Description of Dona Maria De Menendez, La Bastarda
Elegant 16th century Spanish noblewoman, Dona Maria de Menendez, illegitimate daughter Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, tells the story of her life in the tiny colony of Santa Elena as well as in the noble life she left behind in Espana. Although known as La Bastarda, she was raised within the family of her renown father, the Governor General of La Florida, the Adelantado, the founder of St. Augustine and Protector of the Holy Catholic Church.
Don Pedro Menendez had always lived a life of danger and adventure but Dona Maria had lived a life of refinement and is affronted to find herself in the colony of Santa Elena when she marries one of Menendez’ conquistadors. Her pious and rigid father was absent from his family during most of his career as a successful admiral sailing the seas for his king. Maria recalls his amazing military career with reverence as she shares La Florida’s history. At the point that she arrives in Santa Elena Don Pedro has sent for his wife and family to join him. His wish is to make Santa Elena the military headquarters of La Florida. She finds herself ill prepared for the difficult life of the fledgling colony with the company of terrifying native people and lowly soldados.
As time passes it becomes apparent that as hard as her father has worked, eventually he must return to Espana to raise funds for La Florida. In his absence the colony struggles mightily with the mismanagement and cruel tactics of her husband who was left in command. Eventually the anger of the native people forces the colony to flee to the San Agustin colony.
Don Pedro Menendez succumbs to a fever in Spain and was never able to return to his beloved La Florida. In a turn of fate Dona Maria, now a widow after her husband perished in prison, inherits a large portion of her father’s estate. It seems she was declared legitimate when it was apparent she was the only child to produce a male heir to continue the lineage. She inherited all the family holdings in New Spain – Mexico!
I was inspired to research and write the story of Maria during St. Augustine’s 450th celebration. So much was done to honor Menendez but I wanted to salute the lives of the valiant women who lived in our earliest La Florida colonies.
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