Conquest of Peru (revised)
© 2001 Donald J. Mabry
Francisco Pizarro first came to the New World with the Ojeda
expedition and then joined Balboa in Panama in 1519. Pizarro was over 50 when he got to
Peru. Born in Estremadura in the 1470s, he was the bastard child of a poor gentlemen. He
spent time as an illiterate swineherd and then became a soldier. He went to Cuba as a
soldier; made his way to Panama; and joined the Balboa expedition to the Pacific. He had
persistence and courage.
He became one of the old Indies hands, many of whom were constantly
forming and re-forming partnerships to explore and conquer. His partners were
Hernando de Luque, a priest, who handed the finances, Diego de Almagro, who was
illiterate, uncouth, energetic and extroverted, and Pedrarias. They made a pact in 1522
amidst rumors of a Peruvian empire. Pizarro and Almagro explored down the west coast of
South America until Ecuador but found nothing they considered worth having.
On his second expedition to the south ( 1524-28), they found
artifacts that showed evidence of higher cultures. At Guayaquil, Pizarro refused the
order to return to Panama. He drew a line in the sand and asked for volunteers to
continue. Only thirteen did. For eight months they explored until they were found by a
ship sent to bring them home. Pizarro persuaded the captain to explore for a few more
days. They found a small boat carrying four beautifully dressed Amerinds from
Túmbez. With that, Pizarro was able to persuade the group to continue. They found even
more evidence of wealth. They took some Amerinds on board and headed back to Panama. The
governor wouldn't listen so Pizarro went to Spain to plea with the king to allow them to
proceed. He was to represent all the partners, or so they thought.
Pizarro returned from Spain with a royal grant after presenting with
treasure he had brought from northern Peru. He was given the titles of Captain-General,
Adelantado, and Governor/Alguacil Mayor of Peru for life with his salary to be taken from
his conquests. His partners got much less. Almagro, for example, was only made governor of
Túmbez. They were angry, Almagro especially so. Almagro's anger played an important role
in the early history of Spanish Peru.
With four brothers and a cousin, he returned to Panama in 1530 and
assembled a small expedition. By 1531, the 166 men and about twenty-five horses headed
south, stopping at Túmbez. After subduing the local population, he learned of the civil
war for the title of Inca and that Atahualpa was defeating his brother Huascar. He also
received reinforcements, led by Hernando de Soto, from Nicaragua. Pizarro founded a town,
which then granted him more authority. In November 1532, Pizarro led his small band south
to Cajamarca, where Atahualpa and his army of 40,000 were encamped.
The mighty Atahualpa did not realize how very dangerous the
Spaniards were; his religion no doubt conditioned him to believe that everyone was
inferior except his immediate family. Besides, Pizarro had been sending friendly messages
saying how he and his men were coming to visit the great Atahualpa. He understood that his
only hope was to capture Atahualpa. He stationed soldiers around the plaza and he invited
Atahualpa to dine. A priest stepped forward with a Bible and asked the Inca to swear
allegiance to the true faith, Christianity. Atahualpa drew back, accidentally knocking the
book to the ground. The Spanish soldiers then seized him. The royal guards were
Atahualpa tried to ransom himself with gold. The Amerinds had
learned that the Spanish had the disease of gold lust. His people scoured the empire to
find enough goal to fill a room. Meanwhile, the Spanish were looting as much as they
could. When the Inca's followers had fulfilled Pizarro's ransom demands, Pizarro had him
executed by strangulation. Faced with being burned at the stake, Atahualpa had converted
to Christianity to avoid that fate.
Pizarro, reinforced by additional men, set out for Cuzco, the
capital, in November 1533. They fought, captured hostages, tortured when necessary to gain
more information, had sex with women (by consent or by force), and took what they wanted.
He founded Lima in 1535. In 1536-37, Manoc Capac, a puppet Inca, tried to overthrow
Pizarro but failed. This was the last serious threat to the Spaniards.
Why was the Pizarro expedition successful?
Historians disagree, of course, but certainly the following factors were important:
- The fierceness and determination of the Spaniards. They were very egotistical and much
more individualistic than the Indians. They were most reluctant to "give up the
ghost." As invaders in hostile country, the Spanish could not afford to lose or quit.
- The Spaniards had better military tactics and weapons. The technology of Spanish weapons
was vastly superior. The horse was an important weapon. In this instance, the horse was
much like a tank, difficult for infantry to counter.
- The Inca could not conceive that a relatively small band of inferior beings could be
such a threat.
- The Spanish had millions of allies in the form of deadly microbes to which the natives
had little resistance. Long before Pizarro entered Peru, fatal contagious diseases,
brought from Spain, had been killing the natives. It was a much weakened and somewhat
confused population that the Spaniards conquered. Once Pizarro and his men arrived in
Peru, disease spread even faster.
- The civil war between Huascar and Atahualpa preoccupied the Indian elite. The Spaniards
immediately exploited these divisions even before they reached Cajamarca.
- The Indians were confused as to who and what the Spanish were.
- Capturing Atahualpa was a brilliant move, for it not only gave the Spaniards safety but
allowed them months to gather intelligence. Killing him threw the entire Indian command
structure into chaos.
The king of Spain knew knew what was going
on; he had auditors everywhere.
The Spanish founded Lima on the coast in order to have easy
communication with Spain. If worse came to worse, they could flee the highlands and use
Lima as a redoubt. Lima became the very Spanish city whose upper class lorded it over the
Quito most recently added to the Inca empire and, therefore, was
easier to conquer. Pedro de Alvarado came from Guatemala with an expedition but was bought
off. Almagro, in 1535-37, mounted an expedition to Chile and found two things: it was hard
to get to and the Aracanian Indians fiercely resisted. He came back to Peru, determined to
get his fair share. Pedro de Valdivia, commissioned by Pizarro, began the conquest of
Chile in 1540.
As they conquered, the Spanish created town governments to give
themselves authority and tried to replicate Spanish life as much as they could. They used
16th century town planning with a central square and a rectilinear layout. Sited a church
and a cemetery. Had a cabildo hall for town government. Granted town lands based on rank.
The towns immediately began functions such as roads and Indian control.
Political Situation in Peru in Early Times
In 1541, Almagro seized Cuzco, the Inca capital, claiming that
it was his and civil war ensued between the Almagrists and Pizarrists. Almagro's faction
lost the final battle in 1538. The Indians must have loved seeing the Spanish fighting
each other! The Pizarrists executed Almagro and Pizarro confiscated the loser's property
and Indians and gave them to his own followers. Pizarro assassinated in 1541 by Diego de
Almagro the Younger and other "Men of Chile." Naturally, another civil was
occurred in 1541-1542. The Crown had sent an envoy, Vaca de Castro, to investigate; when
he reached south of Popayán, he was met by Sebastián de Belacázar, a lieutenant of
Pizarro, who proclaimed loyalty to the Crown. The now royal force defeated Almagro's army
in September 1542. Almagro the Younger was executed. Gonzalo Pizarro, brother of the
conquistador, was initially bought off but events prompted him to rise up against royal
authority. Gonzalo wreaked havoc, even going to Panama and executing officials, before he
was finally defeated and executed in 1549.
The crown sent Antonio Mendoza as a viceroy and, although he died
within a year and the audiencia ruled, the Crown had established its authority. Viceroy
Francisco de Toledo served in Peru from 1569-81. Toledo was one of the great
administrators of human times. He found an almost impossible situation in Peru and made it
possible. He spent whole five years on a visit and had a rough time of it. But he helped
solidify royal rule. The Spanish crown was clever in the way they handled colonists. They
yielded to some demands in order to get obedience and, over time, took back what it had
© 2001 Donald J. Mabry
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