The Night His Mistress Saved the Life of Simón Bolivar

When his mistress, Manuela Saenz, learned of the armed men making their way through Simón’s Bolivar’s home, she had only moments to save his life. It wasn’t the first time.

Bolivar, a fighter, did not intend to stand down against his would-be assassins, even if it meant his life. But, after some heartfelt pleading, Saenz convinced him to flee out the window.

Most English-speaking folks believe they don’t know Simón Bolivar. Maybe not in name, but the founders of the country of Bolivia named the land after him so the name is familiar.

If one has traveled through South or Central America, the name Bolivar decorates parks, streets, and even pubs. What George Washington is the U.S., what Vladimir Lenin is to Russia, so is Bolivar to much of Latin America.

As is often the case for revolutionary leaders, there are many who would see them dead. There were more plans to kill Bolivar than history will ever know. One such case made it from a plan into action, right into Bolivar’s home.

It was nearly his end, September 25, 1829.

Simón Bolivar

Born into a wealthy South American mining family on July 24, 1783 in Caracas, New Granada (modern day Venezuela), Bolivar wasn’t some backwater revolutionary. He studied in Spain, dabbling in politics while he was there, returning to South America in 1803 with his wife.

That was before that Napoleon Bonaparte fella started marching over borders with his armies. In fact, after Bolivar’s wife died of yellow fever, he returned to Europe and rubbed elbows with Napoleon before returning to South America in 1807.

In 1808, Bonaparte invaded Spain, placing his older brother, Joseph Bonaparte in charge of Spain and the Spanish colonies. Bolivar saw this as his opportunity to liberate the colonies.

That’s what they call Bolivar, “The Liberator.”

Manuela Saenz

While in modern times, folks consider keeping a mistress poor form, there was a time when it was acceptable.

Nobody had a problem with Bolivar keeping a mistress, but there were a few who opposed his decision to make himself the dictator of 1828 Gran Colombia. That was the country comprised of modern day Colombia, Panamá, Ecuador, Perú, Venezuela, Guyana, and a chunk of northern Brazil.

Despite his goal to set up a parliamentary system like they had in the U.K., Bolivar came to believe a dictatorship was the only way he could keep control of the nascent country.

By 1829, Spain had released its grip on Gran Colombia, but there were many who didn’t favor Bolivar’s politics in the wake of that liberation.

The night of the 25th, a handful of those critics, armed with weapons, crept through Bolivar’s home intending to remove him from the equation. But, they failed to evade the attention of his mistress, who woke Bolivar.

Reluctant to flee, Bolivar protested. He would have preferred to fight the attackers, but he was growing used to going with Saenz intuitions.

Only weeks before Saenz had shown up outside a party screaming Bolivar’s name until he left the party to reprimand her. She’d learned assassins intended to kill him at the party. He left with her that night, and now she was asking him to run for his life again.

For the second time in two months, she saved his life. In both cases, when the assassins arrived, he was already gone.

Eventual Demise

The dream of Gran Colombia would only last about as long as Bolivar’s life. He passed in 1830. The massive country split apart the year after that.

Bolivar was 47 when he passed, a young man in those days. His life ended after a battle tuberculosis or so history recorded it. As it turns out, it may have been something more nefarious.

Doctors at the time ruled his death a mystery, but recent historians have reclassified his death as a matter of arsenic poisoning.

Some, including the former dictator of Venezuela Hugo Chavez, took the study to imply someone poisoned the revered leader, but the truth is less exciting. Bolivar likely died from contaminated groundwater or doctor-administered arsenic, a common prescription for headaches and hemorrhoids.

Archeologists  have found many mummified bodies from that time in that geographical area with high levels of arsenic.

Saenz may have made Bolivar feel like he was being a coward, even been “the difficult woman” as was the case when she stood outside the party screaming, but she goes down in history as the woman who saved his life a couple of times.

Not bad, considering he never made an honest woman of her.

As far Bolivar’s Gran Colombia, there are still advocates for reunification, called unionistas, who want the old country to get back together. Considering the state of affairs in Venezuela today, it’s not likely.

Sorry, Simón.