Catalina de Erauso

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Portrait attributed to Juan van der Hamen

Antonio de Erauso, born Catalina de Erauso (in Spanish; or Katalina Erauso in Basque) (San Sebastián, Spain, 1585 or 1592[1]Cuetlaxtla near Orizaba, New Spain, 1650),[2] who went by Alonso Díaz 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 the Basque Country, 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.[3]

Early years[edit]

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)[4][5] or February 10, 1592 (according to a baptismal certificate).[6][7][8] Erauso's parents were Miguel de Erauso and Maria Pérez de Arce Gallarraga,[2] both of whom had been born and lived in San Sebastián.[8] Miguel was a captain[8] and military commander of the Basque province under the orders of King Philip III of Spain. From an early age, Erauso trained with him and brothers in the arts of warfare.[4]

Life at the convent[edit]

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,[9] where Erauso's mother's cousin, Ursula de Uriza e Sarasti, held the position of prioress.[8] Erauso grew into a strong, stocky, and quick-tempered individual,[8][10] Realizing he had no religious vocation, and as a result feeling imprisoned and refusing to take his vows, Erauso was detained in his cell because of this and constant fights with a widowed novice named Catalina de Alirli.[citation needed] At 15, after being beaten by one of the older nuns, Erauso decided to escape.[8][10] 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 prays, and escaped.[8] Erauso spent a week fashioning boy's clothes, and headed for Vitoria, staying off the main roads.[8] With short hair, Erauso easily passed as a boy there.[8]

Travels around Spain[edit]

From this moment on, Erauso began the life of a fugitive, later narrated in the autobiography that gave him great fame. In Vitoria, Erauso met a doctor and professor, Francisco de Cerralta,[11] who was married to Erauso's mother's cousin but took Erauso in without recognizing him.[12][13] Erauso stayed with him for three months, during which he learned some Latin, but when Cerralta became abusive, he left.[8][12][13] Erauso took money from the doctor,[citation needed] met a mule driver and went to Valladolid with him.[8] The court of King Philip III of Spain resided in Valladolid, under the influence of the Duke of Lerma.[14] Disguised as a man by the name of Francisco de Loyola,[15] 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.[16] His father conversed with Idiáquez, asking for information to find his missing child, describing his physical appearance and the way he escaped from the convent[citation needed], all without recognizing that he had just spoken to that child.[16] Afterwards, Erauso decided to head to Bilbao.[17]

When he arrived, he was not as lucky as before, he did not find a place to sleep nor a patron. In addition, a group of boys made fun of and attacked him, and when he got into a rock fight and injured one of them, he was arrested and spent a month in jail.[17][18] Once released from prison, Eraso went to Estella, and found work as a page there too,[17] 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 his years of service to Arellano, he returned to San Sebastián, his hometown, where he lived as a man, taking care of his relatives, whom he saw frequently. He also attended mass in his old convent with his former colleagues. It is said that he has also served his aunt without ever being recognized. After some time, he came to Puerto de Pasajes, where he met Captain Miguel de Berróiz, who took her to Seville. They were there for only two days. He later returned to Sanlucar de Barrameda, where he found a job as a cabin boy on a ship. Captain Esteban Eguiño, who was a cousin of his mother, owned the galleon. According to his memoirs, he embarked on Holy Monday, 1603 to America.[citation needed] Erauso felt like many Basques of his time inclined to venture to the Indies.[5]

He 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 his physique was not feminine, which helped him pass as a man. Erauso once said he "dried [his] breasts" with a secret ointment.[19]

Travels to the New World[edit]

The first place in the Americas where he landed was Punta de Araya, now part of Venezuela, where he had a confrontation with a Dutch pirate fleet which he 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 his uncle and stole 500 pesos. He told to the sailors that his uncle had sent him on an errand. An hour later, the ship returned to Spain without him. From there he went with an usher to Panama, where he spent three months. In Panama he started working with Juan de Urquiza, merchant of Trujillo with whom he 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 he had to swim to save himself and his master. The rest of the crew perished.

After a brief time in Paita, he went to Zana, a place full of cattle, grains, fruits and tobacco from Peru. There, his master happily accommodated him. He gave Erauso a home, clothing and a large amount of money, as well as three black slaves. In Saña he had a fight with a young man who threatened him in a comedy theater. He ended up cutting off the face of the boy who challenged him. He was taken to jail again and through efforts of his master, Juan de Urquiza, and the bishop of that place, he was released on the condition that he married Doña Beatriz de Cárdenas, lady of his master and aunt of the man who had his face cut. Not wanting to be discovered, he refused to marry. Then he went to the city of Trujillo, where his master opened a store.

However, the man who was wounded in the face came to challenge him again accompanied by two friends. He went to the fight with another person, and in the fight the man's friend was killed. He was again imprisoned, and after his master saved him again, he gave him money and a letter of recommendation and sent him to Lima, which was the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru. He gave the letter of recommendation to Diego de Solarte, a very rich merchant and greater consul of Lima, and after a few days he was given his shop. He was responsible for the business for nine months, but was fired when discovered fondling a woman, the sister of his master's wife.[citation needed] After being dismissed, he found a company recruiting, whose aim was the conquest of Chile and, beset by the need to find a new occupation, he enlisted under the command of Captain Gonzalo Rodriguez. He was accompanied by 1600 men from Lima to the city of Concepción. From 1617-19 he worked as a llama-driver from Chuquisaca to the great mining center of Potosí, and was then recruited as a soldier.[20]

Military exploits[edit]

After marching with his company to Chile in 1619, his army swept through the lands and property of the Mapuches, showing his aggressive side as conqueror, massacring many Indians. In Chile he was welcomed by the secretary of the governor, who was his brother, Don Miguel de Erauso, but did not recognize him.[21] He remained there for three years and because of a dispute with his brother, (possibly because of another woman) was banished to Paicabí, the land of Indians. There he 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 he was born a woman.[citation needed]

In the battle of Valdivia he received the rank of second lieutenant. In the next battle of Puren his captain died and he took command, winning the battle. However, due to the many complaints that existed against him for his cruelty against the Indians, he was not promoted to the next military rank. This frustration led to a period devoted to vandalizing, killing as many people as he met on the road, causing extensive damage and burning entire crops. In Concepción he assassinated the chief auditor of the city, for which he was locked in a church for six months. After being released, he killed her brother Don Miguel de Erauso in another duel and was again imprisoned eight months. He later fled to today's Argentina across the Andes, through a difficult transition path. He was saved from the brink of death by a villager and taken to Tucumán, where he promised marriage to two young women, the daughter of an Indian widow (which had hosted Erauso on his farm during his convalescence) and the niece of a canon.

He 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 he went to Potosí, where he became the assistant to a sergeant, and returned again to fight against the Indians, participating in mass killings in Chuncos. In La Plata (Chuquisaca) he was accused of a crime he did not commit, he was tortured and finally set free again (without his birth sex being discovered). Once out of prison, he devoted himself to smuggle wheat and cattle on the orders of Juan Lopez de Arquijo. A new lawsuit forced him to take refuge in a church. In Piscobamba, by quarreling, he killed another individual. This time he was sentenced to death, but was saved at the last minute by the deposition of another prisoner sentenced to death. Then he remained in sanctuary for five months in a church due to a duel with a jealous husband. When he moved to La Paz, he was sentenced again to death for another offense. To escape, he pretended to confess and, after seizing a consecrated host fled to Cuzco[22] and returned to Peru.

Return to Spain and audience with Pope Urban VIII[edit]

In 1623 he was arrested in Huamanga, Peru, because of a dispute. To prevent his execution he begged for mercy to Bishop Agustín de Carvajal, and confessed that he was actually a woman who had been in a convent. Following a review by a group of matrons, they determined it was true that he was a woman and a virgin, the bishop protected him and he was sent to Spain.

In 1625–1626, he petitioned the Spanish Crown for financial reward for his services as a soldier in the New World. He did this in his relación de méritos y servicios (Account of Merits and Services). In addition to seeking reward for his time at war, he also sought compensation for money he 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.[23]

Scholars are conflicted as to whether or not this visit between Erauso and Pope Urban VIII actually occurred, but his 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 him being in Rome at that time.[23]

Return to America and death[edit]

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 he died carrying a load on a boat, though some argue his death occurred at the heights of Orizaba, alone; most plausible[citation needed] is that he died in the village of Cotaxtla. According to the historian Joaquín Arróniz, his 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 his remains to the city of Puebla, home of the bishopric, but failed. Instead, according to other historians, the remains of Antonio de Erauso rest in the same place where it is believed he died, in the village of Cotaxtla.[24] However, there is no documentation that can demonstrate the exact date and place of death.[25]

Autobiography and controversy over its authorship[edit]

Antonio de Erauso wrote or dictated an autobiography which was first published in Paris in 1829, under his birth name Catalina de Erauso, at the request of Joaquín María Ferrer, a second time in Barcelona in 1838 and for the third time (1894) in Paris, with illustrations by Spanish artist Daniel Vierge. Then they were translated into several languages and versions of the theme, as idealized by Thomas De Quincey, entitled The Ensign Nun in English.[26]

In addition to these editions, a series of reprints of his autobiography after 1894, and about his return to Spain, a comedy was released by Juan Pérez de Montalbán, Comedia famosa de la Monja Alferez (1625). Currently, it has generated a new debate among researchers of his life around the authorship of this autobiography, which some researchers have branded as apocryphal and without any basis for engaging in some chronological inaccuracies and contradictions.[27][28] However, given the existence of baptism certificates and testimonies from others about his life and works, there is strong evidence for the historical existence of this person.[29]

Some have wanted to see a relationship between his extraordinary life, and the Baroque taste for portraying marginal and / or deformed or abnormal characters, as the main reason for the fame he gained throughout the Hispanic world on her return from America.[3]

Questions of gender and sexual identity[edit]

Modern scholars have debated Erauso's sexual orientation and gender identity. In his 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.[30] Those betrothals, however, usually ended after Erauso exploited the situation and rode off with gifts and dowry money.[31] Erauso also mentions an encounter when a hostess surprises him by "touching between her legs," and also acknowledges having taken advantage twice of his 'disguise' as a man to get gifts from his future fiancée who did not know his sex.[30]

Other scholars, such as Sherry Velasco, have also written on the subject of gender and sexual identity.[32] Velasco and others argue for viewing Erauso as transgender,[33][34] 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 his relationships and behavior with other women.[31][32] 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, initially in heterosexual, femme-fatale narratives in the 1940s to appeal to younger women as glamorous[citation needed]. Then, in the 1980s, he 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."[32]

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 that knew Erauso and could speak to his demeanor in his petition of the King and the Pope. This section also was an intersection of not only gender, but also class and profession. The accounts in Erauso's document show how Erauso and others navigated ideas of gender and identity at that time.[23]

Regardless of how Erauso identified, researchers are still divided into different camps on the reason for Erauso's grand story of adventures. Some argue that Erauso had to pretend to be attracted to women in order to keep his identity a secret and to blend in with his 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 his gender identity and was transgender.[31][35]

Regardless of those controversies, Antonio de Erauso chose to go back to the New World and continue his life as a man.


Despite the existence of his own memoirs, probably written around 1626, Antonio de Erauso ended up disappearing from most known historical records, specifically in the period running between his return to Spain in 1624 and his return 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, marking this version of his autobiography the revival of interest and research into his life.[36][37]

The character of The Nun Lieutenant was, and remains today, a source of inspiration for writers, playwrights, filmmakers and artists (most notably his 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.[3] 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 analysis and academic papers trying to explain his 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 because he is a clear example of instability and relativity of the notion of gender in the construction of the identity of an individual.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 1592 according to the baptismal record; 1585, according to sources including the supposed autobiography. See Stepto 1996, p. xxvi.
  2. ^ a b 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.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. ^ a b c Gómez, María Asunción (2009). "El problemático "feminismo" de La Monja Alférez, de Domingo Miras". Espéculo. Universidad Complutense de Madrid (41). Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  4. ^ a b de Erauso, Catalina. "Historia de la Monja Alférez" (in Spanish). Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Catalina de Erauso. El primer aire de libertad". Euskomedia (in Spanish). Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  6. ^ Tellechea Idígoras, José Ignacio (2018). "Catalina de Erauso". Diccionario Biográfico Español. Real Academia de la Historia.
  7. ^ María Claudia André, Eva Paulino Bueno, Latin American Women Writers: An Encyclopedia (2014, ISBN 1317726340).
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Jerome R. Adams, Notable Latin American Women: Twenty-nine Leaders (1995, ISBN 0786400226), ch. 5, pp. 45-46.
  9. ^ "Catalina de Erauso. La monja". Euskomedia (in Spanish). Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  10. ^ a b Velasco (2000), p. 2.
  11. ^ In Vallbona's edition, the name is spelled Zeralta (Mendieta 2009, p. 86).
  12. ^ a b Eva Mendieta, In search of Catalina de Erauso (2009), p. 86.
  13. ^ a b Pérez-Villanueva, Life (2014), p. 78.
  14. ^ Ilenia Colón Mendoza, The Cristos yacentes of Gregorio Fernández (2017, ISBN 1351545299), p. 3.
  15. ^ Luis de Castresana, Obras selectas de Luis de Castresana: Catalina de Erauso, la monja alférez (1970), p. 68.
  16. ^ a b Pérez-Villanueva, Life (2014), p. 95.
  17. ^ a b c Adams (1995), pp. 46-47.
  18. ^ Mendieta (2009), p. 104.
  19. ^ ARTEHISTORIA. "Monja alférez. Catalina de Erauso – Personajes – ARTEHISTORIA V2". ARTEHISTORIA (in Spanish). Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  20. ^ Lane, Kris. Potosí:The Silver City that Changed the World. Berkeley: University of California Press 2019, pp. 100-101.
  21. ^ "Catalina de Erauso. Soldado en Chile". Euskomedia (in Spanish). Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  22. ^ "Catalina de Erauso en Bolivia". Euskomedia (in Spanish). Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  23. ^ a b c Goldmark, Matthew (2015-04-03). "Reading Habits: Catalina de Erauso and the Subjects of Early Modern Spanish Gender and Sexuality". Colonial Latin American Review. 24 (2): 215–235. doi:10.1080/10609164.2015.1040278. ISSN 1060-9164.
  24. ^ "Historia, cultura y turismo en Orizaba". Agustín García Márquez. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  25. ^ VILLATORO, MANUEL P. "Catalina de Erauso, la monja española que se disfrazó de hombre y combatió como soldado en América". Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  26. ^ Erauso, Catalina de; Pérez de Montalván, Juan; Fitzmaurice-Kelly, James (1908). "The nun ensign". Hathi Trust. T. Fisher Unwin. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  27. ^ Pérez-Villanueva, Life (2014).
  28. ^ "Historia de la Monja Alférez: ¿escrita por ella misma?" (PDF). Sonia Pérez-Villanueva. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  29. ^ Valcárcel, Isabel (2005). Mujeres de armas tomar. EDAF. ISBN 9788496107564.
  30. ^ a b "The Autobiography of doña Catalina de Erauso, by Catalina de Erauso 1592–1650". Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  31. ^ a b c Rapp, Linda. "Erauso, Catalina de (ca 1592- ca1650)" (PDF). Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  32. ^ a b c Velasco (2000).
  33. ^ Marcia Ochoa, Becoming a Man in Yndias, in Technofuturos: Critical Interventions in Latina/o Studies (2007), edited by Nancy Raquel Mirabal, Agustín Laó-Montes, p. 55.
  34. ^ Leslie Feinberg, Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman (1996, ISBN 0807079413), p. 33.
  35. ^ Haggerty, George; Zimmerman, Bonnie (2003). Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-135-57870-1.
  36. ^ Hernández, Isabel. "From Spain to the Americas, from the convent to the front: Catalina de Erauso's shifting identities". Archived from the original on 24 February 2016. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  37. ^ Sánchez Rodríguez, Sandra La historia de la Monja Alférez, escrita por ella misma. "Análisis histórico y literario de Vida i sucesos de la monja alférez, doña Catalina de Erauso" (PDF). Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Iztapalapa. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-07. Retrieved July 2004. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

Further reading[edit]

  • Catalina de Erauso, Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World. Boston: Beacon Press 1996.
  • Belén Castro Morales. "Catalina De Erauso, La Monja Amazona." Revista De Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana 26, no. 52 (2000): 227-42. Accessed June 28, 2020. doi:10.2307/4531130.


  • Velasco, Sherry (2000-01-01). The Lieutenant Nun: Transgenderism, Lesbian Desire, and Catalina de Erauso. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-78746-9.
  • Pérez-Villanueva, Sonia (2014). The Life of Catalina de Erauso, the Lieutenant Nun: An Early Modern Autobiography. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-61147-661-3.
  • (in Spanish) Historia de la monja alférez escrita por ella misma. Presentación y epílogo de Jesús Munárriz. Madrid, Ediciones Hiperión,2000. ISBN 978-84-7517-652-9
  • (in Spanish) Historia de la monja alférez. Amigos del Libro Vasco, Echevarri,1986.
  • (in Spanish) Historia de la monja alférez D.ª Catalina de Erauso. Catalina de Erauso. Barcelona : Imp. de José Tauló, 1838
  • (in Spanish) Miguel de Erauso (senior), el abuelo de la Monja Alférez: una inmersión en la vida donostiarra (1592). José Ignacio Tellechea Idigoras. En: Boletín de estudios históricos sobre San Sebastián. n. 39 (2005), p. 81-154
  • (in Spanish) Doña Catalina de Erauso: la monja alférez: IV centenario de su nacimiento. José Ignacio Tellechea Idígoras. ISBN 84-7173-205-X
  • (in Spanish) Historia del Nuevo Mundo. Juan Bautista Muñoz. Madrid, 1794
  • (in Spanish) La historia de la Monja Alférez, escrita por ella misma. Catalina de Erauso. Comentada y editada por Joaquín María Ferrer. París: Imp. de Julio Didot, 1829
  • (in Spanish) La historia de la monja Alférez, escrita por ella misma. Catalina de Erauso. Traducción de José María de Heredia. París, 1894