López de Córdoba, Leonor (1362–1412)

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López de Córdoba, Leonor (1362–1412)

Spanish noblewoman and author. Name variations: Leonor López Carrillo; Leonor Lopez of Cordoba. Born in 1362 in Córdoba; died in 1412; daughter of Martin López, Grand Master of Calatrava, and Sancha Carrillo of Córdoba; married Ruy Gutiérrez de Henestrosa (son of the high chamberlain to the king of Castile), in 1369; children: Juan Fernandez.

Leonor López de Córdoba, a Spanish noblewoman, composed an autobiography which is the primary source of her life. She was the daughter of Martin López de Córdoba and Sancha Carrillo , who was closely connected to the royal house of Castile. Her mother died when she was only a few years old; at age seven, Leonor was married to Ruy Gutiérrez de Henestrosa, son of the High Chamberlain to the king of Castile. Her dowry, as she herself records, was 20,000 gold coins, further enriching the already tremendously wealthy Ruy Gutiérrez.

Leonor's life reveals the unpredictable nature of politics in her time. She grew up in a highly privileged family and married well; yet, in 1370, when she was about eight, her father was executed by order of the new king Henry II Trastamara (Enriqué II), for supporting the late King Peter the Cruel (Pedro el Cruel), Henry II's brother and rival. Leonor, her husband, and numerous other family members were imprisoned for the same crime. All of their properties were confiscated by the crown; they remained in prison for nine years, suffering, as she records, great hunger as well as disease, for the plague took the lives of her older brother and several others during that time. When King Henry II was on his deathbed in 1379, he agreed to release Leonor's family and restore them to their former estates.

Leonor's husband, however, was unable to reclaim his properties because he had lost his rank at court; according to Leonor, Ruy left her with an aunt for seven years while he tried to regain his fortune, but he was unsuccessful and eventually returned to her. They remained in Córdoba for many years, in which time Leonor eventually gained a high position at the royal court of King Henry III (Enriqué III), becoming lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Lancaster (1372–1418), queen of Castile. Leonor stayed at court for many years, but around 1412, the political tide once more turned against the López and Henestrosa families; Leonor again found herself without allies, and this time she had to retire under pressure from the court of Henry III's son, King John II (Juan II). It was after her final days as a lady-in-waiting that she wrote down her life story.

Her autobiography is primarily narrative, but there are anecdotes included which reveal more personal thoughts and moments, such as the pain caused by the jealousy her aunt's children felt toward her, and the loneliness of being an orphan in her aunt's home in the years before Ruy returned. As an adult, Leonor López was very devout; she tells of rescuing an orphaned Jewish boy whose family was killed in a raid on the Jewish ghetto of Córdoba, and how she had him baptized and raised as one of her own children. Leonor's writing is also filled with the fear and danger caused by the recurrent epidemics of plague which struck Córdoba. She fled the city with her family many times but her son Juan Fernandez died of plague at age 12, an anguishing experience which she records touchingly. The autobiography of Leonor López is a rare example of a medieval woman's life story preserved in her own words, and is an important source of information on the daily life of 14th-century Spanish nobility.


Amt, Emilie. Women's Lives in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook. NY: Routledge, 1993.

Laura York , Riverside, California