It seems our favorite national hero does not only possess wit and skills but also charm. Jose Rizal grandiosely documented his love affairs through his letters. With half of his life spent on traveling across the Philippines and continents like Asia and Europe, it is no wonder why Rizal had a multifaceted career and love life.

Rizal had a total of 9 ladies in his lifetime on record according to the book “The Loves of Rizal and other Essays on Philippine History, Art, and Public Policy” by Pablo Trillana III. He may have quite a lot of women in his heart but our hero is a huge supporter of women empowerment. This was reflected in his essay, “To the Young Women of Malolos”.

Without any fuss, here are the Ladies of Jose Rizal:

  1. 1877. Rizal’s supposed first love, Segunda Katigbak, was but a harmless flirtation between a fourteen-year-old convent-bred girl and a teenaged Rizal. Segunda was already betrothed to a Manuel Luz of Lipa, Batangas when they met.
  2. 1878. Rizal’s supposed affection for lady number two, Leonor Valenzuela, age fourteen, was a love story made up by his gossipy friend, Jose Cecilio (Chenggoy), who derived pleasure from titillating Rizal.
  3. 1878-1890. Leonor Rivera is thought to be the inspiration for the character of Maria Clara in Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Rivera and Rizal first met in Manila when Rivera was only fourteen years old. When Rizal left for Europe on May 3, 1882, Rivera was sixteen years of age. Their correspondence began when Rizal left a poem for Rivera saying farewell. The correspondence between Rivera and Rizal kept Rizal focused on his studies in Europe. They employed codes in their letters because Rivera’s mother did not favor Rizal. A letter from Mariano Katigbak dated June 27, 1884, referred to Rivera as Rizal’s “betrothed”. Katigbak described Rivera as having been greatly affected by Rizal’s departure, frequently sick because of insomnia. Jose Rizal was never the preferred choice of the mother of his third love, fifteen-year-old Leonor Rivera. The mother confiscated all the correspondences between Leonor and Rizal. But their long-distance attempts notwithstanding, Leonor Rivera is considered by many as Rizal’s true love.
  4. 1884. In Madrid, Rizal courted lady number four, Consuelo Ortiga y Reyes, age eighteen, the daughter of Señor Pablo Ortiga y Rey, who was once mayor of Manila and who owned the apartment where the Circulo Hispano Filipino met regularly.
  5. 1886. Rizal, now aged twenty-seven, an author and a doctor had returned to the Philippines in 1887, but because of his Noli Me Tangere, he incurred the wrath of the Spanish authorities. He had to leave in 1888 via Japan to the U.S. and then Europe. In Japan, he met lady number five, a Samurai’s daughter, O Sei-San, aged twenty-two.
  6. 1888. The romance Rizal indulged in while staying in London, in particular, house number thirty-seven Chalcot Crescent, London, was an innocent pastime, not real love. Rizal’s lady number six, was Gertrude Beckett, nineteen, the landlord’s daughter.
  7. 1889. In Brussels, Belgium, Rizal lived in the house of the Jacoby sisters: Marie and Suzanne. Marie was forty-eight and Suzanne, forty-five. Rizal became attracted to their eighteen-year-old niece named Suzanne Jacoby Thill – lady number seven.
  8. 1891. In Paris, Rizal fell in love with lady number eight, nineteen-year-old Nelly Boustead, a Filipina of mixed blood, whose father (Filipino-Anglo French) Edward Boustead owned a villa in Biarritz. By this time, Rizal was ready to love again, because he received news that Leonor Rivera, his arranged fiancé, had married Charles Kipping, a British engineer working on the Dagupan railway. Rizal (now free from a romantic engagement) did propose marriage to Nelly. He was anxious to start his own family at age thirty. Nelly was a good candidate. Her mother was from the Genato family in Manila. She was well-educated, well-bred, very intelligent and good-looking. Many think that Nelly Boustead was not Rizal’s greatest romance, because from the very start the courtship encountered many complications. First, Antonio Luna thought Nelly was favoring him. Luna and Rizal almost came to a sword duel, but Luna withdrew and gave up the suit. In the end, Nelly, who was a Protestant, gave some marriage conditions that Rizal could not accept — to renounce his Catholic faith and become a Protestant. Some even think that what Rizal felt for Nelly Boustead was more a Rizal licking-of-wounds-love after having been spurned by Leonor Rivera, whom many consider as his great love. n Hidalgo’s painting of Madame Boustead, she is dressed up for the occasion, her dress and overall air are signs of genteel affluence. The subject has a cooly self-possessed air that the viewer from any period would think of as nineteenth-century Salon sensibility. To the very Spanish somberness of the grayish-black backdrop wall, Hidalgo brings an unexpected chromatic intensity in the pinks of the dress.
  9. If Rizal’s marriage to Boustead had succeeded, Rizal would have become a practicing ophthalmologist in Paris and eventfully would have become a Frenchman. But still to come was his ninth and last love, the eighteen-year-old Josephine Bracken. Yet when Rizal was once quoted about the art of Hidalgo: “…in the painting of Hidalgo throbs the purest sentiment…” who knows, he must have had the portrait of Nelly Boustead in mind.

Source: Pablo S. Trillana, The Loves of Rizal and Other Essays on Philippine History, Art and Public Policy, Quezon City, Philippines, New Day Publishers, copyright 2000.

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