Angel de Saavedra was born in Cordoba in 1791. His parents were Spanish grandees – his father, Juan Martín de Saavedra y Ramírez, the Duke of Rivas, and his mother, María Dominga Ramírez de Baquedano y Quiñones, Marchioness of Andía and Villasinda.
He was taught French by Father Tostin, a priest who had fled from the French Revolution, and learned how to paint from the French sculptor Verdiguier, who was working in Cordoba. In 1806 he joined the Seminary of Nobles in Madrid, and later the army, in the Flemish Company, which was made up of foreigners of noble rank. When this company was disbanded, he continued in the militia. When Napoleon’s army entered Spain, he refused to obey Murat’s orders to turn against the Segovia garrison and had to flee to Zaragoza. He fought in the War of Independence, taking part in the Battle of Ocaña (1809). He spent the years between the Restoration of Fernando VII (1814) until the pronunciamiento (military uprising) of Riego (1820), dedicated to literature.
During Fernando VII’s absolutist reign, in 1823, the Duke of Rivas has condemned to death. However, he escaped to Gibraltar and from there on to England, where he read Shakespeare, Walter Scott and Byron, and perfected his painting, which he had never completely given up. From England he went to Malta and then on to Marseille. After Fernando VII’s death in 1833, he returned to Spain and began to take an active part in politics again, being exiled to Gibraltar from time to time depending on the rise and fall of Conservative or Liberal factions. In 1843 he was appointed Mayor of Madrid and after that, French Ambassador. His political activity between 1850 and 1855 was frenetic. The old revolutionary had changed into a conservative in politics, but not in literature: the novelty of his verse achieved popularity far and wide. He was appointed President of the Royal Academy, and awarded the Golden Fleece by Isabel II. He died in 1864.
Ángel de Saavedra was given a solid grounding in the classical Spanish authors at an early age, and this added to his natural literary flair. He was also heavily influenced by Quintana in his choice of literary subjects.
In 1814 he published his first book, Poems, which included all his juvenilia, but his best work was that which was influenced by English romanticism. The poems "El desterrado" (The Banished) or " El faro de Malta” (The Maltese Lighthouse) (1828) are full of romantic European ideals and full, too, of reminiscences of Cordoba. There were many historical compositions, more down-to-earth topics, Napoleonic deeds, or reconstructions of a mythical past. His Historical Romances belong to this period (1841), and the Legends of Florida (1826), and The Miraculous Lily (1847) were based on historical reconstructions. There were longer narrative poems, too, such as The Foundling Moor or Cordoba and Burgos in the 11th century (1834), in which his intention was to recount a historical episode as accurately as possible, as is stated in the notes at the end of the poems.
During his speech of entry into the Academy he quoted from only three foreign authors: Walter Scott, Lord Byron and Victor Hugo. He was strongly influenced by French authors in his poetry, and by Victor Hugo in his plays, although his first steps were rather tentative, choosing themes from Spanish history and adapting them to the genre of neo-classical tragedy, as happens in Aliatar (1816), Lanuza (1822) and, to a lesser extent, in Arias Gonzalo (1827).
However, his fame rests principally on the Romantic play Don Alvaro o la fuerza del sino (Don Alvaro,or the Power of Fate)(1835). The work marked the triumph of Romantic drama in Spain because it combined the novelty of the treatment with an eternal theme: the struggle of a hero against fate. The succeeding works did not manage to live up to the passion of this masterpiece – The Moor of Alaujar (1841) and the last work The Disappointment of a Dream (which he did not live to see performed) were very well constructed but lacked the creative drive of Don Alvaro.