María de Estrada (b. c. 1475 or 1495? d. between 1537–48) was a Spanish woman who participated in the expedition of Hernán Cortés to Mexico in 1519-24. It is widely accepted that she fought there as a conquistador, and there is also some evidence that she had previously spent several years as a castaway among the native inhabitants of pre-colonial Cuba.
María de Estrada (the surname is given as Destrada or Estrada in some sources) was born in Seville, although her father came originally from northern Spain. Her brother Francisco had accompanied Christopher Columbus as a cabin boy, and when he returned to the New World to settle permanently in 1509, Maria probably travelled with him.
Castaway in Cuba
According to a widely accepted identification, María joined an early expedition to the Gulf of Darién, perhaps accompanying her brother or an unrecorded husband. Their attempt to establish a settlement was a failure, and on the return journey to Santo Domingo, her vessel was shipwrecked on the island of Cuba.
At first, the locals treated the marooned Spanish crew well, helping them to travelled along the coast; but at the place later known as Matanzas, the castaways were betrayed and massacred. The woman identified as Maria de Estrada was one of a handful of survivors, taken captive by one of the local chiefs who had led the attack.
For several years, she lived among the natives, one of the first Europeans to become acculturated to indigenous life in the Americas. In 1513, she was released thanks to the arrival of conquistadors on the island. Soon afterwards, she married one of these Spanish colonists, named Pedro Sánchez Farfán.
Cortés expedition to Mexico
In 1519, Pedro Sánchez Farfán joined the expedition of Hernán Cortés, and fought in the initial Spanish conquest of Mexico, but it is not clear whether his wife went with him. Some modern sources indicate that María de Estrada only arrived on the mainland in April 1520, with the rival expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez, which included her brother Francisco, and which joined forces with Cortés at the end of May 1520.
María was certainly with the combined army after it returned to the native capital at Tenochtitlan in June 1520: according to Bernal Díaz del Castillo, she was the only Spanish woman with them at this point. There had been bloody unrest in Cortés' absence, and now the conquistadors were struck by a full-scale native revolt known as the Noche Triste: after a week of street battles, the army was forced to fight its way back out of the city, suffering heavy casualties and losing most of its baggage and artillery.
Most of the early sources refer to María de Estrada in general terms among the small number of women who accompanied the army at this time, but two writers of the later sixteenth century single her out as a soldier. The Tlaxcallan chronicler Diego Muñoz Camargo wrote that she fought her way out of the city as a rodelero during the battle, proving herself "as good a warrior as any man", and that she participated in the decisive charge of armored cavalry at the Battle of Otumba. The Dominican historian Diego Durán claims that she subsequently led a force of conquistadors into the area around Popocatépetl, where, she defeated the Nahua Indians of Hueyapan, charging head first and screaming "Santiago!"
Cortés certainly gave María and her husband an extensive encomienda in this area, based at Tetela del Volcán, with subsidiary units at Nepopozalco and at Hueyapan itself, while Sanchéz Farfán also gained additional estates further to the west. When she was widowed in the 1530s, María de Estrada assumed direct control of the estate, and in this capacity, she filed a petition to the king of Spain to ask for lighter taxation of her lands. Eventually, María de Estrada remarried to Alonso Martín, a civilian settler in Puebla, but by 1561, his relatives were fighting over the inheritance: instead, the encomienda was annexed to the royal domains of the king of Spain - it seems that neither María nor her first husband had surviving descendants.
The basic fact that María de Estrada accompanied Cortés' army to Mexico is vouched for by eyewitness memoirs, but historians do not agree about the reliability of the evidence on which her detailed biography is based.
Luisa Campuzano, in the fullest discussion of the problem, concluded that the sources support each other, and provide a consistent factual and psychological portrait, but other historians have been more cautious, suggesting that María de Estrada's military prowess may be a literary fiction, and inferring that she arrived in the New World too late to be the castaway rescued in 1513. A later date for her arrival in the Americas would imply that María de Estrada was Sanchéz Farfán's second wife, a different woman from the castaway he had married in Cuba, although the sources providing these dates seem to be unaware of his earlier marriage.
Adding to the problems, historians have sometimes muddled María de Estrada with other women associated with the conquistadors in Mexico: she has been confused with Marina de la Caballería, the wife of the prominent settler Alonso de Estrada., who in turn has been misidentified with the native princess Doña Marina,
- Dates of c. 1475 and 1495 are based on the identification of María de Estrada as one of a pair of Spanish castaways rescued on Cuba, who were said to be 40 and 18 or 20 in 1513, Campuzano (1997), p. 47; she is recorded as encomendera of Tetela del Volcán in 1537, but her second husband had remarried by 1548.   .
- Campuzano (1997), p. 49; Himmerich y Valencia (1996), pp. 77, 154-5, 239; Porras Muñoz (1982), p. 286.
- Fully developed by Campuzano (1997) and Maura (1997), but it already alluded to by Giménez Caballero (1969) p. 140.
- Campuzano (1997), p. 49
- Campuzano (1997), p. 44.
- Himmerich y Valencia (1996), p. 239; for the chronology of the campaign, see Marley (1998) pp. 14-22.
- Himmerich y Valencia (1996), p. 239. See also the historical summary ("Reseña Histórica") for the municipio of Tetela del Volcán, in INAFED (2005).
- The date is given as "ca. 1536", Himmerich y Valencia (1996), pp. 77 239.
- Himmerich y Valencia (1996), p. 239
- Campuzano (1997), at p. 50; Campuzano (2004) appears to be a more recent revision of the same material, while Maura (1997) is a complimentary paper in the same volume.
- Davies, Brewster and Owen (2006), pp. 131-134.
- Bel Bravo (2002) p. 202 suggests that she was the María Estrada, native of San Vicente de la Barquera, who sailed from Spain on 15 December 1512, while Himmerich y Valencia (1996), p. 239, states that she traveled from Cuba to Mexico with her brother in 1519; however, the biographical details indicate that the emigrée of 1512 was not Francisco's sister, so at least one of these assumptions must be discarded.
- The possibility seems only to have been considered (and rejected) by Campuzano (1997), p. 48.
- See Danaher Chaison (1976).
- Bel Bravo, María Antonia (2002). Mujeres españolas en la Historia Moderna (in Spanish). Madrid, Spain: Sílex.
- Campuzano, Luisa (1997). "Blancos y blancas en la conquista de Cuba". In Luisa Campuzano. Mujeres latinoamericanas: historia y cultura. Siglos xvi al xix (in Spanish). La Habana, Cuba: Casa de las Amerícas. pp. 35–52.
- Campuzano, Luisa (2004). Las muchachas de La Habana no tienen temor de Dio... Ecritoras cubanas (s. XVIII-XXI) (in Spanish). La Habana, Cuba: Ediciones Unión.
- Danaher Chaison, Joanne (April 1976). "Mysterious Malinche: A Case of Mistaken Identity". The Americas (JSTOR online reproduction) (Washington, DC: Academy of American Franciscan History, Catholic University of America Press) 32 (4): pp.514–523. doi:10.2307/979828. ISSN 0003-1615. JSTOR 979828. OCLC 1481001.
- Davies, Catherine, Brewster, Claire and Owen, Hilary (2006). South American Independence: Gender, Politics, Text. Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press.
- Díaz del Castillo, Bernal (1963) . The Conquest of New Spain. Penguin Classics. J. M. Cohen (trans.) (6th printing (1973) ed.). Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-044123-9. OCLC 162351797.
- Himmerich y Valencia, Robert (1996). The Encomenderos of New Spain, 1521-1555. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
- Porras Muñoz, Guillermo (1982). El gobierno de la Ciudad de México en el siglo XVI (in Spanish). Mexico City, Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
- INAFED (Instituto Nacional para el Federalismo y el Desarrollo Municipal) (2005). "Tetela del Volcán, Morelos". Enciclopedia de los Municipios de México (online version at E-Local ed.). INAFED, Secretaría de Gobernación. Retrieved 2008-09-01. (Spanish)
- Maura, Juan Francisco (1997). "La épica olvidada de la conquista de México: ... dez de Velasco y otras mujeres de armas toma". In Luisa Campuzano. Mujeres latinoamericanas: historia y cultura. Siglos xvi al xix (in Spanish). La Habana, Cuba: Casa de las Amerícas. pp. 53–60.
- Maura, Juan Francisco (2005). "María de Estrada, Beatriz Bermúdez de Velasco y otras mujeres de armas tomar de la Conquista de México". In . Españolas de ultramar en la historia y en la literatura: aventureras, madres, soldados, virreinas, gobernadoras, adelantadas, prostitutas, empresarias, monjas, escritoras, criadas y esclavas en la expansión ibérica ultramarina (siglos XV a XVII) (PDF online facsimile) (in Spanish). Hernando Maura (illus.). Valencia, Spain: Colecciуn Parnaseo — Universitat de València. pp. 185–190. ISBN 84-370-6245-4. OCLC 77558646.