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Dream Gates

Dream Gates

The beautiful dream spy of Madrid

Self-portrait of Sofonisba Anguissola, court painter of Philip II

When Lucrecia de León was a guest of the Spanish Inquisition, one of the investigators told her, “You are so beautiful a dead man would rise up and make you pregnant.”

Since women are absent from so much of the history written by men, it is remarkable that – thanks in part to the Spanish Inquisition – the record of no fewer than 415 dreams of a young doncella (lady of high birth) of Madrid have survived from the time of the Spanish Armada. They were transcribed between 1587 and 1590, by clerics who listened to her accounts of her night adventures while an armed courier waited in the street ready to gallop to the holy city of Toledo to carry the latest dream installment to the head of the powerful Mendoza clan, second only to the Habsburgs in Spain. One of the priests who wrote down her dreams was terrified when she gave him an exact description of his cell and what he had been doing there during the night, proof of her powers as a vidente (seer) who made astral journeys during the night, sometimes guided by a dream figure who held a lion by a leash.

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The reason Lucrecia’s dreams were so prized was that she had a gift for seeing the future and discovering what was going on behind closed doors, in the royal palace or the house of Sir Francis Drake in England. Her dreams were exploited as sources of military intelligence and as political propaganda, in a time when dream visions were still greatly respected. Some of them were painted; others were performed as theatre for high society in the town house of a dowager duchess who may also have been an English agent. Lucrecia’s story is a fascinating chapter in the history of women as well as the history of dreaming.

She was not arrested or tried as a witch; she was locked up because her dreams – often very unflattering to Philip II – were being used as political propaganda against the king. She was quietly released from captivity, and vanishes from the records. Her fuller story is told in my Secret History of Dreaming

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