More than Muses

Leonor de la Cueva y Silva

Leonor de la Cueva y Silva (1611-1705)

Also known as Leonor de la Rúa y Silva, Leonor de la Rúa Cueva y Silva.

An image from a work by Leonor de la Cueva y Silva
Doodle sketched by Leonor de la Cueva y Silva in the autograph manuscript of La firmeza en la ausencia

Musa detente un poco

que si de tantos males hago suma

y en el presente toco

No es suficiente mi grosera pluma 

que pues estoy penando

cuanto puedo decir digo callando

—Leonor de la Cueva y Silva


Leonor de la Cueva y Silva's poetic and dramatic works have recently been rediscovered by scholars, and the study of her life has been reignited by the recent discovery of her last will and testament. As she participated in literary circles, she was impacted by Golden Age literature while also pushing back against its strict roles for women writers and characters.

Leonor de la Cueva y Silva was a seventeenth-century Spanish dramatist and poet. She was born in Medina del Campo, in the autonomous community of Castile and Leon in the northwest of Spain. She was baptized in the Catholic Church on November 6, 1511. Her parents were Agustín de la Rúa and Leonor de la Cueva. Leonor de la Cueva y Silva’s family was part of the aristocracy and was well connected to several military orders. Her will contains a military position granted to the family by royalty, which could have been held by her husband or passed on to another relative. As her husband never took the position, it was granted to the man who married her great-niece upon Leonor’s death. Also, two of her brothers were military men, Antonio de la Cueva and Juan de la Rúa. She had another brother, Jerónimo de la Rua, who was a cleric, and a sister Teresa, who mentioned Leonor in her will. 

Most of the information we have about Leonor de la Cueva’s life comes from archival research done by Sharon D. Voros, during which she discovered the author's baptismal and death certificates as well as her last will and testament. Thanks to these documents, we know that Leonor de la Cueva was married to Baltasar Blasquez de Frias, but we have no other information about their marriage. Also included in her will is an extensive inventory of her possessions, most notably the contents of her personal library. According to Voros, it is likely that she drew inspiration for some of her works from the dramatic and mythological texts found there. She also drew inspiration as a writer from her uncle, the famous poet and dramatist Francisco de la Cueva. Many of the themes found in her play La firmeza en el ausencia can also be found in Francisco’s works (Voros 502). Francisco and Leonor corresponded throughout her life, and she dedicated a poem to him upon his death in 1628. In fact, many scholars use this date as the start of Leonor’s literary career. 

She published only two sonnets during her lifetime, one dedicated to Queen Isabel de Borbón in 1645 and one dedicated to Queen Maria Luisa de Borbón in 1689. She wrote one play in manuscript form, La firmeza en el ausencia, that was probably never performed on stage, as well as a collection of poetry written by Leonor herself as well as some other influential authors of the time, including Luis de Góngora and Lope de Vega. These poems explored themes of nature and love, and some were written for or about people she knew, giving scholars a few more clues about her personal life. Finally, in her will, Leonor de la Cueva mentioned another book she wrote entitled Silba de Apolo, but it has since been lost. 

Her most well known work is her play, La firmeza en el ausencia. It is a comedia, or a three-act play, that follows the misadventures of the protagonist Armensinda. Armesinda has been courted by a nobleman Don Juan for six years and they are deeply in love and faithful to each other. However, the king also falls in love with Armesinda and sends Don Juan away to war so he can court her. She stays true to Don Juan through many trials of her faithfulness, which undermines the stereotypes of the time about female fickleness. 

Leonor de la Cueva y Silva died in the same town she was born, Medina del Campo, on March 23, 1705 at the age of 93 and was buried in the convent of the Carmelitas Calzados. Her will, written in her own steady hand despite her advanced age, suggests that although she outlived many of her closest relatives, she remained active in her community until her death. 

Annotated Bibliography

Lauer, A. Robert. "La Firmeza En El Ausencia De Leonor De La Rúa Cueva Y Silva: De Profeminismo a Speculum Principum." Bulletin of the Comediantes, p. 85-101.

Lauer lays out the history and political climate that Leonor de la Cueva experienced and reacted against in her play, citing misogynistic traditions from Aristotle to many different Renaissance and Golden Age thinkers and writers. He includes several different psychological and philosophical studies on women at the time, as well as a list and explanation of the “celebrated women” that Cueva also includes in her work.  He claims that La firmeza en el ausencia is a “thesis comedy” that rejects the notion of women being weak-willed and inferior by exaggerating the faithfulness and steadfastness of Armesinda. 

Soufas, Teresa S. "The Absence of Desire in Leonor De La Cueva's La firmeza en el ausencia." Gender, Identity, and Representation in Spain's Golden Age, Bucknell UP, p. 142-55.

This chapter of the book explores the theme of desire in La firmeza en la ausencia. Soufas analyzes the many different layers of material, amorous, and sexual desire across the characters and throughout the play, as well as their legitimacy and their relationship to each other. She also shows how Leonor de la Cueva highlights the different reactions of the male characters and the female characters when confronting unfulfilled desires.

Urban Baños, Alba. "Las Protagonistas Ideadas Por Dramaturgas: ¿Damas Que Desdicen De Su Nombre?." Biblioteca Virtual Miguel De Cervantes, p. 1057-66.

Alba Urban Baños explores the reason behind female playwrights making their protagonists either exemplary and decorus or unseemly and indecorous. She compares Leonor de la Cueva y Silva, Ana Caro, and Maria de Zayas, explaining that the comedies written by these and many other women share the common theme of reason vs. passion. In La firmeza en el ausencia, Armesinda is easily viewed as a decorous protagonist because of her virtue and faithfulness, while Ana Caro’s empress is also seen as decorous even though she has sexual relations before marriage. This proves that the judgement of decorous or indecorus female protagonists should be viewed through the other character’s reactions to them rather than the audience’s beliefs and prejudices. 

Voros, Sharon D. "Armesinda's Dream: Leonor De La Cueva's Challenge to the Patriarchy in La Firmeza En La Ausencia." Monographic Review/Revista Monográfica, p. 74-86.

Sharon Voros is an authority on Leonor de la Cueva y Silva, and this article analyzes the dream that Armesinda has during the third act of the play La firmeza en el aucencia. She explains the dream in terms of Renaissance dream theory, as well as the Freudian paradigm. According to Voros, Cueva uses the dream state as a further protest against the power abuses of the patriarchy and the monarchy because it explores ideas of duplicity and consent and because it rejects the notion that women are more susceptible and weak-willed in the dream state. 

Voros, Sharon D. "Leonor De La Cueva Rewrites Lope De Vega: Subverting the Silence in La Firmeza En La Ausencia and La Corona Merecida." Engendering the Early Modern Stage: Women Playwrights in the Spanish Empire, UP of the South, p. 189-209.

Sharon D. Voros compares Leonor de la Cueva’s play with Lope de Vega’s La corona merecida, showing how both pieces display a conservative proto-feminism that addresses concerns about a woman’s place in court. Both plays also have male desire as a driving force and women as objects of that desire that must react against it. Cueva’s character Armesinda and the way she exemplifies gender roles in order to take the moral high ground was greatly inspired by Lope de Vega, as well as much of the rest of her play.

Voros, Sharon D. "Leonor's Library: The Last Will and Testament of Leonor De La Cueva y Silva." Hispanic Studies in Honor of Robert L. Fiore, Juan De La Cuesta, p. 283-84.

Sharon D. Voros explains her research about Leonor de la Cueva y Silva’s last will and testament and explains the significance of the discovery. She explains how the information in the will is structured, and how it sheds light on Leonor’s personal and literary life. Most notably, she lists the books that were in Leonor’s library and how each of them may have influenced her writings. This research is a treasure for anyone researching Leonor de la Cueva y Silva’s life and works. 


22 July 2021

Last Updated

11 May 2022