We know little about the birth of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. The exact date cannot be found in any registry. Perhaps he was born the 29th of September, the day of San Miguel, for which he was named. We do know that he was born in Alcalá de Henares, a small university town near Madrid, where he was baptised in the church of Santa María on October 9, 1547. Cervantes was the fourth of the seven children born to Doña Leonor de Cortinas and Don Rodrigo de Cervantes, an itinerant surgeon who struggled to maintain his practice and his family by travelling throughout Spain.
Little more is known about the first twenty years of Cervantes' life. He is thought to have gone to school in Valladolid and Sevilla. We don't know any dates except that in 1567-68, he was registered in the school of the Spanish humanist, Juan Lopez de Hoyos, in Madrid.
In 1569 Cervantes travelled to Italy to serve in the household of an Italian nobleman and, a year later, he joined the Spanish military. On September 7, 1571, he fought bravely against the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto where he was seriously wounded and lost the use of his left hand. After a lengthy period of recovery, he decided to return to the soldier's life. In April 1572, he joined the company of Manuel Ponce de León, where we believe his brother Rodrigo was also enrolled. Together they participated in a number of battles.
The brothers Cervantes departed Italy for Spain in 1575. They were captured during the return journey by pirates and taken to Algiers, where they were imprisoned and where they bravely jeopardised their lives trying to escape. After five years of captivity, Cervantes was liberated, thanks to the negotiations of the Trinitarian fathers. (His brother had already been released.) On the 27th of October, he arrived in Valencia, poor (his father had to sell all his possessions for the ransom) and humiliated. The experience was a turning point in his life, and numerous references to the themes of freedom and captivity appear in his work.
Cervantes came back from Algiers deeply in debt because of the ransom paid to release him. To earn money, he decided to reenlist in the army. He went to Portugal and took part in the battle of "Las Azores" in 1582. One year later, he returned to Spain with the manuscript of a romance, La Galatea and possibly the first part of Persiles y Segismunda. He also brought some notes for his biography. During this year, a child named Isabel de Saavedra was born to Cervantes and a lady of Lisbon's aristocracy.
On December 12, 1584, 37 year old Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra married Doña Catalina de Palacios Salazara, a woman almost twenty years younger. The marriage obliged Cervantes to look for a job and in 1588 he secured a position as a government official in the south of Spain, requisitioning wheat and olive oil for the campaign of the Invincible Armada.
His new position gave him the opportunity to learn the customs and habits of Sevilla, traditions he described in Don Quixote. He was arrested twice in Sevilla for taking possession of merchandise belonging to the deacon of Sevilla's Cathedral. These experiences justify the legend that the first part of Don Quixote was written in jail.
His stay in Sevilla was a period of calamities for Cervantes. His luck was not better in literature. In 1595, he won first prize (three silver spoons) in a poem competition and, three years later, his song El entierro del Rey Felipe II en Sevilla received some attention, although the rest of his poems were to remain unpublished.
La gitanilla, Rinconete y Cortadillo, La Galatea, and Persiles y Segismunda are among his lasting works, but without a doubt his most famous creation is don Quixote, El Ingenioso Hidalgo de la Mancha, considered the first modern novel. The first part was published in 1605, when Cervantes was 57. This is why we can say that this work is the experience of his entire life. A few weeks after its publication, three falsified editions appeared in Lisbon. Although Cervantes became an overnight success, his economic problems didn't disappear. That same year, he was accused of participating in a fight, and he and his family were arrested and held in jail for more than a week. It is rumoured that he spent the following three years in hiding.
From 1609 to 1616, Cervantes lived again in Madrid. In 1609, he was invited to become a member of the new fraternity "Los Esclavos del Santo Sacramento" and his wife entered the convent of the order of San Francisco. In 1612, the author became a member of a new literary club: "Academia Salvaje".
During his Madrid years, Cervantes was a very prolific writer. He wrote his Novelas Ejemplares (1613), the burlesque poem Viaje del Parnaso and a prose version of the poem (included in El Parnaso, 1614). In 1614, another author, Alonso Fernández de Tordesillas, published a second part of Don Quixote, before Cervantes had done so. This convinced Cervantes to continue his work (1615). Cervantes' second part of Don Quixote was published in Brussels (1615), in Valencia (1616) and in Lisbon (1617). The first translation was made in 1618, to French. Since 1617, the novel's two sections have been published as one volume.
Close to the end of his life, Cervantes became a member of the order of San Francisco. The Franciscans buried don Miguel de Cervantes, by then called "the prince of the ingenious", in Madrid, April 23, 1616, the same day another literary giant, William Shakespeare, was put to rest in England. The Franciscans buried Don Cervantes in a Trinitarian monastery in Madrid.