after the war – she married Juan Cobos Belchite, a medical doctor, and moved to Seville. They had a daughter named Carlota.
In 1847, she moved, with Carlota and her husband, , to the Spanish North African city of Ceuta, where she would die on May 29, 1857 at the age of 71. Agustina was buried in Ceuta and 13 years later her remains were translated to Zaragoza.
Her widower was given the title Baron of Cobos de Belchite, a hereditary title.
- La Guerra de la Independencia Espanola – Agustina de Aragon
- Charles Richard Laughn – Siege of Zaragoza -European Magazine and London Review