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Instituto Cervantes London hosts historical talk titled ‘The Great Spanish Exile of 1823’

Instituto Cervantes London welcomes Dr Gregorio Alonso (University of Leeds), Dr Jesús Sanjurjo (University of Cambridge) and Professor Catherine Davies (University of London) to explore a period of history not often discussed in a talk titled ‘The Great Spanish Exile of 1823’ on Friday, 24 November at 5:30pm.

The three academics will discuss this important event in Spanish history, which marked a period of political upheaval and forced departure of many liberal and progressive Spaniards, either by choice or to avoid political persecution.

This in-person and online activity is co-hosted by the Spanish Embassy to the United Kingdom and Instituto Cervantes London. «Since its creation, Instituto Cervantes London has been emphasising how the Hispanic presence in London adds value and contributes to the city’s cultural richness and diversity. Examples of this are the Cervantes Routes, specifically the ‘Routes of the Spanish exiles in London’ itineraries. On this occasion, three experts will tell the stories of the hundreds of Spaniards who were taken in and found protection,” says Víctor Ugarte, Director of Instituto Cervantes London.

Liberal exodus to London

After close collaboration between Great Britain and the Spanish authorities from 1808, the French occupation decreed by the Holy Alliance destroyed the liberal experience in September 1823. As a result, at least 1,000 Spanish families sought refuge in London. 

Most of them lived in the London suburb of Somers Town, in the Euston-St Pancras area, where a tight-knit community quickly formed. The majority of the refugees were military officers, but noted intellectuals, politicians and skilled workers were also among them. Many were highly educated and put their minds to writing, translating and publishing to make a living.

Some of the most prominent liberal politicians and essayists of the time actively participated in a wave of new intellectual activity catalysed by London’s vibrant political and cultural life. Furthermore, London became a central hub for Spanish-speaking intellectuals from Spain and the Americas during this time.

Forced emigrations for ethnic and political reasons

Throughout history, Spain has witnessed various forced emigrations for ethnic and political reasons, such as the expulsion of Jews and Muslims who refused to convert to Christianity and the exile of more than half a million citizens in 1939.

«This was the case for more than 1,000 individuals who found refuge in London in 1823, following the restoration of the absolutist regime under Ferdinand VII. This episode has received some academic attention, but much remains unknown,» explains Jesús Sanjurjo, Early Career Fellow of the Leverhulme and Isaac Newton Trusts at the University of Cambridge and Corpus Christi College.

Spain became a focal point for British politics following the intervention of its armies in the war against Napoleon a few years earlier. Similarly, Britain had been regarded from Spain with a mixture of admiration, disdain and envy for some time, adds Sanjurjo.

“This is partly because the early industrialisation success of the British Isles was giving new impetus to their economy and international reputation. In 1823, London was competing on equal footing with Paris in its race to become the great metropolis of the West,” notes Dr Gregorio Alonso, Associate Professor in Hispanic History at the University of Leeds.

The city’s capacity to welcome and the material support it provided to political refugees was extended not only to the Spanish liberals fleeing Ferdinand’s repression, but also to the Greeks, Neapolitans, Prussians and Frenchmen who sought refuge in the British capital.

“This event will describe the men and women who found in London the protection and refuge that their homeland denied them and will also reflect on the difficulties they faced and the links they established with the people of London,” underlines Catherine Davies, Emerita Professor of Hispanic and Latin American Studies at the School of Advanced Study at the University of London.

Attention will also be paid to their relationship with the so-called American insurgents, who tried to forge alliances with the British authorities to throw off the Spanish imperial yoke. Thus, the event will explore the means by which London became the capital of Hispanic liberalism in the 1820s.

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London pays a “restrained and exciting” tribute to Spanish exile at the tomb of Chaves Nogales

Instituo Cervantes in London paid tribute today to the memory of all Spanish exiles at the grave of exiled journalist and writer Manuel Chaves Nogales. The tribute took place in the North Sheen Cemetery in London and was chaired by the ambassador of Spain to the United Kingdom, Carlos Bastarreche. 

It was also attended by one of the ten grandchildren of Chaves Nogales, Antony Jones, on behalf of Pilar Chaves (the eldest daughter and only survivor of the four children of Chaves Nogales), and other descendants of the famous Sevillian exile, as well as the writer Andrés Trapiello, among other names in the world of culture. 

In the event, fragments of Chaves Nogales’ writing and various other texts written for the occasion were read. The act concluded with the placement of a crown of red flowers on the grave of the Sevillian writer and a minute of silence in memory of the Spanish exiles.

“The best values ​​of our democratic Spain”

“The act has been very sober, as it should be, but it is a very exciting day for everyone. We have had the opportunity to honor an eminent exile such as Manuel Chaves Nogales, a voice of enormous moral weight in our convulsive S. XX, and with him all our exiles in the United Kingdom, ”says Ignacio Peyró, director of the Cervantes Institute in London .

This tribute is part of the monographic program Skies so unlike their own that pays tribute to the 80th anniversary of the Spanish Republican exile and is organised by the Instituto Cervantes in London, with the support of the Culture and Scientific Affairs and Education Office of the Embassy of Spain in the United Kingdom and the Commission for the Commemoration of the 80th Anniversary of Exile, among other Spanish and British institutions.

“Chaves Nogales embodies the best values ​​of our democratic Spain. And that is why it is fair that, on the 80th anniversary of the Republican Exile, and on the 75th anniversary of his death, we have gathered at his grave to pay tribute to him and all the exiles,” said Ambassador Bastarreche in his speech.

Since the arrival of the theologian Antonio del Corro in the 16th century, London has welcomed numerous Spanish exiles. In the 19th century names like Agustín Argüelles, Espronceda or Alcalá Galiano arrived on English lands, and in the 20th century, with the Civil War, more would arrive who, according to Bastarreche, were “intellectuals such as Madariaga, Castillejo or Martínez Nadal, poets like Cernuda, publishers such as Joan Gili; Barcelona aviation pioneer Mari Pepa Colomer, or writers like Arturo Barea and Chaves Nogales himself.” That is the reason behind Instituto Cervantes in London’s decision to join the commemorations of exile that have also taken place in other cities such as Paris, Algiers or Moscow.

In fact, today’s event has continued the work carried out to commemorate the exile since 2018, including the delivery of the Arturo Barea archive to the Bodleian library in Oxford, the exhibition on Chaves Nogales organized at Europe House in February, the conference in homage to the so-called “Basque children” of 37 and the co-edition of the book Routes of Spanish exile in London.

Foreword of A sangre y fuego

Director of Cervantes Theater in London, Jorge de Juan, read in Spanish the prologue of the book A sangre y fuego by Chaves Nogales, while Candela Gómez translated into English. The stories that make up this book, written between 1936 and 1937, were initially published in several international journals, and portray different events of the Civil War that Chaves Nogales himself knew directly.

“Each of its episodes has been faithfully extracted from a true fact; each of his heroes has a real existence and an authentic personality ”, explains in the prologue of the book Chaves Nogales, who as director of the newspaper Ahora remained in Madrid from the beginning of the war until the end of 1936, when the government of the Republic moves to Valencia and he decides to go into exile. Chaves Nogales died in London in 1944 and he himself confessed before his death his regret  of not seeing the end of World War II and the defeat of Nazism.

Defending democracy, truth and coexistence

«On behalf of his whole family, and particularly his daughter Pilar Chaves, it is exciting to participate in this tribute to all Spanish exiles and especially the great journalist and writer, our» pater families, «Manuel Chaves Nogales,» explained his grandson Antony Jones.

“Sometimes you might think that we are experiencing moments when propaganda, the use of labels or slogans, the decrease of democratic values and a lack of understanding that could even lead us to a democratic fracture of our European society. In an even more troubled and confronted era, Chaves Nogales continued his job of walking and counting fighting with the best weapons invented in the world, his pen and his typewriter, his lucidity, international vision and commitment to democracy and truth. A fight that brought him to this place but that, despite a small interruption of about fifty years, did not end here,” said his grandson.

Antony Jones stressed how his grandfather never wanted to be a protagonist, which is why this tribute would have made him feel “strange or even uncomfortable”, hence he sees it convenient to recapitulate from Chaves Nogales’ own book A sangre y fuego, how his commitment leads him to exile and death in the United Kingdom: “My only and humble truth was an insurmountable hatred of stupidity and cruelty (…) idiots and murderers have been produced and acted with identical profusion and intensity on both sides that left Spain (…) I left, when I had the intimate conviction that everything was lost (…) I wanted to allow myself the luxury of not having any solidarity with the murderers. For a Spaniard, this may be an excessive luxury. It pays dearly, of course. ” 

“At his grave, with the best possible gravestone and the one that reflects his trade of walking and telling, his own work, I think it is a good time, on behalf of all those who have paid dearly, to remember everything that unites us and commit ourselves again to defend democracy, truth and coexistence,” added Antony Jones. 

Removing Chaves Nogales from oblivion

At the event, the writer Andrés Trapiello read a text written for the occasion. In his opinion, “no Spanish writer has been more a victim of both sides of the divided Spain than Manuel Chaves Nogales. He lost the war and lost the literature manuals at the same time. These two Spains almost managed to silence their writings forever, those precisely denouncing the horror of totalitarianism, communism and fascism, which were about to destroy Europe in the most devastating war in the history of Humanity, initiated precisely in Spain with the War Cruel civilian of the many that Spain had known until then”.

For Trapiello, the lucidity with which Chaves Nogales denounced the danger and told the facts of which he witnessed in the first months of the Spanish war, “condemned him for almost seventy years to ostracism, but the awakening of an immense majority of readers belonging Spain has taken a silent and silenced third Spain from oblivion and today Chaves Nogales is perhaps the most incontestable and happy literary resurrection in the recent history of literature.”

The writer defended the homage of a “brave man, committed to the truth and the facts at a time when postmodern totalitarianism, populism and nationalism attempted to destroy Europe again and coexistence between free citizens and the same, that is, what made Chaves leave Spain and come to meet his death so far from his land.”

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