Preface: I am in the process of trying to rewrite the preface historical material for the travel guides, and split it into a separate book. At that point, I want to then go back and do a much better job at doing the travel guide part and history of some of the specific parts of Madrid/Spain as per the original intent of the website. The history part just got overwhelming and hugely disorganized. Doing this requires combing a 189 page document with a 169 page document with a fair bit of overlapping text and information between them. This will be a work in progress, with that work in progress posted as blog posts. After having done the first three eras, the 189 page document is down to 168 pages so progress! Yay!
Hapsburg Spain (1516 – 1700)
The Reconquista formally came to an end in 1492, and Fernando and Isabel sought to strengthen their position on the Spanish throne. Part of this was done through directing more support to the Spanish Inquisition, which had formally gotten underway in 1478 at their behest. The couple also sought to do away with remaining feudal support in the Spanish countryside.
1492 was also significant in that Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World was funded by Fernando and Isabel, and would kick of the Spanish age od discovery, which would later precipitate the total collapse of the Spanish economy because of the huge amounts of gold coming into the Spanish treasury and Spain’s military overreach that challenged its internal finances.
Isabel died in 1504, setting off a succession controversy for the Spanish throne. The crown passed to Isabel and Fernando’s daughter, Juana, with a small battle over her regency that ended with Fernando filling the role until his death in 1526, at which point the Spanish throne passed to his grandson, Carlos I, who would rule Spain until 1556. Carlos came to the Spanish throne already being the ruler of Belgium and the Netherlands, and as heir to Austria and Southern Germany. Carlos I’s ascension starts the Hapsburg rule in Spain.
Spanish legislators were highly knowledgeable about illicit same-sex female desire compared to their peers in other Renaissance European countries. This knowledge of female sexuality also extended to Spain’s inquisitors and was published in materials to assist them in bringing charges. Confessors’ manuals listed female homosexuality, male homosexuality and bestiality alongside each other as mortal dangers. They sometimes contained detailed information on these practices. Inquisitors often would less severely punish lesbians and women suspected of sodomy compared to their male counterparts because women were not viewed as being able to independently pro-create, making their mutual female only sex acts less problematic. Female-female sex acts also benefited from a lack of scrutiny at times because they did not challenge Spain’s heteronormative society. This had a flow on effect of making women’s sexuality less visible and secondary in importance to male sexuality. Some jurists and moralists though were not willing to look the other way regarding female sodomy, with some sixteenth century jurists advocating women found guilty of this practice be burned alive. Antonio Gómez is notable because, unlike his contemporaries, he opposed this practice.
During confessionals in Spain and its American colonies in the Hapsburg period, priests would often ask women if they had sinned with other women and for details of their sexual acts if they had. This was in addition to asking women if they had sinned by engaging in sex with men.
The Royal Chancellery of Valladolid dealt with an appeal of a sentence by the secular courts of a woman accused of female sodomy by the mayor of San Sebastián in 1503. Her name was Catalina de Belunce and she was sexually linked to Mache de Oyarzun after allegedly having been found laying on top of her while kissing, touching and mounting them while naked. Catalina had been waterboarded to force her to confess. The Royal Chancellery acquitted her and said she should be returned to San Sebastián.
Saint Teresa of Ávila was born in March 1515 in Ávila as Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada to a Spanish noblewoman with Jewish heritage whose own father had been a Jewish convert to Catholicism. Her father was a successful wool merchant, but this did not prevent him from being investigated by the Inquisition for returning to the Jewish faith. Teresa became deeply religious following the death of her mother when she was an 11-year-old, and she later joined the religious life when she was an 18-year-old in 1535. As a result of family pressure from her uncle, father and other relatives, she chose to join a more liberal Carmelite convent; her entry into the convent though was without their formal family permission. From her perch in Ávila, Teresa would go on to become an important reformer within the Carmelite and monastic community that saw her travel around Spain to cities including Medina del Campo, Burgos, Palencia, Granada, Villanueva de la Jara, Soria, Malagón, Valladolid, Toledo, Pastrana, Salamanca, and Alba de Tormes where she often founded convents and a few monasteries. The brunt of her work started around 1562. As a result of her enacting reform within the Carmelites, Saint Teresa de Avila became one of the most important woman authors of this period. Her writing included male and female homosexual themes, and used sensual language when describing women’s religious experiences, both in body and in spirit. Her religious works would go on to be on the most important references for other proto-lesbian writers up to the start of the pre-Second Republic period.
Despite Teresa’s modern veneration in Spain, at the time Teresa was a frequent target of the Spanish Inquisition because of her background and suspected lesbianism. These attacks started around 1559 when Santa Teresa had her small library of books in the monastery taken by Inquisitors; her library contained the works of Fray Luis de Granada, San Juan de Avila and San Francisco de Borja.
In Sevilla, three resentful nuns complained about her behavior, accusing her of engaging in orgies with the prioress in Sevilla and with a 30-year-old priest named Gracián. Had she been found guilt, she could have been burned at the stake. Instead, she was acquitted. She had appeared before them earlier in 1575 after being denounced by a woman expelled from the convent there. Her dialog with the Inquisitors convinced them of her innocence and she was also acquitted.
Her writings were also subjected to censorship by Inquisitors, including her book on love which had phrases like, “The important thing is to love yourself, even if it is with an imperfect love.” and “Love, if it really is love, it is impossible to hide.” This left both her and the nuns in convents she founded open to accusations of lesbianism.
During Spain’s Golden Age, lesbians appeared in or were the central figures in a number of stories and players. Almost all of these works were written by men and intended for male audiences. The lesbians in these stories rarely had happy endings.
La Diana written by Matteo Bandello in 1559 tells the story of Filosmena, Felis and Celia. Filosmena disguises herself as a man to enable herself to work for Don Felis, for whom she is madly in live. Using the name Valeriano, her main job is to serve as a go-between for Felis and Celia. Celia falls in love with Filosmena/Valeriano and Felis becomes an excuse for the two women to get together to express their love though Celia never learns that Valeriano is really Filosmena. Celia becomes convinced their love is impossible and dies. Despite the work being by an Italian friar from France, the story was relatively widely read in Spain.
A shift began early in this period, where lesbians began to have more opportunities than in the past to have relationships with other women. Prostitution, religious life, being a prisoner and being the elite in society were not the only options. More women were beginning to live alone, or in communal housing situations where they lived with other women while working in upper class Spanish households. This independence regarding living situation meant more working-class women could explore same-sex desire with fewer cultural and legal risks to their safety.
The word tríbada, a poetic form of the word lesbian, was first used in Italy in 1538, and had migrated to the Spanish language by 1611, appearing in the Supplement to Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española. The word was defined as marimacho, tomboy in English. Its use was also described by abbot and lord of Brantôme Pierre de Bourdeille in the 16th century in his 1587 work, Memoirs. The word was derived from a similar Greek word and meant “to rub”, as in lesbians rubbing their lower halves against each other. Tríbada would go on to become the primary word used to describe lesbians for almost three centuries from the 16th to 18th centuries in Europe, and mostly in French literature with only sporadic usage in Spanish.
In the middle of this era, medical texts began to focus on trying to explain women’s sexuality as it related to sex acts with other women. These texts explained that women with a masculine nature in this period were often identified as more likely to have sex with other women because of their more masculine nature. In Europe more broadly, the Renaissance period saw anatomists rediscover the female clitoris and its role in female sexual pleasure. Some of these discovered clitorises were large enough that they were viewed as possibly penetrative. This became connected to the idea of female sexual pleasure and lesbianism.
Elana/o de Céspedes was a well known for her skills as a healer born around 1545 in Granada. She was also a multiethnic, multiracial and possibly intersexed or lesbian woman who used men’s clothing to acquire social capital and acceptability for her chosen profession. While a teenager, she briefly married a man for three months before ending the relationship as a result of becoming pregnant and after swearing she would never again have sex with a man. After giving birth to a son, she gave him to a couple from Seville and then started travelling around Spain as a healer. Céspedes had her first female lover in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. By the time she traveled to Arcos de Frontera, she was regularly dressing in men’s clothing. Around 1568, she enlisted in a military to fight in the Rebellion of the Alpujarras in Granada. Following the war, she moved to Madrid where she became a trained and licensed surgeon. She would later go on to work in the Royal Hospital in Madrid and at a hospital in El Escorial. While having fraudulently obtained the title by hiding her sex, Céspedes became the first women to be a licensed surgeon in Spain. Following this, she would later go on to marry María del Caño in Yepes following a genital examination by Felipe II’s surgeon Francisco Diaz that certified she was able to father children. Depending on the view of Céspedes being a lesbian or transman, her marriage to del Caño was likely the first in Spain, though it was obtained via deception around her sex. A year into the marriage, a former companion in arms denounced her to the inquisition, and Céspedes and del Caño were then arrested and tried in Ocaña. Inquisitors would eventually write over 300 pages about her prosecution. Céspedes was charged with female sodomy, and eventually found guilty of bigamy and collusion with the devil. Céspedes would be tried twice, one with del Caño and once on her own receiving a punishment of 200 public lashes and ten years in prison. Prison officials eventually had to remove her from prison because her story proved inspirational and courageous to other homosexuals found guilty by the Inquisition. Céspedes later died sometime after 1588.
Persiles y Segismunda, Historia Setentrional was the last work by Miguel Cervantes and was published posthumously near simultaneously in 1617 in Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Valencia, Pamplona and Paris. The character Bruja Zenotia was based on Elena de Céspedes.
Around 1550, a pair of lesbians were found guilty of carnal knowledge of other women and were consequently by being burned at the stake.
In the edition of Las siete partidas with annotations by Gregorio López in 1555, he said that women could be charged with sodomy, “The same crime [sodomy] can be committed by women …. The women who commit said crime should be thrown into the fire, according to the royal decree of the Catholic kings.” He also argued that women who used a dildo should be given death sentences. Elsewhere, López makes clear that female sodomy was less offensive in Spanish law and society than male sodomy. pecado nefando was the legal term of choice in these documents. Ostensibly referring only to anal sex, it was often used as legal shorthand for any form of male or female homosexuality.
The Inquisition in Aragon was one of the kingdoms in Spain where both male and female homosexuals could be condemned to death for their activities. Sodomy cases could be brought against both homosexuals and heterosexuals engaging in anal sex, women engaging in any form of sex involving non-penial object penetration, and also included zoophilia. Male homosexuals were generally targeted for prosecution more than women, and of those, people under 25 years of age were more likely to be flogged and then sent to prison instead of being given a death sentence. Capital sentences were also frequently commuted for male clergy members and male nobles. The Aragon Inquisition also frequently targeted male clergy, foreigners, especially French and Italians, and young people. Despite this, in 1560, the Inquisition condemned several women for engaging in sex with other women. They were let off as the Suprema ruled that since no phallic device was used in their sexual activity, it did not constitute sodomy, a concept supported by secular juries at the time. That same year, the Inquisition in Madrid found women could not be found guilty of sodomy unless an object was used for penetration, even in cases where women were found in bed together fondling each other.
The 1575 Examen de ingenios para las ciencias by physician Juan Huarte de San Juan provided an examination of causes for female same-sex sexual behavior using physiology, psychological and sexuality-based approaches. Huarte’s text suggest a relationship between same-sex desire and physical appearance, suggesting that more masculine women and more feminine men were destined to be born the other sex, but, “Many times Nature has made a female, and having been in the mother’s womb for one or two months, for some reason her genitals are overcome with heat and they come out and a male is created. To whom this transmutation occurs in the mother’s womb, it is clearly recognizable later by certain movements he has that are indecent for men: woman-like, effeminate, soft and mild of voice; and such men are inclined to behave like a woman and they frequently fall prey to the sin of sodomy. On the other hand, often Nature has made a male with his genitals on the outside, and with an onset of coldness, they are transformed to the inside and a female is created. She is recognized after birth as having a masculine nature, in her speech as well as in all her movements and behavior.”
French historian Pierre Brantôme wrote of lesbian culture in Spain, Italy, Turkey and France in 1584, “two ladies that be in love with one with the other … sleeping in one bed … such is the character of the Lesbian women.”
The risk to lesbians posted by Inquisition increased in 1592 as a result of a change in law by Felipe II that increased incentives for inquisitors by allowing them to confiscate the wealth of those found guilty and by only requiring witnesses to violations of religious law to be able to be found guilty.
In the late 1500s, there are records from the royal prison in Cristóbal de Cháves, Seville that said that two women were found guilty of sodomy. One was executed by hanging, and the other was whipped. A similar prison in the period between 1578 and 1616 in Seville saw all fifty men, representing a broad swath of Spanish male society, found guilty of sodomy being executed. Evidence from the period also suggested the existence of a homosexual male subculture present in southern Spain. Women were charged less frequently and were more likely to escape death sentences by civil authorities, and there is consequently much less evidence of an existing lesbian subculture in that area among the general female populace.
Female sodomy was a feature of women’s prisons in Spain by the late 1500s, when women would use items like modern day strap-on dildos to have intercourse with other women. Motivations were as complicated then as they are now, with some women engaging in such sexual practices because of same-sex desire and others because they missed the sexual companionship of men.
Cristóbal de Virués, a Spanish dramatist born in Valencia in 1550, wrote Atila furioso. The story written sometime between 1580 and 1585 is a short tragedy featuring a succession of homoerotic encounters of a page named Flaminia as she seduces men and women while dressed as a man as part of her goal to become the queen of Hungary; at the end of the story, she is killed by Attila. The story is one of a number of primarily male written stories depicting lesbianism in Spain’s Golden Age.
Katalin Erauso is one of a number of women later recognized as one of Spain’s early visible lesbians. She was born in Donosti in 1592. After her parents forced her to join a convent, Erauso eloped and then posed as a man in order to be able to board a ship to head to the Spanish American colonies. Once there, she joined the Spanish army, where she became an ensign. When not in active service, she spent her free time in the colonies romancing local women around South America. She was involved in a battle in 1620 in Guamanga, Peru. As a result of this battle, she needed to seek the protection of a local bishop to whom she confessed that she was really a woman. The bishop agreed to protect her only after having her prove she was still a virgin. Within six years, her story had spread across the Christian world. Her story eventually made its way to Pope Urban VIII, who granted her an audience and subsequently gave her permission to wear men’s clothing. She was also given a pension in recognition of her military service by King Philip II. Around 1653, the autobiography of Katalin Erauso was published in Mexico, though it was possibly written by someone else. This work was one of the first Hispano-American novels to be published in Latin America.
Inés de Santa Cruz and Catalina Ledesma were lesbians living in Valladolid at the beginning of the 1600s. Popularly, they are known in Spanish history as “Las Cañitas”. The pair came from very different social classes, with Inés upper class and having connections to the Chancillería de Valladolid. She also served as prioress at a convent, though did not appear to be a nun herself.. A native of Valladolid, at the time she faced charges before the Inquisition, she was probably 30 to 35 years old. In contrast, Catalina, who was roughly the same age, was born in Ciudad Rodrigo, came from a working-class background and lived with her husband and parents for about nine months in León. After those nine months, she moved to Salamanca with her parents while her husband moved to his native Oviedo. Catalina was illiterate and worked as a servant.
The couple met at Iglesia de Santa María La Antigua, where Inés was living. To hide their relationship, Inés claimed to be Catalina’s aunt. A civil case was registered in June 1603 in Salamanca against the couple, at a time when Inés had been living in the house of Catalina as a domestic partner. The civil case saw the pair arrested and accused of female sodomy and prostitution. Part of the document containing the allegations said, “they treated each other with a reed device in the shape of a man’s nature.” Court papers went into detail with the accusations, saying of Inés, “With her hands, nature opened her to said Catalina until she spilled the seeds of her body into the nature of the other, which is why they called them Las Cañitas and this is public and notorious among those who know them.” The civil case rested largely on the testimony of neighbors who claimed to have heard sounds like sex and floorboards creaking like from a night of passion through a shared wall. It was the second time the couple had been before the civil courts of the Inquisition. They had faced similar accusations in Valladolid in 1601. Following the trial, the couple returned to Valladolid and were before the Inquisition there again in 1606. The court document about these three cases is 142 pages and is one of the largest documents about lesbianism in this period in Europe. As a result of these trials, Catalina and Inés were flogged and sentences to exile. Years later, in 1625, the women received a royal pardon. It did not happen soon enough as the couple were forced apart following the third trial. The courts again said Catalina should return to her husband, but it is unclear if she did so. The available documents say she was living in her hometown in 1611. Inés, who had been protected some by family in 1606 trial, fled the city with the assistance of a cousin who worked for the Inquisition and another cousin who was a Franciscan following her sentencing. She first went to Barcelona, and then went to Madrid. In 1609, the Inquisition discovered her in Madrid, and returned her to Valladolid for trial. She was given 400 lashes, six years in prison and banished from Castile forever. By 1625, she was living in Miranda da Douro in Portugal.
In comparison to male homosexuals, then referred to as sodomites, the women’s punishment was relatively lax. This was likely for a couple of reasons. First, Inés came from an upper class background, with her family having connections to the Spanish Court. They were a pillar of the community. Second, while the women are alleged to have used a dildo, the greater crime was the “spilling of seed” that was wasted. As bother were women, it was not possible for “seed” to be spilled, and thus it was viewed as a lesser offense against God and required a lesser punishment.
Angela Jerónima is a woman who was involved in the relationship between Inés de Santa Cruz and Catalina Ledesma. She lived in the convent in Valladolid, and started a relationship with Inés, with Inés having the intention to use the relationship to make Catalina jealous. She said of her relationship with Inés, why she wanted to deal with men, that she could not see them because women became pregnant having access to them and that having a woman with another they enjoyed themselves.” Angela found herself before the Inquisition as a result of the relationship, and was imprisoned in the Cárcel Real de Valladolid in 1609. She had testified against both women in 1606.
Despite the three cases involving de Santa Cruz and Ledesma, prosecutions for both male and female sodomy had largely disappeared by the end of the sixteenth century, even as elsewhere in Europe in countries like the Netherlands, France, Prussia and England, renewed prosecutions against both took place as a result of a growing middle class demanding societal reforms.
El vergonzoso en palacio is a Spanish palatine comedy written by Tirso de Molina. The exact date of its original publication is disputed, with early dates of publication being suggested at 1601 and later dates of first publication being as late as 1612. The work focused on female sexual typology, with one of the three main female protagonists in the comedy being a latent lesbian. The work was popular in Spain and would be republished and performed regularly over the next couple of centuries.
In the 1600s, most of the language used to describe female homoerotic behavior was described in heterosexual terms and from the male point of view. Writing in language of this kind was very typical in Inquisition documents related to alleged female sodomites.
An example of such wording comes from Miguel Ochoa, the mayor of San Sebastián. Appearing as a witness before the Inquisition, he described what he saw between Catalina de Belunza and Mariche de Oyarzun saying, “They used one as a woman, lying on a bed naked and frolicking and kissing and fucking one to the other, climbing on top of their naked bellies, passing and facing one another with one positioned to know the other carnally.”
Homenenca is a Valencian word that was in use by the 17th century in the writings of Father Mulet, used to mean masculine woman who did not conform to gender stereotypes. It was sometimes used as a euphemism for lesbian.
In 1603, De universa mulierum morborum medicina was published by Rodrigo de Castro, a Castilian Sephardic Jew in exile in Hamburg; it suggested that enlarged female clitorises led such women to fling themselves at those they were around because they were being constantly aroused by pressure of clothing on their clitoris, in ways that men with their penises were not. Women would rub against each other out of remembrance of pleasure. It was one of several medical texts in the period, including Jacques Duval’s 1612 work Traité d’hermaphrodits, Jean Riolian’s 1614 Discours sur les hermaphrodits and Helkiah Crooke’s 1615 work Mikrokosmographia that all had similar logic. These works were circulating inside Spain by the mid-1600s and influencing doctors and others regarding the nature of female sexuality and lesbianism. Their influence would continue in Spain for several centuries.
A Spanish-French dictionary defined virago in 1607 as a “virtuous woman who does man’s things”. At the time, Spanish culture defined being courageous as a masculine trait, and such connotations would later mean this word implied lesbian as lesbians were culturally perceived as being masculine women.
There was a highly documented case of an elicit relationship between two women at a Carmelite convent around 1610. The pair engaged in nocturnal trysts and were discovered when, according to the prioress Ana de San Agustín, a Crucifix leapt from a wall in the room one of the sisters and flew to prioress Ana.
In 1611, the word marimacho, a derogatory term for masculine looking women, appeared in a handwritten supplement of the Sebastián Covarrubias’ Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española. It defined marimacho as “This name has been the vulgar one to the spirited and developed women that seems to have wanted the nature to make them men, but in the sex, at least in the facility”. The word implied that such women were unnatural because their interests, activities and abilities fell into the exclusive domain of men. Biological sex was a determinant of these things, and these women fell outside the established biological norms.
Gabriel de Maqueda argued in 1622’s Invective against the use of legal brothels linked female homosexuality with prostitution. Maqueda believed lesbian prostitutes converted straight men into male homosexuals.
El vergonzoso en palacio, written sometime between 1606 and 1612 by Tirso de Molina, was first published in Barcelona in 1624. The work focused on female sexual typology, with one of the three main female protagonists in the comedy being a latent lesbian.
Numbers of male sodomites killed by the Spanish inquisition, which formally got underway in 1478, would later exceed the number executed for being Protestants, only around 200, by the end of the seventeenth century with over 1,600 men charged with sodomy or bestiality, with around twenty percent being given the death penalty. The number of female sodomites killed by the inquisition was lower than Protestant totals.
Gabriel de Maqueda argued in 1622’s Invectiva en forma de discurso, contra el uso de las casas publicas de las mugeres rameras that female homosexuality and prostitution were linked together. The author believed that lesbians working as prostitutes converted male patrons into male homosexuals.
Gossip alleging female homosexuality was used to smear women in the Madrid based court of Rey Felipe IV. When the Queen of Sweden converted to Catholicism at the suggestion of the Spanish, she became a victim of such malicious gossip and negative depictions in Madrid theater in the 1630s.
17th century Spanish novelist María de Zayas Sotomayor was one of a few female writers in this period writing wrote highly suggestive pieces about female-female intimacy, exploring Sapphic love in works such as her 1637 story “La burlada Aminta y venganza del honor” and her 1647 story “Amar sólo por vencer”. These works approach the topic of female desire from a patriarchal perspective, not one a transgressive proto-feminist perspective where women get to define their own sexual desires.
María de Zayas Sotomayor’s close and personal relationship with the playwright and essayist Ana Caro de Mallén, including sharing a residence together in Madrid and neither being financially dependent on men, led to much speculation at the time about Zaya and Caro’s sexuality and that both were lesbians. Letters and diaries written by both women further appear to suggest they shared a spiritual and sexual union. This played a small part in their erasure from history that was only recovered in the 2000s, where both finally began to be recognized as Spain’s first feminists.
Starting around 1650, the practice of public executions by the Inquisition in Spain largely stopped. European tastes in general, and in Spain in particular, no longer looked at such events as worthy of being a public spectacle and celebration. Consequently, legal punishments for homosexuals condemned by the Inquisition largely changed to be that of auto de fe, a ritual involving the performing of public penance, followed by punishments decided by civil authorities that could include fines, torture, flogging, forced labor, imprisonment or exile and less likely to include execution or being burned at the stake. This system of punishment, like the one preceding it, overwhelming focused on male sodomites instead of female sodomites and lesbians.
28-year-old widow Ana Aller and 22-year-old laundress Mariana López were prosecuted by the Inquisition in Aragón in 1656 for committing female sodomy with each other. They had been reported to the inquisition by their neighbors who claimed to have witnessed them hugging and kissing, with one saying that Ana “would put her hands under Mariana´s skirts and touch her genitals. The two of them would make each other jealous and then swear their loyalty to each other by God and make other promises. If one didn’t eat, then the other wouldn’t either, and they would follow each other around.” The witnesses also suggested that Ana had had sex with another woman from Zaragoza. Additional witness statements that suggested Mariana paid Ana to have sex with her.
 His original statement in Spanish was, “usavan en uno como onbre e mujer, echandose en una cama desnudas e retoçandose e besándose e cavalgandose la una a la otra e la otra a la otra, subyendose ençima de sus vientres desnudos, pasando e fazyendo autos que onbre con muger devian fazer carnalmente”.