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  • Prostitution and the Captain's WifeA Public and Notorious Scandal in Eighteenth-Century Cartagena de Indias
  • Nicole von Germeten (bio)

… One hears of this in private conversations and in public gossip cliques. It is spoken of without shame, frankly, as a sufficiently notorious subject… Some listen and speak, others take note, and others see. Oh God, what a formidable scandal! In this great gathering of gossip, of opinions and experiences, your grace should feel, and I share this feeling, not only the destruction of your honor through its declining value and that of your house by its viciousness but also the widespread ruin [caused] by the scandal. Your grace is judged by men, and you should not think that these men are only the corrupt, malevolent ones with little fear of God. No, Señor don Juan. Sensible, cautious, wise, zealous and god-fearing men of authority in this city are also internally consumed by the publicity of this case … [This scandal] is pestilential for the entire republic.1

In 1735, doña Luisa Llerena Polo de Aguilar, a woman of Spanish descent born and bred in Cartagena de Indias (modern-day Colombia) married don Francisco Piñero, a Spanish soldier. A year later, the Spanish crown created Cartagena's batallón fijo (permanent battalion) to defend the Caribbean coast of South America from foreign invasions and contraband trade. Don Piñero joined the battalion with the rank of ayudante mayor.2 In 1737, the governor of Cartagena rewarded Piñero's excellent service in helping organize the battalion by promoting him to captain. Eventually Piñero had command of over fifty artillerymen.3 In 1741, the batallón fijo [End Page 263] helped the city withstand an attack by 186 English ships led by Admiral Edward Vernon.4 Along with the military and geopolitical threat of England's expanding power in the Caribbean in the mid-eighteenth century, the city of Cartagena experienced the dishonor and shame of a sex scandal, at the center of which was none other than captain Piñero. Not long after this scandal unfolded, the batallón fijo, "an honorable [auténtica] military unit of the Army of the Spanish Crown," disbanded.5

Because of the actions of Piñero, doña Luisa and her alleged lover, a merchant named don Juan Arechederreta, in the 1740s and 50s, Cartagena's military, religious personnel, governor, and Spanish society as a whole could not stop talking about adultery and lenoncinio (procuring) among the Spanish elite officer class. While the main participants were never exactly caught in the act, their presumed affair, and the fact Captain Piñero allegedly both tolerated and profited from it, so disturbed the city that complaints were sent to the Council of the Indies. What most threatened and exasperated the local church, state, and military authorities was the fact that the three actors in this scandal appeared to disregard the censure and denunciations pronounced publicly by the governor, military officers, and members of both the Dominican and Jesuit orders. These witnesses observed that don Francisco and doña Luisa had certainly violated morality but their greater offense was disregarding the rules of honorable behavior: they persisted in continuing their behavior despite the acknowledged injunctions of the Hispanic honor code. Their disregard for convention shamed the local Spanish authority figures; and because this disgrace reflected poorly on the effective power of the governor, the person who represented the Spanish crown in Cartagena, the case came before the Council of the Indies in Seville.

As a Spanish elite woman and a Spanish military officer, don Francisco and doña Luisa represented in theory those members of society most obliged to uphold the Mediterranean and Hispanic honor code.6 Early modern Spanish prescriptive literature, especially the often cited works of Juan Luis Vives and Fray Luis de León, placed female sexual modesty at the pinnacle of all virtues, and married it to men's obligation to commit violent acts to protect weak and susceptible women from their own sexuality.7 Case studies from secondary works such as Lyman Johnson and Sonya Lipsett-Rivera's Faces of Honor and several other archive–based studies...


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pp. 263-278
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