Renaissance and Reformation Luisa De Carvajal y Mendoza
Anne J. Cruz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0315


As a self-appointed missionary to Protestant England, the Spanish noblewoman, Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza (b. 1566–d. 1614), led one of the most remarkable lives of early modern women. An inveterate writer, she left a trail of autobiographical writings, a collection of fifty spiritual poems, and more than two hundred extant letters written to her contacts in Europe and her relations in Spain. After a difficult childhood under the tutelage of a zealous uncle who mandated physical discipline for his young charge, Carvajal rejected marriage to assume a life of penitence and poverty, yet refused to enter a convent. Her extraordinary goal, to travel to England in support of the Catholic cause, was accomplished as much through her tenacious will and temperament as her noble rank and her relations with the Jesuit Order. She arrived there some five months before the Gunpowder Plot. Carvajal spent her first year in England hiding with Catholic recusants and learning English, after which she began her missionary work by visiting incarcerated priests and later collecting and dressing their remains as relics, which she sent to her supporters in Spain. Jailed twice for expressing her theological beliefs in public, she died soon after her release from jail. Although the Spanish ambassador kept her remains in London for over two years, they were finally shipped to Spain by order of King Philip III. Despite her desire to become a martyr like the priests she succored, Carvajal’s beatification proceedings were stalled indefinitely in Rome. Although she proclaimed always her fealty to Spain and the Catholic Church, Carvajal nonetheless achieved her aspirations without compromising her self-determination.


All Carvajal y Mendoza’s biographies rely for historical material on her letters and on Muñoz 1632, a contemporary account that also included her extant spiritual poetry. González Marañón and Abad 1965 represents the first and only complete edition of her poetry and her extant letters. Abad 1966 is a very readable biography, expanding greatly on the Muñoz account by inserting information from her letters as well as from other archival sources. It includes illustrations and an appendix with her testament and other documents. A pair of hagiographical biographies were published in the same two-year period: Pinillos Iglesias 2001 emphasizes Carvajal’s humility and spirituality, while Rees 2002 offers the first modern English biography, with an excellent translation of her poetry. Rhodes 2000 includes a bilingual edition of her autobiographical writings and several poems and letters. Both Rhodes and Redworth 2008 approach Carvajal’s life from a secular perspective; Redworth gives a vivid and thorough account of the treatment of Catholics in England. Cruz 2014 is the most recent biography, focusing on issues of gender, with translations of fifteen poems and thirty other letters.

  • Abad, Camilo María. Una misionera española en la Inglaterra del siglo XVII: Doña Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza (1566–1614). Santander, Spain: Universidad Pontificia Comillas, 1966.

    The most detailed investigation of Carvajal’s life as an exemplary religious woman, incorporating a wealth of historical facts and written with the stated purpose of restarting her beatification proceedings.

  • Cruz, Anne J., ed. and trans. The Life and Writings of Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza. The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe: The Toronto Series 29. Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2014.

    The editor’s introduction situates Carvajal’s life within the broader context of women’s piety, gender, and class. The book includes a full translation of her autobiographical writings, plus selected spiritual poems, and thirty-three letters.

  • González Marañón, Jesús, and Camilo María Abad. Doña Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza (1566–1614): Epistolario y poesías. Vol. 179. Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, 1965.

    Along with an introduction, this definitive Spanish work contains the modernized transcription of Carvajal’s extant poetry and correspondence.

  • Muñoz, Luis. Vida y virtudes de la venerable virgin Doña Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza. Madrid: Imprenta Real, 1632.

    The first published biography written by the well-known Spanish hagiographer, who met Carvajal when he was a child. Includes Carvajal’s poetry. The biography was reprinted, possibly by the Convent of the Encarnación, in 1897 (Madrid: Rivadeneyra).

  • Pinillos Iglesias, María de las Nieves. Hilando oro: Vida de Luisa de Carvajal. Madrid: Laberinto, 2001.

    Hagiographic view of Carvajal’s life, emphasizing her sanctity and exemplarity.

  • Redworth, Glyn. The She-Apostle: The Extraordinary Life and Death of Luisa de Carvajal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    Vivid although at times speculative account of Luisa de Carvajal’s childhood and missionary activities. Redworth portrays the London scene with great realism and relish.

  • Rees, Margaret A. The Writings of Doña Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza, Catholic Missionary to James I’s London. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2002.

    Hagiographical account of Carvajal’s experiences in England, with translations of her poetry.

  • Rhodes, Elizabeth, ed. and trans. This Tight Embrace: Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza (1566–1614). Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2000.

    Spanish-English edition of Carvajal’s autobiographical writings, with translations of selected poems and letters and a brief editor’s introduction. Includes translation of Carvajal’s religious vows.

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