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Lope de Aguirre
Translated by Blas Uberuaga and Robert Allenger
This article was translated by Blas Uberuaga and Robert Allenger. The English may still be somewhat rough. If anyone has corrections, feel free to let me know.
(from the Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Basque Country)
Aguirre, Lope de
Conquistador and rebel in America. He was born in Onate, Gipuzkoa in 1511 or 1515 and died in Barquisimeto, Venezuela in 1561. He was the son of a nobleman, with some culture, possibly from a family of court clearks as suggested by D. Juan Carlos Guerra.
When Lope de Aguirre arrived in Sevilla, the Indian Counsel placed restrictions and the House of Contracts, founded in 1503, demanded loyalty and other requirements for travel to America. During that time, fabulous news of the treasures of Peru reached Sevilla. Hernando Pizarro had arrived with a fifth of the royal treasure of Atahualpa: bars of gold and silver, diadems, sheets of precious (metal/cloths), sacred vases, idols, and plates. Lope de Aguiree, in the spring of youth, having just turned 21 years old, found himself immersed in this world of adventurers, soldiers, marauders and ambitious men of all types that awaited travel to America. The Restrictions, as had occured previously, disappeared, so Rodrigo Buran, accountant of D. Pedro de Heredia, backed men for his government of Nueva Lombardia. It is believed that Lope de Aguirre was among the 250 men chosen. He went to Peru with the ruling lord of a future city, about 1536 or 1537. In the Cuzco, among other activities, Aguirre was responsible for the training of stallions. The foundation of La Plata intervened, Chuquisaca, and resided in Charcas.
His role in the civil wars is not clear, although it seems that he was on the side of the king. He took part in the invasion of the Chunchos with the captain Pedro de Anzures o Peranzures. In 1544, he was at the side of the Viceroy Blasco Nunez Vela, who had arrived from Spain with orders to implant the New Laws, suppress the knights and giving liberty to the Indians. He took part in the plot with Melchor Verdugo to liberate the Viceroy, incarcerated by the Royal Audience. When this failed, they fled from Lima to Cajamarca, where they began to recruit people to help the Viceroy. Assisted by the oidor Alvarez, Blasco Nunez Vela had fled by sea to Tumbez and formed a small army, believing that the entire country would get up and form under the royal flag. His resistance to Gonzalo Pizarro and his master, Francisco Carvajal, the celebrated "demon of the Andes", lasted about two years. He was finally defeated and killed in Anaquito, in the region of Quito, on the 18th of January, 1546.
Melchor Verdugo and Lope de Aguirre had gone to Nicaragua, embarking at Trukillo with 33 soldiers and supplies. Verdugo had appointed Rodrigo de Esquivel and Nuno Guzman captains, Lope de Aguirre sergeant major, and P. Henao as accountant. Henao would later participate in the expedition of Ursua to Omagua and El Dorado.
In 1551 Lope de Aguirre appeared again in Alto Peru, in the city of Potosi. The judge Fracisco de Esquivel imprisoned Lope de Aguirre for infraction of the laws protecting the Indians that practically were not observed. Not heeding Aguirre's defense nor his allegations of being a nobleman's son, he ordered that Aguirre be publically whipped. His pride mortally wounded, Aguirre waited until the judge's position ended. Fearing the vengence of Aguirre, the judge fled and continuously changed his place of residence. Aguirre pursued him by foot to Lima, Quito and again to el Cuzco. In three years, he traveled 6,000 kilometers on foot, barefoot, following the tracks of Esquivel. The great soldier pursued with interest this tenatious persecution. Vengence was met in el Cuzco, in the mansion of the ex-magistrate. Esquivel took a nap in the library, always with the coat of mail (armor) on for fear of Aguirre. Aguirre cut his temples and later even returned to look for the sombrero he had forgotten. Protected by friends who had hidden him, he fled from el Cuzco dressed in black, taking refuge with a relative in Guamanga.
In 1553 he went to Charcas and intervened in the plot of Sebastian de Castilla. Condemned to death, he hid for one year, helped by an Indian friend of his. In 1554, with motive of the rebellion of Hernandez Giron, Alvarado asked for a pardon for everyone who enlisted in his army and had affiliated with Lope de Aguirre. At the battle of Chuquinga against Hernandez Giron , he received an incurable limp that ostracised him.
The years of quietness until 1559 were a break before the the grand adventure of his life. In that year, acompanied by his daughter Elvira, Lope de Aguirre descended del Cuzco to the Ribera del Mayo, tributary of the Huallaga, where the expedition of Pedro de Ursua was being prepared.
The Expedition to Omagua and el Dorado
On the 16th of September of 1560, the expedition weighed anchor with three brigantines, various barges, 300 soldiers and hundreds of indians. This heterogenous troop, enticed by the news that the Brazillian indians ruled over the riches of Omagua and el Dorado, went in search of treasures such as those of Cajamarca or Mexico City and good lands to populate. The governor Ursua appointed the Sevillan nobleman Fernando de Guzman alferez general and Lope de Aguirre the keeper of the dead. This charge consisted of caring for the goods of those that died during the expedition. They descended by the river Huallaga to the Amazon. By the end of November they were in the territory of Machifaro, where they stayed for one month. The discontentment of the soldiers, having not encountered a single trace of the promised riches, began to manifest itself. Ursua governed blandly, entertained by his lover, the beautiful Dona Ines de Atienza. He had also brought with him his cousin Martin Diaz de Armendariz and the tudelano Juan de Cabanas as secretary. The professor Don Jose Ramon Castro encountered in the Archive de Protocols de Tudela the documents referring to a reclamation to the Council of Indians about the death of this expeditionary.
By the end of the year, the expedition was in the town of Mocomoco. They now spoke openly of turning back. But Aguirre, who enjoyed great prestige among the soldiers, planned the death of Ursua, which occurred on the first of January, 1561. After this success, Lope de Aguirre was named master of camp, which enraged Alonso de la Bandera. Aguirre freed himself of him and recovered his post. Lope de Aguirre, now organized, surrounded himself with a chosen and ferocious guard that at his command wielded the sword, the saber or the terrible foil. Fernando de Guzman was named general of the expedition, but Aguirre controled the arms and was stronger. On the 23rd of March, Guzman was proclaimed prince of Peru, Tierra Firme and Chile. 186 captains and soldiers signed the act, inspired by Aguirre. This document has been called the First Act of American Independence. By it and by subsequent arrangement of Aguirre, they immigrated from under the control of their king Felipe II.
It is debated if this is a obsolescant gesture or, according to La Croix in the "Diary of Bucaramanga" a precursor act that interested even Simon Bolivar. The idea of many expeditionaries of following the path back until the point of origin was materially impossible. Lope de Aguirre knew this and channeled this discontent and this desire to return to Peru, but through Panama, taking possession of the fleet and picking up all of the discontents of the area. For this he had to arrive at the Atlantic and Venezuela. Imposing a iron rule, he constructed two new bringantines. The future of his daughter Elvira, whom he took with him everywhere, always figured in all of his projects.
It seems that the prince and his court conspired to squash Lope de Aguirre that came forward one more time. As happened before, he ordered the death of the captain of the guard of Guzman, Lorenzo de Zalduendo, and his lover Dona Ines de Atienza. The next day, the 22nd of May, 1561, he eliminated the prince, P. Hernao, and the important figures of the court. Lope de Aguirre was now the head of state of the "maranones". At the beginning of July, the expedition reached the Atlantic. The 21st of that same month they arrived in Margarita, which they took by surprise. They left the island at the end of August, after Aguirre wrote his famous letters to Felipe II and to the Provincial Fray Francisco de Montesinos. He sent Pedro de Munguia to trick the Provincial and take away his boat. However, his messenger left and did not return. This was the first blow to Aguirre's moral. Munguia wrote later an accusing Relacion, like everyone has, that justified his actions. At the beginning of September, they disembarked in Burburata. After a tiresome march through the mountain range, during which Aguirre was overcome by fever and had to be carried in a hammock by his men, they reached Valencia del Rey. Aguirre's troup had had a chance to free themselves from him but they didn't. It seems they still believed in the promised return to Peru. The 22nd of October they entered Barquisimeto.
Pardons were found in the deserted homes. The soldiers joked about them, but secretly hid the pardons away and later deserted. The defection culminated when the captain Tirado left with his mount. Venezuela had lived many days of terror before the arrival of Aguirre. Even the governor, Pablo Collado, had fled. Only a few old conquistadors composed the defense. Lope de Aguirre wrote one of his famous letters which has also survived until today. On the 27th of October, abandoned by his maranones, he killed his daughter Elvira "because something that I loved so much should not come to be bedded of ruin people". He asked that he not be killed before deposing. But he is killed by two saberblows (?). His body was cut into quarters and sent to various cities in Venezuela.
The personality of Lope de Aguirre can parangonarse with that of his contemporary Fransico de Carvajal, the "demon of the Andes", master of the camp of Gonzalo Pizarro. The end of his life offers some analogies. His epistolar production has been studied, although not suficiently, by some modern authors. We find in his letters most capable synthesis, free, more sharp and rebelious to the extreem. But, in this parallelism there appears a trace that differentiates him substantially from Carvajal. Carvajal, according to the coetaneo Agustin de Zarate, was afraid of the death that followed him to the intent the relation of his deeds. On the other hand, Lope de Aguirre tried by all means possible to give publicity to his deeds and his petitions of justice. To send his famous letter to the king Felipe II, he confided in the priest of Margarita, D. Alonso Contreras. His dotes of grand psychology did not fail him in his choice. In Contreras, he had seen the prototype of the honored and good clergy. Before the altar of Nueva Valencia del Rey, he entrusts to Contreras the accomplishment of his task "by God, His Holy Mother and the Four Evangelists". The letter arrived to its destination and has survived to today, wrinkled and maltreated, probably by the anger of the most powerful monarch of his time. The physical aspect of Lope de Aguirre must have been insignificant and possibly his most outstanding features were his fiery look, his speed in acting, his ability to dominate stallions and direct the construction of boats and the dotes speeches, epistolares and notariales. The letters of Lope de Aguirre are published in Lope de Aguirre Descuartizado, Col. Aunamendi Anexa, t. 1-2. Among the numerous testimonies of the people who had known Lope de Aguirre, we point out the statement of Cristobal Gil, neighbor of Tocuyo before the Audiencia of Santo Domingo, who lived in Margarita when Lope de Aguirre reached that island. We quote: "...asked which person is the so-called tyrant, he said, the man that for 45 years, boy of body, skinny of face and remade of body, dark haired, already bearded that turns gray". Another statement mentioned by Jos in Ciencia y Osadia... says "...in the port of Margarita was the tyrant with two or three squadrons dressed in white, and they carried a large black flag and a standard blue and another yellow".