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Catalina de Erauso

Catalina de Erauso, also known as La Monja Alferez (English The Nun Lieutenant) (1592, Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain—1650, Cuetlaxtla, New Spain), was a semilegendary personality of Spain and Spanish America in the first half of the seventeenth century.


Catalina de Erauso was a Basque woman, daughter and sister of soldiers from the city of San Sebastian, Basque Country. She was expected to become a nun but abandoned the nunnery after a beating at the age of fifteen, just before she was to take her vows. She had not ever seen a street, having entered the convent at the age of four.

She dressed herself as a man, "Francisco de Loyola", and left on a long journey from San Sebastian to Valladolid. From there she visited Bilbao, where she enrolled on a ship with the assistance of other Basques. She reached Spanish America and enlisted as a soldier under the name Alonso Diaz Ramirez de Guzman. She served under several captains, supposedly including her own brother, who never recognized her.

She served in Chile in the War of Arauco against the Mapuche Indians. In the service she gained a reputation as a courageous soldier, gambler, and fighter. This eventful military career culminated in her promotion to lieutenant, which title, combined with her early days in the nunnery, led to her becoming known as The Lieutenant Nun (La Monja Alferez).

Perhaps above all she was a habitual duelist, responsible for the deaths of dozens of men. According to her autobiography, these included her own brother, whom she inadvertently killed in a late night altercation. She claims to have recognized him only when she heard his death cries in the dark.

She also participated in commerce, always for Basque businessmen. She killed many men in different walks of life, some of them soldiers, bureaucrats, or officers of the Spanish crown. To escape she took refuge many times in churches, taking sanctuary, which at that time was sacred; soldiers couldn't enter into sanctuary in pursuit of anyone. Furthermore, her Basque heritage kept her employed, even with such a lengthy criminal record. She also broke marriage promises to several women. She was sentenced to death several times, escaping from Chile to modern Argentina, Bolivia and Peru.

After one fight in Cuzco in which she killed a man and was wounded apparently fatally, she revealed her gender in a deathbed confession. She however survived after four months of convalescence and left for Guamanga.

To escape yet another trouble, she confessed her sex to the bishop . Induced by him she entered a convent and her story was spread across the ocean. In 1620, the archbishop of Lima called her. In 1624, she arrived in Spain, being changed of ship after another fight.

She went to Rome and toured the rest of Italy, where she eventually achieved such a level of fame that she was granted a special dispensation by Pope Urban VIII to wear men's clothing.

Her portrait by Francesco Crescenzio is lost. Back in Spain, Francisco Pacheco (Velazquez's father-in-law) painted her in 1630.

She again left Spain in 1645, this time for New Spain in the fleet of Pedro de Ursua, where she became a mule driver on the road from Veracruz. In New Spain she used the name Antonio de Erauso.

She died in Cuetlaxtla, New Spain in 1650.


Pedro del Valle described her in a 1626 letter sent from Rome to Mario Schipano as fond of conversation, tall and strong with masculine looks and childish breasts after the application of an Italian remedy. Her face is not ugly but worn by age, looking more as a eunuch than a woman.

She dresses as a Spanish man, with a sword, more as a soldier than a courtier.

Gender and Sexuality

She may have been a hypospadic hermaphrodite, according to a study by Dr Nicolas Leon, and she was considered in her time as a eunuch by some.

Her autobiography uses mostly the masculine gender for herself.

She fancied several women and was fancied by others.

In media

In 1625, Juan Perez de Montalvan's play Comedia famosa de la monja Alferez appeared, profitting from her fame. In that same year, a "True narration of the great feats..." was published in Seville, followed by a "Second narration..." and a "Last and third narration..." from Mexico.

An alleged autobiography from 1626 exists, the earliest manuscript of which dates from 1794. The 1838 edition of this book is available on-line. Her life was also the theme of various novels and of a study by Dr. Nicolas Leon.

Emilio Gomez Muriel in 1943 made a film of her life, with Maria Felix playing Erauso. A movie starring Esperanza Roy was released in Spain on June 4, 1987.

A character based on her, Catalina Erantzo, appears in the sequel to Uncharted Waters, Uncharted Waters:New Horizons. Outside of her name and the fact that she is a woman with a naval career, nothing else has been ported over from the original Catalina: she serves openly in the Spanish navy without disguising her identity, and she turns to piracy out of revenge.

She is the main character in the short story "Land of Ice and Sun" by Kim Mackey. This story is set in Eric Flint's alternate history 1632 series and was published in Volume 11 of the online magazine Grantville Gazette.


"Alferez, La Monja," Enciclopedia de Mexico, v. 1. Mexico City, 1988.

Erauso y Perez de Galarraga, Catalina de at the Aunamendi Encyclopedia.

External links

Short biography, with a bibliography

Her autobiography scanned (1838)

Her autobiography transcribed

Petition of Catalina de Erauso to the Spanish Crown, 1625

Catalina de Erauso article at WOA-TV

Link to the movie at IMDb

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Catalina de Erauso

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