Catalina de Erauso was born in San Sebastián, Spain, to a noble Basque family. She was raised in a convent from an early age but before taking her vows fled dressed in men’s clothes and assumed the name Francisco de Loyola.
Francisco worked as a page for a few years before deciding to seek adventure in the New World, sailing to Panama as a cabin boy. After arriving in New Spain, he enlisted in the Spanish army under the name Alonso Díaz Ramírez de Guzmán. He became a successful soldier in Chile and Peru, even advancing to the rank of captain. However, like many other soldiers, he got into frequent brawls, had trouble with women, and accumulated gambling debts. After deserting the army, pursued by authorities for various offenses, including murder, he was eventually wounded in a duel. Believed to be on the verge of death, he revealed that he was a woman and was placed in a convent.
After recovering and trying to escape, Erauso confessed everything to a bishop and was examined by midwives, who found that she was indeed a woman and a virgin. Released, she traveled back to Spain, but the story had spread and Catalina de Erauso became a celebrity known as the “Lieutenant Nun.” She petitioned King Philip IV for a military pension, citing her fifteen years of service to the crown in New Spain. She also visited Pope Urban VIII with a request to be allowed to continue to dress as a man, referencing her status as a virgin and her defense of the Catholic faith.
With the permission of the pope and a pension from the Spanish government, Erauso returned to New Spain as Antonio de Erauso and retired as a mule driver and merchant.
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Pedrick, Dan Harvey. The Sword & the Veil: An Annotated Translation of the Autobiography of Doña Catalina de Erauso. MA thesis. The University of Victoria, 1999.
Rupp, Leila J. Sapphistries: A Global History of Love Between Women. New York University Press, 2009.
Velasco, Sherry. Lesbians in Early Modern Spain. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2011.