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The Lieutenant Nun: Catalina de Erauso

Updated on March 6, 2016

Catalina de Erauso

Catalina de Erauso
Catalina de Erauso | Source

Cross-Dressing Adventurer

The Lieutenant Nun: Catalina de Erauso

Born in San Sebastian Spain in 1592, Catalina was fifteen years old before she ever saw a city street—her parents had packed her away into a nunnery when she was four. The idea had been that Catalina would grow up and become a nun, but it didn’t work out that way; sick of the repeated beatings she took while in the convent, Catalina ran away in 1600, hacking off her hair and somehow obtaining a set of boy’s clothes. In her goodbye letter to her parents she wrote, “Why have you made me manly and strong like my brothers only to compel me now that I am fifteen to do nothing but mumble a lot of interminable prayers?”

Catalina wandered around Spain for a time, becoming adept at swordplay and her favorite pastime of tavern brawling before signing up to journey to the New World as a soldier of fortune. There she took on the name Alonzo Dias and became a lieutenant in the army, though her penchant for fighting prevented her from receiving any more promotions. Her brother was her own commander, and he had no clue that Catalina was a woman or his sister until some messy business involving Catalina’s affair with another woman … his own mistress! Catalina took off soon after her discovery, traveling up and down Chile and Peru for over twenty years getting into fights and evading the law by taking sanctuary (several times) within a church.

Catalina had a temper, and it got her into a lot of trouble frequently. Though she killed a lot of men, there was only one death that she ever regretted; one night while serving as backup at a friend’s duel, she fought an opponent whose features she couldn’t make out clearly in the dark. After she had slain the man, she realized to her horror that she had killed her own brother. This threw her into a depression for nearly a year.

Then she went right back to skullduggery and murder.

Catalina de Erauso

Illustration of Catalina de Erauso, the Lt. Nun, Pacifico Magazine, 1918
Illustration of Catalina de Erauso, the Lt. Nun, Pacifico Magazine, 1918

Celebrity Outlaw

After fatally wounding a Chilean nobleman in a duel, Catalina fled again, this time to the Peruvian Andes where she teamed up with three other outlaws. Together they tried to cross the hazardous, snowy mountains, but only Catalina survived the trip, eventually arriving in the city of Tucuman … where she was promptly arrested on a murder charge. Catalina again faced the hangman’s noose but, after reviewing her impressive military record, the judge decided to release her.

After yet another murder at the age of thirty-three, Catalina fled to a church in Guamango, Peru and, deciding that she had enough of her rougish ways, confessed her entire life to the bishop there, saying that she wanted to go home to Spain. She told him all about the murders, the gambling, the crossdressing … but the bishop was more impressed that Catalina had remained a virgin throughout her entire life. Once her virginity was confirmed, the bishop happily helped Catalina return to Spain, where, now known as “the Lieutenant Nun,” she received a hero’s welcome, an audience with the king (whom she talked into giving her a pension), and permission from the pope himself to continue to wear men’s clothes … so long as she gave up all of the other stuff.

Catalina agreed … for a little while. After writing her autobiography (which includes more exploits than can possibly be listed here), Catalina sailed back to the New World, and, according to the last reports, became a mule driver in Mexico under the name of Antonio de Erauso before she passed away in Cuetlaxtla in 1650.

Catalina de Erauso work cited:

Women Warriors, by David E Jones

Uppity Women of Medieval Times, by Vicki Leon

Catalina de Erauso,

Rejected Princesses: Catalina de Erauso

"Catalina de Erauso,"

Monument to Catalina de Erauso

Monument to the Lt. Nun, Orizaba, Veracruz
Monument to the Lt. Nun, Orizaba, Veracruz | Source


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