Lope de Vega, one of the most important writers in the history of Spanish literature, was a rogue and a womanizer, a loving father and a devout priest, an inquisitor and a poet. Applauded and admired in his time –in which they called him the Fénix de los Ingenios (Phoenix of Wits)— he wrote more than a thousand works, lived to the age of 73, and took part in a memorable quarrel with Miguel de Cervantes, who is, nevertheless, responsible for one of Lope's best known nicknames today, Monstruo de la Naturaleza (Freak of Nature).

Son of Francisca Fernández Flórez and Félix de Vega Carpio, a couple from the Cantabrian mountains, Lope Félix de Vega Carpio was born on November 25 (some believe it was December 2), 1562. He came into the world shortly after Cervantes, Góngora, Mateo Alemán and Vicente Espinel. And with them one of the greatest literary groups of all times was born.

Brother to Francisco, Juliana, Luisa and Juan (according to the Archive of San Sebastián, he had two more sisters: Catalina and Isabel), he spent part of his childhood with his uncle Miguel de Carpio, Inquisitor of Seville, but began his studies in Madrid, in the Imperial School, when he was ten years old. He was already quite precocious by then, a child prodigy who read in Spanish and Latin, translated from Latin and wrote plays. La pastoral de Jacinto were writing during that time.

When he was fifteen, he left school and entered the University of Alcalá de Henares to study. And a year later, upon the death of his father, he showed one of the first signs of his mischievous and adventurous side by running away from home with his friend Hernando Muñoz. After finishing his studies in Alcalá, he traveled to Salamanca to continue his education, although nobody has been able to document this fact.

Later, following his desire to continue learning, he broadened his knowledge by studying Mathematics and Astrology with Juan Bautista Labaña, Phillip II's chief cosmographer, and liberal arts with Juan de Córdoba. Lope was not only a good student, but he had an endless curiosity for for knowledge. Up until the day he died he continued to read and research in many different fields and areas.

Exiled lover


He was almost as precious and prolific with his lovers as he was with his studies and his plays. The first love we know of was María de Aragón ('Marfisa'), daughter of a Flemish bread maker. He fell in love with her in 1580 and became a father for the first time in 1581. Sadly, the daughter, Manuela, did not live to five years old.

In 1582, Lope enlisted in the Marquis de Santa Cruz's expedition to Terceira Island, in the Azores. Upon returning, he met the second great love of his life, Elena Osorio (the 'Filis', 'Zaida' and 'Dorotea' of his texts), who was already married to the actor Cristóbal Calderón. Daughter of the theater businessman Jerónimo Velázquez, Lope sustained a passionate relationship with her while he wrote plays for her father. Much to the poet's dismay, when Elena Osorio became a widow, she did not throw herself into his arms, instead she preferred those of a rich businessman. And Lope, resentful, ended his agreement with Jerónimo Velázquez and wrote several libels and verses against the family.

In the middle of a performance, just as the year 1587 was drawing to a close, he was taken prisoner in the Corral de la Cruz. Jailed for the writings against Elena Osorio, in prison he continued to write others, which earned him a sentence of exile from the Court for four years and from the kingdom of Castile for two. But before leaving Madrid, tenacious ladies' man that he was, Lope kidnapped (with her consent) Isabel de Urbina (his 'Belisa'), which he married by proxy on May 10, 1588. There are those who say that the poet was hidden in the church observing the service when it took place.

Joung and famous

Although only 25 years old, he was already a very famous author, and probably the best playwright in Spain. Cervantes praised him in La Galatea, in which he labeled him as one of Spain's most prominent wits. Lope enjoyed all of this glory with Isabel de Urbina, with whom he completed part of his exile in Valencia, where his daughter Antonia was born. But there, once again, he was tempted by adventure and we went to Lisbon to volunteer in the Invincible Armada. Upon returning to Valencia, he continued to create plays, which were much solicited both there and in Madrid, and he wrote several romances, which were circulated throughout Spain. He met and became friends with Francisco Tárrega and Guillén de Castro and actively participated in the literary life in Valencia, the place that formed a bridge with Italian plays.

With the end of the decade and the beginning of the next, the poet's life began to undergo several changes. In 1589 his mother, who never appeared in his works, died. A year later, Lope went to Toledo to work as Francisco de Rivera Barroso's secretary. In 1591, he entered the service of the Duke of Alba. He wrote several plays, novels (Arcadia) and poetry. What appears to be a peaceful period of his life became a torment with the deaths of his daughter Antonia and shortly thereafter, his wife, Isabel de Urbina, as she gave birth to Teodora. In 1595, the penalty of exile was lifted and he returned to Madrid where his daughter died a year later.

Alone, Lope returned to the ways of the capital and the Court. He was processed for cohabitating with Antonia Trillo de Armenta, a widow who ran a gaming house. That year he met the actress Micaela de Luján (who would be 'Lucinda' or 'Camila Lucinda' in his texts), and became more famous for the poem El Isidro y la Dragontea, where he narrated the escapades of Francis Drake, 'The Dragon.'

In April 1598, in the Church of Santa Cruz de Madrid, he married Juana de Guardo, daughter of a wealthy purveyor of meat and fish. This appears to be a marriage of convenience, from which Lope would benefit with a hefty dowry of 22,382 reales with the arrival of the bride, but which apparently never arrived. Rumors about the successful author's wedding ran rampant through the city, where Quevedo, more brazen, dedicated some verses to him saying, "He married meat and fish."

The end of an era

In 1598, on the brink of death and citing moral reasons, Phillip II ordered the closing of theaters. Lope then sought to make a living as a secretary first with the Marquis de Malpica and then the Marquis de Sarría (Cervantes' protector). A year later, when the prohibition was finally lifted from theaters, Lope composed and had Bodas entre el Alma y el Amor Divino performed. During this time he also published El Isidro y la Dragontea.

Between 1599 and 1608 he lived with the actress Micaela de Luján in Seville, Granada, Toledo and Madrid, while he spent other times with his wife Juana de Guardo. The first was married to Diego Díaz, who had traveled to Peru, where he died. Of the actress' nine children, four were with Lope: Juan, Félix, Marcela and Lope Félix. With Juana de Guardo he had one daughter, Jacinta.

In 1602, at the onset of the 17th century, La hermosura de Angélica, El caballero de Illescas and El peregrino en su patria appeared in Seville. And El arenal de Sevilla ended. Whenever he could, Lope boasted about his copious production and that year he declared that he had written 230 plays, citing 219 titles.

In Seville in 1604, his son Félix was born (to Micaela de Luján) and his daughter Juana was still born (to Juana de Guardo). At the beginning of 1605, the first part of Don Quixote appeared, and in the prologue, Cervantes included several verses against Lope, which was his response to a previous attack by the poet. That year he finished
Jerusalén conquistada and Peribáñez y el comendador de Ocaña, and he celebrated the birth of Carlos Félix, his son with Juana de Guardo and one of his most beloved offspring. Two years later, Lope Félix was born from his relationship with Micaela de Luján.

Secretary and priest


It was a frantic time, full of events that led to yet another when, in 1607, Lope, at the age of 45, began to work in the service of Luis Fernández de Córdoba ('Lucilo'), sixth Duke of Sessa, descendent of the Great Captain. Secretary to the nobleman, Lope became his true friend and essentially his protégé. Lope de Vega then rented a house on the Calle de Júcar, in Madrid, to live with Micaela de Luján, while his wife stayed in Toledo. The Segunda parte de las comedias and El Arte nuevo de hacer comedias were published in 1609. In the second, he boasted of having written 483 works.

A year later, in January, he joined the Congregation of Esclavos del Santísimo Sacramento and in September he bought the house on Calle de Francos (today Calle de Cervantes), where he lived until his death. A few days later, he joined the Third Order of San Francisco, on the occasion of which he wrote Cuatro soliloquios. During that time he also wrote Pastores de Belén, dedicated to his son, Carlos Félix, whose death few months later in June 1612, affected him greatly.

However, the grief did not impede his accelerated creative pace, and in 1613 he finished La dama boba, which he had created for the actress Jerónima de Burgos, friend and lover throughout the years, and he also wrote El perro del hortelano. Juana de Guardo died that year giving birth to Feliciana.

The first half a century of burning loves, some reckless adventures and hundreds of plays and romances, was followed by a second part of the poet's life which was a little less restless, although not completely placid, and was, if possible, artistically more significant. In 1614 he was ordained a priest and on May 29 of that year he officiated his first mass in the Church of San Hermenegildo in Madrid. The Cuarta parte de las comedias also appeared, which he dedicated to the Duke of Sessa, godfather at his daughter Feliciana's baptism.

The last great love

Lope fled Madrid, most likely because a woman was harassing him. There followed several months of short trips and many texts, so many that Cervantes once again, despite the animosity between them, praised his talent and the poet's prolific pen. Lope fell in love once again, this time with Marta de Nevares (the 'Marcia Leonarda' of his novels, and 'Amarilis' in his poems and letters), although he maintained a relationship with the actress Lucía Salcedo, nicknamed 'the Crazy Woman.' When he returned from Valencia, where he had gone to look for the actress, he appeared with a son, probably fruit of a romantic encounter at the time of his exile.

In 1616 he began his relationship with Marta de Nevares, who was married to a tradesman. She was the last great love of his life. In the midst of the whirlwind of romantic passion, the poet lived another type of exaltation, this time outrage and ire, emotions that were provoked with the appearance of Spongia, a libel against him and his friends. Lope, upset and angry, answered with two aggressive satires. During that time Antonia Clara ('Clarilis') was born to Marta de Nevares, which encouraged the baby's mother to begin the legal proceedings with her husband to have the marriage annulled.

This was an exultant time for Lope, who was surrounded by success. The next partes of the plays had appeared, now reaching twelve. His beloved's husband had died, clearing the way for them. It was then that he wrote El verdadero amante. And, according to his counts, he had completed and signed "nine hundred plays, twelve books on several subjects, prose and verse, and so many individual papers on various subjects that are yet to be printed and will never be printed; and had acquired enemies, censors, traps, envies, notes, rebukes and cautions..."

The enchantment continued and in 1620 Lo fingido verdadero and El caballero de Olmedo appeared. More of his great works came about during those years. In addition to the next partes of the plays, Lope then wrote La Filomena, which included two novels (Las fortunas de Diana and La Andrómeda); two works dedicated to San Isidro commissioned by the Regional Government of Madrid; El mejor alcalde, el rey; and El vencido, vencedor was performed before the Queen.

Distraught and tormented

Marta de Nevares, who now lived with Lope, went blind, which was a blow to the poet. His daughter Marcela gave him a bit of happiness when, in 1623, she joined the Convent of the Trinitarias Descalzas. At the time, Lope presided over the confraternity of Familiares of the Holy Office, and wrote his Romancero espiritual.

La Circe, not quite as religious a work, appeared, which contained three short novels (El desdichado por la honra, La prudente venganza and Guzmán el Bravo) and the Parte veinte de las comedias, the last to be published during Lope's lifetime. Also from that time, in 1627, his Corona trágica. Vida y muerte de la Serenísima Reina de Escocia María Estuardo.

Named Chief Chaplain of the Congregation of the Caballero de Gracia in 1628, Lope was distraught over Marta de Nevares' complete blindness, and who had begun to undergo attacks of madness. Distraught and tormented, he also suffered the failure of two of his plays, which undoubtedly pushed him to announce to the Duke of Sessa his intention to abandon the theater. But none of this could contain his vanity and in Égloga a Claudio, which he wrote then, he announced an incredible number of plays. "Mil y quinientas fábulas admira, / que la mayor el número parece, / verdad que desmerece, / por parecer mentira, / pues más de ciento en horas veinticuatro / pasaron de las Musas al teatro".

Whether there were that many or not is not known, but we do know how quickly Lope wrote. His work La noche de San Juan, performed in 1631, was written in only three days. Shortly thereafter, he also finished El castigo sin venganza.

In 1632, Marta de Nevares, Lope de Vega's last great love, died in the house on Calle Cervantes "No quedó sin llorar pájaro en nido, / pez en el agua ni en el monte fiera, /... y es la locura de mi amor tan fuerte, / que pienso que lloró también la muerte".

And it is then, in 1632, when La Dorotea appeared, what many consider to be his masterpiece, where he tells of his youthful love with Elena Osorio and establishes the connection with the last great passion of his life, his love for 'Amarillis'. Two years later he wrote what is surely his last play, Las bizarrías de Belisa ("Senado ilustre: El poeta, / que ya las musas dejaba, / con deseo de serviros / volvió otra vez a llamarlas / para que no le olvidéis, / y aquí la comedia acaba").

The poet´s last verses


Tortured by Marta de Nevares' absence, he received other bad news: the death of his son Lope Félix in Venezuela, and the news of his daughter Antonia Clara running away from home, abandoning her father and his house, seduced by Cristóbal Tenorio. Little by little he recovered and continued to write. In December his Rimas humanas y divinas appeared, which includes La Gatomaquia. It is the last book printed during the life of the poet, although he had delivered Partes XXI and XXII de las comedias to the print shop before dying.

On August 24, 1635, Lope got up very early, said mass, tended his garden as he did every day, and closed himself in his study to work. In the afternoon, he left the house to attend a discussion on some conclusions on Medicine and Philosophy and fainted during the ceremony. A doctor friend attended to him and made sure they took him home, where he was bled. The next day, in which he could still write a poem and a sonnet, His Majesty's chamber doctor visited him, and recommended they administer the Holy Sacrament.

On Sunday, August 26, he made a will (see file) naming his daughter Feliciana heir. He bid farewell to his friends and received the last rites. That day, at five fifteen in the afternoon, he died.

The funeral service in his honor lasted for an amazing nine days, and become the most prominent funeral rites of the time. By Sister Marcela's special request, the entourage passed in front of the Convent of the Trinitarias Descalzas, to then reach the Church of San Sebastian on the Calle Atocha, where Lope's remains were laid to rest. Several years later, his remains were moved to a common grave, when the Duke of Sessa stopped paying the fee.

His literary production was so amazing that even years after his death, they continued to publish his texts. The most renowned appeared in 1637, La Vega del Parnaso, which compiles the last poems written by the 'Phoenix of Wits', 'Freak of Nature'.