A nobility and loyalty put to the severest test

February 9, 2012

Doña Magdalena de Ulloa, Toledo, Osorio and Quiñones was one of the greatest ladies of the Spanish nobility of the sixteenth century. She was the sister of D. Rodrigo de Ulloa, first Marqués de la Mota, San Cebrián, and the Vega del Condado, and of Doña Maria de Toledo, of the ancient and noble house of the Condes de Luna.

When she was very young God took from her, first her mother, and then her father, and she remained an orphan under the charge of her grandmother, the Condesa de Luna, and after her death under that of her brother, who fulfilled his duties well and sought a wealthy marriage for her by arrangement, after the custom of the time, between the two families. The bridegroom chosen was Luis Méndez Quijada, Manuel de Figueredo and Mendoza, Colonel of the Spanish infantry, Steward to the Emperor Charles V and Lord of Villagarcia, Villanueva de los Caballeros, and Santofimia, and also of Villamayor in the region of Campos, in right of his mother. The pair did not know each other; Doña Magdalena lived in Toro with her brother, and Luis Quijada followed the Emperor in his wars and journeys, having been his favorite for twenty years….

Doña Magdalena de Ulloa

In this strange way marriages were then made, and still more extraordinary is it that they usually turned out as happily as did this one. For when, soon afterwards, Luis Quijada arrived in Valladolid, where his wife went to meet him, they were so attracted to each other, he by her beauty and womanly discretion, she by his generosity and noble bearing, that the Christian love and absolute confidence they then plighted to each other lasted unto death.

Notwithstanding that, there came a time when a severe test was put to this mutual confidence. At the end of 1553 or the beginning of 1554 the posts from Flanders began to come more frequently than ever to Villagarcia. Luis Quijada was following Charles V in his last campaign against the French, and the husband never lost an opportunity of letting his wife have news of the dangers he ran or the triumphs he gained. She was the first person in Spain to know of the taking of Terouanne and the tower of Hesdin, where Luis Quijada so much distinguished himself, and to her came the first rumors of the return of the Emperor and his projected retirement to a convent.

But among all this news which pleased her as a wife, and added to the luster of her house, one day there came unexpectedly a letter which plunged her in perplexity. It was the letter which Luis Quijada had written from Brussels, probably in February, 1554, although the date is unknown. Quijada announced to his wife that before long, but after she had heard again, a man who had his entire confidence would present himself at Villagarcia, and that this man would make over to her a child of seven or nine years old, called Jeromín, and he begged her by the love she bore and which she had always shown him to accept the boy as a mother would, and as such to protect and educate him. He also said that the boy was the son of a great friend, whose name he could not reveal, but whose position and prestige he guaranteed. And he added that though the education of Jeromín was to be that of a gentleman, his father did not wish him to dress as such, but to wear the garb of a peasant, in which he would present himself. It was the desire of the father, moreover, that with all gentleness and discretion the child Jeromín should be urged to enter the Church, but not if it were not his vocation or the Divine wish. The reading of this letter produced in the warm heart of Doña Magdalena a first and keen sense of pleasure. She had no children, nor had hopes of ever having any, and through the door, when she least expected it, was coming to her one of God’s own little ones, sent by him whom she loved best, her own husband. Doña Magdalena’s imagination, spurred on by the charitable anxiety to protect the weak and love the oppressed, made her see Jeromín already in her arms while Luis Quijada looked on contentedly, smiling at her lovingly and gratefully.

Luis Quijada

This is what Doña Magdalena felt rather than thought at first, but then came slow, cold reflection, extinguishing with its logic the eagerness of her impulse and giving light with its reasons to the blindness of the senses, tarnishing by its rough contact the smiling work of her imagination, as a heavy shower of rain spoils the wings of a butterfly. And more icy than reflection, who, if cold and severe, is still honorable, came her bastard sister, suspicion, vile suspicion, who undermines and poisons everything and worms her way into the most upright souls. Reason placed this question roughly but frankly before her. Why does not Luis Quijada have enough confidence in you to tell you the name of the father, if he gives the child into your care? And suspicion slipped gently into her bosom this mean reply, “Because who knows but that he is himself the father.”

Doña Magdalena had a severe conflict with herself, but her heart was so large that nothing and nobody except her conscience could ever stop her in a generous act, and throwing everything, fears, suspicions and imagined wrongs into the flames of her pure charity, she cried out, “What does it matter where the child comes from, if he is a helpless creature whom God throws into my arms?”


Rev. Fr. Luis Coloma, The Story of Don John of Austria, trans. Lady Moreton, (New York: John Lane Company, 1912),  pp. 18-21.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 150

The Fire Revealed the Secret


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