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Carvajal, Luisa de (1568–1614)

Carvajal, Luisa de (1568–1614)

Portuguese missionary who worked in England. Name variations: Carvajal de Mendoza. Born at Jaraicejo in Estremadura, Portugal, on January 2, 1568; died in London, England, on January 2, 1614; daughter of Francisco de Carvajal (a Portuguese aristocrat) and Maria de Mendoza; never married; no children.

Luisa de Carvajal was born into a wealthy, pious, aristocratic family of Portugal. In 1572, her mother contracted a fever while visiting the poor and both her parents died of it. Orphaned, Luisa and her brother were taken in by their great aunt Maria Chacon , governess of the young children of Philip II, king of Spain and soon to be king of Portugal. When Chacon died, they lived with their maternal uncle, Francisco Hurtado de Mendoza, count of Almazan. The count, who was named viceroy of Navarre by Philip II, was an able public servant in whom religious zeal was carried to the point of inhuman asceticism. Under his tutelage, Luisa showed signs of a religious calling of her own and, even as a girl, practiced some of the mortifications her uncle practiced. She often went without eating. When Luisa was 17, her uncle instructed her to surrender her will to two female servants whom he set over her, and by whom she was repeatedly scourged while naked, trampled upon and otherwise ill-treated.

When she reached adulthood, Luisa refused to enter a religious house. Instead, she decided to dedicate her life to the conversion of England back to the Catholic faith. The execution of the Jesuit emissary priest, Henry Walpole, in 1596 had moved her deeply. This was an era of great spiritual upheaval in England, which under the reign of Elizabeth I was outwardly Protestant but facing a counter-reformation from its Catholic adherents. In Portugal, Luisa spent many years studying English and theology to prepare herself. She devoted her share of the family inheritance to found a college at Louvain for English Jesuits (transferred to Watten near Saint Omer in 1612, the college survived until the suppression of the Order). In 1605, at age 37, she was finally allowed to move to England. Initially, she worked from the house of the Spanish ambassador, another Catholic who supported her efforts. A highly visible missionary, Luisa worked among London's poor to win converts while acting as midwife and nurse to many in order to win their confidence. Her remarkable success led the English authorities to arrest her in 1608, although she was soon released on orders of King James I himself, who wanted to maintain good relations with Spain.

After her release, Luisa established an underground nunnery at Spitalfields. Again, she was under the watch of the English authorities, and in 1613 she was arrested by the archbishop of Canterbury. Similarly, she was quickly released, but this time she was not allowed to resume her missionary work. The Portuguese government (ruled by Spain from 1580 to 1640), having determined that Luisa posed a threat to Spanish-English relations, recalled her to Portugal immediately following her release. Infuriated by the order, Luisa refused to leave England. How that conflict might have been played out is unknown, as Luisa died in the Spanish ambassador's house on her birthday, January 2, 1614, at age 46, before any further actions could be taken by the Portuguese authorities. Luisa de Carvajal's body remained on display in England for several months before being returned to Portugal for burial. In Madrid during 1632, La Vida y Virtudes de la Venerable Virgen Doña Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza by the Licentiate Lorenzo Muñoz appeared. This work was founded on her own papers, which were collected by Michael Walpole, her English confessor.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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