Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616) was the youngest of four children born to Dona Leonor de Cortinasin in Alcalá de Henares, a university town northeast of Madrid. Despite having roots in a noble line traceable back to twelfth-century knight Nuno Alfonso the family was quite poor, records showing that his father Rodrigo de Cervantes, a humble barber-surgeon, was imprisoned at least once on account of unpaid debts. Little is known for certain of Miguel's early life and education, but by 1569 he was engaged as personal valet to a Cardinal Acquaviva in Rome. Some speculate that this move was to escape an arrest warrant issued for a student of the same name who had fought in a duel, although our author is known to have had several contemporaries also called 'Miguel de Cervantes'. Having enlisted in the navy as part of Captain Diego Urbina's company, he remained stationed at Naples for a year before being despatched as part of the 'Holy League' in 1571 - a coalition of Catholic maritime states united to break Ottoman control over the eastern Mediterranean. This was achieved in the Battle of Lepanto on October 7th, during which Cervantes fought despite having fallen ill with a fever and was shot three times - two bullets striking his chest, and one leaving his left hand crippled for life.
Despite his wounds Cervantes recovered and continued his military career, participating in numerous expeditions before obtaining leave to return home and setting sail from Naples in 1575 along with his elder brother Rodrigo who had also enlisted. However, en route their ship was islolated by a storm and attacked by Algerian corsairs who, after a bloody battle, took the surviving crew to Algiers as hostages. While Rodrigo was ransomed relatively swiftly their captors had found Cervantes' letters of royal recommendation from his superiors and, concluding that he was a more valuable prisoner than his brother, set his ransom higher than their family could afford. During his long imprisonment Cervantes made repeated escape attempts, for which he managed to avoid torture or execution, but all of which failed - he remained incarcerated for a week short of five years. Upon his return to Spain, finding what remained of his military prospects extinguished, he wrote a number of plays several of which were performed in Madrid, as well as a pastoral novel, La Galatea, which was published in 1584. However with the additional responsibility of supporting his new wife Catalina de Palacios Salazar y Vozmediano, as well as an illegitimate daughter named Isabel by another woman, Cervantes was forced to find more pragmatic occupation as a commisioner and tax-collector. Serving to gather money and resources for the Armada of 1588, this appointment was no way to win popularity, confrontations over his accounts leading to Cervantes being variously excommunicated, and several times imprisoned, by local authorities.
It was during one of these bouts of imprisonment, he claims in the prologue, that he first conceived of The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha. Published in 1605 the book quickly became a huge popular success and brought its author, already in his late fifties, international recognition. In 1613 he published a collection of short stories, the Exemplary Novels, as well as a long poem critiquing the literary scene of the day entitled Journey to Parnassus the following year. Concerned for the state of his health, and apparently that of his soul, he returned to his birthplace and was initiated into the Third Order of Saint Francis, to which his wife already belonged. Spurred on by the appearance of an unauthorised sequel by the anonymous author of 'Avellaneda', he completed and published the second part of Don Quixote in 1615, which not only responded angrily to its apocryphal impostor, but ensured with its hero's death that no others could follow. The very next year Cervantes passed away himself after a long illness, leaving his final work The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda to be published posthumously. Although records show he was buried at the convent in Madrid that his daughter Isabel attended, the Trinitarians subsequently moved their premises, and there is now no clue as to the location of his remains.