Portrait of George Borrow


George Borrow spent five years in Spain: his most famous book relates his experiences there.

In 1835 George Borrow was sent to Portugal and then Spain by the British and Foreign Bible Society, to “circulate the Scriptures”, and remained in Spain for five years, travelling widely during the Carlist war, and had a great many adventures.  The Bible in Spain, a book of his experiences, became a best-seller and is considered a classic of travel writing.

George Borrow first stopped at Badajóz, staying at the “Three Nations,” at No. 30, Calle de la Moraleja, where he made contact with Spanish gypsies, and then proceeded to Madrid, arriving 26th January 1836.

In 1836 he made a long excursion to Valdepeñas, Jaen, and Granada.

After a short break back to London he returned to Spain and reached Madrid again on 26th December 1836, where he settled at No. 16, Calle de Santiago, staying with the now-famous María Díaz.  The next months were spent in printing Testaments, with this being completed on 1st April 1837 (formal permission to print being received on 3rd April 1837).  George Borrow and his servant Antonio then set out to distribute the Testaments, journeying to Salamanca, Tordesillas and Valladolid where the city was expecting the imminent appearance of the Carlist army (who would probably have killed Borrow).  The journey was then continued to Leon, Astorga, Villafranca, Lugo, Coruña and Santiago.  Then towards Finisterra and back to Coruña, Foz, Oviedo and thence Santandér and Toledo.  They arrived back in Madrid after a journey of four months.

George Borrow then opened a shop to sell Testaments (in Calle del Principe) and also started to print his translation of the Gospel of St. Luke into Caló (the language of the Spanish Gypsies).

In January 1838 the Spanish authorities had had enough and Don Francisco de Gamboa, the Civil Governor, placed an embargo on the Testaments.  This didn’t stop George Borrow and on 1st May 1838 George Borrow was arrested and spent 11 days in Cárcel de Corte (prison).  On 25th May 1838 a royal order was issued, suppressing the Testaments.

After a recall back to London, George Borrow was again back in Cadiz on 31st December 1838 and then (with an 11 day stop at Seville) he reached Madrid around 17th January 1839.  He returned back to Seville on 24th April 1839 and took a house (No. 7, Plazuela de la Pila Seca) which he furnished.

A last “trip” via Cadiz, Seville and Gibraltar was made to Tangiers where he stayed for some time.  By 25th September 1839 George Borrow was back in Seville working on the book that was later published as The Zinacli.

In trying to leave Seville to go the Madrid there was an argument about his passport and he was imprisoned again (this time for two days).  December 1839 saw George Borrow in Madrid and he returned to Seville on 9th January 1840, to work on The Zincali.

George Borrow left the Peninsula on 16th April 1840, on board the steam packet Royal Adelaide, bound for London.  He was never to return.