Girl Power in Colonial Peru: Santa Rosa of Lima Backstory

Girl Power in Colonial Peru: Santa Rosa of Lima Backstory

Happy Santa Rosa de Lima Day! Today Peru celebrates the patron saint of Latin America. But while we’re at it, let’s give a nod to another historical figure who deserves a spotlight — Ana Francisca de Borja y Doria. She was an early Spanish colonial-era powerhouse behind the scenes who made sure Saint Rose’s canonization happened.

With her unwavering dedication, Ana Francisca was a prime proponent for the beatification of the Santa Rose de Lima in February 1668, a momentous occasion that was officially celebrated in the viceroyalty in April of the same year.

Ana Francisca de Borja y Doria, also known as the Countess of Lemos, was a woman ahead of her time. Her influence extended beyond matters of church and faith. She also played a vital role in Peru’s governance and defense.

Oil painting of the Countess of Lemos, the first, and only, female Viceroy in the history of the Spanish Empire


Ana Francisca de Borja y Doria: A Trailblazing Viceroy

Born into the prestigious House of Borja in Spain, she was the grandniece of Francisco de Borja y Aragón, the Viceroy of Peru from 1616 to 1621. Ana Francisca’s lineage and noble upbringing laid the foundation for a remarkable trailblazing stint as a leader.

Governing with Grace and Strength

In 1668, Ana Francisca’s husband, Viceroy Pedro Antonio Fernández de Castro, embarked on a mission to quell a rebellion in the province of Puno. During his five-month absence, he tapped his wife, Ana Francisca, to oversea Spain’s interests in his stead.

She was 29 years old and pregnant when she officially assumed the role of Viceroy, becoming the first woman to hold such a position in Peru.

Her husband’s decree, appointing her interim viceroy, read:

“I choose and appoint the most excellent lady Countess of Lemos, my wife, so that in my name and representing my own person (she) resolve and determine all businesses and causes of government and war with the same faculty that I have, without limitation.”
~ May 30, 1668.The Count of Lemos.

Ana Francisca was no figurehead. Her assignment as regent had the backing of a royal decree from Spain. And her administration over the course of the next five months and five days was marked by courage and intelligence.

Defending the Colony Against Pirates and Corsairs

One of Ana Francisca’s most significant challenges as her husband’s regent came in the form of an attack by the notorious British pirate Henry Morgan. In August 1668, Morgan set his sights on Portobelo in Panama, aiming to exploit the viceroy’s absence.

Ana Francisca wasted no time, decisively dispatching money, supplies, and arms to launch a strategic counterattack against the pirates. Just six days after the news about Captain Morgan reached Lima on August 31, ships loaded with the silver and artillery set sail for Panama. And to avoid a similar situation in the port of El Callao, she reorganized its defenses, effectively quelling any potential threats from pirates and buccaneers to the City of Kings.

British pirate Henry Morgan repelled by Spanish forces in 1668, outmaneuvered by Ana Francisca de Borja y Doria, acting Peru Viceroy.
Captain Morgan gets his rum spiced in Panama by the Countess of Lemos

After her husband’s return to Lima, Ana Francisca received a hand-written note of congratulations from the Queen Regent of Spain, Mariana de Austria, expressing her “total satisfaction” with Ana Francisca’s performance.

However, her husband received a less congratulatory dispatch from the Spanish Royal Court. He was warned that, if faced again with a similar situation, it would be them who decided who would rule in his absence.

A Life of Personal Triumphs and Losses

Ana Francisca’s personal life was not without its share of joys and sorrows. She experienced the loss of her first husband shortly after their marriage, only to find love again with her fourth cousin, Pedro Antonio Fernández de Castro. Together, they had five children. Pedro Antonio’s appointment as viceroy in 1667 brought them to Peru, where they navigated the complexities of governance and faced the challenges of rebellions and pirate attacks together.

The Count of Lemos died in Lima on December 6, 1672, at the age of 40. Before he died, he commissioned his wife to take his remains back to Spain so that they could be buried in Monforte de Lemos where his parents and grandparents were buried.

Ana Francisca’s and her children returned to Spain in 1675. From then on she dedicated herself to managing the family’s assets. She died in Madrid in 1706.

Source: Ana Francisca de Borja, Countess of Lemos and first Viceroy of Peru, had to protect the cities of the Isthmus of Panama and the city of Portobelo from the English pirate Henry Morgan

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Authored by: PeruTravelTrends

A Peru Tour Operator and Travel Agency: Since 1994 creating wonderful vacation experiences for adventure travelers and holidaymakers in Cusco, Lima, Arequipa, Lake Titicaca, and all around the Andean region.

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