From an early age, Erauso trained with him and brothers in the arts of warfare. In addition, a group of boys made fun of and attacked her, and when she got into a rock fight and injured one of them, she was arrested and spent a month in jail. Erauso was his servant for two years, always well treated and well dressed. She also attended mass in her old convent with her former colleagues. It is said that she has also served her aunt without ever being recognized. They were there for only two days.
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The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk Sunday, March 18, Catalina de Erauso, "the Lieutenant Nun" Catalina de Erauso escapes her convent, 18 March According to her autobiography, Catalina de Erauso was born in , although the surviving record of her baptism notes a date of just a small indication of the confusion about many of the details of her tumultuous, adventure-filled life. But, really, even if Erauso has exaggerated or even misrepresented some aspects of her life, what a life it was!
Catalina de Erauso, c. Catalina says nothing more about convent life, noting only that, when she was fifteen, she had a series of increasingly heated encounters with members of the community. Finally, seeing a chance of escape, she took it, fleeing the convent on the night of 18 March and entering a world that she "had never seen before. There I hid out for three days tracing and cutting clothing. I made myself a pair of trousers from a skirt of blue cloth that I had, and a shirt and leggings from the green shift that I wore underneath.
Not knowing what to make of the rest of my habit, I left it there. I cut off my hair and threw it away. Her decision seems at first purely practical, a way to avoid being identified and returned to convent life, but also a way to avoid the perils of traveling alone as a woman. At the same time, however, her life as a man seems also to correspond to other needs and desires as well. When Catalina flirts with two young women, "frolicking" and "teasing," it might seem intriguing to read this as lesbianism avant la lettre, an instance of female homosexuality or, at the very least, love play between women.
Now, more than twenty years later, the discussion is still complicated, with many scholars of gender and sexuality suggesting Erauso was transgender, still others continuing the debate about trying to understand the identity of a seventeenth-century person using twenty-first century concepts.
After leaving the convent, Erauso has a series of adventures in a number of Spanish cities, serving a variety of masters in a variety of roles under a number of different names, including Pedro de Orive, Francisco de Loyola, Alonso Diaz Ramirez de Guzman and Antonio de Erauso.
At times Erauso either meets or serves some members of her own family--cousins, her aunt, even her father--who never recognize her. At last Erauso decides to travel to the Americas, where, as a man, he lives a riotous life, the autobiography recounting all kinds of madcap adventures, fights and brawls, and sexual misadventures. At one point, "he" is almost forced to marry a woman, at another, "he" is dismissed when caught in a compromising position with a young woman.
As a man, Erauso serves in Chile, Peru, and Bolivia, eventually earning the rank of lieutenant, recognized for brutality and efficiency. After another dizzying array of adventures and misadventures--he is promoted, he is suspended, he is imprisoned, he deserts the army, he commits heinous crimes, including murder, for which he is condemned to death and then reprieved--in Erauso is forced to reveal "her" identity as a woman.
Her revelation is a last desperate act; about to be executed, she "confesses" to the local bishop, Francisco Verdugo Cabrerathat she is not only a woman but that she is a virgin, having been brought up in a convent. These records from her appeal preserve a great deal of the verifiable information about her. It is during this same period that she is said to have written or dictated accounts vary her memoir. Catalina de Erauso is eventually awarded her military pension. In addition, she is also granted another, more unusual request: she asks to be allowed to continue living as a man, and she receives official permission to do so.
In Erauso returns to the Americas, living the last twenty years of his life in Mexico as Antonio de Erauso. Or confession? Or an adventure story? Is it "true" at all, in any sense of that word? Did Catalina de Erauso "write" this story of her life? There is no surviving manuscript, nor is there any copy of a supposed seventeenth-century printed edition.
There is a reference to a supposed manuscript copy in the eighteenth century, a copy of which was eventually published in France in And, while I never taught this text, I did share it with a number of students in the years that I taught, for one of whom it proved to be a transformative text. She also missed the day students signed up for topics for an independent research assignment--when she came by my office, she was uninterested in the few remaining topics on the list.
She took the book. And two years later, happy, writing like mad, and active in the gay and lesbian group on campus, she stopped by my office one day to say thank you. The story of Catalina de Erauso had been an inspiration. And, if you search "lieutenant nun" on the Amazon website, you will see a number of critical works, focusing on gender and sexuality, about Catalina de Erauso, and while they seem to be out of print, used copies are available.
While you can buy a copy of the memoir, you can also access it freely online. In English, the memoir is available through the Early Americas Digital Archive; the translation, by Dan Harvey Pedrick, can be accessed by clicking here. For a Spanish edition, available through the Biblioteca virtual de Miguel Cervantes, click here.
Catalina de Erauso
Plot Overview Summary Plot Overview At the age of four, Catalina de Erauso, born in the Basque area of Spain in , is placed in a Dominican convent, where she trains until the age of fifteen to become a nun. On March 18, , Catalina runs away from the convent and fashions herself a suit of male clothes out of her convent garments. Thus she begins her life as a man. While in his employ, she encounters her father, who is petitioning for help in finding his missing daughter.
Such is the life of Catalina de Erauso, whose madcap disguised-as-a-man travels across South America come across like a 17th century episode of Cops. More on that later. Erauso started out her once-upon-a-times with a prison break and a clothing swap. Cooped up in a Spanish convent since from the age of 4, Erauso gradually grew more frustrated with her lack of freedom, not to mention the regular beatings from the nuns. So at age 15 she escaped her holdings, grabbing fabric to spin herself up a new costume, and thus a new identity.
About Lieutenant Nun Named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of One of the earliest known autobiographies by a woman, this is the extraordinary tale of Catalina de Erauso, who in escaped from a Basque convent dressed as a man and went on to live one of the most wildly fantastic lives of any woman in history. A soldier in the Spanish army, she traveled to Peru and Chile, became a gambler, and even mistakenly killed her own brother in a duel. During her lifetime she emerged as the adored folkloric hero of the Spanish-speaking world. About Lieutenant Nun One of the earliest known autobiographies by a woman, this is the extraordinary tale of Catalina de Erauso, who in escaped from a Basque convent dressed as a man and went on to live one of the most wildly fantastic lives of any woman in history. Raised and educated in a convent, de Erauso refused to conform to the strict nature of the environment and, disguising… More about Catalina De Erauso About Catalina De Erauso Catalina de Erauso was born in Spain in either or , according to disputed records, and died in Raised and educated in a convent, de Erauso refused to conform to the strict nature of the environment and, disguising… More about Catalina De Erauso Product Details.