Skip to comments.CONQUISTADORS IN THE OLD AND NEW WORLD
Posted on 03/15/2004 5:02:04 PM PST by 45Auto
1492 was perhaps the most momentous year in all of Spainish history. Under the leadership of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, Spain was united for the first time in 800 years and the last of the Moors had just been sucessfully defeated at Granada. In this same year under the urging of Torquemada, master of the Inquisition, an edict had been issued expelling the Jews from Spain. In addition, after six long years of waiting around the periphery of the royal court, Christopher Columbus had finally been given permission to set sail westward to search for the riches of the east Indies. The Conquistadors who followed in the footsteps of Columbus, were unique products of Spanish histroy which led up to this moment in time. As a breed of men Conquistadors were not new to Spain indeed they had been part of her culture for almost 800 years. Until 1492 Spain had been constantly at war since 711 AD. In that year Islamic hordes swept out of north Africa from across the Gibralter straits and within seven years had conquered all but the northwest coastal region and marched on across the Pyranies into France where they were finally stopped. The Moorish invaders conquered in the name of the Prophet and in spite of much bloodshed brought to Spain the culture of the Middle east. Their knowledge of irrigation methods opened up arid lands for agriculture andeducation, mathmatics, science and the arts flourished.
The wars of reconquest however were never stilled. While the rest of Europe marched on crusades to regain the Holy Land, Spainards fought their religious crusades against the infidels on their own doorstep. This constant battle for their land and faith left an indelible mark on the Spanish character. No man with any breeding regarded himself as other than a soldier a conquistador dedicated to banishing the Moors from Spanish soil. However, the Spaniards for many hundreds of years lacked the national unity to drive the Moors from their land. It wasn't until the unification of Spain under The Catholic monarchs, Isabel and Ferdinand, that the great victories in the south were finally achieved and the Moors were driven back into Africa.
The final battle was fought at Granada. It had been preceeded by the fall of two other major centers of Arab rule in the south, Malaga and Baza, which had weakened Granada's will to resist. The seige of this great fortress city began in April of 1491 and on Jan.2,1492, Granada surendered and the beautiful capital city opened its gates to the Spainards. Spain was on the Threshold of a new period of discovery amd nationalism.
This fervent religious crusade of Christian against Moslem had taken 800 years to complete and the centuries of constant fighting had created a pool of soldiers and a mounted nobility that were little more than warlords. These men born to the saddle and the sword and acustomed to booty and living off the land, still burnedwith the wild religious fervour that had led to the victory over the Moors. When in 1492 the last battles had finally been won, conquistadors of the Spanish crusade were suddenly unemployed. These were men with little to lose and much to gain by adventuring in the New Worlds encountered by Columbus.
These conquistadors were not men of a gentle nature. They saw themselves as warriors and crusaders, whose mission was to conquer and baptise and in the process to acquire gold and fortunes. The world into which they had been born was one of racial and religious intolerance, of crusading knights, war and change. As a result of their conquest over the Moors they had become convinced of the invincibility of Spanish arms and of their own power and ability in the face of great odds. These characteristics were to serve them well in their adventures in the Americas, as they advanced with unbelivable self confidence and brutality against what seemed impossible odds for survival. Their stories read like modern fiction and without the written documentation so dear to Spanish beaurocracy we might have trouble beleiving their accounts of conquest against the native peoples of the New World.
All parts of Spain contributed men to the hordes who followed the route of Columbus to the new world but the province of Estremadura is often called the Cradle of the Conquistadors for here both Francisco Pizarro and Hernan Cortes were born and from here they recruited the best of their men. The region today looks much as it did 500 years ago. It is a stark land; a high inland plateau with wide vistas and small villages perched on the rockyoutcrops of the hills. Old castles and fortresses still dot the landscape and the ancient towns where Cortes and Pizarro were born still exist. The stories of these two men dominate the conquest of Mexico and Peru. Both had incredible courage and both were adventurers, soldiers of fortune and incredibly ambitious, but in the eyes of most people today Cortes, as a born leader of men, stands head and shoulders above the crudeness and treachery of Pizarro.
CORTES Hernan Cortes was born in the small town of Medellin in 1485. His father was Martin Cortes de Monroy and his mother Dona Catalina Pizarro Altamarino, a distant cousin of the Pizarro's. The family was of minor nobility but with little means. Hernan Cortes is discribed to us as a sickly child by his biographer and friend Francisco Lopez de Gomara. At the age of fourteen he was sent to study at the University of Salamanca. This was the great center of learning of the country and while accounts vary as to the nature of Cortes' studies his later writings and actions suggest he studied law and probably Latin. After two years he tired of schooling and returned home to Medellin to the anoyance of his parents who had hoped to see him equiped for a profitable legal career. However, those two years at Salamanca plus his long period of training and experience as a notary, first in Seville and then in Hispanola, gave him the close aquaintance with the legal codes of Castile that were to stand him in good stead in justifying his unauthorizedconquest of Mexico. At this point of his life Cortes was described by Gomara as restless, haughty, and mischievous probably a fair description of a sixteen year old boy who had returned home only to find himself frustrated by life in his small provincial town. By this time news of the exciting discoveries of Columbus in the New World was streaming back to Spain and Cortes and his family must have been well aware of the potentials it might hold for a young adventurous man. Plans were made in 1502 for him to sail to the Americas with a family aquaintance, Ovando, the newly appointed governor of Hispanola, but an injury sustained while hurridly escaping from the bedroom of a married woman of Medillin prevented him from making the journey. Instead he spent the next year wandering the country, probably spending most of his time in the heady atosphere of Spain's southern ports listening to the tales of those returning from the Indies, who told of discovery and conquest, gold, Indians and strange unknown lands.
In 1503 at the age of eighteen Cortes sailed in a convoy of merchant ships bound for Santo Domingo, the capital of Hispanola. Upon his arrival he registered as a citizen which entitled him to a building plot and land for cultivation. Soon after Ovando, still the governor, gave him a repartimiento of Indians and made him a notary of the town of Azuza. His next five years seem to have served to establish him in the colony though he managed to contact syphylus from Indian women in the area, a desease which until thattime had been unknown in the Old World but which wrecked great havoc after its introduction there. In 1511 he was sent with Diego Valasquez and 300 men to conquer Cuba; there at age 26 he served as clerk to the treasurer which entailed keeping account of the King's fifth. In Cuba Cortes became a man of substance with a repartimiento of Indains, mines and cattle and even became related to the governor Valasquez himself by a rather reluctant marriage to his sister in law Catalina.
It was not until he had been almost 15 years in the Indies, that Cortes began to look beyond his substantial status as mayor of the capital of Cuba and man of affairs in the thriving colony. By then he was experienced in politics and law and had the financial resources to take advantage of whatever opportunity might come his way. Towards the end of 1518 that opportunity finally presented itself. In 1517 and again in the early part of 1518 two voyages, funded by the governor Velasquez, had been made to the Yucatan Peninsula from the western end of Cuba. The Cordoba expedition brought back gold and idols and tales of large towns with sophisticated Indian populations. This was enough to suggest that in the Yucatan lay the wealth the conquistadors had been dreaming of since the days of Columbus. Velasquez immediately sent another expedition under the command of Juan de Grijalva which discovered the island of Cozumel and sailed up the Gulf Coast of Mexico almost as far as the modern port of Vera Cruz. Grijalva had opened the door to Mexico but it was Cortes who was to claim it.
On October 23, 1518 an agreement was signed between Velasquezand Cortes appointing him Captain General of the third expedition. The agreement stated that the objects of the voyage were exploration and discovery, conversion of the natives and their acceptance of Spanish sovereignty. Cortes morgaged his lands in Cuba and borrowed another 4000 gold pesos from the merchants of Santiago he was ready to gamble all he owned on the success of the venture. Jealous gossip, possibly justified, suggested to the governor that perhaps Cortes was the wrong man for the command that he was too ambitious and might take the sucesses of the voyage for himself, eliminating Velasquez's claims. Velasquez's suspicions grew and Cortes, fearing he might be recalled as captain of the venture, ordered his ships to sail for Trinidad. There he finished provisioning and added 200 of Grijalva's soldiers who had recently returned from the Yucatan voyage. Her he also added to his standard some his greatest captains, all adventurous veterans, including Montejo Sandeval and the four Alvarado brothers.
Cortes finally set sail on Feb.19, 1519. Under his command he had 11 ships, 508 soldiers, 100 sailors, 200 Cubans, several blacks, a number of Indian women and 16 horses. For its time it was a well equiped and manned expedition that was soon to become a disciplined fighting force under the unique leadership of Hernan Cortes.
After sailing up the Gulf Coast of Mexico, Cortes landed and built a small settlement at the modern site of Vera Cruz. From there he marched inland toward the central plateau of Mexico and the great Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. Along the way he he addedthousands of Indian warriors to his army, brillantly capitalizing on the discontent of the local populations who resented the heavy burden of tribute imposed by the fighting forces of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma. The conquest of the Aztec empire took two years. Many men were lost on both sides but after a final three month siege, Tenochtitlan fell to the Spanish and their Indian allies on August 13, 1521. This incredible encounter of two worlds resulted in rapid disentegration, death, desease and destruction of one of the greatest empires of the New World
PIZARRO We know far less about Francisco Pizarro than we do about Cortes. We do know that he was born in the town of Trujillo in the province of Estremadura in about 1471; the date of his birth is not certain. He was the bastard son of an infantry Colonel of Trujillo, Gonzalo Pizarro, and a humble woman of the town, Francisca Gonzales. It appears that he recieved little care from either of his parents and grew up without learning to read or write. His occupation was as a swineherd and eventually he fled from the hard life and bleak land of Estremadura to the port of Seville and sailed to the Americas. We don't know exactly when he left Spain but he walks onto the stage of New World history in the year 1510 when at the age of 40 he became part of a disasterous expedition from Hispanola to Uraba on the mainland of South America which left few survivors. During the following years he accompianed Balboa on his journey across the ithsmus of Panama in search of the Pacific and eventually, still in Panama, became one of Governor Pedrarias's major captains. However all his activities had produced little wealth and glory. In 1522, when he was more than 50, reports of gold in unexplored lands to the south along the Pacific coast grew stronger and with his comrade, Diego de Almagro, and the financial backing of a local priest Hernando de Luque, he began to plan an expedition. Two small vessels were fitted out for a voyage of discovery to Peru. Pizarro sailed from the port of Panama on Nov.14, 1524 when already the exploits of the much younger Cortes in Mexico and stories of the great wealth of that empire to the north had reached the Spanish in Panama. Tales of gold to the south could no longer be ignored.
Three voyages of incredible hardship were undertaken by Pizarro and his companions before they made a landing on the north coast of Peru and began to prepare for a march inland to meet with Atahualpa, the Inca emperor. Pizarro left the coastal desert on Sept. 24th, 1532 with 110 foot soldiers and 67 horsemen to cross some of the the highest mountains in the world. On Nov. 15th he descended into the valley of Cajamarca, one of the most beautiful valleys in Peru where Atahualpa was camped with an army of 40,000 men. At this moment in time the Inca empire itself was in a state of confusion and revolt. The emperor Huayna Capac had recently died in his palace in Ecuador, killed by a plague of smallpox which had run ahead of actual Spanish presence. Two of his sons bydifferent wives, Huascar and Atahualpa, had been locked in civil war for almost three years to determine control of the throne. Atahualpa, a great military commander emerged the victor. Why this powerful captain allowed the tiny Spanish forces to proceed without opposition is still one of the unknown questions in the history of the New World. Atahualpa and his men were invited to the Spanish camp by Pizarro. Carried in a litter of gold and silver Atahualpa arrived with 6000 unarmed troops to meet the Spanish captain. As soon as they entered the plaza, Pizarro ordered his troops to open fire on the Inca soldiers. According to reports, all but Atahualpa himself were killed. He was taken prisoner and held captive in the Spanish camp. Knowing of the tremendous amounts of gold throughout the empire, Pizarro held the emperor for ransom. The price of his freedom was for his subjects to fill a room 22' by 17' with gold. and another even larger, twice over with silver. Once the ransom was brought and the rooms filled with Inca treasure, Pizarro had Atahualpa executed; he had served his purpose and on trumped up charges on July 16,1533 was burned at the stake. Pizarro and his men then marched on to the Inca Capital of Cuzco. On Nov. 15, 1533 Cuzco with all its riches fell to the Spanish. But the tremendous wealth of the Inca empire brought only internal revolt and quarrels to the conquistadors who constantly battled among themselves for gold, glory and power. An actual rebellion against Pizarro was led by Almagro, one of Pizarro's original partners, who was finally killed by Hernando Pizarro, one of the five brothers who led the conquest in Peru. Hernando was eventually tried for this murder andas a result of his conviction spent 20 years in prison in Spain. The other Pizarro brothers died in the New World leaving Hernando, the only legitimate Pizarro son, as the final heir of terror and conquest. Francisco Pizarro's end came in 1541 when Almagro's son, who had continued to quarel with Francisco over the theft of his father's legacy, attacked and killed him on Sunday, June 26th. The great adventure was at an end.
The conquest of Peru and Mexico left chaos in its wake. Finally royal Governors were sent out from Spain to rule in the place of the great captains and conquistadors; thus iniating the 300 years of the Colonial period. But the great encounter of two worlds left a legacy still with us today. Not only did it destroy the indigenous cultures and people but the wealth of the New World, flowing back to the old, supported the wars of Charles Vth and Philip II and changed the face of Europe forever
My, how times have changed.
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For the record, Torquemada was Amish
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