Photo credit: Larafilms via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0

How Zorro was based on this Irish anti-slavery adventurer

Before there was Zorro, there was Lamport.

During the Renaissance, one Irishman was born who would go on to inspire some of the most action-packed tales of heroism ever told.

William Lamport was born in Wexford around 1611 to Irish Catholic nobility. His ancestors, who came to Ireland with Strongbow half a millennium before, had built a castle at Rosslare, where his people resided.

Lamport had come from a line of hard-headed rebels: his grandfather, Patrick, had fought alongside Red Hugh O’Neill against the British at the famous Battle of Kinsale. And it was this legacy that would cement William Lamport’s family tradition of fighting for national independence.

He was born the son of a wealthy Irish merchant, and grew up educated by the Augustinians, Franciscans and Jesuits in Ireland. However, at the age of 13, when he went to London to continue his education, he was arrested and charged with sedition for distributing Catholic pamphlets in Protestant England.

Ultimately, he escaped from prison and fled to France, but was captured by pirates in the process. He remained with them for two years, until he finally managed to jump ship and flee to Catholic Spain. From the safety of Madrid he reportedly managed to smuggle money and troops back to Ireland to Richard Nugent to aid his countrymen in rebelling against the British.

Lamport was highly educated, not only in theology, but in linguistics, being able to speak at least fourteen languages by the age of 21.

While in Spain, he joined the army, and won the favour of the Spanish King by fighting bravely as a military captain, particularly in the battles of Nördlingen and Fuenterrabía against the Swedish and the French. He was known as a fearless and noble warrior in combat.

The King of Spain ultimately sent Lamport to Mexico to spy on the new viceroy, Marquis of Villena, who was suspected of being sympathetic to Portuguese rebels. While there, Lamport moved a lot in high society, and was accused of being a womaniser and a cad partial to taking mistresses (though it’s unclear if this accusation was true).

However, within 2 years of arriving, after seeing the mistreatment of native labourers in the silver mines, it seems his zeal for national independence overwhelmed him. Lamport began to conspire with the local people to overthrow Spanish rule and establish a free and independent Mexico, with legal equality for all.

The Irishman supported equal voting rights for black slaves, creoles, persecuted Jews, South American natives, and Spanish colonists, provided they joined his cause and fought for the nation’s independence. Anyone who did not fight, regardless of race, would be exiled to the desert.

He wrote: “Indians and freedmen are to have the same voice and vote as the Spaniards.”

Lamport – who was a devout Catholic – vehemently opposed slavery centuries before abolitionists like Wilberforce were even born, writing in a psalm:

“Why do you buy and sell men as if they were beasts?…They are unjustly sold to you and unjustly you buy them. You commit a savage and cruel crime before God….”

Ultimately, Lamport was arrested by the authorities for conspiring against Spain. He was also accused of attempting to establish himself as King of an Independent Mexico – which may well have been true.

Spending 7 years in prison, he managed to escape for just a few days, but was re-captured and jailed for another 9 years – 16 years behind bars in total. During this time, he wrote prayers in Latin and political ideas which we still have access to today.

Ultimately, he was sentenced to be burned at the stake around his late 40s, but managed to strangle himself with the rope that was binding him before he could be engulfed in flames, denying his killers the satisfaction of burning him.

Lamport’s legacy is still felt in South America to this day, as he was the author of the first declaration of independence in the Indies. He promised land reform, equality of opportunity for all races, and a democratically-elected king chosen by the people. As a result, there’s a statue of Lamport to this day in Mexico City, prominently displayed inside the Angel of Independence monument.

There are even schools named after him in Mexico, such as the Instituto Guillén de Lampart in Oaxaca.

The character of Zorro is based on this man’s life, and while much of the world may have forgotten this genuine action hero, his memory lives on in the minds of people the length and breadth of South America.



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