2. An Officer and a Gentleman, 1810–1821

In the early hours of 16 September 1810, the bells of the parish church of Dolores began to chime and went on chiming until everybody in the village was awake and aware that something unusual was afoot. In the dark of night, with the bells ringing and the dogs barking, the villagers made their way to church, confused, holding up burning torches and lanterns to find out what was happening, the cold mountain air thick with fear and speculation. Waiting for them at the pulpit was their fiery priest, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. Here was a creole cleric, born in the mid-eighteenth century and brought up on a hacienda in what is now the state of Guanajuato, who had developed strong affinities with the land and its laborers. He had studied theology in Valladolid (present-day Morelia) and had become a priest renowned for his radical tendencies. He deliberately gave up a successful academic career in the prestigious Diocesan College of Valladolid to pursue his vocation as a rural priest. He cared about social injustice, agrarian discontent, and the welfare of Indians and other marginal sectors of society. He was also opposed to the manner in which the enlightened Spanish monarchy had assaulted the Church over the last fifty years.

Like those of many of his Spanish American contemporaries, Hidalgo's revolutionary impulses were a reaction to over half a century of Bourbon reforms. By the time Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the occupation of the Iberian Peninsula and took King Ferdinand VII prisoner in Bayonne, in 1808, unleashing the constitutional crisis that inspired the Spanish American revolutions of independence, parts of Mexico were ready for a revolution. The Bourbon reforms, initiated under the rule

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