In his book, The Loves of Rizal (2000), former National Historical Institute chairman, Dr. Pablo Trillana 3rd, said that Rizal “gave and received affection and, like everyone else, felt the joy, anguish or regret of Cupid’s arrow.”
Rizal’s first romance, ironically, was the last to be discovered. Her name was Julia, although her surname remains unknown.
Trillana said that he learned about Julia from a book written by Carlos Quirino, a National Artist for historical literature. She was a 14-year-old girl whom Rizal met in Los Baños, Laguna. In his book, Trillana described her as a “vibrant yet modest, oval-faced, and olive-skinned, and blessed with simple beauty.” Rizal was 15 when he first saw Julia trying to catch a butterfly she was chasing.
“Rizal, ever gallant, caught two,” Trillana wrote. There was an instant attraction, but for lack of subsequent contact, Rizal eventually forgot Julia.
Rizal next met his puppy love Segunda Katigbak. Unfortunately, Katigbak was already engaged and set to wed her Batangas townmate, Manuel Luz.
After Katigbak came two Leonors—Leonor Valenzuela and Leonor Rivera. Rizal met Valenzuela in Intramuros near the dormitory where he was staying. Cleverly using invisible ink, Rizal sent her love notes, which could only be read over the flame of a lamp or candle.
While he was courting Valenzuela, Rizal was also seeing Rivera, the woman who would eventually become his girlfriend for the next 11 years. She would be his inspiration for Maria Clara, one of the main characters in his first novel, Noli Me Tangere.
He was ready to marry her if not for the objections of Rivera’s mother who disliked Rizal’s reputation of being a dissenter. When Rizal went to Spain, he continued to send her letters, which Rivera’s mother hid from her. Thinking that he had abandoned her, Rivera eventually gave in to her mother’s request and married Englishman Henry Kipping. Rizal was said to have cried shamelessly when news of the wedding reached him.
During his stay in Spain, Rizal frequented the Ortiga’s residence in Madrid where he met Consuelo Ortiga y Rey, the prettier of Don Pablo Ortiga’s daughters. He dedicated to her A la Senorita C.O. y R., which became one of his best poems. Their relationship never became serious, however, as Rizal wanted to remain loyal to Rivera, and because his friend Eduardo de Lete was madly in love with Consuelo.
When he learned about Rivera’s marriage, Rizal eventually met and courted Nelly Boustead, one of two daughters of his host, Eduardo Boustead, in the resort city of Biarritz, France. Their love story ended when Nelly’s parents requested Rizal to convert to the Protestant faith.
On his second trip to Europe in 1888, Rizal stopped by Japan where he met Seiko Usui whom he affectionately called “O Sei San.” She was a lovely and intelligent daughter of a samurai who taught Rizal the Japanese art of painting known as su-mie, and helped him improve his knowledge of Japanese language. Historians said that if Rizal wasn’t patriotic he could have married O Sei San and settled in Japan because a Spanish delegation there was offering him a lucrative job. In a letter, he said of her: “O Sei San, O Sei San, sayonara. No woman, like you, has ever loved me . . . ”
Rizal also had a short-lived affair with Suzanne Jacoby when he moved to Brussels because of the high cost of living in Paris. There he lived at the boarding house owned by the Jacoby sisters. Their romance ended when Rizal left for Madrid without telling her.
While annotating the Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas in London, Rizal lived in the house of the Beckett family near the British Museum.
There he also had a brief relationship with Gertrude, the oldest of the three Beckett daughters. Gertrude helped him in his painting and sculpture, but when he realized Gertrude was seriously in love with him, he left London and went to Paris.
Attempt at marriage
The last woman in Rizal’s life was Josephine Bracken whom he met in Dapitan. Bracken was an 18-year-old petite Irish girl and the adopted daughter of George Taufer from Hong Kong. Taufer came to Dapitan to seek Rizal for eye treatment. Rizal was immediately attracted to Josephine. He called her “dulce estranjera,” or sweet foreigner. He eventually found himself falling in love with Josephine, but Rizal’s sisters suspected her of being a spy for the Spanish authorities and a threat to his security.
Upon her return to Dapitan, Rizal tried to arrange their marriage with Father Antonio Obach. The priest, however, wanted a retraction as a precondition before marrying them. Rizal eventually took Bracken as his wife without the Church blessings and Bracken later gave birth prematurely to a stillborn baby.
How he managed to win all those ladies’ affection, Trillana attributes to Rizal’s “impeccable manners and gift of gab, not to mention good looks and innate charm.”
Rizal’s love life may not be as successful as his patriotic endeavors, but one thing is for sure, he had used all the knowledge and talent he has to make them fall for him, and he in turn immortalized their love through his works.
“The [women] came at varying crossroads in Rizal’s life. And with varying passion and devotion, he would remember each in his heart and works,” Trillana said.
Source: Trillana, Pablo S. 3rd. The Loves of Rizal and Other Essays on Philippine History, Art and Public Policy. Quezon City: New Day Publisher, 2000.
Jose Rizal University “Rizal, the Romantic” http://www.joserizal.ph/lv01.html