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The Origins of the Conquistadores of Mexico City

Author(s): Bernard Grunberg


Source: The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 74, No. 2 (May, 1994), pp. 259-283
Published by: Duke University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2517565 .
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Hispanic American Historical Review 74:2


Copyright C)1994 by Duke University Press
ccc ool8-2168/94/$1.50

The Origins of the Conquistadores


of Mexico City
BERNARD GRUNBERG

study dealing with the conquistadoresinevitably


brings with it great emotional impact. It represents a
veritable Pandora'sbox for the historian who attempts
to put forth themes that praise the individual exploits of the men, the
glories of Spain, or, once again, the leyenda negra that stigmatizes all
Hispanic colonization. This study chose to look at the conquistadores of
Mexico City because they were the first group to come in contact with
people in the New World who had reached a high degree of civilization,
and because the conquest of Mexico City prefigures all others.
To understand the conquistadores, one must go beyond their leader,
Hernain Cortes, and other well-known figures, such as Bernal Diaz del
Castillo, Pedro de Alvarado, Gonzalo de Sandoval, and Cristobal de Olid.
These men are not truly representative of the great majority of the conquistadores. The research undertaken for this study gathered all the data
available for each conquistador.' In order to obtain the most realistic and
most objective results possible, the research intentionally omitted studies
that deal with the main aspects of this period, such as the spiritual conquest, the formation of large estates, the theoretical foundations of the
conquest, and so on. Most of these concepts do not deal directly with the
A

N Y

i. Only from sixteenth-century sources (archives in Seville and Mexico, chronicles of


conquistadores and contemporaries). This work is based on Bernard Grunberg, "The World
of the Conquistadores During the Conquest of New Spain in the First Half of the Sixteenth
Century" (Ph.D. diss., Sorbonne, 1992). The dissertation comprises three parts: a dictionary of the conquistadores of Mexico, a history of the conquest of Mexico City from original
sixteenth-century sources, and a study of the world of the conquistadores. The last part
has been published as L'Univers des conquistadores: les hommes et leur conquete dans le
Mexique du XVIe siecle (Paris:L'Harmattan, 1993).

26o

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MAY I BERNARD

GRUNBERG

conquistadores, and the picture painted of them often corresponds more


to their historical image than to reality.
In the course of the research, it became apparent that a dictionary of
conquistadores of Mexico City was necessary; no study existed that included all the individuals. At the beginning of this century, Francisco A.
de Icaza published a Diccionario that was nothing more than a list of
conquistadores and colonists from Mexico, drawn up from archives dated
around 1547 and known to be incomplete.2 M. Orozco y Berra also drew
up a list of the conquistadores from Mexico City, the Yucatan, Chiapas,
and Guatemala. This list was based on sources known at the end of the
nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, many of which
were secondhand and, as such, replete with errors. A first attempt at a
true dictionary of the conquistadores of Mexico City, New Spain, and
New Galicia was undertakenby Victor M. Alvarez and included 1, 147 conquistadores, but the work fell victim to its sources: numerous omissions,
confusion of homonyms, obvious errors due to bad transcriptions, no use
of the archives in Seville, and so on. It could not be seriously considered as
a basis for our study. Ida Altman recently studied the original immigration
from Extremadura, but in the context of all of sixteenth-century America.3
The establishment of the corpus for this study stems from utilization
of sources cross-checked and confirmed, taken essentially from the archives of Seville and Mexico City.4Also consulted were the protocols of
the notarial archives from Mexico City and Puebla, the great, classic collections written between the middle of the nineteenth and the beginning
of the twentieth century. Moreover, all the chronicles of the conquistadores and those of the historiographers from the sixteenth century were
used; and to them were added contributions from recent works by Peter
Gerhard, Peter Boyd-Bowman, and others, wherever they were deemed
irrefutable. In contrast to all previous works, however, this study was
based especially on the informaciones (or relaciones) de meritos y servicios (service reports) that the conquistadores, their descendants, or their
assignees drew up to assert their rights or to request compensation for
services rendered to the crown. These documents, created between 1524
and 1627, are very difficult to decipher.5That explains why most historians
2. Francisco A. de Icaza, Diccionario autobiogrdficode conquistadores y pobladores de
Nueva Espana (Madrid, 1923; reprint, Guadalajara:E. Avina Levy Editor, 1969). See also
Archivo General de Indias, Seville (henceforth AGI), Audiencia de M6xico, 1064.
3. Ida Altman, Emigrants and Society: Extremadura and Spanish America in the Sixteenth Century (Berkeley: Univ. of CaliforniaPress, 1989).
4. Namely, AGI: PatronatoReal, Audiencia de M6xico, and Justicia;and Archivo General de la Naci6n, Mexico City (henceforth AGN): Historia, Mercedes, Hospital de J6sus,
and Inquisici6n.
5. AGI, Patronato Real, 54-89; AGI, Audiencia de M6xico, legajos 95, 96, 203, 204,
and Audiencia de Guatemala, leg. 52.

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OF MEXICO CITY

261

have relied on certain transcriptionsof lists done here and there and often
replete with errors.6
This study examined several thousand folios that make up the 353 informaciones. The documentation resulted in the ability to list, and to define
in a strict framework, 1,212 known individuals out of a total of approximately 2,100; that is, about 58 percent of the conquistadores of Mexico
City. Naturally, the amount of information on each conquistador varied.
For some it consisted of a simple signature; for others, one or two references in a chronicle; for still others, quite a lot of information, depending
mostly on the compilation of one or more informaciones or the testimony
gathered during the person's lifetime.
Of the 2,100 conquistadores of Mexico City, more than half were killed
leaving no will or other records. Practicallyno trace of them remains, since
the official papers preserved by Cortes disappeared, in particular during
the Noche Triste. Still extant, however, is the "Cartadel ejercito de Cortes," a very important document that reveals the names of more than five
hundred conquistadores.7The first lists of conquistadores appeared in the
1530s, but it was not until 1546-47 that the colonial authorities recorded
one with specific information on each conquistador.8As for the missing
half, they will quite likely remain unknown. For most of the 1,212 known
individuals, however, enough informationexists to draw some conclusions
about them, and especially about their origins.
Composition of the Expeditions
The first expedition was formed at the beginning of 1517. Commanded by
Francisco Hernaindezde Cordoba, it was composed of three ships and 11o
men from Tierra Firme, Santo Domingo, and Cuba. Most of them had no
money, and joined forces to explore and raid the West Indies.9 A fleet of
6. Thus, a comparison of two transcriptionsof the "Cartadel ej6rcito de Cort6s" shows
not only gaps but also numerous errors. The transcriptionby J. Garcia Icazbalceta (according to a copy of the original) contains 15 percent obvious errors (false first and last names,
omissions), and the other, furnished by the Colecci6n de documentos ineditos relativos al
descubrimiento, conquista, y organizaci6n de las antiguas posesiones de Amewricay Oceania, sacados de los archivos del reino y muy especialmente del de Indias (hereafter CDIA),
42 vols. (Madrid:Real Academia de la Historia, 1864-84), vol. 28, contains 22 percent errors,
compared to the transcription made for this study (based on the original from AGI, Justicia,
leg. 223, fols. 17V-22V).
7. AGI, Justicia, 223, fols. 17V-22V.
8. AGI, Patronato Real, 20.1.1 and 56.2. 1; Audiencia de M6xico, 96.4 and 1064; Justicia, 223.
9. A good number of the participants were veterans of Pedrarias Davila's expedition of
1513-14, repatriated from Tierra Firme to Cuba. See Andr6s de Tapia, "Relaci6n de algunas
cosas de las que acacieron al muy ilustre seniordon Hernando Cort6s, Marqu6s del Valle,
desde que se determino ir a descubrir tierra en la Tierra Firme del Mar Oc6ano," in "La

| HAHR I MAY BERNARD GRUNBERG

262

1200

100. '
800 - - - - -- - - - -- - - - -- - -

. .. . . .. . . . .. . . . .. . . . .. . . .. . . . .. . . . .. . . . .. . . .

-o
0

i200i

HC SAL PIN

PN CAM DZA RAM PB

ML

MD ALD

PL

FIGURE 1: Size of Expeditions, i5i9-i521


HC = Cortes; SAL = Salcedo; PIN = Pinedo; PN = Narvaez; CAM = Camargo; DZA=
Diaz de Aux; RAM = Ramirez; PB = Barba; ML = Morejon de Lobera; MD-= Medel;
ALD = Alderete; PL = Ponce de Leon

three caravels and one brigantine comprised the second expedition. Hearing favorable rumors from the 1517 expedition and also the publicity put
out by the main partners, many people volunteered; a total of 240 men
were assembled for the trip.1?Among them were survivors of Herna'ndez
conquista de Tenochtitlan," by German Vazquez, Historia-i6 (Madrid) (1988), 83; Bernal
Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva Espania (Madrid: CSIC,
1982), chap. 1.
1o. Juan Diaz, Itinerario de la armada del rey cat6lico a la isla de Yucatan, en la India,
en el aiio 1518, en la que fue por Comandante y Capitan General Juan de Grijalva, in "La
conquista de Tenochtitlan,"31-57; Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, Historia general y natural
de las Indias (Madrid: Ediciones Atlas, 1959), chap. 17:8; Bartolome de Las Casas, Historia de las Indias (Madrid: Ediciones Atlas, 1957-61), pt. 3, chap. 109; Bernardino Vazquez
de Tapia, Relaci6n de mewritosy servicios del conquistador Bernardino Vdzquez de Tapia
(Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico [UNAM], 1972), 24-27; Francisco
Cervantes de Salazar, Cr6nica de la Nueva Espaiia (Madrid: Ediciones Atlas, 1971), pt. 2,
chap. 2; Francisco L6pez de Gomara, Historia de la conquista de Mexico (Mexico City: Editorial Pedro Robredo, 1943), chap. 5; Antonio de Herrera, Historia general de los hechos de
los castellanos en las Islas y Tierra Firme del Mar Oc6ano (Madrid: Imprenta Real, 16o01615), pt. 2, chap. 3: 1; Pierre MartyrAnghiera, "De orbe novo: les huit decades," in Recueil
de voyages et de documents pour servir a l'histoire de la g6ographie depuis le XIIIejusqu'a

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OF MEXICO CITY

263

de Cordoba's venture, such as Diaz del Castillo. Most were poor, and
wished to discover rich lands that would be ideal for colonization. The
commander of the fleet was a hidalgo, Juan de Grijalva, a relative of the
governor of Cuba.
For the third expedition, Cortes managed to assemble io ships, 4 of
which had been used for Grijalva'strip." Subsequently an iith was added:
that of Juan Nuniiezde Sedenio,a salesman from Havana, who had intended
to ship with his vessel i,ooo arrobas of cassava bread, 1,500 arrobas of
bacon, and a large quantity of chickens to miners near Santiago, Cuba.
With orders from Cortes, however, Diego de Ordaz persuaded Nuniiezde
Sedenioto change his course by buying his entire cargo. Nuniiezde Sedenlo
joined the expedition near Cape San Anton.'2
On February lo, 1519, nine caravels left Havana bound for Mexico.'3
Alvarado's ship, commanded by Diego Camacho, had to head along the
north coast and wait for the others. Nuniiezde Sedeiio's caravel had to
join the expedition as quickly as possible.'4 After three days, Cortes reviewed his troops. He counted 508 soldiers, including 32 crossbowmen
and 13 escopeteros (musketeers, gunmen), and 1og seamen on 1i ships.'5
lafin du XVIe siecle, vol. 21 (Paris: Ernest Leroux Editeur, 1907), pt. 4, chap. 3; Diaz del
Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 8; Hernan Cortes, Cartas y documentos (Mexico City:
Porrua, 1963), 8-9; Francisco de Aguilar, Relaci6n breve de la conquista de la Nueva Espania
(Mexico City: UNAM, 1977), 64; A. de Tapia, "Relaci6nde algunas cosas," 82-83; Gonzalo
de Illescas, "Historia pontifical y cat6lica, en la cual se contiene las vidas y hechos de todos
los sumos pontifices romanos . . . ," in La conquista de Mexico, by B. Argensola (Mexico
City: Editorial Pedro Robredo, 1940), 269-73; Juan Gines de Sepu6lveda,Historia del Nuevo
Mundo (Madrid:Alianza, 1987), pt. 2, chap. 13; Fray Juan de Torquemada, Monarquia indiana (Mexico City: Porrua, 1975), pt. 4, chaps. 1-4; CDIA, 10:882, 12:222-46, 27:305, 28:20,
30, 34:273, 35:257; Diego de Landa, Relaci6n de las cosas de Yucatan (Mexico City: Porrua,
1973), chap. 3.
11. The largest had a displacement of 1oo toneles, the three next-largest 6o to 8o toneles.
Most of the smaller ones were probably brigantines. Compare Cervantes de Salazar,Cr6nica
de la Nueva Espaiia, pt. 2, chap. 21; Torquemada, Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap. 6; A. de
Tapia, "Relaci6n de algunas cosas," 75; L6pez de Gomara, Historia de la conquista, chap. 8;
CDIA, 35:56; Landa, Relaci6n ... de Yucatan, chap. 4.
Cervantes de Salazar, Cr6nica de la Nueva Espaiia, pt. 2, chap. 20; Torquemada,
12.
Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap. 6; Herrera, Historia general, pt. 2, chap. 3:12; L6pez de
Gomara, Historia de la conquista, chap. 8; Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 21;
CDIA, 27:162, 313; Icaza, Diccionario, n. 49.
13. Torquemada, Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap. 7; Las Casas, Historia de las Indias,
pt. 3, chap. 115; A. de Tapia, "Relaci6n de algunas cosas," 69. Gomara, however, sets this
date as February 18. Historia de la conquista, chap. lo.
14. Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 25.
15. Cervantes de Salazar, Cr6nica de la Nueva Espaiia, pt. 2, chap. 21; Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 26; Herrera, Historia general, pt. 2, chap. 4: 16;Torquemada,
Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap. 8; Oviedo, Historia general y natural, pt. 33, chap. 1; Las
Casas, Historia de las Indias, pt. 3, chap. 116; A. de Tapia, "Relaci6n de algunas cosas,"
75. In the records of the Audiencia of Santo Domingo, on Dec. 24, 1519, Licenciado Juan
Carrillo,fiscal real, gave the number of 6oo men (CDIA, 35:6). But L6pez de Gomara gives
550 men (Historia de la conquista, chap. 8) and Cortes 400 (Cartas, 11).

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| HAHR I MAY I BERNARD

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They had i6 horses and about io bronze guns, 4 of which were small and
lightweight. Personnel also included 200 Indians from Cuba (used mainly
as messengers), along with some Indian women.'6 Some blacks were also
present. 17
On July 4, 1519, Francisco Salcedo's ship joined the Spanish fleet.
Besides the ship's owner, whom Cortes had coerced in Cuba, the ship
transported ii soldiers and i or 2 horses. Most important of all, Salcedo
announced that Diego Velazquez, the governorof Cuba, had received permission from Spain to found a colony and begin to trade in the recently
discovered land.'8Velazquez took advantageof this authorizationto mount
a new expedition, which he entrusted to Panfilo de Narvaez, one of his
lieutenants, with the order to arrest Cortes and send him back to Cuba.
Narvaiez' expedition consisted of i8 ships (7 of which were brigantines) and stores including a large stock of flour, cassavabread, bacon, and
wine.'9 (The massive enlistment of soldiers produced a relative decrease
in the population, especially in Cuba, since the Spaniardstook with them
their native servants. Similarly, in Trinidadonly io vecinos remained out
of 60.20) Narvaez' fleet included pilots and seamen who had sailed with
Grijalva.2'It also followed more or less the same itinerary as Grijalvadid.
After reaching Yucatain,it rounded the peninsula and arrived, on April 23,
at San Juan de Ulua. In the meantime, one ship had been lost in
1520,
16. This number, from L6pez de Gomara(Historia de la conquista, chap. 8) and Torquemada (Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap. 7), seems close to the truth. Estimates range from
five hundred to more than one thousand natives (CDIA, 35:60, 63, 68, 71, 79). Thus, Juan
de Estacio, a blacksmith from San Salvador, Cuba, testified on Nov. 21, 1520: "Vi6, como el
dicho Hernando Cortes al tiempo que fue desta isla, llev6 muchos Indios, que no sabe que
cantidad, mas de que oy6 decir que serian hasta mil animas, e que asi mismo este testigo
a visto en los navios que van en la dicha armada van muchos Indios, porque todos los que
van en la dicha armada cada cual dos Indios para su servicio, e que de haber sacado los
dichos Indios desta dicha isla seguin los pocos que en ella hay, ya Sus Altezas an recibido
deservicio...." (CDIA, 35:74). All of which must be exaggerated, considering the number
and size of the vessels of the expedition.
17. The most famous was Juan Garrido from Africa. See AGI, Audiencia de Mexico,
204.3; and Icaza, Diccionario, no. 169.
18. Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 53; Cervantes de Salazar,Cr6nica de la
Nueva Espaiia, pt. 3, chaps. 18, 20; Torquemada,Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap. 24; L6pez
de Gomara, Historia de la conquista, chap. 38; Herrera, Historia general, pt. 2, chap. 5:14;
CDIA, 28:122.
19. CDIA, 35:281.
20. "La dicha gente hace mucha falta en la Isla, porque queda muy despoblada e sin
gente, porque en esta villa de la Trinidadquedarandiez vecinos, poco mas o menos, e queda
destruida la villa sin gente de mineros e estancieros e porqueros e otra gente de trabajo, e
que a oydo decir a algunos vecinos de la villa de Bayamoque no quedan alli sinon hasta cinco
o seis vecinos, e estos enfermos e dolientes, e lo mismo en los otros pueblos de la isla." Lic.
Vazquez de Ayll6n, Cuba, Jan. 24, 1520, in CDIA, 35:65.
21. CDIA, 35:282.

THE CONQUISTADORES

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a tempest and five more were in very bad condition.22Unable to anchor


in the harbor, they were forced to run aground on the beach. The landing was swift. Narvaiezhad at his disposal about a thousand Spaniards:
8oo footsoldiers, 120 crossbowmen, 8o escopeteros, and 8o horsemen.23
There were also a few hundred Indian auxiliariesfrom Cuba and about 20
artillery pieces.
Later, after Narvaiez'defeat and the Noche Triste, three ships in distress put in at Veracruz. Formerly part of the expedition sent by Francisco
de Garay, governor of Jamaica, they had been helping the flotilla of Alonso
Alvarez de Pinedo, beaten back by the Indians at Panuco.24The first ship,
captained by Diego de Camargo, had run out of food. It carried about 6o
sick men. They all had a greenish complexion and swollen bellies, prompting their mates to call them the green potbellies (los panciverdetes). The
symptoms showed that they were suffering from yellow fever, and some,
including Camargo, soon died.25 Miguel Diaz de Aux arrived with the
second ship a few weeks later, while Cortes was in Tepeaca, bringing
7 horses and about 50 soldiers. Their sturdiness gave them the nickname
"stocky"(los lomos recios).26 The third vessel, under the command of Francisco Ramirez, a veteran soldier, brought about 40 troops, among them
numerous bowmen, as well as weapons and io horses. The bowmen wore
arrowproof, padded cotton jackets (escaupiles), bringing them the nickname "packsaddled"(los arbadillas). The warm welcome they received in
22.
Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. l1o; Torquemada, Monarquia indiana,
pt. 4, chap. 59; Herrera, Historia general, pt. 2, chaps. 9, 18.
Cortes, Cartas, 81-82. According to Diaz del Castillo, the troops included 1,300 to
23.
1,400 soldiers, 8o horsemen, 6o blunderbussmen, and 8o crossbowmen (Historia verdadera,
chap. log); Andres de Tapia claims it was more than i,ooo soldiers, including go horsemen
and 150 crossbowmen and blunderbussmen ("Relaci6nde algunas cosas," 113); for L6pez de
Gomara, 6oo footmen, 8o blunderbussmen, 120 crossbowmen, and 8o horsemen (Historia
de la conquista, chap. 96). Most of the documents show a number between 8oo and i,ooo,
which seems most likely considering the tonnage of the vessels. Compare C6dice Rarnirez,
cited in Cr6nica mexicana, by Hernando Alvaro Tezozomoc (Mexico City: Porrua, 1975,),
pt. 8, chap. 143; Sepu6lveda,Historia del Nuevo Mundo, pt. 6, chap. 7; Fer6ando de Alva
Ixtlilx6chitl, Obras hist6ricas (Mexico City: UNAM, 1975), vOl. 2, chap. 87; Sumario de
la residencia tomada a Don Fernando Cortes, gobernador y capittangeneral de la Nueva
Espaiia (Mexico City: Garcia Torres, 1852-53), 2:50.
Cortes, Cartas, 116; Torquemada, Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap; 79; Anghiera,
24.
De orbe novo, pt. 5, chap. 6; Oviedo, Historia general y natural, pt. 33, chaps. 15-17;
Herrera, Historia general, pt. 2, chap. 1o:18; Cervantes de Salazar, Cr6nica de la Nueva
Espaiia, pt. 5, chap. 41.
25. Diaz del Castillo,Historia verdadera, chap. 133; Cortes,Cartas, 104-5; Cervantes
de Salazar, Cr6nica de la Nueva Espania, pt. 5, chaps. 38, 41; Herrera, Historia general,
pt. 2, chaps. 3:11, lo:18; Torquemada, Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap. 79; CDIA, 35:370.
26. Icaza,Diccionario, no. 127; CDIA, 35:370; Diaz del Castillo,Historia verdadera,
chap. 133; Cervantes de Salazar, Cr6nica de la Nueva Espania, pt. 5, chap. 91; Cortes,
Cartas, 113, 116 (this last is incorrect when Cort6s attests to only 30 men).

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Veracruz, along with Cortes' promises, made them decide to break away
from Garay and join the Mexican expedition.27
They were not the only reinforcements. Pedro Barba came from Cuba
with 2 horses and 13 soldiers while Cortes was at Tepeaca. This small
number was occasioned by the size of the ship sent by Diego Velazquez,
who thought New Spain was under the power of his hired man, Painfilo
de Narvaez. Barba carried a letter for Narvaez reiterating the order that
Cortes be sent back to Cuba as a prisoner. Cortes had no difficulty rallying
the troops to this cause, and appointed Barba, whom he had befriended in
Cuba four years earlier, as captain of his bowmen.28Another ship arrived
a week after Barba's, also sent by the governorof Cuba, who had commandeered it from the owner, Gines de Carrion, on its arrival from Spain.29
Commanded by Rodrigo Morejon de Lobera, it brought food, 8 soldiers,
6 crossbows, 1 horse, and some ropes.30
At the end of 1520, while Cortes was at Tlaxcala, yet another vessel
docked at Veracruz. It brought the first of a new series of conquistadores,
who headed directly for the Mexican coast and who were especially attracted by the lure of easy financialgain. No longer sent by the governor of
Cuba, they came directly from Spain, in a high-tonnage vessel that made a
stop in the Canaries. A salesman, Juan de Burgos, had chartered the ship;
he brought with him Francisco Medel as first mate and leader of 13 soldiers. On board were 3 horses, numerous crossbows, arcabuces, powder,
weapons, equipment, ropes, and various merchandise. At first de Burgos
had wanted to sell his products in Cuba; but hearing of the situation in
Mexico, he decided with Medel to conduct business in this new territory,
where his products would be more valuable. He was not wrong, for no
sooner had he arrived in Veracruz than Cortes bought from him all his
products, including the surplus, and enlisted his soldiers.3'
In late February and early March 1521, while Cortes was in Texcoco,
27. Icaza, Diccionario, n. 231; Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 133; Torquemada, Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap. 79. As a whole, the three expeditions comprised 150
Spaniards and about 20 horses.
28. CDIA, 35:354, 403, 465; Sumario de la residencia a Cort6s, 2:165; Diaz del Castillo,
Historia verdadera, chaps. 131, 145; Cervantes de Salazar, Cr6nica de la Nueva Espaiia,
pt. 5, chap. 41.
29. Informaci6n de servicios de Gin6s de Carri6n, uno de los que acompaniaronal
adelantado Diego Velazquez, Santiagode Cuba, July 9, 1521, in CDIA, 40:59-70.
30. Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 131.
31. AGI, Patronato Real, 55.3.3, fols. 1-lv and 73.2.11, fols. 1V-2, Audiencia de
M6xico, 203.4, fol. is; Icaza, Diccionario, no. 232; Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera,
chap. 136; Aguilar, Relaci6n breve, 94; Cort6s, Cartas, 130; Alva Ixtlilx6chitl, Obras hist6ricas, 2, chap. 91; Oviedo, Historia general y natural, pt. 33, chap. 19; L6pez de Gomara,
Historia de la conquista, chaps. 124, 127; Cervantes de Salazar,Cr6nica de la Nueva Espaiia,
pt. 5, chap. 41; Torquemada, Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap. 87.

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four vessels patrolled the Mexican coasts. At the head of this flotilla was
Julian de Alderete, who had traveled from Spain to Santo Domingo with
Diego Colon at the end of 1520. Knowing what was happening in New
Spain, Alderete had decided to come with his 30 or 40 men, who included
8 horsemen, escopeteros, and crossbowmen, plus gunpowder. Two ships
belonging to Rodrigo de Bastidas, under captain Geronimo Ruiz de La
Mota, and a ship belonging to Lucas Vaizquezde Ayllon (with survivors
from the Pearl Coast) completed the expedition.32This small armadacomprised 150 Spaniards and about 8o horses.33One more ship, which joined
them just before the fall of Tenochtitlan, belonged to Juan Ponce de Leon.
Its complement consisted of survivors from the Florida expedition, about
30 men.34It, too, brought arms and powder.35
Geographical Origins
With the creation of the Casa de la Contratacion in 1503 and its establishment in Seville, voyages to the New World began to be documented.
Indeed, the civil servants of that institution were required to record in the
departure registers the complete names of the passengers, their geographical origins, even their occupation and duties, and to deliver the departure
license in the crown's name.36For the period studied here, however, the
collection contains incomplete lists for particularyears, especially the first
decade (before 1509) and the year 1518.37

Peter Boyd-Bowman has tried to establish an exact account of the first


Spanish settlers in America.38As far as the conquistadores of Mexico City
32. On the Pearl Coast survivors, see Cervantes de Salazar, Cr6nica de la Nueva
Espaiia, pt. 5, chap. 71; Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 155.
33. AGI, Patronato Real, 55.3.3, fol. 5v; 62. 1. 1, fols. 17, 24; 62.1.4, fol. 238v; Audiencia de Mexico, 203.6, fols. 1-2; Icaza, Diccionario, n. 125, 150; Diaz del Castillo, Historia
verdadera, chaps. 143-45; Torquemada, Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap. 85; Cervantes de
Salazar, Cr6nica de la Nueva Espania, pt. 5, chap. 71; Francisco del Paso y Troncoso, comp.,
Epistolario de Nueva Espania, 16 vols. (Mexico City: Antigua Libreria Robredo, de Jose
Porrua e Hijos, 1939-42), vol. 1, no. 51.
34. AGI, PatronatoReal, 77.1.4, fol. 26.
35. Ibid., 77.1.4, fols. 6, 7, 26, and 89.2.1, fols. 2, 11; Cortes, Cartas, 176; Herrera,
Historia general, pt. 3, chap. 2:1; Cervantes de Salazar,Cr6nica de la Nueva Espania, pt. 5,
chap. 175; Torquemada, Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap. 97; Oviedo, Historia general y
natural, pt. 33, chap. 8.
36. Herrera, Historia general, pt. 1, chap. 3:2; jose Luis Martinez, Pasajeros de Indias:
viajes transatlMnticosen el siglo XVI (Madrid:Alianza, 1983).
37. Catalogo de pasajeros a Indias durante los siglos XVI, XVII, y XVIII, redacto bajo
la direccion de don Cristobal BermuidezPlata (Seville: CSIC, 1940), vol. 1, 1509-1534.
38. Peter Boyd-Bowman, Indice geobiografico de cuarenta mil pobladores espaiioles de
Am&ricaen el siglo XVI, vol. 1, 1493-1519 (Bogota: Instituto Carvo y Cuervo, 1964), vol. 2,

1520-1539

(Mexico City: Editorial Jus, 1968).

268

| HAHR

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I BERNARD

GRUNBERG

are concerned, however, this author sometimes gives too much importance to faulty secondary sources, especially for the first decades of the
sixteenth century.39Fewer than half of the 1,212 known conquistadores
appear on Boyd-Bowman's list.40The others are not really stowaways, despite the evidence that a fair number of immigrants came to the New
World illegally.4'
The route of the illicit immigration, moreover, especially that of Jews,
conversos, or convicts escaping justice, passed through Portugal and the
Canaries, where immigrants procured false papers and bought their passage on ships to the New World despite numerous decrees that forbade any
Moors, Jews, or convicts to go to America.42Santo Domingo and sometimes
Jamaica and Cuba were the last stops before arrivalin New Spain.
A comparison between Boyd-Bowman'simmigration figures and those
for this study shows some significant differences. The two sets of data
agree on Andaluciaas the area of greatest emigration. In the more detailed
account for this study, Leon comes second, with 18. 1 percent of the conquistadores, but this area stands in fifth place according to Boyd-Bowman.
The conquistadores from Old Castile were a little less numerous, with
about 11.3 percent according to Boyd-Bowman; and this figure is similar
to that of New Castile with about 7.6 percent less.
The map of the conquistadores' geographical origins shows clearly the
provinces that produced the greatest numbers: they form a bloc reaching
from central Spain to Andalucia. Those that contained the highest contingents were Seville, Huelva, Badajoz, Caiceres, Valladolid, Salamanca,
Toledo, Zamora, Burgos, Segovia, and Viscaya (see table 1). Very few
conquistadores came from eastern Spain (Catalunia,Valencia, Murcia, Baleares), which was oriented more toward the Mediterranean. Seamen and
pilots often came from the provinces of Seville and Huelva: Anton de Alaminos, father and son; Juan Pinzon; the Pefiate family; Lucas Genoves; and
so on. Fifty-four percent of the seamen and pilots came from Huelva; more
39. Especially the list of conquistadores established-with sometimes whimsical spelling of names and many mistakes of transcription-by Orozco y Berra, the CDIA, and
borrowings from the Colecci6n de documentos ineditos relativos al descubrimiento, conquista, y organizaci6n de las antiguas posesiones de ultramar (CDIU), 25 vols. (Madrid:
Real Academia de la Historia, 1885-1932).
40. Actually, Boyd-Bowman lists 743 (Indice, 1:41-42), but only three-fourths of those
are reliable. The remaining fourth comes from erroneous texts, unreliable interpretations,
or inaccuracies.
41. For Jaime Vicens Vives, illegal immigrationduring the first half of the sixteenth century was eight times greater than the official departures. Vicens Vives, Manual de historia
econ6mica de Espaiia (Barcelona:Editorial Vicens Vives, 1967), 289.
42. Recopilaci6n de leyes de las Indias (Madrid:Ediciones de Cultura Hispanica, 1972),
vol. 9, sec. 26; Bernard Grunberg, "Les premiers juifs mexicains," Revue des Etudes Juives
145 (Paris, 1986), no. 3-4:361.

THE CONQUISTADORES

OF MEXICO CITY

ll

P
o
<~~~~~~~i

mAP

269

g2o - 29

&30 - 39

1: Distribution of the Conquistadores by Province of Origin

Note: Shown are Spain and the Balearic and (inset) Canary islands. Legend indicates number
of individuals.

than half of these from Palos and the rest from Moguer, Gibraleon, Niebla,
Lepe, Umbria, and Aracena. Twenty-two percent were from Seville, of
which 56 percent were from Trianaand 44 percent from the city of Seville.
Two percent came from Ca'diz(Jerez de La Frontera).
Among the leaders of the conquista, HernainCortes, Andres de Tapia,
the four Alvarado brothers, and Gonzalo de Sandovalwere all from Badajoz, which explains their strong solidarity. Their conquest was marked
by greater unity and stronger cohesion among the conquerors. The main
towns the conquistadores came from were Seville (58 inhabitants), Palos
(17), Medellin (12), Salamanca(11), Cuellar and Moguer (lo), Toledo, Jerez
de la Frontera, and Medina del Campo (9), Caceres (8), Avila and Fregenal
de la Sierra (7), Cordoba, Burgos, Huelva, Ciudad Rodrigo, and Triana(6),
Badajoz, Gibraleon, Merida, Madrid, and Zamora (5). It is often difficult
to distinguish whether the conquistador was a native (natural) or just a
citizen (vecino) of the area he indicated at his departure. Therefore, the
supremacy of Seville in these figures must be qualified by the consideration that the metropolis gradually attracted a wave of migrants from the

270
TABLE

| HAHR I MAY
i:

BERNARD

GRUNBERG

Origin of the Conquistadores by Area and Province


Number

Andalucia
Almeria

Percentage
0.0

Cadiz

12

2.3

C6rdoba
Granada
Huelva
Jaen

7
3
58
8

1.4
o. 6

Malaga

Sevilla
Unspecified
Total
Asturias
Asturias
Galicia
Corunia
Lugo
Orense
Pontevedra
Unspecified
Total
Montania
Cantabria
Pais Vasco
Alava
Guipuzcoa
Vizcaya
Total
Le6n
Le6n
Palencia
Salamanca
Valladolid
Zamora
Total
Castilla La Vieja
Avila
Burgos
Logroiio
Segovia
Soria
Total
Aragon
Huesca
Teruel
Zaragoza
Unspecified
Total
Navarra
Navarra
Catalunia
Barcelona

11.3

1.6
0.4

85
1
176

16.5
34.2

o. 6

o. 8

1
1

0.2

0.4
o. 6

11

2.1

0.2

0.2

1.7

0.2

1.4

14

2.7

22

4.3

7
10
26
32

18
93

1.4
1.9
5.0
6.2

3.5
18.i

14

2.7

17
8
16
3
58

3.3
1.6
3.1
o.6
11.3

0.4

0.2

o. 8

0.4

1.7

0.2

0.2

THE CONQUISTADORES
TABLE

1:

OF MEXICO CITY

271

Continued
Number

Gerona
Lerida
Tarragona
Total

0
0
0

Percentage
0.0
0.0

0.0

0.2

Albacete

0.2

Ciudad Real

1.6

Cuenca
Guadalajara

0.2

0.4

Madrid

Castilla La Nueva

1.2

Toledo

21

4.1

Total
Levante

39

7.6

Alicante
Castell6n
Murcia

Valencia
Unspecified
Total
Extremadura
Badajoz
Caceres
Total
Baleares
Baleares

0.0

0.0

0.2

3
4
8

o. 6
o. 8
1.6

52

10.1

33
85

6.4
16.5

0.0

0
0

0.0
0.0

Canarias
Las Palmas
Tenerife
Total
Total

0.0

515

100.0

Note: Percentages rounded to nearest tenth.

inner regions of the peninsula, who gathered in hope of a passage to the


Indies.4
The ranks of the conquistadores also included foreigners, despite the
discriminatoryroyal orders issued at the beginning of the sixteenth century
that, like those for Jews and convicts, forbade them to travel overseas.44
43. Francisco Morales Padr6n, "Laciudad del quinientos,"in Historia de Sevilla (Seville:
Univ. de Sevilla, 1989); Eduardo Trueba, Sevilla maritima, siglo XVI (Seville: Graficas del
Sur, 1986); Ruth Pike, Aristocrats and Traders: Sevillan Society in the Sixteenth Century
(Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1972).
44. Recopilaci6n de leyes de las Indias, vol. 9, secs. 26, 27; Diego de Encinas, Cedulario indiano (Madrid: 1945-46), vol. 1, fols. 440-62; Richard Konetzke, "La legislaci6n de
extranjeros en America durante el reinado de Carlos V,"in Charles Quint et son temps (Paris:
CNRS, 1959), 93-108.

HAHR I MAY I BERNARD GRUNBERG

272

100

60

SI'
40

LEON
MONT.
EXTREM.
P.VASCO
ASTUR.
CANAR
CAST.V.
ANDA.
CATAL.
GALICIA
LEVANT
NAVAR.
OTHERS
CAST.N.
ARAGON
BALEA.

II
FIGURE

2:

HDC

F[ GRI m HC

Percentage of Conquistadores on the First Three Expeditions

HDC = C6rdoba; GRI = Grijalva; HC = Cort6s

The most numerous were the Portuguese, who included a soldier, a silversmith, and a blacksmith. The second-largest group were the Italians. They
came primarily from Genoa, and more than half of them were seamen.
These two nationalitiesformed more than 85 percent of the non-Spaniards.
There were also Greeks, especially from Rhodes, and one Fleming. An
examination of the conquistadores' arrivaldates in the New World shows
a large percentage of Andalucians among those who arrived before 1510
(one-third), compared to barely ii percent Extremadurans. Later in the
conquest fewer Andaluciansappeared, but the number of Extremadurans
remained at 14 percent. By then a larger variety of geographical origins
was noted, which indicates that the migration was spreading.
In the first three Mexican expeditions, the same phenomenon is
notable: Andalucians remained more numerous in Francisco Hernaindez
de Cordoba's expedition (43.5 percent) than in that of Juan de Grijalva
(22 7 percent) and that of Hernan Cortes (27. 1 percent; see figure 2).
These results, however, apparently correlate with the type of expedition.
Hernaindez de Cordoba's venture was mainly a discovery voyage and involved mostly seamen. While the expeditions of Grijalvaand Cortes also

THE CONQUISTADORES

OF MEXICO CITY

273

200 -

1498

1500
1499

FIGURE

3:

1502
1501

1504
1503

1508

1506
1505

1507

1510
1509

1514

1512
1511

1513

1516
1515

1518
1517

1519

Identified Conquistadores by Year of Arrival

N = 567

had discovery characteristics, they had already begun to reveal aspects of


conquest and colonization.45
Waves of Immigration
The departures for the New World were not a constant flow. A mere review of the arrival dates of conquistadores during the "Antillean period"
shows different migration waves and distinguishes six very
(1492-1519)
different stages (see figure 3):
1. The Columbian era, 1492-1502 (0.4 percent).
2. The Dominican age, which really started with Nicolas de Ovando's
45. Pierre Chaunu, Conquete et exploitation des nouveaux mondes (Paris:Presses Universitaires de France, 1969), 119-35; S6ville et l'Atlantique (Paris:SEVPEN, 1959), vols. 6,
8; S6ville et l'Am6rique, XVIe-XVIle siecles (Paris: Flammarion, 1977); J. H. Parry, The
Spanish Seaborne Empire (New York:Alfred A. Knopf, 1966; reprint London, Hutchinson,
1971); E. J. Hamilton, American Treasure and the Price Revolution in Spain, 1501-1650
(Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1934).

`
274

HAHR I MAY I BERNARD

GRUNBERG

expedition in 1502 and concluded toward the end of 1509 after the settlement of Puerto Rico (6.9 percent).
3. The Cuban period, including the conquest of the island under Diego
Velazquez, 1510-1513 (i6.6 percent).

4. Departures for Tierra Firme, chiefly with Pedrarias Daivilaas early


as 1514, and the extension of colonization in the islands until 1516 (I8.5
percent).
5. The first discoveries of New Spain between 1517 and 1519 (57.7
percent).
6. The migrant flood to Mexico, as early as 1520 from the islands of
Santo Domingo, Jamaica, and Cuba and later from the Iberian peninsula,
launched by the news of the conquest, as Alderete's expedition shows.
Those taking part in the first two expeditions were often veterans, for
whom we have information on only a small number.4fThey included:
Santo Domingo: Anton de Alaminos, Benito de Cuenca, Gregorio de
Castanieda.
Cuba: Anton de Alaminos, Alonso Guisado, Anton Bravo, Gregorio de
Castanieda,Jorge de Alvarado, Juan de Salcedo, Juan de Grijalva, Pedro
del Castellar.
Tierra Firme: Martin Vaizquez, Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Bernardino
Vaizquez de Tapia, Cristobal Martin Leiva, Francisco Montejo, Alonso
Ortiz de Zuniiiga.
Research was able to ascertain the ages of only 20 percent of the
conquistadores. In most cases, their ages were determined only through
testimony in the informaciones. Frequently the witnesses gave their age,
and sometimes their origin and profession. In 1531, Francisco de Alamilla
claimed in Francisco Montano's informacion to be over 25 years old.47
In i558, Melchor de Alaves, who was 65, testified in Gabriel Bosque's
informacion;and in 1562, in his testimony for A. Garcia Bravo, he claimed
to be about 70.48 In his judgment of residency for his brother Pedro in
1529, Gonzalo de Alvarado said he was about 33.49 These small vagaries
mean that this information must be matched with that on departure or
arrival dates, then with notarial documents found in the chronicles, and
so on. The information that Pedro de Alvarado "was 34 when he left for
46. For Hernandez de C6rdoba's expedition, Diaz del Castillo states: "Acordamos de
nos juntar ciento y diez compaiieros de los que habiamos venido de Tierra Firme y de otros
que en la isla de Cuba no tenian indios, . . ." Historia verdadera, chap. i:5.
47. AGI, Patronato Real, 54.7. 1, fol. 5v.
48. Ibid., 61. 2.2, fol. 5; "Fue preguntadopor la preguntas generales, dixo ques de hedad
de setenta anios,poco mas o menos." Ibid., 83.4.5, fol. 87.
49. "Fue preguntado por las preguntas generales dixo ques de hedad de treynta e tres
aiios poco mas o menos." Proceso de residencia contra Pedro de Alvarado y Nuiio de Guznin
(Mexico City: n.p., 1847), 161.

THE CONQUISTADORES

OF MEXICO CITY

275

80 -

60

;940

- 49 (6.5%

<20(28. %)
-39 (20.9%N)---~~~~~~~~~~~~~30

40
20 -29 (42.8%)

E~
c

20

15

20

25

30

35

40

45

50

55

60

65

70

(age)

FIGURE

4: Ages of Conquistadores in 1519

our campaign,>"
for example, comes from Diaz del Castillo.50With less precise information-when that chronicler speaks, for example, of the "old
Heredia" who had fought in Italy-the most probable date of birth must
be guessed; in this case, before 1470.51

At the time of the conquest itself, the ages of the conquistadores were
what might be expected. In 1519, about two-thirds of the men were in
their twenties or thirties (see figure 4). They were generally tough men in
the prime of life. This would be essential in any military expedition. There
was also, however, a fair portion of young men under 20 (28. i percent),
often ship's boys or pages. In addition, 8 percent of the men were over 40,
and almost a fourth of these were over 50.
One of the oldest conquistadoreswas Rodrigo Rengel, aged 72. Andres
Lopez, Hernando de Cantillana, Bartolome Hernaindezde Nava, Alonso
Hernando, Juan Gonzailez de Heredia, Francisco de Aguilar, and Bartolome de Astorga were all in their fifties. Among the ten conquistadores
50. Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 206:641.
51. Ibid., chap. 49:93.

276

| HAHR

I MAY I BERNARD

GRUNBERG

aged over 50, three were from Seville, two from Huelva, one from Vizcaya, and one from Portugal. Of the Spaniards, three were seamen, two
were soldiers, and one was a silversmith. Four came to America before
1508. Diego de Valdenebro was probably in America as early as 1498. Two
came in 1514, and the other four between 1516 and 1519. Three of them

took part in the conquest either of Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico, or Tierra
Firme; one even served in Italy.
Juan de Escalante, Pedro Gonzailezde Naijera,Pedro de Valencia, Juan
Diaz, and Bernardino Ifiiguez were in their forties. HernainCortes was
34, and so were Pedro de Alvarado, Alonso de Avila, Antonio de Arriaga,
Diego de Avila, Lucas Vaizquezde Ayllon, and Andres de Tapia. It is in
this age bracket that the most famous captains of the conquista are found.
Diaz del Castillo was about 24, and so were Garciade Aguilar, Gonzalo
de Alvarado, Luis de Avila, Anton de Carvajal, Bernardino Vaizquez de
Tapia, Alonso Hernandez Puertocarrero, and Vasco Porcallo. Juan Nuiinez
Mercado, Rodrigo de Evia, Alonso Perez de Zamora, Diego de Salamanca,
Jorge and Gomez de Alvarado, Pedro de Aragon, and Sancho de Barahona
were also in their twenties.
The youngest were between ages 16 and 18, such as Diego de Colio,
Garcia del Pilar, Pedro de Mafla, Miguel Lopez, Rodrigo de Castaiieda,
and Juan Cano. A fair number of them quickly learned the native language,
and some, including Pilar and Castaiieda, became translators.There were
also, most likely, some very young men, such as Juan Ortega, called "Orteguilla," who was Cortes' page and who died at the hands of the Mexicans.
Social, Professional, and Cultural Background
Contrary to widespread assumption, the number of hidalgos among the
conquistadores remained very limited. In most cases the mistaken idea
of their numbers came from the conquistadores themselves or their descendants; 20 or 30 years later, the latter often pretended to be hidalgos,
though no trace of this status appeared in any previous documents. Thus in
1546-47 Diego de Colio did not mention his hidalguia, but in 156o he declared himself viejo hidalgo de buena limpieza generacion.52 Andres de la
Tovilla was cited a hidalgo only in his 1579 informacion.53Juan Coronel's
case is more complicated: in his 1532 informacion he described himself
as a hidalgo, and this was confirmed by the granting of his coat of arms in
1538. In 1547, however, he no longer put forward this claim.54
Icaza, Diccionario,no. 24; AGI, PatronatoReal, 63.1.12, fol. 4.
53. AGI, Patronato Real, 75.3.2, fol. 21.
54. Ibid., 54,8,5 and 169,1; Antonio Paz y Melia, Nobilario de conquistadores de Indias
(Madrid:Sociedad de Bibli6filos Espanioles,1892), 246; SantiagoMontoto, Nobilario hispano52.

THE CONQUISTADORES

OF MEXICO CITY

277

Indeed, if some conquistadores were tempted to climb the social ladder by pretending to be hidalgos, they did so mainly after the conquest,
at a time when hardly anybody could testify to their origins. Moreover,
in a large number of informaciones prepared at the end of the sixteenth
century at the request of the conquistadores' children or grandchildren,
the latter present their famous forebears as hidalgos.
It seems there was more to this practice than a mere obsession with
hidalguia. The truth is, the system became corrupt. To be granted hidalgo
status, it was necessary only to bring before the chancellery proof of membership in a family that had paid no taxes for at least three years and had
maintained a military way of life, possessing arms and horses.55Some descendants of the conquistadores could easily present such proof. Before
drawing any conclusions, however, chancellery officialswould have to find
the documents supporting their claim. For others, it was just a question
of time before the ancestor's mere assertion of being a hidalgo would be
transformed into an established truth.
Out of 1,212 conquistadores, this study found only 69 hidalgos, or 5.7
percent. This figure most likely is lower than the actual number, for social
origins is not known for all the conquistadores. A reasonable estimate of
the true hidalgos might be lo percent (10.2 percent in the kingdom of
Castile), a percentage identical to that of hidalguia on the peninsula.56
Women among the conquistadores were very few.57Only 13 could be
identified by name, but there were probably about 20, or about 2 percent
of the members of the various expeditions (see table 2). More than half of
them came with Panfilo de Narvaiez.58
They were all Spanish, mainly Andalucians. If Francisco Cervantes de Salazarcan be believed, Cortes' troop
included a few prostitutes.59Most of the women were in their thirties,
and some had been in America since 1514-15. Beatriz Gonzailezsettled in

americano del siglo XVI (Madrid: CompaniiaIbero-Americanode Publicaciones, 1927), 9293; Icaza, Diccionario, no. 121; CDIA, 27:433.
55. Bartolome Bennassar, Histoire des espagnols (Paris:A. Colin, 1985), 1:317.
56. Annie Molinie-Bertrand, Au siecle d'or: 1'Espagneet ses hommes, la population du
royaumnede Castile au XVIe siecle (Paris:Econ6mica, 1985);"Les hidalgos dans le royaume de
Castile: approche cartographique,"Revue d'Histoire Economique et Sociale (Paris) 1 (1974),
51-82; Bennassar, Histoire des espagnols, 1:318.
57. Some conquistadores brought one or more native maids from Cuba. Others were
accompanied by Indians from the islands whom they had married. Thus, Alonso Perez Maite
came with his wife, a pretty Indian from Bayaino. Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera,
chap.205:638.
58. Of all the women who came with Narvaez, five stayed in Veracruz. They were killed
at Tustepec while trying to join the Spaniards who had taken refuge at Tlaxcala, just after
the Noche Triste. See Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 128:289.
59. "Pidieron a estos, como se acostumbraen Espania,dos mujeres publicas." Cervantes
de Salazar, Cr6nica de la Nueva Espaiia, pt. 2, chap. 21:237.

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THE CONQUISTADORES

OF MEXICO CITY

279

Santo Domingo as early as 1514.60 Elvira and Beatriz Hernaindezsettled


in Puerto Rico around 1515 with Juan Coronel, Elvira's new husband and
the conquistador-to-be of Mexico City.6' All the women came from modest
social origins.
We can only guess at why they took part in the conquista. It seems that
Ana Gomez came to look for her husband, Benito de Vejer, who had left
with Cortes.62The mulatta Beatriz Palacioscame with her father, Cristobal
Palacios, as well as her husband, Pedro de Escobar.63Juana Martin sailed
with her husband, Bartolome de Porras.64Elvira Hernaindez,followed by
her sister Beatriz, left the husband she had married in 1515 in Puerto Rico
to go with her lover, Juan de Almonte.65Juan Portillo arrived in Mexico
with his wife.66As for the single women who came to New Spain, they
found husbands very quickly. Beatriz BermuidezVelasco married the conquistador Francisco de Olmos around 1524.67 Isabel de Ordaz married the
conquistador Hernando Alonso.68Maria Vera also married a settler, after
the fall of Mexico.69More than half the women among the conquistadores
married another conquistador.
The two blacks known as conquistadores were Juan Garrido and
Guidela.70The latter, most likely an emancipated slave, was Narvaiez'jester
(chocarrero).7'Juan Garrido'scase was unusual. A native of the Congo, he
came to Portugal on his own, probably toward the end of the fifteenth century, and there was baptized to Christianity.Then he went to Spain, where
he stayed seven years before leaving for Santo Domingo around 1510. He
took part in numerous entradas in the West Indies before going to San
Juan with Ponce de Leon on a mission to pacify the island. He also saw
Florida and Cuba before joining Cortes' 1519 expedition to New Spain.72
6o. CDIA, 1:145, 150.

6i. Ibid., 27:442, 568.


62. Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 156:412.
63. AGI, Patronato Real, 83.3.1, fol. 2; Icaza, Diccionario, no. 220; Cervantes de Salazar, Cr6nica de la Nueva Espaiia, pt. 5, chap. ii6; Torquemada,Monarquia indiana, pt. 4,
chap. 96.
64. AGI, Patronato Real, 58.1.2, fol. 2; Icaza, Diccionario, no. i8i.
65. CDIA, 27:442-43.
66. Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 149:365, chap. 156:412-13.
67. AGI, Patronato Real, 65.1.9, fol. i; Icaza, Diccionario, no. 79.
68. "Memorial de los conquistadores," in Sumaria relaci6n de las cosas de la Nueva
Espaiia, by BaltazarDorantes de Carranza(Mexico City: Imprenta del Museo Nacional, 1902
[reprint, Mexico City: Porrua, 1987]), 457.
69. AGI, PatronatoReal, 60.4.1, fol. 7.
70. Some conquistadores brought along black slaves for domestic use. Juan Cortes was
Hernan Cortes' slave. See Torquemada, Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap. 72:508; and Diego
Duran, Historia de las Indias, pt. 71, chap. 10:519.
71. Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 122; Cervantes de Salazar, Cr6nica de
la Nueva Espaiia, pt. 4, chap. 87.
72. Icaza, Diccionario, no. 169; AGI, Audiencia de Mexico, 204.3, fol. Iv.

I HAHR

28o
TABLE

I MAY

BERNARD

GRUNBERG

3: Conquistadores' Occupations

Artillery gunner
5
Bachiller
3
1
Barber
Blacksmith
8
Carpenter
i6
Chemist (pharmacist) 1
6
Cleric
2
Craft worker
I
Deacon

Doctor
Gardener
Goldsmith
Gunsmith
Letrado
Licenciado
Merchant
Miner
Musician

2
i
i

2
I
1
2
4
2

Total

Seaman
Secretary
Sexton's helper
Ship's pilot
Soldier
Surgeon
Surveyor
Tailor
Writer

34
1
23

i8
I
4
1l
153

Even if the Spaniards took with them their native servants (especially
those from Cuba), none of the latter was given the title of conquistador,
not even the devoted Tlaxcaltecos. The only exception is Diego de Valbuena, an Indian from Cuba, who came to New Spain with 40 men of his
own, probably after Narvaez' expedition, to participate in the conquest of
Mexico City.73
Compiling a list of the conquistadores'occupations is not easy. To date,
information is available on only 13 percent of them. The results are therefore not meaningful. What is known is that their occupations were varied:
more than a third were linked to the sea (seamen and pilots), 37.3 percent were related to trade (salesmen) and craft work (blacksmiths, carpenters, tailors). Almost 16.3 percent were soldiers, and nearly 1L.L percent
were letrados, notaries or secretaries. Priests, monks, doctors, chemists
(pharmacists), and musicians are also found. Despite the lack of detailed
information, peasants are known to have constituted a portion of the conquistadores. Thus the licenciado Lucas Vaizquezde Ayllon explained in
January 1520 that farmers and pigkeepers were among Narvaiez'men.74
Many of the conquistadores had occupations connected with the conquest, like the seamen, soldiers and escopeteros, crossbowmen, and gunners (about 8 percent of Cortes' expedition). A fairly good idea of the
number of seamen comes from Diaz del Castillo, who points out 617 men
in Cortes' expedition, including log seamen (that is, ilo per vessel) and 45
escopeteros and crossbowmen.75This amounts to a reasonable I8 percent
seamen.
Real soldiers were very few, and officers nonexistent. They were all
rank-and-file soldiers who had enlisted to serve the crown on the differ73. "Es yndio de Cuba." Icaza, Diccionario, n. 163.
74. CDIA, 35:65.
75. Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 26:48.

THE CONQUISTADORES

OF MEXICO CITY

281

ent European battlefields. Some had served in Italy (a little more than
1 percent) before migrating to the West Indies. Tovilla and Sotelo took
part in the battle of Garigliano(1503) under the orders of the "Great Captain," Gonzalo Fernaindezde Cordoba. Though Tovilla limped, he was
very good at handling arms, especially the pike.76Sotelo built a catapult
during the siege of Tenochtitlan.77Canillas had been a drummer.78As for
Pedro Briones, his two earlobes were cut off because he refused to surrender.79Cortes appreciated these men's stalwartqualities. He appointed
Briones captain of a brigantine and Francisco de Orozco commander of
artillery.80Diego Marmolejo and Sebastian de Ebora made their debuts
against the pirate Barbarroja.8' Gregorio de Castaniedaserved during the
Granada wars.82Others learned how to be a soldier during the conquests
of Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico, or Tierra Firme.
Except for a few letters that survive, it is difficult to tell if the conquistadores knew how to write-an indication of their educational or cultural
level. To answer this question, the research looked for signatures appended
at the end of conquistadores' testimony or depositions. If the person knew
how to write, the document always ended with the phrase efirmolo de su
nombre, followed by the signature or, if it was a copy, the name of the
signatory. For those who didn't know how to write, the mention was not
of signature (firma) but of mark (seiial).
Thus Andres Lopez declared that he did not know how to write in
Martin Lopez' informacion.83Yet he appended his mark to the bottom of
his testimony during the residencia of Hernan Cortes.84His marklooks like
a signature, as is shown in Juan GonzailezPonce de Leon's informacion,
in which Lopez also testified.85Perhaps Lopez made do with reproducing
a sample he had at his disposal. Juan Caceres Delgado, who likewise did
not know how to write, simply appended his mark at the bottom of his
deposition in the residencia of Pedro de Alvarado.86
Of all the conquistadores identified in the documents, 84.2 percent
76. Ibid., chap. 205:630; Torquemada, Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap. 62.
77. Diaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera, chap. 145:407.
78. Ibid., chap. 205:634.
79. Ibid., chap. 173:508.
8o. For Briones, see ibid., chap. 149:365. For Orozco, see ibid., chap. 26:49; Torquemada, Monarquia indiana, pt. 4, chap. 7; Herrera, Historia general, pt. 2, chaps. 4-6.
8i. Marmolejo, Epistolario de Nueva Espania,3, no. 129; Icaza, Diccionario, no. 467.
82. AGI, Patronato Real, 67. i.8, fols. 17-18; Icaza, Diccionario, no. 459.
83. AGI, PatronatoReal, 57.1.1, fol. 41, and II, fol. 34; and 63.1.15, VII, fol. 34.
84. "E questa es la verdad para el juramento que fizo e sefialolo de su sefial." Sumario
de la residencia a Cortes, 2:284.
fol. i6v.
85. AGI, Audiencia de Mexico, 203.24,
86. "E firmclo de su seiial porque dixo que no sabia escribir." Proceso de residencia
contra Alvarado, 150.

| HAHR

282
TABLE

I MAY I BERNARD GRUNBERG

4: Conquistador Literacy

Signature
No signature
Total

Hidalgos

Percentage

Others

Percentage

Total

Percentage

54

96.4

378

3.6

79

82.7
17.3

432
8i

84.2
15.8

56

100.0

457

100.0

513

100.0

could append their signature, compared with 15.8 percent who declared
they did not know how to write (see table 4). A high proportion of hidalgos (96.4 percent) could write; only the Basques Cristobal Martin Millan
de Gamboa, who was in America around 1502, and Juan Bono de Quejo,
who arrived before 1510, were illiterate.87About ten conquistadores left
written accounts of their exploits, though only six of these chronicles have
survived. Those of Alonso de Ojeda, Geronimo Ruiz de la Mota, Alonso
de Mata, and Juan Cano had disappeared by the end of the sixteenth
century.88

Conclusions
To make a statistical study of people who lived at the beginning of the
sixteenth century is not easy, but nonetheless necessary. Peter BoydBowman's work has shown the way, but the results must be refined and
checked against indisputable sources to establish a history of the conquest
of the New World that is open neither to doubt (such as that shown in the
debate over the Quincentenary) nor to ideological manipulation. It is on
the basis of such work that we will be able to define the conquistadores'
world and, by the same token, understand the history of the conquista.
Although they have been traditionally presented either as unscrupulous adventurers responsible for horrible massacres or as crusaders and
founders of modern Latin America, the conquistadoresgenerally belonged
to neither of those categories. They were primarily men who tried to find
what they could not obtain in their native country. Their originality resides in their reponse when they were plunged into a new and unfamiliar
environment that constantly put their lives in danger. Their success lies
87. On Gamboa, see Proceso de residencia contra Alvarado, 140; Francisco Fernandez
del Castillo, Tres conquistadores y pobladores de la Nueva Espaiia: Crist6bal Martin Millan
de Gamboa, Andres de Tapia, Jer6nimo L6pez (Mexico City: AGN, 1927), 12:19, 66.
88. We have no suspicious tale of an Anonymous Conquistador.The memoirs of Alonso
de Ojeda and Alonso de Mata, however, were used by Torquemadaand Cervantes de Salazar,
as were those of G. Ruiz de la Mota, also by Cervantes de Salazar,and those of Juan Cano,
by Alonso de Zorita.

THE CONQUISTADORES

OF MEXICO CITY

283

in their capacity to overcome the obstacles and to adapt to the new world
they would soon dominate.
The conquistadores of Mexico City came to America to find wealth and
a better life. Most of those who weathered the great battles, however, did
not profit much from their participationin the conquest as a whole. Close
to 6o percent of the conquistadores perished in the battle of Mexico City;
among those who survived, a fair number eventually lost part or all of
their personal wealth. Many ended their days in poverty, encumbered by
debts. A better share in colonial life came to the second generation, the
sons and daughters of the conquistadores, because of the labors of their
fathers.