We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Lesbians in Early Modern Spain

Sherry Velasco

Publication Year: 2011

In this first in-depth study of female homosexuality in the Spanish Empire for the period from 1500 to 1800, Velasco presents a multitude of riveting examples that reveal widespread contemporary interest in women’s intimate relations with other women. Her sources include literary and historical texts featuring female homoeroticism, tracts on convent life, medical treatises, civil and Inquisitional cases, and dramas. She has also uncovered a number of revealing illustrations from the period. The women in these accounts, stories, and cases range from internationally famous transgendered celebrities to lesbian criminals, from those suspected of “special friendships” in the convent to ordinary villagers. Velasco argues that the diverse and recurrent representations of lesbian desire provide compelling evidence of how different groups perceived intimacy between women as more than just specific sex acts. At times these narratives describe complex personal relationships and occasionally characterize these women as being of a certain “type,” suggesting an early modern precursor to what would later be recognized as divergent lesbian, bisexual, and transgender identities.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (456.1 KB)

Table of Contents

pdf iconDownload PDF (473.8 KB)
pp. vii

List of Figures

pdf iconDownload PDF (473.3 KB)
pp. ix

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (475.4 KB)
pp. xi

It would be difficult to thank all who played a part in the evolution of this book, which was almost twenty years in the making. My gratitude goes first to the following friends and colleagues who patiently read my drafts and listened to my musings on early modern women and desire: Jos

read more

1. Naming the Silent Sin

pdf iconDownload PDF (543.7 KB)
pp. 1-14

One can only speculate about the breathless whispers in dark corridors against a backdrop of Inquisitorial fear and conventual boredom, or guess at the imaginary ecclesiastical headlines summing up the miraculous event: Flying Crucifix Tattles on Nuns’ Sexual Sin. When the Carmelite prioress Ana de San Agustín lent her favorite crucifix necklace...

read more

2. Legal, Medical, and Religious Approaches to Lesbians in Early Modern Spain

pdf iconDownload PDF (607.1 KB)
pp. 15-34

Many medieval theologians had something to say about Saint Paul’s condemnation of women who “exchanged natural relations for unnatural” (Romans 1:26). Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Anselm, and Peter Abelard were only a few of the renowned church fathers to add their own fearful commentaries to Saint Paul’s abhorrence of...

read more

3. Criminal Lesbians

pdf iconDownload PDF (640.1 KB)
pp. 35-67

The taxonomic variations that gave rise to disagreement among religious, courtly, and scientific treatises played out in secular and Inquisitional cases involving female sodomy in Spain. The surviving evidence depicts a criminal world that often connected sorcery, prostitution, and disciplinary institutions to female homoeroticism, with early modern...

read more

4. Transgender Lesbian Celebrities

pdf iconDownload PDF (585.4 KB)
pp. 68-89

There are three very public historical cases that particularly reveal imperial Spain’s cultural anxieties regarding gender, sex identification, desire, race, politics, and nation. The first features Elena de Céspedes (named after the mistress of the household), who was born female in the mid-sixteenth century to an African slave named Francisca de Medina...

read more

5. Special Friendships in the Convent

pdf iconDownload PDF (693.8 KB)
pp. 90-132

Awareness of lesbian practices in religious communities dates back to at least the fifth century, when Saint Augustine— suspecting or imagining the possibility of same-sex liaisons in convent communities—warned nuns and novices that “the love between you . . . ought not to be earthly but spiritual, for the things which shameless women do even to other women in low jokes and games are to be...

read more

6. Lesbian Desire on Center Stage

pdf iconDownload PDF (628.9 KB)
pp. 133-161

Convent theatre did not always shy away from addressing same-sex attractions in the cloister, but it was on the secular stage where homoerotic flirtation between women was a huge crowd-pleaser.1 Actresses in form-fitting leggings playing male parts may have pleased spectators just as much as they vexed the moralists who raged against them. I

read more

7. Looking Like a Lesbian

pdf iconDownload PDF (744.5 KB)
pp. 162-178

Despite the assumptions of some scholars that Renaissance writers displayed “an almost active willingness to disbelieve” in lesbian desire (Brown, Immodest, 9), images of same-sex desire between women were readily available in popular entertainment. Neighbors, enemies, and moralists were known to “out” women suspected of same-sex trysts. Lesbians were...


pdf iconDownload PDF (705.7 KB)
pp. 179-218

Works Cited

pdf iconDownload PDF (656.2 KB)
pp. 219-240


pdf iconDownload PDF (509.5 KB)
pp. 241-251

E-ISBN-13: 9780826517524
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826517500
Print-ISBN-10: 0826517501

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2011