Manuela Malasaña: 2nd of May Heroine
Manuela Malasaña was the best example of the hard resistance the citizens from Madrid made against the troops of Napoleon on the 2nd of May of 1808.
2nd of May is a regional holiday and an important landmark for the Community of Madrid. What we celebrate is the ephemeris of an event happened in 1808: the beginning of the popular Spanish uprising against the invasion of Napoleon Bonaparte.
That day changed the history of Spain, but the importance of its celebration resides in that the Spanish people stopped being subjects of a King to be recognized as Spanish citizens with full rights because in spite the absence of their kings, they decided to rise in arms against the French enemy.
Anyone who has already visited the Feeling Madrid or walked with us on our Feeling Madrid tour will have seen this picture where Goya reflected the consequences of the uprising: those citizens who had fought for their independence the previous day, on 3rd of May were executed by the French firing squad. Through this oil, Goya tried to show us the faces of the popular heroes by giving them the protagonism they deserved, while leaving the French hiding their faces, in anonymity. We want to fulfil Goya’s desire: today we are going to meet one of those heroes, or rather, heroines who fought to the death to defend his Nation: she was Manuela Malasaña.
When we hear the word Malasaña, we always think about one of the liveliest and cheerful neighborhoods in Madrid, a neighborhood full of life day and night because of the great influx of authentic bars, curious restaurants, discos, pubs and so on, but above everything, that neighborhood is full of young spirit people.
At first it was called Barrio Maravillas (Wonder Neighborhood) because of the existence of a convent of Carmelite nuns that had with same name. Those nuns had discovered among a few flowers, called Maravillas, a sculpture of the child Jesus that they placed inside the convent. Regarding the War of Independence against Napoleon, this convent had a very important role by taking care of wounded. Nowadays, the only remain of this convent is the Church consecrated to Saints Justo and Pastor, also known as the Church Maravillas, built in 1626.
Strolling through the streets of this neighborhood is walking through the tragic history lived by Madrid at the beginning of the nineteenth century, because they have names such as: Dos de Mayo, popular heroes Daoíz, Velarde and of course, Manuela Malasaña, street that gave its own name to the Neighborhood since 1980.
Who was Manuela Malasaña?
The story of this young dressmaker lies between legend and reality. She is one of the women who fought against the French army, who gave her life for Spain when she was just 15.
Madrileña by birth, although she has French ascent, she was the daughter of baker Jean Malesangne and his wife María Oñoro. The Spaniards would change the pronunciation of their last name to Malasaña. They lived in Barrio Maravillas and the father’s bakery was located a few meters from the current Plaza de Dos de Mayo, where Monteleón Headquarters was emplaced duting the War. But despite their Gallic origins, the heart of the Malasaña family already belonged to Madrid, so they went to fight heroically with Luis Daoíz and Pedro Velarde. It was precisely his French origin that pushed him in some way to prove his Spanishness.
There are different versions of the participation of Manolita in the War. The first one tells us that she lost her life while helping his father, who was in the Headquarters, from the nearby balcony of his house in San Andres Street, giving him gunpowder and weaponry. A bullet would reach and kill her and his father would continue with the defense of the Barracks before the dead body of his daughter.
This is the version chosen by the artists to honor the memory of the heroine and provide drama to her history.
The painter Eugenio Álvarez Dumont represents a scene in which we see how Juan Malasaña is killing the French soldier who had killed his daughter who still lies on the ground. Also the sculptor Antonio Moltó and Llunch produced the same image in terracotta, which you can visit at the Museum of History of Madrid (78, calle Fuencarral).
However, this theory was denied when Manuela’s death certificate proved that his father died before her. This fact gives rise to the second version of her death, the most popular and widespread which explains that Manuela remained locked up with her fellow dressmakers in the workshop, until the shooting stopped on May 2nd. When she returned home, French soldiers wanted to abuse her and that with her scissors she could defend herself from the rape he finally paid with her life. Her execution would not happen on 2nd May, but the following day.
Her body was buried in the cemetery of Buena Dicha Hospital, dedicated to heal the wounded as well. Currently, in this place we find the Church with the same name, reason why we do not know exactly where the body of Manuela Malasaña rests. What is known is that her body was registered as the number 74 among the 409 victims of that day.
Whatever the way she died, whether as a defender of Monteleón or as an innocent victim, her tragic and unjust death left a great mark on the neighbors of Barrio Maravillas, which as a form of homage to this heroic woman, changed its name for Malasaña.
Her youth represents the innocence of those victims, her profession as a dressmaker represents the heroism of the citizens, and what’s more important, she represents the recognition to the paper of the women in that uprising.
We encourage you to discover her history through this wonderful neighborhood and to come with us on our tour to Free Walking Tour Madrid and its Dos de Mayo celebration.