Juan Van Halen

This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Van Halen and the second or maternal family name is Sarti.
An 1854 engraving of Juan Van Halen by José Vallejo y Galeazo (1821-1882), Biblioteca Nacional de España.

Juan Van Halen y Sarti (16 February 1788 – 8 November 1864) was a Spanish military officer. After fighting for the losing side in the Peninsular War, he was forced to flee to Spain. Van Halen became a military adventurer throughout Europe and went on an 18-month tenure as a colonel in the Russian Caucasus Dragoon Regiment until his removal by Tsar Alexander I of Russia.

Early career

Van Halen was born in Isla de León, Cádiz, into a family of sailing merchants who had settled there. In 1803, he left Cádiz as a Spanish Navy cadet on the frigate Anfitrite headed for La Habana, Cuba and Veracruz, Mexico. In 1808, Juan began his service for the French King of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte, later assisting him during his refuge in France in 1813.

In 1814, Van Halen defected to the opposing army. By forging the signature of Marshal Louis-Gabriel Suchet, French commanders were advised to surrender various fortresses because the documents claimed that the war was over. Fooled by the trick, the 1,900 strong French garrisons of Lleida, Mequinenza and Monzón marched out and laid down their arms in surrender. However, Louis Benoît Robert, the commander at Tortosa, was not fooled by the forged documents and continued his engagement.[1]

When Captain Van Halen returned to Spain in 1815, he was investigated for his involvement in the Spanish War of Independence, first in Murcia, then in Madrid. As a result of his connections with a Masonic Lodge in Granada, he was imprisoned on March 21, 1817. Van Halen also had ties to General José María de Torrijos y Uriarte, who was later executed by a firing squad.


Having escaped from imprisonment, Van Halen travelled to Saint Petersburg, Russia, in the beginning of 1819. He met various Russian dignitaries including Prince Pyotr Mikhailovich Volkonsky, close advisor to Tsar Alexander I and chief of the general staff from 1815 to 1823. Volkonsky resigned in 1824 after a conflict with War Minister Count Alexey Arakcheyev. Van Halen visited the Tsar's assistant, Prince Dmitriy Vladimirovich Golitsyn, who had fought bravely during the Napoleonic Wars and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general, governing Moscow for 25 years.

Van Halen also visited the famous Spanish engineer Augustíne de Betancourt, then director, and one of the founders, of the First Engineering Academy School of Russia. Supported by Betancourt, who was trusted by other Russian military leaders, Van Halen was appointed colonel of the Caucasus Dragoon Regiment in Tblisi, Georgia.

He served under General Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov and Armenian prince Valerian Madatov, and participated in the conquest of Josereck on 21 June 1820 against the troops of Surghai Khan (later replaced by Ashan Khan) in the Kazikoumik region of Daghestan. For this he received the medal of the Russian Order of St. George. In 1854, Van Halen donated the Tartar Yatagan long knife he had taken on 12 June 1820 to the Naval Museum of Madrid.

Armenian prince Valerian Madatov (Russian: Валериан Григорьевич Мадатов, 1782–1829), under whom Juan Van Halen served as a Russian Army colonel in 1818.

Van Halen's liberal convictions prompted the tsar, who was informed by Russian secret police, to remove Van Halen from the Caucasus in December 1820 and put him on the Austrian frontier. In 1821, he returned to Spain in the middle of the Trienio Liberal until the revolution was crushed by a European Kingdom Absolutist coalition that included Russia. He then stayed in Matanzas, Cuba for three years while also doing business in New York and Philadelphia.

In 1830, Van Halen went to fight against the Netherlands to participate in the creation of the new kingdom of Belgium.

In 1831, as a "Condottiere" in the 15th-century Italian style, he formed a military brigade of Belgian subjects to defend Portuguese Liberals from the prosecutions of the absolutist King Miguel I of Portugal. This was funded by Cadiz businessman, banker, and politician Juan Álvarez Mendizabal.

Before and after the war against the Netherlands, Van Halen took part in the First Carlist War in Catalunya under generals José María Torrijos, Francisco Milans del Bosch and Francisco Espoz y Mina.

Van Halen returned to Spain in February 1833 after the death of King Fernando VII, but he would travel and make brief stays in Belgium and England from 1835 to 1838.

Since he was very close to General Baldomero Espartero, Van Halen joined him in exile in England when Espartero fell from grace in 1843.

He returned to Madrid in 1854 and received the Great Cross of King Carlos III on November 30 of that year.

Van Halen first married Maria del Carmen Quiroga y Hermida in 1821. She died on 14 February, 1859. After her death, Van Halen married Clotilde Butler y Abrines, the daughter of a Spanish Navy frigate captain, who died after 1854.

Van Halen died in El Puerto de Santa María, Cadiz, Spain, at the age of 76.



  1. Gates, David (2002). The Spanish Ulcer: A History of the Peninsular War. London: Pimlico. pp. 458–459. ISBN 0-7126-9730-6.
  2. Handelsblad (Het) 24-12-1854

Further reading

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