Life and Work of Frances Calderon de la Barca: Teacher, Travel Writer, Ambassador’s Wife and Royal Governess

Frances Erskine Inglis

Frances Calderon’s colorful life comprised duties as a member of the diplomatic corps, writing about her travels in Mexico and ending as governess to a queen’s daughter.

Although outwardly a staunch Victorian, Frances always considered herself an enlightened person who would not let herself be blinded by snobbery and prejudice. This attitude is most clearly reflected in her 54 letters, published as a book under the title of “Life in Mexico”.

Frances Calderon’s Background

She was born in 1804 as the daughter of a school teacher in Edinburgh/Scotland as Frances Erskin Inglis. After her father’s death the family immigrated to the United Sates and came to live in Boston and New York, where Frances met her future husband, Angel Calderon de la Barca, a Spanish diplomat. Shortly after their marriage, Don Angel was posted as Spain’s first ambassador to the independent Mexico. The couple spent two years in Mexico and Frances started writing letters to her friends and family in 1834.

Frances’ “Life in Mexcio”

Frances de la Barca wrote a total of 54 letters. Starting with her long sea voyage from New York via Cuba and on to Mexico City, she described life, customs and her many travels around the country always under the viewpoint of an enlightened traveler. Although being a member of High Society due to her husband’s rank, she didn’t shy away from attending bull fights, cock fights and visiting seedy casinos. She wanted to look beneath the surface and venture far beyond her circles. Many of the scenes and customs she described are alive and well to this day as any traveler to modern Mexico can observe.

Her letters were never meant for publication, but a friend of the family, H. Prescott who read them and was fascinated by them, assembled the manuscripts in a book which was published in 1843 under the simple title “Life in Mexico”. The book became quite a success.

Frances’ Later Life

After their spell in Mexico, the couple returned to Washington. In 1853, Don Angel was recalled to Spain. Meanwhile, Frances had converted to Catholicism. Political disturbances in Spain forced them to flee the country and live in exile in France.

Don Angel died in San Sebastian in 1861. Frances retreated to a convent just over the French border.

After the return of the Bourbons, Frances received a request from Queen Isabella II to become the teacher and governess for her youngest daughter. She happily accepted the post and lived in court splendor until her death in 1882.

Truly a colorful life of a multi talented woman and a Victorian who, although quite fond of her “stays”, was well able to see beyond the limitations of her fellow contemporaries.