by Nene Adams ©2004 - All rights reserved

The Valiant Ladies of Potosí ~ In it's time, a city that had more inhabitants than London and was once one of the richest places on Earth - namely, Potosí, Peru, a silver mining town in the Andes - also had the distinction of playing host to a pair of swashbuckling female lovers in the 1650s. Doña Ana Lezama de Urinza, orphaned at an early age, was raised with doña Eustaquia de Sonza. It was clear from the beginning that the maidens were more war-like than lady-like. Following the death of Eustaquia's brother, the two girls took up the study of firearms and were put under the tutelage of a fencing master in their thirteenth year. This unprecedented freedom did not extend outside the home; Eustaquia and Ana were kept in seclusion, and knew about the outside world of theater and bullfights only through the servants. It was not long before the girls, disguised as caballeros, began sneaking out of the house at night.

Like most mining towns, Potosí was blustering, brawling, bawdy and violent. In the 1620s, the city had been rocked by 'gang wars' between the local Basque miners and Castillian workers. Later, there were devastating floods to contend with, as well as fraud in the silver industry. Ethnic rivalries simmered constantly beneath the surface. The Spanish code of honor encouraged duelling and fights. By mid-century, Potosí was past its prime and the tarnish was showing. Into this world of sudden death and danger stepped Ana and Eustaquia, more than ready for some real action.

During one fight, while facing four opponents, Ana was wounded and fell, while Eustaquia stood over her "brandishing her cutlass in all directions." Ana regained her senses and took revenge against the man who had struck her, dealing such a blow that his shield was split in half and his hand injured. With Eustaquia's help, she routed the remaining fellows. Afterwards, it was discovered that Ana had sustained two dangerous wounds, while her lover had three.

The women traveled together for five years, journeying throughout Peru and continuing their adventures, financed by the estate left to Eustaquia when her father died. Ana practiced bullfighting on horseback, and eventually received a wound in the ring that led to a lingering illness and death. A grieving Eustaquia followed her lover to the grave four months later.

(For more information ~ Tales of Potosi: Bartolome Arzans de Orsua y Vela, with an introduction by R. C. Padden, translated from the Spanish by Frances M. Lopez-Morillas, 1975; and The Encyclopedia of Amazons by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Paragon House, 1991)

• Madam de Chateau-Gay of Murat ~ Described by Edouard Beaumont, she was "both gallant and handsome," and rode with sword and pistols on her saddle bow. Though married, she had an affair; her lover was arrested and ill-treated by the captain of a light-horse company. Madam de Chateau-Gay took offense and promptly challenged the captain to a duel. Since the captain was familiar with her reputation as a skilled fighter, he took the precaution of bringing two experienced swordsmen with him. This dishonorable and despicable action caused Madam de Chateau-Gay's lover to urge her to forget the duel. She refused, saying, "It will never be said that I encountered them without attacking them." The fight was on. Despite a spirited contest, she was killed by the cowardly trio.

(For more information ~ The Sword and Womankind by Edouard Beaumont, Panurge Press, 1929; and The Encyclopedia of Amazons by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Paragon House, 1991)

• A Georgian Encounter ~ In England in1792, Mrs. Elphinstone paid a social call upon Lady Almeria Braddock. Alas, the call did not remain social when an unpleasant conversation regarding the truth about Braddock's age caused that doughty female to challenge Elphinstone to a duel. The ladies met in Hyde Park, where they first exchanged pistol shots at ten yards. Elphinstone's ball pierced Braddock's hat but no other damage was done. Though urged to consider a reconciliation by their seconds, the fight was not finished. Elphinstone and Braddock continued with swords, and Elphinstone was pinked in the arm. Honor satisfied, the "petticoat" duel was declared at an end. The conventions were drawn up and signed, the ladies curtsied to one another and quitted the field.

(For more information ~ The Duel by Robert Baldick, Spring Books, 1970)

• Love Triangle ~ In 1552, Napoli was shocked when two young ladies, Isabella de Carazzi and Diambra de Petinella, drew swords and dueled one another for the love of a gentleman, Fabio de Zeresola. The fight took place in the presence of the Spanish viceroy, the Marquis Del Vast and a number of spectators. This romantic story was the talk of the town in its day. A famous painting by the Spanish artist, José de Ribera (known as El Españoleto), entitled "The Duel of Women" (Duelo de Mujeres 1636) depicts the infamous event, and hangs today in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

• The Chevalier and the Officer ~ In the 17th century, an ill-mannered French calvary officer took up residence in the home of the Countess de Saint-Belmont, a beautiful widow, although he had no authorization to do so. When the Countess' polite notes requesting an explanation were ignored, she took a more drastic step, sending him a challenge for a duel and signing the letter "Chevalier de Saint-Belmont." Not realizing his opponent was a woman, the officer accepted. The Countess diguised herself as a man, and the two met at the appointed place. Well trained in fencing, the Countess quickly subdued the officer, knocking his sword out of his hand and kicking it out of reach, leaving him at her mercy. To his great shame, she told him, "You're mistaken if you think you've been fighting with the Chevalier. I am Madam Saint-Belmont, and I urge you to be more sensitive to women's requests."

(For more information ~ The Duel by Robert Baldick, Spring Books, 1970)

• The Jaguarina ~ Born Ella Hatton in 1864 in the United States, daughter of an English father and a Spanish mother, she joined a stock touring company as an actress at a young age. She trained in the sword arts - fencing and fighting with knife, rapier, foil and broadsword - and engaged in her first public fencing match in 1884 in Chicago. The Jaguarina, as she was known, came to specialize in mounted broadsword combat, and earned the titles "Queen of the Sword," "The Ideal Amazon of the Age," and "Champion Amazon of the World." In a career spanning 1884-1900, this professional athlete's record is impressive: she won 134 out of 135 duels with men.

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