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Catalina de Erauso

Catalina de Erauso Catalina de Erauso[1†]

Catalina de Erauso, also known as Antonio de Erauso, was a unique and complex figure in the history of Spain and its colonies. Born in San Sebastián, Spain, in either 1585 or 1592[1†][2†], she is most famously known for her escape from a convent at a young age and her subsequent life disguised as a man[1†][2†][3†].

Early Years and Education

Catalina de Erauso was born in the coastal town of San Sebastián, in the northern Basque region of Spain, in either 1585 or 1592[2†][3†][4†]. She was the daughter of a prominent 16th-century Spanish military family[2†][4†]. Her father, Miguel de Erauso, was a soldier who had made a vow to the Virgin of Atocha that all his sons would serve in the army and all his daughters would become nuns[2†].

From a young age, Catalina and her three older sisters were interned in the Dominican Convent of San Sebastián el Antiguo[2†][3†]. Some sources indicate that her cloistered life may have begun by the time she was four years old[2†]. Here, she was educated and prepared for a life of religious service[2†][3†][5†].

However, Catalina’s life took a dramatic turn when, just before taking her final vows to become a nun at age fifteen, she escaped from the convent[2†][3†][5†]. This marked the beginning of her extraordinary life, during which she assumed various male identities and embarked on numerous adventures[2†][3†].

Career Development and Achievements

After escaping the convent, Catalina de Erauso adopted various male identities and embarked on a life of adventure[1†][2†]. She initially found work as an accountant and page, and later fled to America as a "cabin boy"[1†][2†]. In the New World, she became a soldier of fortune, serving in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina[1†][2†].

Erauso’s military career was marked by her bravery and skill. She rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant in the Spanish colonial army in South America[1†][2†]. Her exploits were not without controversy, however. She was known for her quick temper and was involved in numerous fights and duels[1†][2†].

One of the significant milestones in her career was her participation in an expedition to conquer Chile in 1619[1†][4†]. During this expedition, she was promoted to lieutenant and earned a reputation for her courage and, controversially, for her cruelty[1†][4†].

Despite the challenges she faced, Erauso managed to maintain her disguise for many years. It was only around 1623 that she revealed in a confession that she was a woman[1†][2†]. This revelation shocked many, but it did not end her career. Instead, she returned to Spain, where she was received by the king and awarded a lifelong military pension[1†][2†].

In 1630, she returned to the New World and spent the last twenty years of her life in Mexico, working as a muleteer[1†][3†]. She continued to use the name Antonio de Erauso until her death in 1650[1†][3†].

Erauso’s career is a testament to her resilience and determination. Despite living in a time of rigid gender roles and expectations, she carved out a life for herself that was full of adventure and achievement[1†][2†].

First Publication of Main Works

Catalina de Erauso is best known for her autobiography, which has remained alive through historical studies, biographical stories, novels, movies, and comics[1†]. The autobiography, which she wrote or dictated under the name Antonio de Erauso, remained in manuscript form until it was first published in Paris in 1829[1†]. It was published again in Barcelona in 1838, and for the third time in Paris in 1894, with illustrations by Spanish artist Daniel Vierge[1†].

The autobiography presents significant encounters that describe the experiences of conquistadors[1†][6†]. It provides a detailed account of Erauso’s life, from her early years in a convent, her escape and adoption of a male identity, to her adventures in Spain and Spanish America[1†]. The autobiography has incited various scholarly debates, including questions about the historical existence of doña Catalina, the authorship of the text, and the year of publication[1†][7†].

Here are some of the main works attributed to Catalina de Erauso:

These works provide a unique perspective on the life and adventures of Catalina de Erauso, offering valuable insights into the history of Spain and its colonies[1†][4†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Catalina de Erauso’s life and works have been the subject of extensive analysis and evaluation, with scholars focusing on various aspects of her extraordinary life[9†][5†].

Sherry Velasco’s study of Catalina de Erauso, also known as the “Lieutenant Nun,” provides a fascinating analysis of the portrayals of and reception of Erauso’s life story from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century[9†]. Velasco shows that, “Depending on which features of her extraordinary life are evoked, the Lieutenant Nun can be upheld as the hero or enemy of Catholic, transgender, lesbian, heterosexual, feminist, misogynist, racist, classist, and nationalist (Spanish, Basque, or Latin American) ideologies, as well as colonial, Enlightenment, Romantic, liberal, fascist, democratic, and postcolonial politics” (171)[9†].

Erauso’s life was mainly devoted to military exploits, especially in Hispano-America. For her courage and valor as a soldier, she reached superior military ranks up to that of ensign[9†][5†]. In addition to military prowess, she was noted for her cruelty against the enemies, namely the American natives, the strength in battle, and the lack of scruples, going so far as to kill her own brother in a duel[9†][5†].

The careful examination of the phenotype as it appears from the probably faithful portrait and the analysis of Erauso’s military exploits may suggest that Catalina was not simply a homosexual or transgender woman[9†][5†]. Although it is proven that Catalina exhibited a female phenotype, at least in relation to the external genitalia (we have no news on breast development or menstruation), it can be solidly inferred that Catalina was endowed with considerable muscular strength[9†][5†].

Erauso’s fictional life inspired a large number of literary, theatrical, iconographic, and cinematic productions which “transformed Erauso’s life experience into a public spectacle show how transgender narratives expose and manipulate spectators’ fears and desires”[9†][5†].

Personal Life

Catalina de Erauso’s personal life was as unconventional as her professional one. Born into a prominent 16th-century Spanish military family, she was sent to live in a convent at the age of four[4†]. However, the cloistered life was not for Erauso. After a dispute with a fellow novice, she stole the convent keys, cut her hair short, and disguised herself as a man[4†]. This disguise was maintained for most of her life, prompting modern-day audiences to question her gender identity[4†].

Erauso wandered mostly unnoticed through Spain, even encountering her father in Valladolid, who did not recognize her[4†]. Finding the encounter too close for comfort, de Erauso fled Valladolid and spent time in Bilbao, Seville, and ultimately back in San Sebastian[4†]. Afterward, she set sail for the Americas, working as a cabin boy[4†].

During her time in the Americas, she killed her uncle, stole hundreds of pesos, fought many duels, and took several female lovers[4†]. She even killed her own brother during her time in Chile[4†]. Imprisoned yet again and with her back to the wall, de Erauso finally revealed her deep secret: She was a woman, almost a nun, and a virgin by the standards of the day[4†].

In 1630, she returned to the New World and spent the last twenty years of her life in Mexico working as a muleteer, using the name Antonio de Erauso, until her death in 1650[4†][3†].

Erauso’s personal life was marked by her defiance of societal norms, her daring exploits, and her ability to navigate the world as a man. Her story continues to captivate audiences, offering a unique perspective on the history of Spain and its colonies[4†][2†][4†][10†][3†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Catalina de Erauso, also known as Antonio de Erauso, is a figure who continues to captivate and intrigue. Her life story, filled with daring exploits and dramatic transformations, has been immortalized in historical studies, biographical stories, novels, movies, and comics[2†][1†].

Erauso’s legacy is multifaceted. On one hand, she is remembered as a Spanish conqueror who participated in the colonization of the Americas[2†]. On the other hand, she is celebrated as a transgender icon who defied the gender norms of her time[2†][11†]. Her ability to navigate the world as a man in the 17th century offers a unique perspective on the history of gender and identity[2†][11†].

Erauso’s story is a testament to the human spirit’s resilience and adaptability. Despite the societal constraints of her time, she carved out a life for herself that was truly extraordinary[2†][1†]. Her story challenges our understanding of gender, identity, and societal norms, making her a relevant figure even in contemporary discussions[2†][11†].

Erauso died near the Mexican city of Veracruz in 1630[2†][4†]. However, her story lives on, serving as a source of inspiration and a subject of scholarly interest[2†][1†][4†]. Through her life, Catalina de Erauso reminds us of the complexities of human identity and the limitless potential of the human spirit[2†][1†][4†][11†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Antonio de Erauso [website] - link
  2. Encyclopedia.com - Erauso, Catalina de (1592–1635) [website] - link
  3. Encyclopedia.com - Catalina de Erauso c. 1592–1650 [website] - link
  4. All That’s Interesting - Catalina De Erauso, The Cross-Dressing Warrior Nun Of Spain [website] - link
  5. Springer Link - The “Ensign Nun” Catalina de Erauso: a clinical endocrinology enigma [website] - link
  6. StudyCorgi - The Autobiography of Catalina de Erauso [website] - link
  7. Project MUSE - Johns Hopkins University Press - Project MUSE - [website] - link
  8. Springer Link - Women’s Narratives of the Early Americas and the Formation of Empire - Chapter: Ungendering Empire: Catalina De Erauso and the Performance of Masculinity [website] - link
  9. JSTOR - Review: [Untitled] [website] - link
  10. Smithsonian Magazine - Remembering the Forgotten Women Writers of 17th-Century Spain [website] - link
  11. EL PAÍS English - Culture - The surprising case of Catalina de Erauso: The first trans portrait in history finds its voice 400 years later [website] - link
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