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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

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-

List of Figures

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pp. ix-

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Acknowledgments

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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

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1. Naming the Silent Sin

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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...

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

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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...

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3. Criminal Lesbians

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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...

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4. Transgender Lesbian Celebrities

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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...

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5. Special Friendships in the Convent

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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...

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6. Lesbian Desire on Center Stage

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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

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7. Looking Like a Lesbian

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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...

Notes

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pp. 179-218

Works Cited

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pp. 219-240

Index

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pp. 241-251


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

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Lesbians -- Spain -- History -- 17th century.
  • Lesbianism -- Spain -- History.
  • Lesbians -- Spain -- History -- 16th century.
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