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Letter from Lope de Aguirre, rebel, to King Philip of Spain, 1561


         The following translation is by Tom Holloway, History, Cornell
 University, from the version published in A. Arellano Moreno (org.),
 DOCUMENTOS PARA LA HISTORIA ECONOMICA DE VENEZUELA, (Caracas, Univ.
 Central, 1961).  
 Letter from Lope de Aguirre, rebel, to King Philip of Spain, 1561
         To King Philip, the Spaniard, son of Charles the Invincible:
 From Lope de Aguirre, your lesser vassal, old Christian, of middling
 parents but fortunately of noble blood, native of the Basque country of the
 kingdom of Spain, citizen of the town of Onate.
         In my youth I crossed the sea to the land of Peru to gain fame,
 lance in hand, and to fulfill the obligation of all good men.  In 24 years
 I have done you great service in Peru, in conquests of the Indians, in
 founding towns, and especially in battles and encounters fought in your
 name, always to the best of my power and ability, without requesting of
 your officials pay nor assistance, as can be seen in your royal records.
         I firmly believe, most excellent King and lord, that to me and my
 companions you have been nothing but cruel and ungrateful.  I also believe
 that those who write to you from this land deceive you, because of the
 great distance.
         I demand of you, King, that you do justice and right by the good
 vassals you have in this land, even though I and my companions (whose names
 I will give later), unable to suffer further the cruelties of your judges,
 viceroy, and governors, have resolved to obey you no longer.
 Denaturalizing ourselves from our land, Spain, we make the most cruel war
 against you that our power can sustain and endure.  Believe, King and lord,
 we have done this because we can no longer tolerate the great oppression
 and unjust punishments of your ministers who, to make places for their sons
 and dependents have usurped and robbed our fame, life, and honor.  It is a
 pity, King, the bad treatment you have given us.
 I am lame in the right leg from the arquebus wounds I received in the
 battle of Chuquinga, fighting with marshall Alonzo de Alvarado, answering
 your call against Francisco Hernandez Giron, rebel from your service as I
 and my companions are presently and will be until death, because we in this
 land now know how cruel you are, how you break your faith and your word,
 and thus we in this land give your promises less credence than to the books
 of Martin Luther.
 Your viceroy the marquis of Canete hanged Martin de Robles, a man
 distinguished in your service; and the brave Tomas Vasquez, conquistador of
 Peru; and the ill fated Alonso Dias, who worked more in the discoveries of
 this kingdom than the scouts of Moses in the desert; and Piedrahita, a good
 captain who fought many battles in your service.  In Pucara they gave you
 victory, and if they had not, Francisco Hernandez would now be the king of
 Peru.  Don't give much credence to the claims your judges make of services
 performed, because it is a great myth, unless they call having spent
 800,000 pesos of your royal treasury for their vices and evil deeds, a
 service.  Punish them as evildoers, as such they certainly are.
         Look here, King of Spain!  Do not be cruel and ungrateful to your
 vassals, because while your father and you stayed in Spain without the
 slightest bother, your vassals, at the price of their blood and fortune,
 have given you all the kingdoms and holding you have in these parts.
 Beware, King and lord, that you cannot take, under the title of legitimate
 king, any benefit from this land where you risked nothing, without first
 giving due gratification to those who have labored and sweated in it.
         I am certain there are few kings in hell because there are few
 kings, but if there were many none would go to heaven.   Even in hell you
 would be worse than Lucifer, because you all thirst after human blood.  But
 I don't marvel nor make much of you.  For certain, I and my 200
 arquebus-bearing maranones, conquistadores and noble, swear solemnly to God
 that we will not leave a minister of yours alive, because I already know
 how far your clemency reaches.  Today we consider ourselves the luckiest
 men alive, because we are in these parts of the Indies, with faith in God's
 commandments full and uncorrupted as Christians, maintaining all that is
 preached by the holy mother church of Rome, and we intend, though sinners
 in life, to achieve martyrdom through God's commandments.
         Upon leaving the Amazon river, called the Maranon, on an island
 inhabited by Christians called Margarita, I saw some reports from Spain
 regarding the great schism of Lutherans there, which caused us to be
 frightened and surprised.  In our company there was a German named
 Monteverde, and I ordered him cut to pieces.  Destiny rewards the prudent.
 Believe this, excellent Prince:  Wherever we are we ensure that all live
 perfectly in the Christian faith.
         The dissolution of the priests is so great in these parts that I
 think it would be well that they feel your wrath and punishment, because
 there is now none among them who sees himself as less than governor.  Look
 here, King, do not believe what they might tell you, because the tears that
 they shed before your royal person is so that they can come here to
 command.  If you want to know the life they lead here, it is to deal in
 merchandise, seek and acquire temporal goods, and sell the Sacraments of
 the Church for a price.  They are enemies of the poor, uncharitable,
 ambitious, gluttonous, and arrogant, so that even the lowest of the priests
 tries to command and govern all these lands.  Correct this, King and lord,
 because from these things and bad examples faith is not impressed upon the
 natives.  Furthermore, if this dissolution of the priests is not stopped,
 there will be no shortage of scandal.
         If I and my companions, by the correct position we have taken, are
 determined to die, for this and for other things that have happened,
 singular King, you are to blame, for not duly considering the labor of your
 vassals and for not thinking of what you owe them.  If you do not look out
 for your vassals, and your judges do not take care of this, you certainly
 will fail in government.  Certainly there is no need to present witnesses,
 but simply to point out that each of your judges has 4,000 pesos of salary,
 8,000 pesos in expenses, and after three years in office each has 60,000
 pesos saved, along with properties and possessions!  Despite all this we
 would be willing to serve them as we do, except that for our sins they want
 us to drop to our knees wherever we are and worship them like
 Nebuchadnezzar.  This is insufferable.  Just because I am an unfortunate
 man made lame in your service (and my companions long and weary in the
 same) I should not fail to advise you never to trust your conscience to
 these learned persons.  It is in your royal interest to watch out for them,
 as they spend all their time planning the marriages of their children, and
 care for nothing else.  The common refrain among them is:  "To the left and
 to the right, I possess all in my sight."
         The friars do not want to bury poor Indians, and they are lodged in
 the best estates in Peru.  The life they lead is bitter and burdensome, as
 each one has as a penance a dozen young women in his kitchen, and as many
 boys engaged in fishing, hunting partridges, and bringing fruit!  They get
 a share of everything.  In Christian faith I swear, King and lord, that if
 you do not remedy the evils of this land, divine punishment will come upon
 you.  I tell you this to let you know the truth, even though I and mine
 neither expect nor want mercy from you.
         Oh, how sad that a great Caesar and Emperor, your father, should
 conquer with the power of Spain the great Germany, and should spend so much
 money from these Indies discovered by us, and that you should not concern
 yourself with our old age and weariness enough to provide for our daily
 bread.
         You know that we know in these parts, excellent King and lord, that
 you conquered Germany with arms, and Germany has conquered Spain with
 vices.   We over here are happier with just corn and water, to be removed
 from such a bad irony,  Let those who suffer such an irony keep their
 reward.  Let wars spread where they may, and where men take them.  Never,
 no matter what adversity might come upon us, will we cease to be subject to
 the teachings of the Holy Mother Church of Rome.
         We cannot believe, excellent King and lord, that you would be so
 cruel to such good vassals as you have in these parts.  Your judges must be
 acting this way without your consent.  I say this, excellent King, because
 two leagues from the city of Kings [Lima], there was discovered near the
 sea a lake where there were some fish God permitted to exist there.  Your
 evil judges and officials, to profit from the fish for their pleasures and
 vices, leased them in your name, giving us to understand, as though we were
 fools, that this was done by your will.  If this is so, master, let us
 catch some of the fish, because we worked to discover it, and because the
 King of Castile has no need for the 400 pesos they leased it for.
 Illustrious King, we do not ask for grants in Cordoba or Valladolid, nor in
 any part of Spain, which is your patrimony.  Deign to feed the weary and
 poor with the fruits and proceeds from this land.  Remember, King and lord,
 that God is the same for all, and the same justice, reward, heaven, and
 hell.
         In the year 1559 the marquis of Canete entrusted the expedition of
 the river of the Amazons to Pedro de Ursua, Navarrese, or rather, a
 Frenchman.  He delayed the building of the boats until the year 1560 in the
 province of the Motilones, in Peru.  The Indians are called Motilones
 because they wear their head shaved.  These boats were made in the wet
 country, and upon launching most of them came to pieces.  We made rafts,
 left the horses and supplies, and took off down the river at great risk to
 our persons.  We then encountered the most powerful rivers of Peru, and it
 seemed to us to be a fresh water sea.  We traveled 300 leagues from the
 point of launching.
         This bad governor was so perverse and vicious and miserable that we
 could not tolerate it, and it was impossible to put up with his evil ways.
 Since I have a stake in the matter, excellent King and lord, I will say
 only that we killed him; certainly a very serious thing.  We then raised a
 young gentleman of Seville named Don Fernando de Guzman to be our king, and
 we made an oath to him as such, as your royal person will see from the
 signatures of all those who were in this, who remain in the island of
 Margarita, in these Indies.  They appointed me their field commander, and
 because I did not consent to their insults and evil deeds they tried to
 kill me, and I killed the new king, the captain of his guard, the
 lieutenant-general, his majordomo, his chaplain, a woman in league against
 me, a knight of Rhodes, an admiral, two ensigns, and six other of his
 allies.  It was  my intention to carry this war through and die in it, for
 the cruelties your ministers practice on us, and I again appointed captains
 and a sergeant major.  They tried to kill me, and I hung them all.
         We went along our route down the Maranon river while all these
 killings and bad events were taking place.  It took us ten and a half
 months to reach the mouth of the river, where it enters the sea.  We
 traveled a good hundred days, and traveled 1,500 leagues.  It is a large
 and fearsome river, with 80 leagues of fresh water at the mouth.  It is
 very deep, and for 800 leagues along its banks it is deserted, with no
 towns, as your majesty will see from the true report we have made.  Along
 the route we took there are more than 6,000 islands.  God only knows how we
 escaped from such a fearsome lake!  I advise you, King and lord, not to
 attempt nor allow a fleet to be sent to this ill-fated river, because in
 Christian faith I swear, King and lord, that if a hundred thousand men come
 none will escape, because the stories are false and in this river there is
 nothing but despair, especially for those newly arrive from Spain.
         The captains and officers with me at present, and who promise to
 die in this demand like pitiful men are:  Juan Jeronimo de Espinola
 Ginoves, admiral; Juan Gomez, Cristobal Garcia, captain of infantry, both
 Andaluz; mounted captain Diego Tirado, Andaluz, from whom your judges, King
 and lord, with great injury, took Indians he had earned with his lance;
 captain of my guard Roberto de Sosaya and his ensign Nuflo Hernandez,
 Valencian; Juan Lopez de Ayala, from Cuenca, our paymaster; general ensign
 Blas Gutierrez, conquistador for 27 years; Juan Ponce, ensign, native of
 Seville; Custodio Hernandez, ensign, Portuguese; Diego de Torres, ensign,
 Navarre; sergeant Pedro Gutierrez Viso and Diego de Figueroa; Cristobal de
 Rivas, conquistador, Pedro de Rojas, Andaluz; Juan de Saucedo, mounted
 ensign; Bartolome Sanchez Paniagua, our lawyer; Diego Sanchez Bilbao,
 supply; Garcia Navarro, inspector general, and many other hidalgos of this
 league.  We pray to God our Lord that your fortune ever be increased
 against the Turk and the Frenchman, and all others who wish to make war on
 you in those parts.  In these, God grant that we might obtain with our arms
 the reward by right due us, but which you have denied.
         Son of your loyal Basque vassals, and I, rebel until death against
 you for your ingratitude.
                                         Lope de Aguirre, the Wanderer
 From thh1@cornell.edu Fri Jun 10 13:45:29 1994
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Date: Fri, 10 Jun 1994 14:37:20 -0400
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To: Don Mabry 
From: thh1@cornell.edu (Tom Holloway)
X-Sender: thh1@postoffice.mail.cornell.edu
Subject: Re: Aguirre
Status: R
Don--
        After several quick requests came back, I decided to post the
letter to the net.  It should be coming across soon.
        I hereby grant permission for further dissemination by whatever
means, electronic or paper, to any person or institution who might want to.
        Best regards,
_______
   |    |    |     Tom Holloway         thh1@cornell.edu
   |    |    |     Dept. of History
   |____|____|     324 McGraw Hall
   |    |    |     Cornell University
   |    |    |     Ithaca, NY  14853-4601
You can read about this and other topics in colonial Latin American history by buying and reading Colonial Latin America by Don Mabry.

Click on the book cover or the title to go to Llumina Press.