Leonor Rivera, a Hero’s Sweetheart

Beyond her pretty features, what was it that made Leonor Rivera so appealing to Jose Rizal, the national hero? The dashing scholar was so smitten by Leonor that their bittersweet love story has intrigued generations.

My private visit to the Kipping ancestral home in Camiling, Tarlac, on a trip to the Philippines was an eye opener. One summer day, I visited Leonor Rivera’s great granddaughter Dr. Maria Lourdes “Ilou” Kipping. Dr. Kipping, one of several doctors in their family, is my cousin by marriage and god daughter of my own mother. Ilou, her six sisters and brother grew up in this home.  

 The Leonor Rivera Ancestral Home in Camiling, Tarlac (1953) (Photo by Michael Kipping)

The Leonor Rivera Ancestral Home in Camiling, Tarlac (1953) (Photo by Michael Kipping)

The former home of Leonor Rivera in Camiling, Tarlac, was where her grandson’s family, the late Dr. Carlos Kipping Jr., his wife, Visitacion Agana-Kipping, and their eight children lived. I was enthralled to go back in time as Ilou Kipping opened the doors to the memories of her late great-grandmother, Leonor, to share rare mementos and stories. I grazed my fingers on the ivory keys of Leonor’s piano, opened her books and touched the banister and her furniture.  

 Leonor and Charles' grandson, the late Dr. Carlos R. Kipping Jr. married Visitacion Agana and lived in the Kipping ancestral home with their family. (Photo courtesy of Michael Kipping)

Leonor and Charles' grandson, the late Dr. Carlos R. Kipping Jr. married Visitacion Agana and lived in the Kipping ancestral home with their family. (Photo courtesy of Michael Kipping)

 Leonor Rivera's piano with ivory keys where her delicate fingers played sweet music. (Photos by Elizabeth Ann Quirino with thanks to the family of the late Dr. Carlos R. Kipping Jr., Camiling, Tarlac)

Leonor Rivera's piano with ivory keys where her delicate fingers played sweet music. (Photos by Elizabeth Ann Quirino with thanks to the family of the late Dr. Carlos R. Kipping Jr., Camiling, Tarlac)

Leonor captivated the heart of Rizal in ways that remain immortalized through time. Leonor was Rizal’s muse. She moved the depths of his soul with her piano playing, singing and sweet ways. The attraction went deeper. Rizal knew Leonor was a well-read woman of great intelligence.

Leonor Rivera was born in 1867. They met at her father Antonio Rivera’s boarding house in Sampaloc, Manila, where Rizal stayed while a student at the University of Santo Tomas. Leonor was studying at La Concordia and one of Rizal’s sisters was her classmate.  

 Leonor Rivera

Leonor Rivera

When Rizal left for Europe, their courtship could not withstand the distance and family pressure. Her mother, Silvestra, intercepted love letters between the two. Rizal thought Leonor had forgotten him. Leonor was heartbroken that Jose had a change of heart.

Leonor chose instead to marry Charles Kipping, an Englishman. On the eve of her wedding, she found out about the love letters from Rizal intercepted by her mother.

A frustrated and hurt Leonor tore up the letters and burned them. But the memory of Rizal lingered in the ashes she chose to keep inside a hand-carved wooden box marked with the initials “J and L.”

Leonor sewed some torn letters into her wedding dress’ hemline. It was the dress she wore to marry Charles. Her mother described the wedding gown as “a lovely Filipina dress, with a white embroidered camisa of jusi, a pretty panuelo, a long skirt in light ash blue, with scalloped embroidery in front and a long ornate train of the same hue in the back.”

 Leonor Rivera and her mother Silvestra Bauzon Rivera (Photos by Elizabeth Ann Quirino with thanks to the family of the late Dr. Carlos R. Kipping Jr., Camiling, Tarlac)

Leonor Rivera and her mother Silvestra Bauzon Rivera (Photos by Elizabeth Ann Quirino with thanks to the family of the late Dr. Carlos R. Kipping Jr., Camiling, Tarlac)

 Father and son : Charles and Carlos Kipping Sr. (Photos by Elizabeth Ann Quirino with thanks to the family of the late Dr. Carlos R. Kipping Jr., Camiling, Tarlac)

Father and son : Charles and Carlos Kipping Sr. (Photos by Elizabeth Ann Quirino with thanks to the family of the late Dr. Carlos R. Kipping Jr., Camiling, Tarlac)

 Leonor Rivera's jewelry box where she kept mementos, Rizal's "Noli Me Tangere" signed and a gift to Leonor. (Photos by Elizabeth Ann Quirino with thanks to the family of the late Dr. Carlos R. Kipping Jr., Camiling, Tarlac)

Leonor Rivera's jewelry box where she kept mementos, Rizal's "Noli Me Tangere" signed and a gift to Leonor. (Photos by Elizabeth Ann Quirino with thanks to the family of the late Dr. Carlos R. Kipping Jr., Camiling, Tarlac)

After marriage to Kipping, Leonor vowed never to play the piano again. The ivory keys where her delicate long fingers danced around were silent for a long time.

Leonor kept busy with her faith and prayers and her love for reading the classics. Kipping showered her with gifts from Europe. Their oldest child, Carlos was born soon.

Tragically, Leonor died on August 28, 1893 after giving birth to a daughter, Caroline, who died, a few hours after.

Her music was silenced. Her books were closed. Leonor’s remains with that of her baby, Caroline, were interred at the Paco Cemetery in Manila. But during the war, the cemetery was a casualty of bombings. That part of Leonor was destroyed and gone forever. What remained was her beauty through Rizal’s writings, their love story retold through centuries, her piano, her books and the ashes of their love letters.  


On the eve of her wedding, she found out about the love letters from Rizal intercepted by her mother. A frustrated and hurt Leonor tore up the letters and burned them.

The Kipping family has long made peace with the immortality of Leonor and Rizal’s courtship. Charles Kipping was a loving, generous husband and father. His progressive European ways of being accepting and tolerant made him understand Leonor’s complicated relationship with Rizal, plus Philippine history’s fascination with the many loves of the national hero. After Leonor’s passing, the relatives of Charles Kipping in Europe stayed in touch with their Philippine kin and had many reunions to bind the family ties across the continents.

Three years after Leonor passed, husband Charles fell ill and went to England for treatment. Sadly, he died and was buried in his home country. Son Carlos Sr. was raised by Leonor’s mother, Silvestra. Carlos grew up to be an agricultural businessman, studied at the Ateneo de Manila, and married his childhood sweetheart Lourdes Romulo. They had four children: Araceli, who died as a child, Remedios Kipping Jimenez who had six children, Dr. Carlos Kipping Jr., who had eight children, and Rosalinda Kipping Torres who had seven.  

 The Kipping clan: grandchildren and great-grandchildren (Photo courtesy of Michael Kipping)

The Kipping clan: grandchildren and great-grandchildren (Photo courtesy of Michael Kipping)

 The Kipping clan, present generation (Photo courtesy of Michael Kipping)

The Kipping clan, present generation (Photo courtesy of Michael Kipping)

In the end, Leonor Rivera and Charles Kipping left a fine family as a legacy. Today’s beautiful Kipping grandchildren and great-grandchildren are making the community and the world better with their accomplished careers and lives.


 Elizabeth Ann Quirino

Elizabeth Ann Quirino

Elizabeth Ann Quirino, based in New Jersey, is a journalist, food writer and member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). She blogs about Filipino home cooking and culinary travels to the Philippines on her site AsianInAmericamag.com.


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