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  • Damas de la Casa de Mendoza: Historias, leyendas y olvidos ed. by Esther Alegre Carvajal
  • Grace E. Coolidge (bio)
Damas de la Casa de Mendoza: Historias, leyendas y olvidos. Ed. Esther Alegre Carvajal. Madrid: Polifemo Ediciones, 2014. 784pp. $59.99. ISBN 978-84-16335-00-8.

Damas de la Casa de Mendoza, edited by Esther Alegre Carvajal, is an encyclopedic overview of twenty-seven women who were members of the powerful Mendoza family in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Spain. Beautifully produced, the book is filled with illustrations, family trees, reproductions of archival sources, and information on burial sites, family chapels, and memorials. In addition to the twenty-seven biographical essays, the book contains an excellent general introduction by Alegre Carvajal and an exploration of the role of women and the feminine in Castilian literature and aristocratic culture by José Antonió Guillén Berrendero. Clearly organized around six different branches of the Mendoza family, the book is divided into six sections that include a family tree and an overview of the history and culture of each branch.

Alegre Carvajal’s goal is to study the Mendoza women as a group and in the context of their powerful family. She argues that connecting these remarkable women to their families, the artistic and intellectual movements of Renaissance Castile, and the religious climate of the time period enables an analysis of the interaction between power and gender. According to Alegre Carvajal, the Mendoza family’s power, influence, and politics cannot be accurately understood without reference to its women. The twenty-seven biographies of individual women examine shared themes of matrimonial strategies, spirituality, cultural interests, patronage, and family, in addition to uncovering the lives of previously overlooked or little-known women. Alegre Carvajal also strives to understand how the lives of the Mendoza women were shaped by their membership in such a powerful aristocratic clan. Individual entries throughout the book support her claim that a red feminina (female network) existed that linked mothers, daughters, aunts, nieces, grandmothers, and granddaughters in a common Renaissance culture. This shared cultural identity created well-educated women who were frequently patrons of the arts and shrewd managers of their own and their family’s economic assets. Throughout the book, the introductory essays help connect individual women to the larger family culture, and the sheer number of women represented here makes it possible to draw connections among them that are difficult to see when each woman is studied separately. [End Page 198]

Alegre Carvajal emphasizes that placing the Mendoza women in the context of their powerful family does more than simply uncover the biographies of lesser-known members of the clan. It also revises assumptions concerning some of the better-known and more controversial women. The book illustrates the variety of experiences that women’s lives could encompass by analyzing a mix of well-known and lesser-known women, those who had adventurous lives or made unusual choices, as well as those who pursued the traditional trajectories prescribed for females. The contrasts are striking. Catalina de Mendoza y Zúñiga, the third Countess of Tendilla (d. 1554), was married for fifty years to a man who had been a staunch supporter of King Charles V during the comunero revolt, while her sister-in-law, María Pacheco (d. 1531), married for scarcely six years, is famous for her personal leadership of the comunero rebels against the monarch. The politically active Princess of Éboli (d. 1592) was an heiress who made a brilliant marriage, gave birth to ten children, six of whom survived, and fostered a complicated relationship with Teresa of Ávila. Accused of treason, she was eventually banished from the court and imprisoned in her own palace by Philip II. In contrast to her full, public, and perilous life, the princess’s youngest daughter, Ana de Silva y Mendoza (d. 1614), lived in almost complete seclusion. Sharing her mother’s captivity until 1592, twenty-year-old Ana was released only to see her fiancé fall from his horse and die two days before their wedding. She then joined a Franciscan convent where she spent the rest of her life enclosed and silent. These accounts demonstrate the vast range of...