Louisa’s Embassy: A Noblewoman in London’s Spanish Embassy

Professor Anne Cruz delivered a guest lecture examining the terms of three Spanish ambassadors to London through the eyes of noblewoman Louisa Carvajal.

PROVO, Utah (Nov. 15, 2016)—When Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church in order to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, a deep schism was created between England and devoutly Catholic Spain. After one Spanish ambassador after another were caught in plots to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, the Spanish embassy in London sat empty until King James VI took the throne and the Treaty of London was signed.

Louisa Carvajal was a pious woman who refused to marry and instead journeyed to London to convert the English Anglicans back to Catholicism. Professor Anne Cruz from the University of Miami gave a guest lecture about her time in London and her relationship with the Spanish embassy there. Her letters home reveal much about the Spanish ambassadors’ personal characteristics, the nature of the position and the religious and political climate of London at the time. The first Spanish ambassador to London after King James VI assumed the throne was a man named Don Pedro de Zuñiga, who opened the embassy to Carvajal and provided for her financially. luisa-de-carvajal-from-nunnery-of-salvador1

Carvajal soon came to appreciate the benefits of living at the embassy – because it was Spanish soil, she could worship freely there. Carvajal writes that Zuñiga’s character was so well respected that, “everyone – Catholic and heretic – had a good opinion of him.” It is clear that Zuñiga understood his responsibility to rebuild the bridge of diplomacy with England that ambassadors before him had burned.

This generosity of character seemed to extend to Carvajal herself. Cruz explained, “She ended up being a real problem for the Spaniards in England . . . she proselytized in the streets and was jailed for it,” leading the ambassador to pay for her release from prison.

In addition to being a well-liked ambassador, Zuñiga also served as a spy for the Spanish King, watching and reporting on the progress of British colonials in America. “He secretly had maps drawn of the geographic area of colonization in America,” Cruz stated. His two successors, Don Alsonso de Velasco and Don Diego Sarmiento de Acuña carried on his work.

zuniga_mapVelasco, the next ambassador, was not so accommodating of Carvajal as Zuñiga had been. He wanted her to return to Spain so she would stop causing political and religious problems. Cruz commented that he, “didn’t give her much money and sent her food [only] sometimes.” Thus, she relied on financial support from her friends at home and a monthly stipend granted her from the King of Spain.

In addition to not believing him to possess as great a character as Zuñiga, Carvajal disapproved of what she considered to be a paltry number of staff Velasco kept; she was sure it inhibited the embassy from running smoothly. However, though Carvajal didn’t like him personally, it was evident even to her that, as Cruz said, “both ambassadors followed the number one rule: render absolute loyalty to the king.”

Carvajal had moved from the embassy to a house further outside of the city due to respiratory problems before Acuña became the ambassador, but she was still a presence in the embassy. When she was put in prison a second time, Acuña convinced Parliament to release her. He was extremely influential and well liked in England; “King James liked him so much,” Cruz commented,“he invited him hunting.”

Due to her connections with the embassy, Carvajal was privy to information that related to political and religious tensions and diplomatic efforts. Her letters home are filled with mentions of religious tensions and commentary on the diplomatic activities of the ambassadors. In addition, she notes the death of Zuñiga’s wife being his reason for returning to England from Spain. From her letters, it is clear that ambassadors did not bring their wives or their families with them. Cruz says that this is because, “the role of ambassador was viewed as difficult and even dangerous, especially when the two countries were at odds.”

Olivia Madsen (B.A. French language, ’17)

Olivia covers events for the Spanish and Portuguese department for the College of Humanities. She is a senior pursuing a degree in French with a minor in writing and rhetoric.


Photos from Newberry Library, Extremeños Illustres, and Wikimedia Commons