Catalina de Erauso o sea La monja de alferes, XIX century, an unpublished version of the legendary life of Catalina de Erauso (1592–1650)
BY BROOKE WOMACK
SOMETIME IN 2018, I bought myself a copy of Butch Heroes by Ria Brodell. This book has plates of gouache paintings by the author depicting various famous “butches” from history. One of these focuses on Catalina “Antonio” de Erauso. De Erauso was raised in a convent in Spain from an early age, escaped as a teenager, and took on a male alias. After a few years, de Erauso decided to enlist in the Spanish army and travel to the new world. De Erauso did well for the Spanish army but was frequently causing trouble by gambling and getting into fights. De Erauso was arrested in the new world and sentenced to death. In order to escape the death penalty, de Erauso confessed that they* were born a woman, and was a pious woman at that, and shouldn’t be sentenced to death. De Erauso was shipped back to Spain to await a sentence. At this time, word had traveled back to Spain about la monja alferes (lieutenant nun). De Erauso was freed of a prison sentence and even petitioned King Philip IV for a military pension for 15 years of military experience, which was granted. De Erauso also requested that Pope Urban VIII allow them to continue wearing men’s clothing since they were such a pious person. This was also granted, and de Erauso lived a happy life in New Spain until their death.
I was hungry to know more about de Erauso. Imagine how ecstatic I was to find out that we have an unpublished manuscript detailing the life of la monja alferes in the García manuscripts here at the Benson! Having a manuscript like this at the Benson is especially amazing because it offers such a unique view of the history of Latin America and the everyday people who lived it. Despite working intimately with the Benson’s rare materials for five years, I am constantly finding new and exciting things in the archive!
*Since de Erauso’s gender and pronouns are unknown, I use the gender-neutral pronouns they/them/theirs to refer to de Erauso.
Brooke Womack (they/them) is a senior library specialist at the Benson Latin American Collection.
IN HONOR OF THE CENTENNIAL of the Benson Latin American Collection, staff members submitted short descriptions of some of their favorite items in the collection.