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The Christmas that Napoleon spent in Tordesillas

Napoleon needs no introduction, all the story books talk about him and his great desire to dominate the world almost entirely. There will be almost no one who does not know of his short stature or his incredible intuition to carry out battles in which he rarely came out the loser. But the story of this great little conqueror keeps secrets that only the most studious and interested in his figure know.

Data such as that he used his knowledge and strategies in cards, a game he was very passionate about, on the battlefield or that thanks to him Nutella exists today. To these we must add one of the most curious and interesting, especially considering that while in Santa Elena the French emperor came to regret his campaign on Spanish soil, since this was the beginning of the end of his power. One more adventure that continues to be unknown to the vast majority of people and that is set against the backdrop of Christmas 1808 in Tordesillas and Napoleon Bonaparte as the protagonist.

After the loss of 200,000 soldiers in the attempt to add Spain to his collection of conquered territories and with a resounding defeat behind him like that of Bailén, Napoleon Bonaparte himself decided that it was time to set foot on Spanish soil himself to be able to straighten the course of events. This is how on November 6, 1808 the emperor crossed the border that separates France from Spain through Bayonne accompanied by a great army made up of 90,000 men.

The monastery today / photo Wikimedia Commons

After facing each other in Burgos and being victorious in the battle of Espinosa de los Monteros and later in that of Gamonal, Napoleon headed for the capital, the main objective of his military campaign. The victory in the battle of Somosierra, in which Napoleon himself participated, facilitated the access of the French army to the capital, which finally surrendered on December 3, 1808.

Already in Madrid, Napoleon received information that placed the English troops, commanded by General John Moore, in the direction of Valladolid, although finally, and given that his army was much inferior to the French, he decided to change his course and head towards León to join what was left of the defeated British army at Espinosa.

This is how in the last days of December, Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to pursue the English in long and intense days. In one of them, a terrible snowstorm forced the emperor and his army to stop their expedition and seek shelter in Tordesillas. It was December 25, 1808.

Napoleon Bonaparte stayed in an inn located next to the Convent of Santa Clara and which was run by the nuns themselves. Shortly after his arrival, French troops arrested two men and the Tordesillas priest accused of spying on French army movements in the area. The orders were to execute them the following morning.

In the middle of the afternoon, Napoleon sent for the abbess of the Convent, María Manuela Rascón, an elderly nun who was forced to leave the cloister to correspond to the wishes of the emperor, who wanted nothing more than to chat with the abbess. According to the writings that are still preserved from the time, both must have liked each other since they spent the whole afternoon talking and sharing coffee, a drink unknown to the nun until now.

Another image from the episode of the RTVE Ministry of Time series, which recreates the meeting

Such must have been the appreciation that arose between them, and perhaps also motivated by the endearing and sensitive nature of the dates, that Napoleon decided to give the abbess a total of one thousand gold coins for the religious community, which at the time was a real fortune. , in addition to granting her the title of abbess-empress.

But María Manuela Rascón was not a woman of great luxuries and, thankful for the attention, she decided to reject the gift in exchange for a rather special request: that the emperor spare the lives of the three men that his army had imprisoned. Perhaps Napoleon was surprised by the nun’s mercy and generosity, or perhaps he simply wanted to carry out a good deed at Christmas, but for whatever reason, the emperor decided to grant the abbess’s wish and that was how those three men managed to save their lives that December 25.

Many will be skeptics who question the veracity of this story, which would offer the most humane and kind vision of Napoleon Bonaparte, but the truth is that it is 100% true and is recorded in a document of the time found in the Monastery of Santa Clara. Regarding the duration of the emperor’s stay in his peculiar accommodation in Tordesillas, the data is no longer so precise, perhaps he only spent the day from November 25 to 26 or he may have stayed for more days and had the occasional friendly chat with the abbess. We will never know, only that the emperor of emperors spent Christmas 1808 in a town in Castile.


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