Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru - Frederick Ober

An Appeal to the Crown


Accompanied by Pedro de Candia as a companion, and several Indians as captives, Pizarro embarked for Spain in the early part of 1528. Besides the Indians, as specimens of the new country's products, he took with him a pair of llamas, or Peruvian sheep, many colored fabrics woven from their wool, and a rich collection of barbaric ornaments in gold and silver. He imitated his kinsman, Cortés, in respect to presenting himself before the court with gifts to please the king; for these astute conquerors knew the weakness of the royal Charles, whose appetite for gold was as insatiable as their own.

The resident partners at Panama had, by great exertion, and only after straining their credit to the utmost, raised the sum of fifteen hundred ducats, which they gave Pizarro, with an injunction to make the most of it, as no more would be forthcoming. He came near losing the whole of it, however, soon after landing in Spain, for that wary individual, Lawyer Enciso, who had been with Pizarro and Balboa at Darien, brought out an ancient claim for debts, and clapped the would-be conqueror into jail.

This was the reception offered Pizarro when, for the first time in twenty years, he returned to his native land. His great services to the crown were forgotten, and the only man who remembered him, it seemed, was the rascally lawyer, Enciso. No, there was one other—the king. Charles had been informed of his coming, and thinking there might be somewhat of profit in an expedition which he was called upon to sanction merely—that is, give permission for the invasion of a country not his own, and the plundering of a people over whom he did not rule—he ordered Pizarro to be released. Not alone that, but he ordered him to appear before him at court, then being held at Toledo.

Pizarro was not slow in complying with the royal mandate, and was delighted, when he arrived at court, to find there his distant relative, Cortés, who had come for redress of grievances. The two made common cause, it is said, or, at all events, Cortés coached his uncouth cousin in the etiquette of the court, and even spoke a good word for him to the king. There is "honor among thieves," according to the ancient maxim, and when a number of rascals get together for the purpose of plundering honest and peace-loving citizens, they are usually true to one another—until after the plundering has been effected. This trio of plunderers, Charles, Cortés, and Pizarro, laid their heads together, as it were, and perfected a scheme for the pillaging of Peru.

King Charles was in a hurry to get away from Spain, having a foreign war on his hands; but he was never averse to engaging in any venture that promised him funds with which to conduct his wars, so, before he left, he recommended Pizarro to the Council of the Indies, and requested his consort to expedite the matter all she could. It was the custom with the court of Castile, however, to "make haste slowly," and a year passed before the Empress finally executed a "capitulation," by which Pizarro was authorized to proceed with his scheme. This capitulation may have been prepared by the orders of Charles's queen, but was actually in the name of his unfortunate mother, Juana Loca, or, as the Spaniards called her, "Crazy Jane." So, after all, two women, and one of them a lunatic, had more to do with the project than the vagrant ruler of Spain.

However, the contract was finally drawn up and signed, by which Pizarro was empowered to raise, mainly at his own expense, a force of two hundred and fifty men, one hundred of whom might come from the colonies, and embark them in three vessels for the isthmus. In return for what he had done, and what he was to do—namely, effect the conquest of Peru and divert its vast wealth into the coffers of Castile, assist at the conversion of its inhabitants and promote the "cause of religion" as understood by the Spaniards—he was to be made governor and captain-general, also adelantado and alguacil mayor of the conquered province—when it was conquered. He was to receive a salary of seven hundred and twenty-five thousand maravedis—after he had found the funds with which to pay it; was to be allowed a repartimiento of Indians—after he had captured them; was made a knight of Santiago, and privileged to quarter the royal arms with those of the Pizarros on his family shield. Somebody was unkind enough to insinuate that a "hog couchant" was the proper design for one who, according to rumor, had been suckled by a sow; but, in fact, Pizarro was allowed to adopt an "Indian city, with a vessel in the distance on the waters, and the llama of Peru."

A modest legend recited that "Under the auspices of Charles, and by the industry, the resources, and the genius of Pizarro, this country was discovered and conquered." This motto may have been considered premature; but even so, it was prophetic. To undertake was to accomplish, with Pizarro. He regarded the country as good as conquered, and as at no time had he wavered in his faith, so he was honest in his endeavors to inspire his followers with his sentiments.

These adventurers were not so many as he desired to raise, and even when he paid a visit to his native Truxillo, though his friends and kinsmen were agape at his elevated state, having in mind his departure from that place years before, a fugitive swine-herd, very few enlisted beneath his banner. His father, the reprobate Gonzalo, had been dead many years, also his mother; but he found four brothers, who were proud to claim relationship with him, and who, being poor, were glad to embrace the opportunity he offered them for becoming rich. Only one of them, Hernando, was the legitimate son of old Gonzalo—as he frequently reminded his brothers—while of the others: Juan, Gonzalo, and Martin Alcantara, only the last-named owned the same mother as Francisco.

As they were without binding family ties, and blessed with few possessions save their inordinate pride, the four brothers lost little time in joining their distinguished relative at Seville. When he arrived there from Truxillo, Francisco found, to his mortification, that the full complement of men had not been raised, and that, the six months in which he had promised to be ready for the voyage having expired, the Council of the Indies might prevent him from sailing. The condition of his ships was not what it should have been, either, and so, in order to evade an official investigation, he set sail in a hurry, one night in January, 1530, from the port of San Lucar. Hernando followed after with two ships, and, joining him at Gomera in the Canaries, together they crossed the ocean without mishap.

Landing at Nombre de Dios, on the northern coast of the isthmus, opposite Panama, Pizarro was met by Luque and Almagro, who had waited impatiently for tidings from Spain, and could not restrain themselves any longer. What they learned was not to their satisfaction, as may be imagined, for, while the priest had been raised to the bishopric of Tumbez, and made "protector of the Peruvian Indians," Almagro was to be commandant of the Tumbez fortress only, with a salary of three hundred thousand maravedis. He was, to be sure, raised to the rank of an hidalgo; but that, despite his lowly condition, he spurned as an empty honor. He declared that Pizarro had appropriated all the honors and emoluments of the projected conquest, and said sarcastically that he wondered why he had not had himself "appointed a bishop, as well as governor-general, adelantado, etc., etc."

It had been agreed between them, in advance, that Almagro should at least receive the position of adelantado, or lieutenant-governor; while Ruiz, the pilot, was to be made alguacil mayor. Instead, however, Pizarro came back with all the honors thickly clustered around his own head, and that is what the trio received in return for their trust in him.

Ruiz was to be "Grand Pilot of the Southern Sea," but that was because Pizarro was not a seafaring man; Pedro de Candia was made master of artillery, but, as all men knew, Pizarro could not fire a cannon; and the clerigo was created a bishop, for the sole reason that Pizarro had not taken holy orders! In this strain ran on Almagro, working himself into a passion, which was not allayed by the sight of the four brothers of Pizarro standing about, their faces wreathed in sardonic smiles. Hernando especially, the only legitimate Pizarro of the group, made himself particularly obnoxious to the small but valiant Almagro, his contempt for whom he took no pains to conceal. From that interview at Nombre de Dios dates the feud between these two soldiers, which ended only when the ill-fated Almagro lost his head.

Pizarro, of course, protested that he had done his best to secure the coveted honors for Almagro, but, in sooth, the Emperor was determined he himself should have them all. It was not so much that he considered him the more worthy of the two, but, as a matter of policy, he had decreed that the highest offices should be vested in a single individual, in order that he alone should be responsible! However, it did not matter, of course, for, as Almagro knew full well, whatever his partner owned he would share with him, even to the whole of his wealth and his titular honors. He would resign the adelantadoship—he would, indeed—and induce the Emperor to confer it upon his "most faithful friend" Almagro.

This he swore, by the Virgin, and "por Dios,"  and by all the saints in the calendar; and he swore glibly, too, until happening to glance up he caught the eye of the clerigo fixed upon him. Then he halted, stammered, and the semblance of a blush stole over his bronzed cheek; for the clerigo was smiling grimly, incredulously, and he recalled his remark when they had parted two years before: "God grant that one of you may not defraud the other of his share!"

Fully convinced that Pizarro intended to bestow such lucrative positions as he himself did not hold upon his brothers, and that henceforth there was no hope for his own advancement, while the partnership continued, Almagro loudly proclaimed his disgust, and announced his intention of setting out on an expedition of his own. He was only dissuaded by Luque and the lawyer, Espinosa, both of whom were financially interested in the venture, and who, foreseeing the ruin of the enterprise unless Almagro should be placated, managed to patch up a truce between the principals.

Mollified by the promise of the adelantadoship as soon as it could be conveniently transferred, Almagro embarked in the enterprise again with heart and soul; but there was thenceforth a feeling of distrust between the partners, even greater than had hitherto existed. It was mutually agreed that the Pizarro brothers should not be advanced at Almagro's expense, and that the original articles of the compact should be carried out. Indeed, had not the blessing of God been called down upon it, and, in a manner equally solemn, His curses invoked upon whoever should break it?

After the cargoes of the three ships had been transferred across the isthmus, and the soldiers marched over that rugged pathway between Nombre de Dios and Panama, three new vessels were purchased and equipped. The difficulties of this transfer, which included all the armament of the ships, as well as Passengers and cargo, were stupendous. Few, if any, beasts of burden were available at that distant day; there were no wheeled vehicles of transport, and no roads worthy the name, only trails and Indian footpaths through the mountains. To add to the troubles of the trio, many of their men deserted, alarmed at the reports received on the isthmus, of cannibal natives awaiting them in Peru, escaping which they would surely die of famine or fevers. Thus many of the weaklings were weeded out; but in the end the three vessels sailed from Panama well laden, carrying one hundred and eighty men, among them nearly thirty cavalry. They were the pick of Spain, as well as of Panama, and as for the armament, it was the most complete Pizarro had ever obtained. It was not, as a whole, equal to what had been stipulated in the contract with the crown; but there was no interference from royal officials, and the fleet was allowed to proceed.

First, however, as on a former occasion, the entire command assembled in the cathedral of Panama, where the clerigo and other reverendos, who had been sent out to convert the heathen, invoked the blessing of the Most High upon the banners of Pizarro. Then the holy edifice echoed to roll of drum and blare of trumpet, as, led by the Governor, Pizarro, Luque, and Almagro, the mailed soldiers marched forth into the street, where they were greeted by loud huzzas from the people. A second time Pizarro was escorted to his ships by the entire populace of Panama; and as by this time the man's constancy and determination had won all hearts, he departed amid wild enthusiasm.

It is easy to cheer on the leader of a forlorn hope, and urge him to continue to the end; but taking active part in the affair is quite a different matter. Few of the residents were inclined to go with Pizarro, their memories running back to the sufferings endured by him and his companions on other occasions. They had been rewarded, to be sure—those who had survived—most of them with promises; but those who clung to Pizarro on the island—the "immortal twelve"—had been created hidalgos. They were now the "sons of somebody," these men, most of whom were, in fact, the sons of nobody in particular, and were looked up to as "Dons," of high degree. The airs they assumed were almost insufferable; but, their rewards having been won by merit, their pretensions were good-naturedly tolerated. But not so those of the four brothers of Pizarro, who incurred the enmity of many besides the fiery old Almagro, by their display of pride and arrogance. Shaking his sword at their retreating forms, as they were rowed off to the ship, he growled in the ear of the clerigo: "The beggarly bastards think themselves soldiers, because, forsooth, they for the first time in their lives have put on casque and corselet. Por Dios! I wish they had but one throat to the four, and I had my grip upon it."

"Nay, nay, amigo," returned the clerigo, "curse them not. It is but natural that Francisco should desire his brothers with him. And, remember our compact; perchance he may keep it!"

"Ay, perchance," grumbled Almagro; "but not if that ill-favored Hernando has his will. It is he I fear—nay, not fear, but distrust. As for any love he and his misbegotten brothers bear Francisco—why, he never heard of them until he had returned to Truxillo, I trow. And he prefers them to his friend Almagro."

"Well, we have done our part, my friend; if Francisco doeth not his, we may leave him to be dealt with by God. The stakes are large and well worth playing for. There, see, they hoist their sails. Now they are off; there goes a gun, and another—"

"Faith, they'd better save their powder," interrupted Almagro. "Think of the trouble we had to get it! Sulphur and charcoal, and all that, are not to be had for the asking, as you know."

"Yes, I know," sighed the clerigo. "For years, now, we've been toiling, as you say, saving and spending, in order that Francisco may achieve that conquest over the heathen; and now—"

"Now he's off, and Panama will never see him again! But," added Almagro, fiercely, "I shall soon follow after! He will be sending back, as usual, for soldiers and horses, powder and arquebuses; but will he get them? Nay, for the next command goes out under Don Diego de Almagro, comandante of Tumbez, and adelantado in prospect of Peru!"