Catalina de Erauso

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Portrait attributed to Juan van der Hamen

Catalina de Erauso or Katalina Erauso, also known in Spanish as La Monja Alférez (English, The Nun Lieutenant) (1592,[1] San Sebastián, Spain—1650,[2] Cuetlaxtla (near Orizaba), New Spain), was a personality of the Basque Country, Spain and Spanish America in the first half of the 17th century.


Map of Catalina's journeys in South America, 17th century

Catalina de Erauso was born in 1585 to a Basque family who resided in San Sebastián, Spain. Her father was Captain Miguel de Erauso and her mother María Pérez de Gallárraga y Arce. Her father and brothers were soldiers in the Spanish army. In her family and culture, religion and upholding family honor came first. At the age of four years Catalina de Erauso was placed in the convent of Dominican nuns, in the town of San Sebastian the Elder. There, she trained to become a nun if a marriage proposal was not presented. While the Basque daughters were presented with two options, conventional marriage or the conventual life,[3] the sons we given more opportunities and freedom to explore the world. At the age of fifteen, the age in which Catalina would be required to make her final vows and profess herself a nun, Catalina decided that she was not going to allow her family’s traditions or strong religious beliefs guide her life. She ran away from the convent on March 18, 1600.

Catalina disguised herself by dressing as a man, and began her journey to the New World. She gave herself the name "Francisco de Loyola". Catalina traveled first to Valladolid, then to Bilbao. From there, to get to the New World, she presented herself as different roles such as a servant and a page to the king's secretary. Catalina crossed the Atlantic on her deceived uncle's galleon, working as a ship's boy, and jumped ship in the New World.

She arrived in Spanish America in the town of Concepción, Chile and enlisted as a soldier in the Chile army under the name Alonso Díaz Ramírez de Guzmán. She served under several captains in the Arauco War, including her own brother, who never recognized her.[4]

While fighting in the New World in a battle against Native Americans, Catalina recaptured the Spanish flag after it was taken by the chief. She chased the chief on horse and killed him and other Native Americans in the process even though she was wounded. For this she was appointed Lieutenant by the governor and remained a Lieutenant for five years.

Catalina then accidentally killed her brother during a duel a few years later while in the New World. After realizing what she had done she was horrified. She was then prosecuted for eight months on the charge of rebellion. With the help of Juan Ponce de Leòn she escaped to Valdivia and then Tucumán.

After another fight in which Catalina killed a man and was wounded seriously, she revealed her sex as female in a deathbed confession. She however survived after four months of convalescence and left for Guamanga.

To escape yet another incident, she confessed her sex to the bishop, Fray Agustín de Carvajal. Induced by Fray she entered a convent and her story spread across the ocean. In 1620, the archbishop of Lima called her. In 1624, she arrived in Spain, having changed ship after another fight.

In June 29, 1626, Catalina de Erauso was seen by Pope Urban VIII, who granted her a special dispensation that would allow her to continue to wear men's clothing.[citation needed]

Her portrait by Francesco Crescenzio is lost. Back in Spain, Francisco Pacheco (Velázquez's father-in-law) painted Catalina in 1630.

She again left Spain in 1645, this time for New Spain in the fleet of Pedro de Ursúa, where she became a mule driver on the road from Veracruz. In New Spain she used the name Antonio de Erauso.

Catalina died in Cuetlaxtla, New Spain in 1650.


Pietro Della Valle described her in a 1626 letter sent from Rome to Mario Schipano as fond of conversation, tall and strong with masculine looks and childlike breasts after the application of an Italian remedy. Her face is not ugly but worn by age, looking more like a eunuch than a woman.[citation needed]

She dressed as a Spanish man, with a sword, more as a soldier than a courtier.

In media[edit]

In 1625, Juan Pérez de Montalván's play Comedia famosa de la monja Alférez appeared, profiting from her fame. In that same year, a "True narration of the great feats..." was published in Seville, followed by a "Second narration..." and a "Last and third narration..." from Mexico.[citation needed]

An alleged autobiography from 1626 exists, the earliest manuscript of which dates from 1794 and which was first published in 1829.[5]

Her life was also the theme of various novels and of a study by Dr. Nicolás León.[citation needed]

In 1943, Emilio Gómez Muriel made a film of her life, with María Félix playing Erauso. A further movie, starring Esperanza Roy, was released in Spain in 1987.[citation needed]

The character of Catalina Erantzo in the video game Uncharted Waters: New Horizons was named for and somewhat influenced by her, being a female Spanish commodore.[citation needed]

Notes, references and sources[edit]

Notes and references
  1. ^ 1592 according to the record of her baptism; 1585, according to her supposed autobiography. See Stepto 1996, p. xxvi.
  2. ^ Robert Aldrich; Garry Wotherspoon. (Eds.) (2002). Who's who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II (2nd ed.). London: Taylor & Francis/Routledge. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-415-15983-8. 
  3. ^ Lieutenant Nun
  4. ^ Petition of Catalina de Erauso to the Spanish Crown, 1625 (see external link below)
  5. ^ For the book's textual history, see the "Translators' Note" to Erauso 1996.
  • Erauso, Catalina de (1996), Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World, Boston: Beacon, ISBN 0-8070-7072-6 . Trans. Michele Stepto and Gabriel Stepto.
  • Stepto, Michele (1996), "Introduction", in Erauso, Catalina de, Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World, Boston: Beacon, pp. xxv–xliv, ISBN 0-8070-7072-6 . Trans. Michele Stepto and Gabriel Stepto.

Erauso, Catalina. "The Nun Lieutenant." Chapter XXV. Alicante : Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, 2001

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]