PIZARRO, FRANCISCO (Western Colonialism)


Born in Trujillo, Spain, the product of an illegitimate liaison between Captain Gonzalo Pizarro and Francesca Gonzales, a peasant girl, there was nothing to indicate that great things could be expected from Francisco Pizarro. In fact, the first years of his life seemed to have been spent tending the pigs at the home of his grandparents. However, if his father had given him anything, it was apparently his love for adventure and the soldier’s life. His appetite for both was whetted first at home, where he participated in conflicts between prominent landed families for control of the Spanish countryside, and later in Italy, where he soldiered under the command of Gonzalo Fernandez de GSrdoba (1453-1515).

In 1502, at age twenty-seven, Pizarro left Europe, bound for Hispaniola, known today as Haiti and the Dominican Republic, to assist the governor in running the new colonies created by the discoveries of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). But he soon tired of the daily grind of the administrator’s world in favor of the adventurer’s life, and in 1510 joined Alonso de Ojeda’s (ca. 1468-1515) expedition to Colombia. Three years later he accompanied Vasco Nunez de Balboa (1475-1519) as Balboa laid claim to the Pacific Ocean. That expedition won Pizarro the post of mayor of Panama from 1519 until 1523. But his ambition remained unsatisfied, and in 1523 Pizarro began the work that would help bring him fame, fortune, and would eventually claim his life.

It started with a partnership, formed with a fellow soldier, Diego de Almagro (ca. 1474-1538), and a priest, Hernando de Luque (d. 1532). Between 1523 and 1528 they conducted two expeditions along the Colombian coast. The journeys were both difficult and dangerous, and on the second trip Pizarro and most of his crew were forced to stop and rest, while a smaller team led by Bartolome Ruiz (d. 1534) continued on, passing the equator. It was there that Ruiz intercepted a trading craft headed north from what its known today as Peru, loaded with fabrics and precious metals. Ruiz returned to Pizarro’s camp, reported the news, and then led the entire expedition southward, stopping while Diego del Almagro returned to Panama for more men and supplies.

Almagro’s reception by Spanish authorities in Panama proved to be a hostile one. The new governor, afraid of sacrificing more men and money, refused Pizarro’s request, and ordered Almagro to tell Pizarro and his men to come home. Not interested in abandoning the expedition in light of the treasures already found, and convinced there were more to be had, Pizarro went to Spain in 1528 to plead his case directly to King Charles I (1500-1558). By 1530, he had won not only royal approval, but also the rank of governor and captain-general with control of territory stretching more that 960 kilometers (about 600 miles) south of Panama to be called New Castile. He was also given enough money to outfit three ships and provision 180 men.

In January 1530, Pizarro left Spain with everything he needed to conquer Peru. In April of that year, he and his two partners, de Almagro and Hernando de Luque, made contact with Atahualpa (ca. 1502-1533), emperor of the Incas, the dominant indigenous force in Peru. Atahualpa was engaged in a civil war to maintain control of the Inca empire. A meeting was arranged in November in the town of Cajamarca. Pizarro’s objective was to have Atahualpa embrace Christianity and the rule of King Charles. Atahualpa arrived in Cajamarca with an escort of several thousand soldiers, and after listening to Pizarro’s representatives, rejected both demands. The meeting then turned into an ambush, as Pizarro’s men opened fire with muskets, crossbows, and cannons. Most of Atahualpa’s men were killed. Atahualpa himself was captured by the Spanish and held until 1533, when Pizarro had him executed. Upon hearing news of Atahualpa’s death, most armed resistance to Spain collapsed, and Pizarro occupied Cuzco, the Inca capital without incident in November 1533.

Pizarro sought to take control of highland Peru by distributing encomiendas among his trusted followers, while also using puppet Inca kings enthroned in Cuzco. But his ascendancy was marked by deep and growing conflict. Manco Inca (d. 1545) rejected his role as a puppet king in 1535 and led a great rebellion against the Spaniards before retreating to the countryside. After surviving the Inca rebellion, the Spaniards fought among themselves in recurrent civil wars, driven by a fight for the spoils of conquest and the rivalries of the Pizarro and Almagro factions.

The last eight years of Francisco Pizarro’s life were spent in Lima, the new capital of Peru, where he consolidated Spain’s control over the country, making sure he and his family members reaped the benefits of their efforts. This was a unique combination of a new business enterprise coupled with traditional colonial administration. But the distribution of the spoils apparently did not extend far enough beyond Pizarro’s family to satisfy his original partners, Diego de Almagro and Hernando de Luque. In fact, Almagro went so far as to occupy Cuzco in a bid for power. He was persuaded to leave the city and head south to Chile, which King Charles had awarded him. But the riches of Chile were nothing in comparison to Peru’s, and Almagro returned to fight for his share, only to be captured and executed by Pizarro’s forces. King Charles made Pizarro a marquis, but his triumph did not last long. Almagro’s supporters, including his son, plotted revenge, and on June 26, 1541, they attacked Pizarro’s stronghold in Lima. Pizarro died in the attack.

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