After escaping from a convent in San Sebastian, Spain at the age of 15 in 1607, Catalina de Erauso donned men’s clothes and calling herself Francisco de Loyola, made her way to Valladolid and then Bilbao. There she signed on as a sailor and set off for South America, where she enlisted as a soldier with the name Alonso Díaz Ramírez de Gúzman. Fighting for Spain in Peru and Chile, she was a fierce soldier, fighting hard both on and off the battlefield. She was by her own account involved in a number of duels including one in which thinking she had been wounded mortally, she confessed on her deathbed that she was a woman. She survived however, and continued on as a soldier until after another incident, she confessed again to a Peruvian bishop that she was a woman.
She was back in Spain in 1624, where she had become famous as La Monja Alférez (the lieutenant nun). She petitioned the king for a pension for her years in service as a soldier, which she received. She visited the Pope, who granted her the right to wear men’s clothes.
Some 20 years later, she went back to South America, where she took the name Antonio de Erauso and worked as a mule driver until dying in Mexico in 1650.
In her memoirs, the original of which is lost, she recounted many acts of bravery – and brawling – as well as emphasized her virginity. She also recounted various incidents in which her physical affection with women got her into trouble.
De Erauso became a woman of legend, with her memoirs rewritten many times of the years, including a 19th century version by Thomas de Quincey. Several movies have been made of her life, including the 1944 La Monja Alférez(see the clip above) and the 1987 movie of the same name.