Weyler was born at Palma de Majorca on 17 September 1838 to a Spanish mother and a German father, who was a military doctor, and educated in Granada. His family was originally Prussian, and served in the Spanish army for several generations. He entered at sixteen the military college of infantry at Toledo, and, when he attained the rank of lieutenant, passed into the staff college, from which he came out as the head of his class. Two years afterwards he became captain, and was sent to Cuba at his own request.
Early military career
From 1868 to 1872, he also served brilliantly against the Cuban rebels, and commanded a corps of volunteers specially raised for him in Havana. He distinguished himself in the expedition to Santo Domingo in many fights, and especially in a daring reconnaissance with a few men he killed 120 in the heart of the enemy's lines, for which he got the cross with laurels of San Fernando.
He returned to Spain and took an active part against the Carlists in the eastern provinces of the Peninsula in 1875 and 1876, for which he was raised to the rank of general of division. Then he was elected senator and given the title of marquess of Tenerife. In 1878 he was made a general. He held the post of captain-general in the Canary Isles from 1878 to 1883, and in the Balearic Isles afterwards.
In 1888, he was sent out as captain-general to the Philippines, where he dealt very sternly with the native rebels of the Carolines, of Mindanao and other provinces. He won La Cruz Grande de Maria Cristina ("Grand Cross of Maria Cristina") for his command of troops in the Philippines in 1895, displaying a cold and brutal facet which would surface prominently in Cuba, where he invented 'hamleting' and gained the sobriquet "The Butcher". He is remembered in the Philippines for investing Calamba and expelling the Rizal and other families from the land the Dominicans wanted out. When he arrived in Manila, he lived as a poor man and returned to Spain a millionaire, having received huge amounts in bribes and gifts of diamonds from Chinese Filipinos for favors and influences.
However, Weyler granted the petitions of 20 young women of Malolos, Bulacan to have education and to have a night school. Many consider this as a turning point of the status of women in the Philippines to have the right to education. The original petition was denied by the parish priest of Malolos, who argued that women should always stay at home and take care of the family. Weyler happened to visit Malolos after that and he granted the petition as the women did not lose hope on their petition. Jose Rizal wrote a letter to the women, as a request of Marcelo H. Del Pilar, praising their initiative and sensibility on women's education.
On his return to Spain in 1892, he was appointed to the command first of the 6th Army Corps in the Basque Provinces and Navarre, where he soon quelled agitations, and then as captain-general at [Barcelona], where he remained until January 1896. In [Catalonia], with a state of siege, he made himself the terror of the [anarchists]and [socialists].
Cuba and the concentration camps
After Marshal Campos had failed to pacify the Cuban rebellion, the Conservative government of Antonio Cánovas del Castillo sent out Weyler, and this selection met the approval of most Spaniards, who thought him the proper man to crush the rebellion. While serving as a Spanish general he was called "Butcher Weyler" because he murdered innocent Cubans for no apparent reason.
He was made a governor of Cuba with full powers to suppress the insurgency (rebellion was widespread in Cuba) and restore the island to political order and its sugar production to greater profitability. Initially, Weyler was greatly frustrated by the same factors that had made victory difficult for all generals of traditional standing armies fighting against an insurgency. While the Spanish troops marched in regulation and required substantial supplies, their opponents practiced hit-and-run tactics and lived off the land, blending in with the non-combatant population. He came to the same conclusions as his predecessors as well--that to win Cuba back for Spain, he would have to separate the rebels from the civilians by putting the latter in safe havens, protected by loyal Spanish troops. By the end of 1897, General Weyler had relocated more than 300,000 into such "reconcentration camps," believed by many to be the origin of the name for such tactics used by the British in the Second Boer War and thus evolved into a designation to describe such methods used by twentieth century regimes as Hitler and Stalin. Although he was successful moving vast numbers of people, he failed to provide for them adequately. Consequently, these areas became cesspools of hunger, disease, and starvation where many hundreds of thousands died.
Weyler's reconcentration policy had another important effect. Although it made Weyler's military objectives easier to accomplish, it had devastating political consequences. Although the Spanish Conservative government supported Weyler's tactics wholeheartedly, the Liberals denounced them vigorously for their toll on the Cuban civilian population. In the propaganda war waged in the United States, Cuban emigrés made much of Weyler's inhumanity to their countrymen and won the sympathy of broad groups of the U.S. population to their cause.
Weyler's strategy also backfired militarily due to the rebellion in the Philippines that required the redeployment by 1897 of some troops already in Cuba. When Prime Minister Antonio Cánovas del Castillo was assassinated in June, Weyler lost his principal supporter in Spain. He resigned his post in late 1897 and returned to Europe.
Return to Spain
He served as Minister of War three separate times (March 1901 - December 1902, July 1905 - December 1905, December 1906 - January 1907).
After his return to Spain, his reputation as a strong and ambitious soldier made him one of those who, in case of any constitutional disturbance, might be expected to play an important role, and his political position was nationally affected by this consideration; his appointment in 1900 as captain-general of Madrid resulted indeed in more than one ministerial crisis. He was minister of war for a short time at the end of 1901, and again in 1905. At the end of October 1909 he was appointed captain-general at Barcelona, where the disturbances connected with the execution of Francisco Ferrer Guardia were quelled by him without bloodshed.
He was charged and released for opposing the military dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera in the 1920s.