Lope de Aguirre
Although only the second journey along the Amazon, the journey itself was only a minor matter. The real concerns were the frequent murder, intrigues, and rebellion that accompanied it. After their journey along the Amazon, Aguirre and his men then went onto terrorise the citizens of the Caribbean island of Margarita, before taking their bloody rebellion to Venezuela where it concluded in the small town of Barquisimeto.
The story starts in the beginning of 1559, with the appointment of Pedro de Ursúa by the viceroy of Peru to lead a major expedition, to travelling down the Amazon with 300 soldiers, horses and other provisions, in search of the Omaguas (as encountered 17 years previously by Orellana) who were thought to hold the key to the secret of El Dorado.
Pedro de Ursúa
Ursúa seemed like a good choice to be leader – he was young and very charming, quickly finding favour with Peru’s rulers. He was also very experienced, having arrived in New Granada (now Colombia) in 1545 at the request of his uncle to take over administration of the province of Bogotá. Although aged only 20 at the time, he quickly succeeded, cleaning up the province’s corrupt administration and ensuring that everything was running well. Ursúa is described to have been "generous, honourable, perfect, possessed of sweetness of temper, and a universal favourite". The only criticism that was made against him at that time was that someone so young should not have been able to conduct their affairs so well. Ursúa eventually moved onto other roles. He led an expedition against the Musos Indians in 1549 (the exception to Ursúa’s "sweetness of character" being a story that after signing a truce, he invited several of the Indian chiefs to a pageant – where he had them all killed), and he fought with distinction against the Tairona Indians in 1552. After this, he spent two years successfully leading an army of 200 Spaniards against a fierce and determined band of rebellious slaves in Panama.
A bad start to the journey
This expedition started out very badly – one of the sponsors, a dubious priest by the name of Pedro Portillo, withdrew his money at the last minute and was forced at gun-point to make good on his promised contribution (and trebling it). To make matters much worse, Ursúa’s second-in-command was murdered early on by two trusted lieutenants who were jealous of the other man’s position. They were subsequently put on trial and hanged. Even Ursúa brought problems upon himself by taking his mistress along on the journey – he appeared to be so distracted by her that he paid little attention to his duties as expedition leader.
But, by far the worst hindrance to the expedition was the quality of the men that it had recruited. They could easily be described as the dregs of the conquest! They were greedy, dishonest, highly aggressive, and very tough. Worst of them all was Lope de Aguirre, nicknamed "The Wolf".
Lope de Aguirre
Aguirre was aged about 50, and was a very tough and seasoned soldier – having fought against Indians and in various rebellions (for both sides). He also had experience as breeder and breaker of horses, but it was his other exploits which were most interesting.
He started off in the New World working as a grave-robber, plundering Indian tombs for gold and other treasures. He incurred the anger of his superiors when he protested against the uneven way that he was forced to divide their ill-gotten gains. They dismissed him and tried to have him posted far away – but he rebelled, seizing a ship and sailing to a nearby colony where he protested against the governor who he believed had cheated him. The governor was dismissed, but Aguirre received nothing for his efforts.
Aguirre served with Gonzalo Pizarro in wars against the Indians, sustaining injuries and suffering in what was an extremely difficult campaign. Later, when Pizarro had returned from his own Amazon exploration and took up arms against Peru’s new viceroy, Aguirre fought against him.
After the campaign against Pizarro, Aguirre was forced to flee to Central America. During his time there. he explored the area around Lake Nicaragua, searching unsuccessfully for an outlet to the Pacific.
He later seized the city of Nombre de Dios (in Panama) from a rebellious governor, in the name of the King. Aguirre was defeated in the battle which followed, and fled again.
He went to seek fortune the silver mines of Potosí. Again, he was unsuccessful, and merely ended up incurring the anger of the local magistrate who sentenced him to 100 lashes strapped to the back of a donkey. The charge was raised against him for possessing Indian porters – which had recently made illegal (despite vigorous opposition from settlers). However, because this law wasn’t rigorously enforced, it is probable that the magistrate decided on this action for other reasons – perhaps he simply disliked the vile and arrogant Aguirre. Aguirre was maimed for life as a result of this punishment, and swore revenge against the magistrate. He got it – three and half years later when he followed the (now ex-) magistrate to Lima. The ex-magistrate was found stabbed through with a dagger, and stuck to his table. Aguirre took sanctuary in Cuzco Cathedral, then blackened himself and escaped disguised as a Negro servant.
Soon afterwards, Aguirre took part in a rebellion against new laws imposed by the country's viceroy. He was defeated and sentenced to death – but remained in hiding for two years, before being offered amnesty if he switched sides. He was wounded while fighting for the viceroy, and returned to Cuzco.
Aguirre also had an Indian wife and a daughter, but for all his travelling and adventures we can imagine that they spent long periods of time hardly ever seeing him. Finally, there was one more thing about Aguirre: his hard lifestyle, and the many injuries that he'd sustained had left him crippled – cruelly twisted, both in body and in mind.
A Twenty Month Delay
The expedition left Lima in February 1559, but did not set out on the river until October 1560 – over twenty months later! The reason for the delay was the building of boats, enough to carry the 300 soldiers, their horses, livestock, and other provisions. Their was also the final collection of sponsorship money, and delays associated with murder of the second-in-command (and the trials that followed). Several months before the main party was finally ready to leave, and advance party went ahead to build a fort and to prepare boats for the journey along the river.
In the end, the boats proved unsatisfactory. They were poorly built, and used unseasoned wood – quickly springing leaks or falling apart. The problem was fixed by repairing the boats and making replacement rafts, but it meant that there was a lot less room than had originally been planned. Only 40 of the 300 horses could be taken, and far fewer provisions. Many of the men threatened to leave and return to Lima – but by threatening to bring charges of mutiny against anyone who attempted to leave, and with a lot of cajoling, Ursúa managed to keep all of his men.
The Initial River Journey
Once underway, the river journey seemed to proceed as well as any other expedition – but all the time, discontent was simmering just below the surface. There is little doubt that Lope de Aguirre was busily doing his best to ensure it.
There were the usual things – much like Orellana before them, the expedition spent much of their time in search of food, and meeting up with local Indians. Like Orellana, Ursúa stressed the importance of treating the Indians well, even punishing his own men if they failed to do so. Meanwhile, many of the men stole goods from the expedition's supplies until a new priest, backed by Ursúa, went around threatening to excommunicate them all if the goods were not returned. Excommunication was the worst punishment for any Spaniard in those days (even worse than death) – it meant being thrown out of the church. Ursúa's men were outraged, he seemed to be treating his own people very badly, and favouring the Indians instead of them. There was still no sign of El Dorado or the gold that they had set out to find.
The men began to talk – sometimes in whispers, and sometimes they talked loudly because Ursúa seemed too distracted by his mistress to be paying any attention. Slowly, a plot emerged, with Lope de Aguirre as the ringleader. They planned to mutiny against Ursúa, and approached one of the high-ranking officers to choose him as their new leader. The officer's name was Fernando de Guzmán – he was well liked by the men and didn't like Ursúa either. The date chosen for the mutiny was January 1 1561.
On the appointed day (January 1, 1561) a small group of the rebels walked over to Ursúa's tent. On being asked what they were doing there, one of the rebels drew a knife and made for Ursúa. There was a short stuggle, but Ursúa was stabbed and killed. "Liberty, liberty, long live the King, the tyrant is dead," yelled the rebels.
When Ursúa's deputy heard the commotion, he rushed to the tent to see what had happened. He saw the rebels, and set upon them with his sword – but he was soon disarmed and killed also. Then, to make sure of their victory, the rebels murdered the close friends and associates of Ursúa and his deputy in case they make any trouble or tried to avenge the deaths. The rebels won the day, and appointed their new leaders – Fernando de Guzmán and Lope de Aguirre.
The new leaders still felt insecure. They ordered that no-one should speak in low voices or whispers in case they were plotting revenge, and that no-one was to leave their tents at night. They also ordered that Ursúa's personal supply of wine was to be distributed among the men to help them celebrate the victory.
Lope de Aguirre, "The Traitor"
Soon after the mutiny, its leaders met to decide what to do. The reason that most of the men had joined the expedition was to search for the legendary El Dorado, and all the gold that was rumoured to be there. As such, many of the men thought that this was what they should do. Lope de Aguirre didn't agree – he argued that there was much more gold back in Peru, where they had started, and that it was much easier to get (presumably by stealing it and plundering it from others). He thought that even if they did find El Dorado the authorities back in Peru, hearing of the mutiny, would still send in soldiers to punish them. A better idea, he suggested, was to go back to Peru and to fight the authorities there where, if they won they would be free and would have all access to undreamed of riches from Peru's gold and silver mine. Unfortunately, for Aguirre, he lost the argument and reluctantly agreed to the others' plans to look for El Dorado – but, this was only a temporary measure because, all the while, he kept plotting to get his own way.
In the meantime, the leaders were worried how the authorities would respond to their mutiny. They decided to write a statement to say why they had mutinied, and asking every man in the expedition to sign it. Essentially, this statement was a letter to the authorities to say that even though they had mutinied, it had simply been because Ursúa had not been doing his job and had been mistreating his men – therefore no member of the expedition should be punished for the actions that they had taken. The first person to sign this statement was Fernando de Guzmán. He then passed it to Aguirre, who signed also it . . . writing "Lope de Aguirre, the traitor". When asked about this, Aguirre matter-of-factly replied that they had killed the King's representative they would certainly be punished, and that no collection of signatures would be able to prevent it.
Murders, Reprisals, and the New Prince
For five days after the mutiny, the expedition did not move. They stayed put, arguing over what should be done – should they continue the quest for El Dorado, should they turn around and return to Peru, and if they were to return to Peru how would they be treated by the authorities? The murders and reprisals against Ursuá's loyal friends and anyone suspected of plotting against the mutineers continued. When the expedition did start moving, it travelled for only for one day before stopping again. This time the stop proved more permanent – realizing that their boats would be unsuitable for the expedition's needs downriver, Guzmán ordered the refurbishment and modification of their existing boats and also the building of some new ones. Construction of the boats would take several weeks.
Trapped in a remote area of the Amazon, and with nothing for the majority of the soldiers to do, the intrigues became more disruptive – with Aguirre continuing to manipulate the events. Anyone who had openly disagreed or argued against him previously was eliminated – one by one they were arrested by the officers of the camp, and then strangled. Anyone rumoured to have said anything against the new leaders or who behaved "oddly" was also arrested and strangled. Guzmán usually only found out about the deaths afterwards, so was unable to do anything about it. Whenever Aguirre was queried about his actions, he reassured Guzmán that the men had been traitors plotting against Guzmán's leadership, and that the deaths had been necessary for the good of the expedition. Guzmán was cleverly deceived by Aguirre's mixture of flattery, lies and pre-arranged displays designed to "prove" his loyalty, so that eventually Guzmán trusted Aguirre and almost no one else. The rest of the men were eventually asked to prove their loyalty by disavowing the King of Spain, and accepting Guzmán now raised to the title of "Prince of Tierra Firme and of Peru". Any return to Peru would now mean war and rebellion against the Spanish monarchy and its governor.
Other members of the expedition, able to see what Aguirre was up to, found it impossible to act against him – they were arrested and executed at the merest hint of "disloyalty". Furthermore, Aguirre and his followers were always armed, and even slept with their weapons, so that any attack against him was likely to have been met with fierce resistance.
In addition to its own internal problems, the expedition suffered another crisis – there were shortages of food. A party of soldiers had been organised to forage for food in the forest and from Indian villages – but mistreatment by the soldiers had angered the local Indians who were no longer willing to trade gifts for food, and who attacked and almost wiped out the foraging party. Another expedition intended to avenge the Indian attack was also heavily beaten. However, this crisis made Aguirre's schemes even easier to implement.
Journey along the Amazon, and the Downfall of the New Prince
After several weeks of boatbuilding and intrigues, the expedition set out again. During this time a new plan had also emerged – instead of returning directly to Peru, the expedition would continue down the Amazon, exiting into the Atlantic then sailing north-west to the Caribbean island of Margarita (off the coast of Venezuela). From there they would sail to Panama, raise an army composed of the many disatisfied peasants and runaway slaves, and march down the Pacific coast to conquer Peru (which, at that time also included Ecuador and some of Colombia).
Fernando de Guzmán, the rebels' new Prince took relished his new royal title – he was now referred to by everyone as "Your Excellency" and even took to dining alone, feasting at a table with all the pomp and formality as befitting royalty. Not knowing of the way in which his new position had been created for him by Aguirre's schemes and slaughter, he was unaware of just how insecure his power really was.
The expedition travelled as fast at they could, hoping to reach Margarita and Panama without any delay – before the enthusiasm for their venture had any time to wane. The journey was accompanied by continued violence and bloodshed, with Aguirre slowly consolidating his grip on power – yet more soldiers "disloyal to the cause" were murdered by Aguirre and his cronies. Eventually, it was time for Aguirre to get rid of Guzmán and (finally) to proclaim himself as the expedition's new leader. The spate killings had resulted in a split among the Spaniards, which Aguirre turned to his advantage. One night when camped on a long uninhabited island in the middle of the river, he carried out his plan. One group of Spaniards had camped on one end of the island, with Guzmán and his followers camped on the other end. Aguirre and his men camped in the middle. Aguirre told his followers that the leaders of other group was planning to murder Guzmán – and therefore ordered for them to be captured and executed in the night. At dawn, he told his men that a party of men had already been sent to kill Guzmáan and therefore they had to rush to his aid to protect him. Once at Guzmán's camp, several of his most loyal men were killed in the confusion, with Aguirre and two of his men then sneaking into the unsuspecting Guzmán's tent and killing him by firing their arquebuses at him. The island on which all these killings took place became known as "The Town of Butchery".
After the latest mutiny, Aguirre spoke to the men. He told them of Guzmán's failure as a leader, then appointing his friends and followers to high posts and titles. He named himself "General" and his expedition the marańones – partly because the name of the Amazon river at that time was the Marańón and also because of all the plotting and intrigues (marańas, in Spanish) that had occurred along the way.
There were more deaths as the expedition continued. Some Spaniards were killed for alleged disloyalty, and other Spaniards and Indians were killed in accidents (such as overturning canoes, disease, and in attacks by hostile Indians). In one place, on deciding that there was no longer enough room in the expedition's remaining two boats to carry them, some of the Indians who had been brought along from Peru as servants and guides were abandoned on an island – facing an almost certain death at the hands of the local Indians or of starvation.
Leaving the Amazon, and the Journey to Margarita
Aguirre's flotilla of boats emerged from the Amazon into the Atlantic on July 1, 1561 (some think that the flotilla may actually have emerged from the Orinoco river in Venezuela by following a, then unknown, canal which links the two river systems via the Rió Negro). They promptly set sail on the ocean, headed for the island of Margarita. Afraid that the men in the second boat might be tempted to abandon him, Aguirre removed all the navigational aids from the vessel and ordered that they follow him by sight – with a lantern being afixed to the stern so that they could follow him at night. The voyage to Margarita took seventeen days.
They arrived at a port near the island's capital. On hearing of the arrival of the unusual travellers who had journeyed down the Amazon from Peru (and unaware who they really were) the island's governor ordered food and supplies to be provided to them, then went down to meet them. Aguirre met with the governor, bluffing him about his real intentions. While Aguirre and the governor were talking, the expedition's soldiers disembarked from the ships and took the governor and his officials prisoner. They then looted and terrorised everyone on the island – stealing jewellery, gold, money, ammunition, clothes and other merchandise, and anything at all that they wanted. Anyone who got in their way had their houses burned and were killed.
The intrigues among Aguirre's men also continued. Yet more men were killed for suspicions of disloyalty. When faced with this charge, one of Aguirre's most enthusiastic followers, a man called Antón Llamoso, resorted to drinking the blood of another slain follower – proclaiming that the slain man had been a traitor and had committed a terrible crime crossing (supposedly) Aguirre. Aguirre was impressed by this show of devotion and let Llamoso live. Llamoso's devotion was very real as was to be proved later.
The Rebellion moves to Venezuela
After almost two months spent terrorising the island, Aguirre men voyaged to the nearby South American mainland, in what is now Venezuela (and was to become the new starting point for the march to Peru). The governor of that territory had been warned of the rebels' approach thanks to a ship that had been in port at Margarita at the time that he arrived (and to which some of his men had defected). When he reached the town of Burburuta, his first act was to burn the boats in which he and his men had arrived (so that they could not return to the island). they captured the town, stealing food, horses, and other provisions.
The rebels proceeded to loot and desvastate the territory (although much of the population had already fled). They captured some towns, but the rebellion that they had been planned achieved little support and achieved nothing. Progress was hampered by the governors' soldiers. Taking the advice of one of Aguirre's former soldiers (who had defected following a threat made to him by Aguirre) they decided that the best way to defeat Aguirre was not in battle. Instead they tried to lure Aguirre's men away from him (and destroying his army) by promising an amnesty for all those who deserted him. In this was, Aguirre could be beaten without a fight (which was all the better, because the governor's hastily arranged army had few weapons and were not well trained). In fact, wishing to resolve the rebellion without a battle, the governor offered to pardon Aguirre if he surrendered and, if he did not wish this, even to meet with Aguirre in a one-on-one fight between the two. Aguirre refused both offers – although many of his men (seeing it as their only chance of escape) did surrender. Although Aguirre had captured several towns, most of them had been abandoned beforehand and, therefore, were captured without any serious fighting. The war became a war of letters, with defiant letters being exchanged between the governor and Aguirre.
Meanwhile, reinforcements arrived from elsewhere in Venezuela, news of which caused even more of Aguirre's men to desert. There was a battle of sorts, but despite lots of noise and posturing, no one on either side was killed. However, more of the rebels deserted, with Aguirre incensed at such blatant disloyalty. Desertions continued in subsequent battles – the rebels would charge at the enemy, beginning to shout "Long live the King!" as they passed through the army's lines. The rebels weren't killed in these mock charges, though this was partly because the poorly equipped royalist army only had five guns!
At long last, there remained only one rebel soldier – Antón Llamoso. With the defeat now complete, Aguirre was finally caught with a gun that he could not make fire, and was executed for his crimes and treason.
Der folgende Brief an den spanischen König Philipp II. wurde von Lope de Aguirre in Venezuela auf seinem Marsch nach Barquisimeto geschrieben (diktiert) :
Letter from Lope de Aguirre, rebel, to King Philip of Spain, 1561
© Translated by Thomas Holloway
Professor of History, Cornell University
from the version published in A. Arellano Moreno (org.)
DOCUMENTOS PARA LA HISTORIA ECONOMICA DE VENEZUELA, (Caracas, Univ. Central, 1961).
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 Ońate.
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