Catalina de Erauso (in Spanish; or Katalina Erauso in Basque) (San Sebastián, Spain, 1585 or 1592 — Cuetlaxtla near Orizaba, New Spain, 1650), who went by Alonso Díaz, Antonio de Erauso, and some other masculine names and is also known in Spanish as La Monja Alférez (English, The Ensign Nun), was a one-time nun who subsequently travelled around Spain and Spanish America, mostly under male identities, in the first half of the 17th century. Erauso's story has remained alive through historical studies, biographical stories, novels, movies and comics.
Erauso was born in the Basque town of San Sebastián, Gipuzkoa, Spain, in either 1585 (according to some sources including a supposed autobiography of 1626) or February 10, 1592 (according to a baptismal certificate). Erauso's parents were Miguel de Erauso and Maria Pérez de Arce Gallarraga, both of whom had been born and lived in San Sebastián. Miguel was a captain and military commander of the Basque province under the orders of King Philip III of Spain. From an early age, Catalina trained with him and her brothers in the arts of warfare.
Life at the conventEdit
Around the year 1589, at age 4, Erauso (together with sisters Isabel and Maria) was taken to the Dominican convent of San Sebastian el Antiguo, where Erauso's mother's cousin, Ursula de Uriza e Sarasti, held the position of prioress. Erauso grew into a strong, stocky, and quick-tempered individual, Lacking religious vocation and as a result feeling imprisoned and refusing to take vows, Erauso was detained in a cell and constantly fought with a widowed novice named Catalina de Aliri. At 15, after being beaten by one of the older nuns, Erauso decided to escape. On March 18, 1600, the eve of San Jose, Erauso found the keys of the convent hanging in a corner, waited for the other nuns to be at morning prayer, and escaped. Erauso spent a week fashioning boy's clothes, and headed for Vitoria, staying off the main roads. With short hair, Erauso easily passed as a boy there.
Travels around SpainEdit
From this moment on, Erauso began the life of a fugitive, later narrated in the autobiography that gave her great fame. In Vitoria, Erauso met a doctor and professor, Francisco de Cerralta, who was married to Erauso's mother's cousin but took Erauso in without recognizing her. Erauso stayed with him for three months, learning some Latin, but when Cerralta became abusive, Erauso left. Erauso took money from the doctor, met a mule driver and went to Valladolid with him. The court of King Philip III of Spain resided in Valladolid, under the influence of the Duke of Lerma. Disguised as a man by the name of Francisco de Loyola, Erauso served in the court for seven months as a page of the king's secretary, Juan de Idiáquez, until one day Erauso's father came looking for Idiáquez. Her father conversed with Idiáquez, , all without recognizing that he had just spoken to that child. Afterwards, Erauso decided to head to Bilbao.
Upon arriving, Erauso was not as lucky as before, and did not find a place to sleep nor a patron. In addition, a group of boys made fun of and attacked her, and when she got into a rock fight and injured one, she was arrested and spent a month in jail. Once released from prison, Erauso went to Estella, and found work as a page there too, under an important lord of the town called Alonso de Arellano. Erauso was his servant for two years, always well treated and well dressed. Between 1602 and 1603, after years of service to Arellano, Erauso returned to San Sebastián, her hometown, and lived as a man there, taking care of relatives, whom she saw frequently. She also attended mass in her old convent with former colleagues. It is said that she also served her aunt without ever being recognized. After some time, she came to Pasaia, where she met Captain Miguel de Berróiz, who took her to Seville. They were there for only two days. She later returned to Sanlucar de Barrameda, where she found a job as a cabin boy on a ship. Captain Esteban Eguiño, who was a cousin of her mother, owned the galleon. According to memoirs, she embarked on Holy Monday, 1603 to America. Erauso felt, like many Basques of her time, inclined to venture to the Indies.
She spent this time dressed as a man, with short hair, using different names such as Pedro de Orive, Francisco de Loyola, Alonso Díaz [Ramirez] de Guzmán, and Antonio de Erauso. Apparently her physique was not feminine, which helped her pass as a man. Erauso once said she "dried her breasts" with a secret ointment.
Travels to the New WorldEdit
The first place in the Americas where Erauso landed was Punta de Araya, now part of Venezuela, where she had a confrontation with a Dutch pirate fleet which she defeated. From there they left for Cartagena and Nombre de Dios, where they stayed for nine days. Several sailors died there because of the weather. They boarded the silver and once ready to return to Spain, Erauso shot and killed her uncle and stole 500 pesos. She told the sailors that her uncle had sent her on an errand. An hour later, the ship returned to Spain without her. From there she went with an usher to Panama, where she spent three months. In Panama she started working with Juan de Urquiza, merchant of Trujillo with whom she went to the port of Paita (now Peru), where the trader had a large shipment. In the port of Manta (now Ecuador), a strong wind destroyed the ship and Erauso had to swim to save herself and her master. The rest of the crew perished.
After a brief time in Paita, she went to Zana, a place full of cattle, grains, fruits and tobacco from Peru. There, her master happily accommodated here gave Erauso a home, clothing and a large amount of money, as well as three black slaves. In Saña she had a fight with a young man who threatened her in a comedy theater. She ended up cutting off the face of the boy who challenged her. She was taken to jail again and through efforts of her master, Juan de Urquiza, and the bishop of that place, she was released on the condition that she married Doña Beatriz de Cárdenas, lady of her master and aunt of the man who had his face cut. Not wanting to be discovered, she refused to marry. Then she went to the city of Trujillo, where her master opened a store.
However, the man who was wounded in the face came to challenge her again accompanied by two friends. Erauso went to the fight with another person, and in the fight the man's friend was killed. She was again imprisoned, and after her master saved her again, he gave her money and a letter of recommendation and sent her to Lima, which was the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru. She gave the letter of recommendation to Diego de Solarte, a very rich merchant and greater consul of Lima, and after a few days she was given his shop. She was responsible for the business for nine months, but was fired when discovered fondling a woman, the sister of her master's wife. After being dismissed, she found a company recruiting, whose aim was the conquest of Chile and, beset by the need to find a new occupation, she enlisted under the command of Captain Gonzalo Rodriguez. She was accompanied by 1600 men from Lima to the city of Concepción. From 1617-19 she worked as a llama-driver from Chuquisaca to the great mining center of Potosí, and was then recruited as a soldier.
After marching with her company to Chile in 1619, her army swept through the lands and property of the Mapuches, showing her aggressive side as conqueror, massacring many Indians. In Chile she was welcomed by the secretary of the governor, who was her brother, Don Miguel de Erauso, but did not recognize her. She remained there for three years and because of a dispute with her brother, possibly because of another woman, was banished to Paicabí, the land of Indians. There, Erauso fought in the service of the crown in the Arauco War against the Mapuches in today's Chile, earning a reputation for being brave and skillful with weapons and without revealing that she was a woman.
In the battle of Valdivia she received the rank of second lieutenant. In the next battle of Puren her captain died and she took command, winning the battle. However, due to the many complaints that existed against her for her cruelty against the Indians, Erauso was not promoted to the next military rank. This frustration led to a period devoted to vandalizing, killing as many people as she met on the road, causing extensive damage and burning entire crops. In Concepción she assassinated the chief auditor of the city, for which she was locked in a church for six months. After being released, she killed her brother Don Miguel de Erauso in another duel and was again imprisoned eight months. She later fled to today's Argentina across the Andes, through a difficult transition path. She was saved from the brink of death by a villager and taken to Tucumán, where she promised marriage to two young women, the daughter of an Indian widow (which had hosted Erauso on her farm during her convalescence) and the niece of a canon.
She ended up fleeing from there without marrying any of them, but kept the money and clothing from Holland,(es) given by the niece of the canon as a sign of love. Then she went to Potosí, where she became the assistant to a sergeant, and returned again to fight against the Indians, participating in mass killings in Chuncos. In La Plata (Chuquisaca) she was accused of a crime she did not commit, she was tortured and finally set free again (without her sex being discovered). Once out of prison, she devoted herself to smuggling wheat and cattle on the orders of Juan Lopez de Arquijo. A new lawsuit forced her to take refuge in a church. In Piscobamba, by quarreling, she killed another individual. This time she was sentenced to death, but was saved at the last minute by the deposition of another prisoner sentenced to death. Then she remained in sanctuary for five months in a church due to a duel with a jealous husband. When she moved to La Paz, she was sentenced again to death for another offense. To escape, she pretended to confess and, after seizing a consecrated host fled to Cuzco and returned to Peru.
Return to Spain and audience with Pope Urban VIIIEdit
In 1623 Erauso was arrested in Huamanga, Peru, because of a dispute. To avoid execution, she begged for mercy to Bishop Agustín de Carvajal, and confessed that she was a woman who had been in a convent. Following a review in which a group of matrons determined that Erauso was a woman and a virgin, the bishop protected her and she was sent to Spain.
In 1625–1626, Erauso petitioned the Spanish Crown for financial reward for services as a soldier in the New World, via an relación de méritos y servicios (account of merits and services). In addition to seeking reward for time at war, Erauso also sought compensation for money lost while spent traveling to Rome. This document includes accounts from "witnesses" or others who knew Erauso. However, many of the accounts are contradictory in nature and some do not know what to make of Erauso's predicament, for several reasons, most prominently that the witnesses all knew Erauso by different names and different accomplishments. They may have known Alonso Díaz de Guzmán, the name Erauso used as a man, but they did not know Catalina de Erauso.
Scholars are conflicted as to whether or not this visit between Erauso and Pope Urban VIII actually occurred, but her Account of Merits and Services can be found in the Archivo General de Indias and the Real Academia de la Historia of Madrid and was filed between 1625 and 1626, which would match up with the accounts of her being in Rome at that time.
Return to America and deathEdit
In 1630 Erauso settled in the New Spain, probably in the city of Orizaba, now in the state of Veracruz, and established a business as a muleteer between Mexico City and Veracruz. Locals state that Erauso died carrying a load on a boat, though some argue her death occurred at the heights of Orizaba, alone; most plausible is that she died in the village of Cotaxtla. According to the historian Joaquín Arróniz, her remains rest in the Church of the Royal Hospital of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of the Juaninos Brothers, which today is popularly known as the Church of San Juan de Dios, in the city of Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico. Although there is no solid evidence to support it, some postulate that Bishop Juan de Palafox tried to move the remains to the city of Puebla, home of the bishopric, but failed. Instead, according to other historians, the remains of Erauso rest in the same place where it is believed she died, in the village of Cotaxtla. However, there is no documentation that can demonstrate the exact date and place of death.
Erauso (under the name Catalina de Erauso) wrote or dictated the autobiography which remained in manuscript form until it was first published in Paris in 1829 at the request of Joaquín María Ferrer, a second time in Barcelona in 1838, and for the third time in 1894 in Paris, with illustrations by Spanish artist Daniel Vierge. Then her account was translated into several languages and versions of the theme, as idealized by Thomas De Quincey, entitled The Ensign Nun in English.
In addition to these editions, a series of reprints of this autobiography after 1894, and writings about Erauso's return to Spain, a comedy was released by Juan Pérez de Montalbán, Comedia famosa de la Monja Alferez (1625). Currently, there is debate among researchers about the authorship of this autobiography, which some researchers have branded as apocryphal and without any basis for engaging in some chronological inaccuracies and contradictions. However, given the existence of baptism certificates and testimonies from others about Erauso's life and works, there is strong evidence for the historical existence of this person.
Some have wanted to see a relationship between Erauso's extraordinary life, and the Baroque taste for portraying marginal and / or deformed or abnormal characters, as the main reason for the fame she gained throughout the Hispanic world on her return from America.
Questions of gender and sexual identityEdit
Modern scholars have debated Erauso's sexual orientation and gender identity. In a memoir, Erauso never mentions being attracted to a man, but details numerous relationships with women. There was an encounter with the sister-in-law of a Lima merchant, a quarrel with Erauso's brother over his mistress and other occasions of Erauso being betrothed to women in the New World. Those betrothals, however, usually ended after Erauso exploited the situation and rode off with gifts and dowry money. Erauso also mentions once being surprised by a hostess "touching between her legs," and also acknowledges having taken advantage twice of being 'disguised' as a man to get gifts from a future fiancée who did not know Eruaso's sex.
Other scholars, such as Sherry Velasco, have also written on the subject of gender and sexual identity. Velasco and others argue for viewing Erauso as transgender, and Velasco also argues for viewing Erauso as lesbian, saying that, over the years since the first printings of Erauso's memoirs, there have been many different retellings and exaggerations in an effort to "de-lesbianize" Erauso through the invention of different heterosexual relationships as well as downplaying Erauso's relationships and behavior with other women. This happened mostly in versions of the story told and published in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, Velasco argues there was a "re-lesbianization" of Erauso, . Then, in the 1980s, Erauso appeared as a "melancholy lesbian whose lover dies and a voyeuristic lesbian whose narrative ends with the optimistic image of the protagonist accompanied by the object of her sexual desire."
Matthew Goldmark, in turn, takes the approach of examining Erauso's Accounts of Merits and Services document, and in particular the "hábitos" or "habits" section of the document, with an eye to Erauso's sexual orientation and identity. This section gives accounts from witnesses or other people who knew Erauso and could speak to her demeanor in petitioning the King and the Pope. This section also was an intersection of not only gender, but also class and profession.
Regardless of how Erauso identified, researchers are still divided as to the reason for Erauso's grand story of adventures. Some argue that Erauso had to pretend to be attracted to women in order to stay disguised and to blend in with fellow Spanish soldiers. Others argue that Erauso was actually a lesbian who used dress as a way to not attract attention from church authorities and to continue to be attracted to women. Still others fall into the third camp that Erauso actually did identify as a man. Those in this school of thought conclude from the evidence given that Erauso was merely expressing a gender identity and was transgender.
Despite the existence of autobiographical memoirs probably written around 1626, Erauso ended up disappearing from most known historical records, specifically in the period running between returning to Spain in 1624 and returning to the Indies, until the eighteenth century. At the end of the century, states Sonia Pérez-Villanueva, one Domingo de Urbirú had in his possession a manuscript copy of Erauso's memoirs, which was duplicated by a friend, the poet and playwright Cándido Maria Trigueros.
One of the copies made by Trigueros ended up in the hands of the academic Juan Bautista Muñoz, who was writing the History of the New World and included a mention of Erauso in his work. Eventually, the copy was used as a reference by Muñoz finished in the hands of the Royal Academy of History in 1784, and later was rediscovered in the early nineteenth century by the politician Felipe Bauzá, who persuaded his friend, the astronomer and merchant Joaquín María Ferrer for publishing. Finally, the manuscript was published in 1829 in Paris by Jules Didot with the title La historia de la Monja Alférez, escrita por ella misma ("story of The Nun Lieutenant, written by herself"), and a few decades later was republished by Heredia in 1894, making this version of the autobiography the revival of interest and research into Erauso's life.
The character of The Nun Lieutenant was, and remains today, a source of inspiration for writers, playwrights, filmmakers and artists (most notably a 1630 portrait, attributed to Juan van der Hamen). In the nineteenth century, the work of Thomas De Quincey stands out, who turns Erauso into a typically romantic character, victim of fate and immersed in a series of adventures. Also in the nineteenth century is the novel by Eduardo Blasco Del claustro al campamento o la Monja Alférez. And similarly it has been a source of inspiration for many analyses and academic papers trying to explain Erauso's complex personality. In the twentieth century the Monja Alférez hit the screens and became more popular through several film versions, as in La Monja Alférez, directed by Mexican Emilio Gómez Muriel (1947). At present, this character is attractive to the poststructuralist critique, as a clear example of instability and relativity of the notion of gender in the construction of the identity of an individual.
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