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Fencing History and Tales

Introduction | Literary Allusions | Famous Duels and Duellists | Women and Combat

Famous Duels and Duellists

Catalina de Erauso (1585-1650)

Catalina de Erauso was a Basque woman who fled a convent, dressed as a man, and sought her fortune in the New World. She served as a lieutenant in the army, fought multiple duels, and was a scoundrel of notorious fame. The accounts below are taken from her translated autobiography, Lieutenant Nun by Catalina de Erauso, translated by Michele Stepto and Gabriel Stepto and published by Beacon Press in 1996.

Lieutenant Nun on Amazon.com

Catalina responds to a threat from a señor Reyes

"I closed the shop, grabbed up a knife, and went looking for the barber to grind the blade to a sawtoothed edge, and then, throwing on my sword - it was the first I ever wore - I went looking for Reyes and found him where he was strolling by the church with a friend.

I approached him from behind and said, "Ah, señor Reyes!"

He turned and asked, "What do you want?"

I said, "This is the face you the face you were thinking of cutting up," and gave him a slash worth ten stitches.

He clutched at the wound with both hands, his friend drew his sword and came at me, and I went at him with my own. We met, I thrust the blade through his left side and down he went."

Reyes and two friends seek vengeance on Catalina

"It must have been about two months later, one morning around eight, as I was cashing one of my master's notes for some twenty-four thousand pesos, a Negro came in and told me there were some men at the door who appeared to be armed. This put me on guard. I woke the accountant, got my receipt, and sent word for Francisco Zerain, who came directly and as he entered the shop recognized the three men as Reyes, the friend of his I had run through in Saña, and another man.

I told the Negro to close the door, Zerain and I went outside, and at once they threw themselves upon us. We met them fighting, and it wasn't long before, as my bad luck would have it, I ran my sword point through Reyes' friend - where I cannot say - and down he went. And so with blood drawn on both sides, we went on fighting, two on two.

At this moment the sheriff don Ordoño Aguirre arrived, together with two of his deputies, and they grabbed hold of me. Francisco Zerain took to his heels and managed to escape."

Catalina acts as a second for don Juan de Silva in a duel with don Francisco de Rojas

"The darkness was so thick that you couldn't see your hand in front of your face - and noting this, I suggested we should tie our handkerchiefs around our arms so that, whatever might happen in the next couple of hours, we would not mistake one another.

The two men arrived and one of them said, "Don Juan de Silva?" and I could tell by the voice it was don Francisco de Rojas.

Don Juan answered, "Here I am!" and they each laid hand to sword and went at each other, while the other man and I stood by.

They went on dueling, and after awhile I could tell my friend had taken a hit and that he wasn't any bteer for it. I jumped to his side and the other man took the side of don Francisco, we parried two on two, and before long don Francisco and don Juan fell to the ground. My opponent and I kept fighting, and my point went home below his left nipple, as I later learned, through what felt like a double thickness of leather, and he fell to the ground.

"Ah, traitor," he said, "you have killed me!" I thought I recognized this stranger's voice.

"Who are you? I asked, and he answered, "Captain Miguel de Arauso."

I was stunned. My brother begged for a priest, as did the other two, and I went running to the Franciscan church and dispatched two friars to take their confessions."

Catalina settles a card table dispute

"I sat down to play with the merchant, and the game was going along smoothly until one particular hand, the merchant, who was already smarting from his losses, said, "I raise you."

I said, "How much do you raise?" and he said again, "I raise you."

Again I asked, "How much?"

He slammed down a doubloon and said, "I raise you a cuckold's horn!"

"Fine," I said, "I'll see you that horn and raise you the one that's still on your head!"

He swept the cards from the table and drew his dagger. I drew my own, the others at the table grabbed us and pulled us apart, and then we went on playing, with everyone sidestepping the issue, well into the night. I left for home, but hadn't gone far when I turned a corner and who should I meet up with but this same merchant, who draws his sword and comes at me. I pulled out my own blade and we fell to fighting - we parried, but before long I ran him through, and down he went.

The fracas raised a crowd of people, including the police and they tried to arrest me. I fought them, taking two wounds in the process, and retreated to the safety of the cathedral."

Catalina in another card table dispute with Fernando de Acosta of Portugal

"With that, I threw down my cards and drew my sword. The Portuguese drew his sword and the other players grabbed hold of us and kept us apart, and with their jokes and quips about the hazards of the game they managed to calm us down. Fernando de Acosta paid up and left, apparently in good humor.

Three nights later, about eleven o'clock, I was on my way home when I spotted a man loitering at the corner up ahead. I flipped my cape over my shoulder, pulled my sword from its sheath, and continued toward him. As I came near, he hurled himself on me, jabbing and shouting, "You horned rogue!" I recognized him by his voice and went at it, I ran him through, and down he went, dead."

Catalina fights with Pedro de Chavarría concerning his wife

"As I turned to get back on my mule, I collided with Pedro de Chavarría, who came at me sword in hand without bothering to wait for an explanation.

He gave me a turn appearing like that out of nowhere, with me bone tired and him, the poor man, still thinking I had done him wrong. Still, I drew my weapon and took my stand. We clashed swords all the way into the church, and he must have been good, because he poked me twice in the breast before I could get in a single hit. That woke me up, and I went at him, backing him up against the altar. He took a huge swipe at my head, I fended off with my dagger and drove my blade a span's length between his ribs."

Catalina and "The Cid" settle a dispute on gambling etiquette

"One day I went to a friend's house to gamble, the two of us sat down to a friendly game of cards, and everything was going fine until a dark, hairy giant of a man sat down next to me, a menacing fellow everyone called The Cid. I went on with my game and won the hand I was playing, but then The Cid stuck his paw in my winnings, palmed some of my gold, and walked out.

Before long he was back, helping himself to another fistful and loitering behind my back. I slipped out my dagger and went on with the game, and the next time he stuck his paw out I saw it coming, and skewered his hand to the table with my blade. I jumped up and drew my sword, the others took out theirs, and then The Cid's partners joined in and got me so penned up I took three hits - I slipped out into the street, which was a piece of luck, seeing as how they were about to chop me into pieces.

The Cid was the first to come after me. I took a swipe at him, only to discover he was trussed up in armor like a brass watch. The others tumbled out and fell upon me. Just in that instant, two Basqueros happened to be walking by, and when they heard the commotion they stopped, and seeing as how I was one against five they took up alongside me - and still, the three of us got the worst of it, with The Cid and his men backing us all the way down the street to where it opened into the square. And as we drew near the curch of San Francisco, The Cid gave me such a stab from behind with his daggerthat the blade ran clean through my left shoulder - and one of the others plunged his sword a hand's width into my left side, and I fell to the ground in a sea of my own blood.

With that, everyone turned tail and ran. I pulled myself to my feet, the taste of death in my mouth, and saw The Cid standing by the church door. I staggered toward him and he came at me saying, "You dog - still alive?" and he thrust at me with his blade. I forced the blow off to the side with my dagger, and with a bit of luck managed to find the unprotected soft of his belly with my blade, pushed it clear through him and he fell to the ground, begging for a priest. I went down as well., and the ruckus brought a flock of people, including two friars and the sheriff don Pedro de Córdoba, a knight of Santiago."