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Asensio Nebot "The Friar", born in Nules, Spain in 1779, was the most important guerrillero in the Kingdom of Valencia during the Peninsular War but he has not received the recognition that he deserves. Unfortunately no one wrote his biography in the 19th century when it would perhaps have been possible to record more information about his life. His exploits during the Peninsular War are well documented but, as he worked as a secret agent after the end of the war, there are gaps in what is known about his life from 1815 onwards.
The most reliable account of Nebot's life during the Peninsular War is Manuel Ardit Lucas' Revolución liberal y revuelta campesina ¹ where the information is based on contemporary documents. The archivist of Nules, Vicent Felip Sempere, in the first volume of his history of Nules ² gives Nebot's full name as Ascensio Miguel Joseph Nebot Clofente and his date of birth as 30 September 1779 with other details taken from the Parish Register plus a very brief summary, two pages, of his life that does not add anything to what Ardit had written 23 years earlier. In Como lobos hambrientos. Los guerrilleros en la Guerra de la Independencia (1808-1814) ³ Fernando Martínez Laínez devotes six pages to Nebot and gives one or two incidents not mentioned by Ardit. An advantage of Martínez Laínez's book is that all the information about the Friar is one place; he quotes his source as the Aula Militar Bermúdez de Castro. Liberty or Death! The Life and Times of Asensio Nebot by Charles M. Wilson 4 is described as a “fictionalized biography “. His account of the war and of the reign of Ferdinand VII is historically correct. The first half of the book deals with the Peninsular War, especially what took place in Valencia, and much of it is based on Ardit’s research though it probably includes incidents that owe more to Wilson’s imagination than to any known facts. The second half of the book is about the opposition to Ferdinand VII’s rule by the Liberals and Wilson has used a large number of different sources, some more reliable than others.
Disregarding anything in Wilson’s book that seems dubious, the following is an account of Nebot’s life:
Asensio Nebot was born in Nules in 1779. Nothing is known about his childhood except that he entered the Monastery of Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Villarreal at a very early age to study to become a Franciscan friar. In 1809 the monastery was closed and Nebot began to fight against the French as a guerrillero and was known as El Fraile or Padre Nebot because he was a friar. He assembled an army of 4,000 men with a cavalry of 500 and a rifle brigade, Tupper’s Rifles, so called because the guns and money had been provided by Peter Charles Tupper, a wealthy British businessman who lived in Valencia. The Friar set up his headquarters at Vistabella, an inaccessible village in Castellón de la Plana. He harassed the French with ambushes and surprise attacks. He stopped their provisions and mail from reaching their destinations, destroyed their supplies and took possession of their horses and weapons.
Suchet took Valencia in 1812 and many Valencians, without actively collaborating, accepted his rule without protest. Nebot not only led his men in attacks on the French but also established factories where bullets were cast and weapons and harnesses were repaired, stores for the provisions he collected and workshops where uniforms were made. He was influenced by the Liberal brothers Vicente and Manuel Bertrán de Lis and when the Constitution of 1812 was approved in Cádiz he made sure that elections were held in all the towns that he controlled and that Liberals were elected. As well as skirmishes, he attacked French garrisons in Castellón, Nules and Artana and made unexpected assaults on troops in many towns in Castellón de la Plana. He took his prisoners to Vistabella where they were locked in a jail under which there were more than 20 barrels of gunpowder in case there was an attempt to free them. In 1813 there were more than 500 French soldiers in this jail.
Mazzuchelli, the Governor of Valencia, offered a reward of 5,000 pesetas for the Friar alive and 4,000 for him dead. Nebot retaliated by offering two small coins for Mazzuchelli alive and one coin for his head. As well as killing French soldiers, he also executed Spaniards who collaborated with the enemy. He attacked convoys that were taking Spanish prisoners to France and managed to release a good number of them. From his attacks he collected well over a hundred horses and very many weapons, including a cannon. At the beginning of 1813, Nebot besieged Morella but had to withdraw when Rumfort approached with a large army.
As his troops had not been able to capture the Friar, Suchet offered three criminals who had been condemned to death their liberty, 5,000 pesetas and employment if they would join Nebot’s guerrilleros and then murder him. Tupper tried to warn the Friar but the three criminals confessed as soon as they reached Nebot and joined his partida.
On 18 May 1813 Nebot took Morella but had to abandon it when Rumfort’s army once again approached. On 14 July, Nebot entered Vinaroz and set up his headquarters at Benicarló. On 20 July he attacked Morella again with 3,000 men, entered the city walls and forced the French to take refuge in the castle. They finally surrendered on 21 October. In December, according to some historians, he attacked the French garrison in Denia and forced them to surrender.
Ferdinand VII returned to Spain in March 1814. Before going to Madrid he went to Valencia where Francisco Javier Elío was now the Captain General. Elío advised the King not to accept the Constitution of 1812 and told him that the army would support him in this decision. On 11 May 1814 Ferdinand declared that the Constitution and all the laws passed by the provisional government were null and void. He then began a reign of terror to force a return to the absolute monarchy of the years before the French invasion. Liberals and many of the people who had fought against the French were arrested and tortured and their property was confiscated.
Nebot worked for the Bertrán de Lis brothers, conspiring against the King, plotting to kill Elío and taking money to other groups in Spain that were organizing revolts against the monarchy. He also went around Valencia inciting the peasants to revolt against their feudal lords. In January he took part in an attempt to assassinate Elío. Four men were arrested and executed and Nebot and Manuel Bertrán de Lis had to flee to Gibraltar. Later that year Vicente Bertrán de Lis sent Nebot to London to buy 2,000 rifles for the Bertrán de Lis group for a planned uprising. There was another attempt to kill Elío in January 1819; twenty-two men, including one of the sons of Vicente Bertrán de Lis, were arrested and executed.
In 1820 the brothers sent Nebot to Cádiz to ask for men, weapons and ships to proclaim the Constitution of 1812 in Valencia. The organizers of Riego’s revolution were in Cádiz at this time. General Quiroga promoted Nebot to Brigadier and gave him the men and ships he requested. He set sail for Valencia but there was a violent storm and his ships were separated and forced ashore further south. When he reached Valencia, Ferdinand had already accepted the Constitution. In 1822 Nebot joined the Comuneros and was involved in street fighting against the Royal Guards. He was founder member of the Landaburiana Society formed to avenge the death of Mamerto Landáburu, a Liberal officer in the Royal Guards who was killed by some of his fellow officers. On 4 September 1822 he was in Valencia to witness the execution of Elío. In 1822 and 1823 he and the brothers were fighting against the Royalist troops in Valencia.
In 1824 Ferdinand asked the French for help to restore an absolute monarchy and a French army, The Hundred Thousand Sons of St. Louis, invaded Spain. The Liberals were defeated and many of them fled abroad. Nebot settled in London. Although very little is known about his life there, he kept on conspiring against Ferdinand VII. In 1825 he went on a secret mission to Ireland on behalf of Lord William Bentinck and he may have visited Ireland again after this. Wilson assumes that the Friar took part in a failed attempt to enter Spain through Portugal in 1827 and was involved in the Three Glorious Days in Paris in July 1830 and in the planned invasion of northern Spain across the Pyrenees in October 1830. It is almost certainly true that he took part in the last of these as very many Spanish emigrants were involved, including the Bertrán de Lis brothers. In January 1831 Nebot wrote to the Spanish ambassador in London, Cea Bermúdez, asking for permission to return to Spain. The Spanish government replied to Cea Bermúdez’s letter saying that they did not trust Nebot but would allow him to return if he agreed to act as an anti-Liberal spy. The Friar never went back to Spain and there is no known reference to his activities after January 1831.
- Manuel Ardit Lucas - Revolución liberal y revuelta campesina. Un ensayo sobre la desintegración del régimen feudal en el País Valenciano (1793-1840) Editorial Ariel, Valencia 1977. ISBN 84-344-6511-6
- Vicent Felip Sempere - Recull per a una història de Nules Caixa Rural de Sant Josep de Nules, Nules 2000 2 vols. ISBN Vol 1 84-931580-1-1, pp. 169–171.
- Fernando Martínez Laínez – Como lobos hambrientos. Los guerrilleros en la Guerra de la Independencia (1808-1814) Algaba Ediciones, Madrid 2007 ISBN 978-8-49610-790-8, pp. 442–448.
- 4 Charles M. Wilson – Liberty or Death! The Life and Times of Asensio Nebot – Franciscan Friar, Guerrilla Leader, Secret Agent, Conspirator and Exile Trafford Publishing, Canada 2008. ISBN 978-1-4251-5852-1.