Bernardo O'Higgins was born in Chillán, a town in southern Chile, then a colony of Spain. As noted in his Certificate of Baptism, he was the illegitimate son ofAmbrosio O'Higgins, a Spanish officer of Irish origin who became governor of Chile and later viceroy of Peru; his mother was Isabel Riquelme, a prominent lady of Chillán.
Bernardo's father had onlyindirect contact with his son, who used his maternal surname until his father's death. At 12, Bernardo was sent to Lima for his secondary education. Four years later he went to Spain. At 17 he was sent toEngland for further education. In London he became imbued with a sense of nationalist pride in Chile, a pride largely fostered by his contact with several political activists, of whom FranciscoMiranda, the Venezuelan champion of Latin American independence, exerted the greatest influence on him. Along with several other future revolutionary leaders, he belonged to a secret Masonic lodge,established in London by Miranda, the members of which were dedicated to the independence of Latin America. In 1799 he left England for Spain, where he came into contact with Latin American clerics who alsofavoured independence and doubtless further strengthened his views. His political position was remarkable in view of the fact that his father was viceroy of Peru.
Bernardo's father died in 1801,leaving him a large hacienda near Chillán; by 1803 he was working the estate. This interlude may have been the most satisfying period of his life. The hacienda began to prosper almost immediately, andBernardo was soon maintaining a house in Chillán. In 1806 he became a member of the local town council.
Before O'Higgins had time to settle into his agrarian way of life, however, the foundations ofChilean society were threatened. In 1808 Napoleon invaded Spain, which, occupied with its own defense, left its colonies, including Chile, largely uncontrolled; the first steps toward national...