Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza was a Spanish noblewoman born in 1566 to wealth and privilege. After a remarkable childhood and youth marred by numerous family deaths and abuse, she rejected her exalted social status to embrace the life of a poor holy woman in the urban centers of Madrid and Valladolid. By 1598, her desires to die for God inspired her to take a vow of martyrdom, and as a consequence of this vow she was granted permission to journey to England, where she joined the Catholic underground. Intimately connected with the Jesuits, Carvajal worked in London and its environs as a teacher, missionary, and leader in charitable service to the poor and “heathen” of Anglican England. Imprisoned twice, once for public proselytizing and once for founding a secret community of Catholic women in London, she engaged in a wide range of subversive activities that eventually led both James of England and the Spanish Council of State to mandate her return to Spain. Defiant to the end, doña Luisa refused to be expelled from England and instead died immediately after their decree was issued in 1614, succumbing to a long endured heart condition.
This Tight Embrace includes a complete biographical study of Carvajal, followed by selections from each of the genres of writing she practiced: her spiritual life story, her religious vows, her poetry, the Rule she wrote for her Society of the Sovereign Virgin Mary, and her letters. Her spiritual life story is riveting for the documentation it provides of an aberrant spirituality practiced in the most noble of Spanish households. Her other writings are equally compelling for the evidence they provide of Carvajal’s strength of character and conviction, and for the complete lack in them of the cowering and obedient woman portrayed in her writings for her confessor. Luisa de Carvajal’s religious and artistic corpus thus provides a remarkable portrait of a woman who aspired to and attained direct contact with the highest of divine and earthly figures, in spite of those who would have held her down. All texts are provided in Spanish and in English, and are edited from manuscript sources.