On this day in 1547, Miguel de Cervantes is baptized in Alcala de Heraves, Spain, a university town near Madrid. Cervantes, the fourth son of a deaf apothecary, studied with Madrid humanist Juan Lopez before traveling to Rome, where he worked for a future cardinal in the late 1560s. He enlisted in the Spanish fleet to fight against the Turks, and his left hand was maimed at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. He was later stationed at Palermo and Naples.
While returning to Madrid in 1575, Cervantes was captured by Barbary pirates and held captive in Algiers. Cervantes was ransomed after five years of captivity and returned to Madrid, where he began writing. Although his records indicate he wrote 20 to 30 plays, only two survive. In 1585, he published a romance. During this time, he married a woman 18 years his junior and had an illegitimate daughter, whom he raised in his household. He worked as a tax collector and as a requisitioner of supplies for the navy, but was jailed for irregularities in his accounting. Some historians believe he conceived the idea for Don Quixote while in jail.
In 1604, Cervantes received license to print Don Quixote. Although the book began as a satire of chivalric epics, it was far more complex than a simple satire. The book blended traditional genres to create a sad portrait of a penniless man striving to live by the ideas of the past. The book was a huge success and brought Cervantes literary respect and position but did not generate much money. He wrote drama and short stories until a phony sequel to his first novel, penned by another writer, prompted him to write Don Quixote, Part II in 1615. He died the following year.