Spain’s most eminent poet, philosopher, novelist and essayist of modern times, Don MIGUEL DE UNAMUNO Y JUGO, Professor of Greek at Salamanca University, became its rector in 1901, but was removed in 1914 for political reasons (in the 1920s the dictator Primo de Rivera exiled him to the Canary Islands). Re-elected in 1931 with the advent of the Republic he was made rector for life in 1934, and in 1936 he entered the Cortes as an independent republican.
The oldest of the “generation of 98” (the new wave in literature and politics that emerged in the aftermath of the Cuban War) he described himself as a “sower of doubt and an agitator of consciences”. Disillusioned with the republic, the military coup of July 1936 found him in Salamanca, the heart of nationalist territory. Initially, a supporter of the military revolt, believing it to be an attempt to “restore order”, within three months he had come to realise the true nature of Franco’s New Order. As an admirer of some of the young Falangists, he had contributed money to the rising, but by 12 October his view had changed. He had become, as he said later, ‘terrified by the character that this civil war was taking, really horrible, due to a collective mental illness, an epidemic of madness, with a pathological substratum’.
When the great National Festival of 12 October was celebrated in Salamanca University — within a hundred yards of Franco’s headquarters (recently established in the bishop’s palace in Salamanca, on the prelate’s invitation) — it was supposed he was another captive intellectual . . .