Aztec: Justification without Apology, the Conquistador

Bernal Díaz del Castillo was a Spanish conquistador, who participated as a soldier in the conquest of Mexico under Hernán Cortés and late in his life wrote an account of the events. The account that follows is his justification for the obliteration of the social order of Mexico and its culture, the transformation of the Mexica society to a pale version of the Spanish, and the discussion of whether perpetual slavery of the Mexica masses should be imposed in New Spain. An invaluable original narrative from the point of view of a Conquistador.
— Orly


Of the great merit which is due to us, the true Conquistadores.

I have now said sufficient of every individual soldier who accompanied Cortes, and how each one ended his life. If any one wishes to know anything further about us, I can tell him that most of us were men of good families; and if the lineage of some was not quite so distinguished, we must remember that all are not born equal in this world, neither in respect to rank nor virtues. However, by the valour of our arms and our heroic deeds, we conquered New Spain, with the great city of Mexico, and many other provinces, thereby rendering the most important services to the emperor our master, though at so vast a distance from Castile; nor had we any assistance in the terrible battles we fought night and day, saving that of our Lord Jesus Christ, who indeed is our true strength. What we have done is sufficient to spread our fame throughout the world!

If we read the ancient histories, at least if they speak truth, we find that all those men who gained honorable titles to themselves, as well in Spain as in other countries, gained them solely by the valour of their arms, or by other important services they rendered to their monarchs. I have even observed that several of those celebrated cavaliers, who obtained titles and extensive grants of land, had merely entered the army for the pay they received, and yet gained for themselves and descendants, in perpetuity, towns, castles, lands, besides various privileges and immunities. When the king of Aragon, Don Jayme, reconquered a large part of his kingdom from the Moors, he divided it among the cavaliers and soldiers who had fought with him, and from that time are dated the several escutcheons which their descendants possess. The same thing was done after the conquest of Granada and Naples by the great captain. The noble house of Orange originated in a similar manner.

But we added the immense territory of New Spain to the Spanish crown, without his majesty knowing anything about it; and it is for this reason I have written these memoirs, that the great, important, and excellent services which we have rendered to God, our emperor, and to the whole of Christendom, may become known; and I think, when everything is put into the same scale, and weighed according to its quantity, we shall be found equally deserving of remuneration as those cavaliers of previous times.

Though the number of courageous soldiers enumerated in a former chapter may have been considerable, yet I myself was not one of the least among them, and I had always the reputation of being a good soldier. If the curious reader has perused this history with attention, he will have seen in how many severe battles I fought, both during the two first voyages of discovery, and in the campaigns under Cortes, in New Spain; how nearly I was killed on two different occasions, and only escaped by the utmost exertion of my strength from being sacrificed to the abominable idols; not to mention the dreadful hardships I suffered from hunger, thirst, and cold, and the many perils to which those who go out for the discovery of new countries are inevitably exposed.


I will now relate the great advantages which Spain has derived from our illustrious conquests.


Of the human sacrifices and abominations practised by the inhabitants of New Spain; how we abolished these, and introduced the holy Christian faith into the country.

After thus describing our glorious deeds of arms, I will show how advantageous they proved in the service of God and of our emperor. These advantages were purchased with the lives of most of my companions in arms, for very few had the good fortune to escape being captured and sacrificed by the Indians.

I will commence with the human sacrifices and the other abominations which were practised throughout the whole of the provinces we subdued. According to the computations of the Franciscan monks, who arrived in New Spain subsequent to father Olmedo, above 2500 persons were annually sacrificed to the idols in Mexico, and some of the towns lying on the lake. As this barbarous custom was also prevalent in all the other provinces, the number, of course, is much greater. But these human sacrifices were not the only abominations that were practised by the inhabitants; I should, however, scarcely know where to end, if I were to enumerate them all. I will, therefore, only relate what I witnessed with my own eyes, and heard with my own ears. Of the victims that were sacrificed, the faces, ears, tongues, lips, the breast, the arms and legs, were brought as a burnt-offering to the idols.

In some provinces circumcision took place, which was effected by means of sharp knives made of flint. The cursed idol temples were called cues, and were as numerous as the churches, chapels, and monasteries in Spain. Every township had its own temples, and these infernal buildings were filled with demons and diabolical-looking figures. Besides these, every Indian man and woman had two altars, one near to where they slept, and the other near the door of the house. In these were placed several wooden boxes, which they termed petacas, full of small and large idols, flint knives used in the sacrifices, and books made of the bark of trees, which they call amatl, containing their signs to denote the seasons, and things that have happened. Most of the Indians, particularly those living on the coasts and in the hotter climates, were given to unnatural lusts. To such a dreadful degree was this practised, that men even went about in female garments, and made a livelihood by their diabolical and cursed lewdness.

The Indians ate human flesh in the same way we do that of oxen, and there were large wooden cages in every township, in which men, women, and children were fattened for their sacrifices and feasts. In the same way they butchered and devoured all the prisoners they took during war time. Sons committed incest with their mothers, fathers with their daughters, brothers with their sisters, and uncles with their nieces. They were addicted to the vice of drunkenness to a most terrible degree, and the inhabitants of Panuco had the most filthy and unheard-of custom, of injecting the wine of their country, by means of hollow canes, into their bodies, in the same way we should take a clyster. Various other vices and abominations were practised among them; and every man took as many wives as he liked.

We, the few veteran Conquistadores who escaped alive from the battles and perils we encountered, succeeded, with the aid of God, to turn these people aside from their abominations. It was through our exertions they began to lead a more moral life, and that the holy doctrine was introduced among them. We were the persons who made this good beginning, and it was not until two years later, when we had made the conquest, and introduced good morals and better manners among the inhabitants, that the pious Franciscan brothers arrived, and three or four years after the virtuous monks of the Dominican order, who further continued the good work, and spread Christianity through the country. The first part of the work, however, next to the Almighty, was done by us, the true Conquistadores, who subdued the country, and by the Brothers of Charity, who accompanied us. To us and them are due the merit and praise of sowing the first seeds of Christianity among these tribes: for when the beginning is good, the continuation and completion are sure to prove praiseworthy!


But enough of this; I will now speak of the great advantages which the inhabitants of New Spain derived from our exertions in their behalf.


How we introduced the Christian religion among the Indians; of their conversion and baptism; and of the different trades we taught them.

After we had abolished idolatry and other abominations from among the Indians, the Almighty blessed our endeavours and we baptized the men, women, and all the children born after the conquest, whose souls would otherwise have gone to the infernal regions. With the assistance of God, and by a good regulation of our most Christian monarch, of glorious memory, Don Carlos, and of his excellent son Don Philip, our most happy and invincible king, to whom may God grant a long life and an increase of territory, several pious monks of different orders arrived in New Spain, who travelled from place to place, preached the gospel to the inhabitants, and baptized new-born infants. By their unremitted exertions Christianity became planted in their hearts, so that the inhabitants came to the confessional once every year; and those who were better instructed in our Christian faith received the holy communion. Their churches are very richly ornamented with altars, crucifixes, candelabras, different-sized chalices, censers, and everything else required in our religious ceremonies, all of pure silver. The more wealthy townships have the vestments of choristers, the chasuble and the full canonicals of a priest, mostly of velvet damask or silk, and of various colours and manufacture. The flags which hang to the crosses are of silk, and richly ornamented with gold and pearls. The funeral crosses are covered with satin, and bear the figure of a death's head and cross bones; the funeral palls, in some townships, are also more or less splendid. The churches are likewise provided with a set of bells, have a regular band of choristers, besides flutes, dulcimers, clarions, and sackbuts, and some have even organs. I do believe there are more large and small trumpets in the province of Guatimala, where I am writing this, than in my native country Old Castile. It is indeed wonderful, and we cannot thank God too much for it, to behold the Indians assisting in the celebration of the holy mass, which they particularly do in those places where the Franciscan friars or the Brothers of Charity officiate at the altar.

It was also a great blessing for the Indians that the monks taught them to say their prayers in their own language, and frequently to repeat them. The monks have altogether so accustomed them to reverence everything relating to religion, that they never pass by any altar or cross without falling down on their knees and repeating a Pater Noster or an Ave Maria. We also taught the Indians to make wax lights for the holy service, for, previous to our arrival, they made no manner of use of their wax. We taught them to be so obedient and respectful to the monks and priests, that whenever one of these religious men approach a township the bells are rung, and the inhabitants go out to meet him with wax-lights in their hands; and they always give him a hospitable reception. On the day of Corpus Christi, the birth of Mary, and on other saint-days, when we are accustomed to form processions, the inhabitants of the districts surrounding Guatimala likewise march out in procession with crucifixes, lighted candles, and carry about their tutelar saint splendidly dressed up, all the time chanting hymns, accompanied by the sound of flutes and trumpets. The inhabitants have also learnt the different trades which are carried on in Spain, in a highly praiseworthy manner. They have regular workshops with all kinds of instruments, and earn a good livelihood by their industry; the gold and silver workers are particularly expert, as well in the smelting as in the hammering of these metals. The lapidaries and painters are also very clever, and the sculptors produce astonishing works of art with their emeralds and fine steel instruments. Among others, they sculpture the figure of our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ, with all the expression of his suffering, in so exquisite a manner, that unless we had witnessed it with our own eyes we could not have thought Indians capable of doing it. If I might offer an opinion, I think, that neither the celebrated Apelles of ancient times, nor the great masters of our days, Berruguete and Michael Angelo, nor even the more modern artist of Burgos, who is said to be a real Apelles, could produce such beautiful works of art with their fine pencils, as the celebrated Indian masters, Andreas de Aquino, Juan de la Cruz, and Crespello, with their emeralds. Besides this, the sons of the more distinguished chiefs of the country are well instructed in our grammar, and the most reverend the archbishop of Mexico sees that this is strictly attended to. Several of these young men are not only able to read and write, but even compose whole books of choral songs. Numbers of Indians are also employed in weaving silks, satins, and taffetas. They manufacture all kinds of coarse woollen stuffs and mantles; there are also cloth manufacturers, wool-combers, fullers, hat-makers, and soap-makers, as good as those of Segovia and Cuenca; but they have not been able as yet to learn glass-blowing and the apothecaries' trade; however, they are so expert in all arts that no doubt they will soon master these also; though there are among them surgeons and herbarists. They are very expert at juggling, perform puppet-shows, and play on the guitar. Of agriculture they understood something before our arrival, but now also they attend to the breeding of all kinds of cattle. They plough with oxen, sow maise, bake biscuits, and have everywhere planted Spanish fruit trees, so that they already draw considerable profit from them. As the fruit of the peach tree is not wholesome, and the plantain tree throws too much shadow, they continually keep cutting them down, and plant in their stead quince, apple, and pear trees, which, in their estimation are of greater value.

We have also introduced among them good police and justice. In every township the Indians annually choose their alcaldes, regidors, accountants, alguacils, and other authorities; and they have a courthouse where the authorities hear causes twice a week, and pronounce judgment in actions for debt and minor offences. Criminal cases and heavy offences are always referred to the governor or the royal court of audience, according to circumstances. I have been assured by credible persons that when the town councils of Tlascalla, Tezcuco, Cholulla, Huexotzinco, and of other great towns meet, the mace-bearers precede the civic authorities with golden staffs, the same as are carried before a viceroy; also that these Indian judges are as correct in the judgments they pronounce, and look quite as dignified as the judges in Spain, and that they assiduously study our laws and set a high value on them. All the caziques keep good establishments, they have their horses with beautiful saddles and trappings, and whenever they travel through the country are attended by numerous pages. In some townships even tilts, tournaments, and bull-fights take place among them, particularly on Corpus Christi day, the feast of St. John, St. Jacob, and of the Virgin Mary, in the month of August. Many Indians have even the courage to combat with the bulls, though these animals are so uncommonly fierce. Some of the most expert horsemen are to be found among them, particularly among the inhabitants of Chiapa de los Indios. Most of the caziques breed their own horses and mules, which they employ in carrying goods for sale to the different markets, and gain a livelihood as carriers to different parts of the country, in the same way as we do in Spain. In short they are uncommonly expert in all handicrafts, even to the making of tapestry. I must now close this, and relate what further advantages the Indians derived in the following chapter.


Of other advantages which arose from our glorious conquests.

Having shown how many advantages the Indians derived from our glorious conquests, I must now speak about the gold, silver, precious stones, and other valuable matters, as cochineal, wool, sarsaparilla and cow-hides, which are annually exported to Spain; also of the monies arising from the royal fifths, and of the valuable presents which we forwarded to his majesty during the course of the conquest; in which, of course, are not included the quantity of valuable goods which merchants and travellers take with them. Certainly, since the time that the wise king Solomon built the holy temple of Jerusalem with the gold and silver of the islands of Tarshis, of Ophir and Saba, we find no mention made in any old histories of so much gold, silver, and of other riches, as are continually being exported from this country to Spain. Many thousands of pounds weight of gold and silver have indeed been also sent from Peru; but at the time we conquered New Spain the name of Peru was not even known, nor was it discovered till ten years after. We forwarded to his majesty presents of immense value from the very beginning, for which and other reasons I place New Spain at the head; for we very well know with regard to the affairs of Peru, that the captains, governors, and soldiers continually carried on civil wars with each other, in which the lives of many Spaniards were sacrificed. We, in New Spain, on the contrary, were never for a moment forgetful of the profound respect which was due to our emperor and master; nor will our fidelity ever be questioned, and whenever his majesty requires our services we are ready with our property and our lives to obey his commands.

Let the kind reader reflect but for one moment on the towns and villages which the Spaniards have already founded in these countries. Their number is so extensive, that I must pass them by in silence. Seven bishoprics have already been erected in New Spain; the very celebrated city of Mexico is the see of an archbishop, and there are three royal courts of audience. The reader would be astonished to see the number of cathedrals, and the monasteries of the Brothers of Charity, and of the Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustin friars; the hospitals, with their endowments, and the church of our dear lady of Guadaloupe, at Tepeaquilla, where Sandoval was stationed during the siege of Mexico: also the holy miracles which have taken place in the country, and those which happen daily, are astonishing; and we cannot sufficiently thank God and the blessed Virgin, who gave us the power to conquer this country, where everything has already become so Christian. In Mexico there is an universal college, where grammar, rhetoric, logic, philosophy, theology, and other sciences and arts are taught. In this city even books are printed both in the Latin and Spanish languages, and here also licentiates and doctors graduate.

I could enumerate many other matters of great importance, and describe the numerous silver mines which are worked in New Spain, and the new ones that are daily being discovered, and from which Spain draws so much wealth; but I have stated sufficient to prove that our heroic deeds were never surpassed in any age, and that no men ever subdued so many kingdoms as we, the true Conquistadores, conquered for our emperor and master: and though there were many brave men among us, yet I was not the least among them, and now I am the oldest alive. I repeat it, I, I, I am the oldest, and I have always served his majesty like a good soldier. And here I must relate something after the manner of a dialogue. When illustrious Fame resounded from one end of the world to the other our glorious deeds of arms, and the important services which we had rendered to God, our emperor, and the whole of Christendom, she cried aloud, and said, that we were more justly entitled to and deserving of lucrative possessions than those who had neither rendered his majesty any services here nor in any other place. Where, she asks, are your palaces, castles, and escutcheons, to witness of your heroic deeds to posterity, like the escutcheons of so many illustrious families do of the deeds of their forefathers, but which have not surpassed yours? Where, inquired illustrious Fame, where are the Conquistadores, who escaped alive from all those battles; where are the tombs of those great heroes who fell in battle; where are their escutcheons?

I can answer this with few words: O, excellent and illustrious Fame, who art praised and desired by all good and virtuous men: the malice and envy of those who have sought to cast our heroic deeds into the shade are not desirous of seeing you, nor even to hear your illustrious name mentioned, that you may not praise us according to our deserts. Know then, O Fame, that of the five hundred and fifty warriors who sailed with Cortes from Cuba, that there are now, in the year 1568, while I am writing this, only five of us alive, and that all the others were either captured by the Indians, and sacrified to their idols, or were killed in battle, or have since died in their beds! And with respect to their tombs, I say that the bellies of the Indians were their sepultures, and those parts of their flesh which the Indians did not eat themselves were thrown to the lions, tigers, and serpents, which were kept by the Mexicans in strong cages. These cages were their monuments and their escutcheons; and those who died so cruel a death, who rendered such important services to God and to their emperor, and who gave light to those who lived in darkness, ought to have had their names perpetuated in letters of gold; but they were never remunerated! They did not even obtain wealth, although this is the goal of all men!

Illustrious Fame then inquired after those who had arrived with Narvaez and Garay, and I answered her as follows: Narvaez's troops, without including the sailors, amounted to thirteen hundred men, of which only ten or twelve are now living, the greater part of the rest having fallen in the battles, or were captured by the Indians, and sacrificed. The troops of Garay, including those three companies which landed in San Juan de Ulua, previous to his own arrival, amounted, according to my computation, to about twelve hundred men, most of whom were captured by the Indians of Panuco, and their flesh devoured at their festive orgies. Of the fifteen men who survived the expedition of Vasquez de Aillon to Florida, and joined our army, not a single man is now remaining!

I repeat, O illustrious Fame, that of Cortes' veteran troops there are only five of us alive, all of us far advanced in years, sickly, and very poor, with numbers of grown-up sons and daughters, and we are obliged to drag on a life of misery and toil, with scarcely enough to support our families! And now, O Fame, since I have told you everything you wished to know respecting our palaces, our escutcheons, and our tombs, lift up your excellent and honest voice, and resound our deeds of valour throughout the whole world, that malice and envy may no longer obscure their glory! This, Fame answered she would do with the greatest delight; but added, she was surprised that the best commendaries had not been presented to us, particularly as his majesty had issued commands to that effect. Illustrious Fame then went on to say, that the deeds of the courageous and spirited Cortes would always be considered inestimable, and might be compared to those of the most renowned generals; but that the historians Gomara, doctor Illescas, and others, make all our discoveries and conquests redound to the honour of Cortes alone, and never so much as mention any of our names with praise; but at present she was delighted to find that I had written a faithful account of the conquest, without exaggeration or fulsome flattery, and not, as Gomara, in the praise of one officer alone. Fame then promised, in the goodness of her heart, that she would announce all this to the world; adding, that wherever my book was published persons would everywhere recognize in it impartiality and the naked truth.

A certain doctor, who is one of the members of the royal court of audience, once asked me, how it came that Cortes, in his despatches and during his personal interviews with his majesty, never strove to obtain anything for us, the true Conquistadores, though it was with our assistance he obtained the distinguished appointment of governor of New Spain? To this I answered, and must still answer, that when Cortes received the appointment of governor he immediately took the best commendaries to himself, and imagined that he would remain uncontrolled master of New Spain for life, and that the distribution of the commendaries would continue in his hands. He therefore considered that it would be superfluous to solicit anything for us, as he would have it in his own power to do what he liked; but after his majesty had given him a marquisate, his majesty refused to reappoint him governor: and so it happened that Cortes, in soliciting honours for himself, allowed the best opportunity to pass by of making some provision for us. It was certainly not his majesty's fault that our services were never rewarded; for when he was informed by several cavaliers of Mexico that Cortes had taken the best townships and districts of New Spain to himself, and had presented others to his relations and friends recently arrived from Spain, his majesty issued commands that Cortes' companions in arms should likewise be handsomely rewarded. Soon after this his majesty left, for Flanders, where he most probably lost sight of the matter altogether. If Cortes immediately after the conquest had divided the whole country into five equal parts, and had set one of these with the most lucrative townships apart for the crown, he would have done much better. Then he would have had one fifth and a half for the churches and cloisters, and for those cavaliers who had served in his majesty's armies in the campaigns of Italy, and those against the Moors and Turks; and the other two fifths and a half ought to have been distributed among the Conquistadores in perpetuity. This division would certainly have met with his majesty's approbation, particularly as the whole conquest never put the crown to any expense.

In the first times, moreover, we did not know before what tribunal we were to lay our complaints and petitions, and we accordingly put our whole trust in Cortes, as our general. It was not until we found that Montejo, by applying personally to his majesty in Spain, procured for himself the appointment of governor and chief justice of Yucatan, besides other rewards; and that Ordas, in a similar manner, obtained honours and lucrative commendaries for himself; and that Alvarado, after throwing himself at his majesty's feet, obtained the appointment of governor and chief justice of Guatimala and Chiapa, besides a gift of extensive lands; and that, lastly, Cortes was created a marquis, with the appointment of captain-general of New Spain and of the South Sea: it was not, I say, until we were taught experience by these facts, that we, the large body of the Conquistadores, likewise despatched agents to Spain, to obtain for us in perpetuity the commendaries that should become vacant. Our claims were then gone into, and pronounced to be just, and his majesty instructed the royal auditors, whom he despatched to Mexico, to consider the whole of the Indians of New Spain as if they had not yet been distributed, and they were to deprive all those of their possessions whom Cortes had so richly remunerated; that the most lucrative commendaries were to be distributed among the veteran Conquistadores, and all the remainder to be retained in the patronage of the crown. But all this ended in smoke, as the very men whom his majesty intrusted to carry out his commands either died too soon, or were averse to the distribution of the commendaries in perpetuity; for they readily perceived how soon their power and influence in the country would be at an end if they carried out this measure. I must, however, do Nuño de Guzman and the other auditors the justice to say, that whenever there were any commendaries vacant, they always first remembered the Conquistadores, though their conduct was rather harsh towards the Indian population. However, these auditors were very soon deprived of all power, by the disputes in which they became involved with Cortes, and the abuse they made in the marking of slaves.


In the following chapter I will give some further account of the question respecting a distribution of the Indians in perpetuity.


The deliberations which took place at Valladolid in the year 1550, in the royal council of the Indies, respecting the distribution of Indians in perpetuity.

In the year 1550, the licentiate De la Gasca came from Peru to the court, which was then residing at Valladolid. He was accompanied by a monk of the Dominican order, named father Martin, who was regent of his order, and whom his majesty soon after appointed to the bishopric of las Charcas. At the same time there appeared at the court the bishop of Chiapa, Don Bartolomé de las Casas; the bishop of Mechoacan, Don Vasco de Quiroga, and other cavaliers, who came as the representatives of New Spain and Peru; and also certain hidalgos, against whom several accusations had been brought. To this meeting I was also cited, as the oldest of the Conquistadores. The reason for assembling this council was as follows: De la Gasca, and those who accompanied him from Peru, had brought along with them a large quantity of gold, partly their own, and partly belonging to the crown. This gold was forwarded to Augsburg, in Germany, where his majesty was then staying with our present most fortunate king Don Philip, his beloved son, to whom God grant a long life. Several cavaliers repaired with this gold, in order at the same time to present themselves to his majesty as deputies from the Spanish settlers in Peru, and also to beg of him to grant us commendaries in perpetuity, in reward for the services we had rendered to the crown. A petition to the same effect had been laid before his majesty by Gonzalo Lopez, Alonso de Villanueva, and other cavaliers, who had purposely been deputed from New Spain.

Shortly after the arrival of the licentiate De la Gasca in Spain, the see of Palencia became vacant, and the emperor, it was said, had given it to this licentiate in remuneration for his having restored tranquillity to Peru, and for his having regained possession of the gold and silver which had been stolen by the Contreras.

With respect to the petition of distributing commendaries in perpetuity, his majesty appointed a commission to inquire into its merits, and as to what would be the best possible manner of carrying it into effect. The following were the gentlemen appointed: the marquis of Mondejar as president of the council of the Indies, the licentiates Gutierre Velasquez and Tello de Sandoval, the doctor Hernan Perez de la Fuente, the licentiates Gregorio, Lopez, and Briviesca; and the doctor Riberadeneyra, auditors of the royal council of the Indies; and besides, there were several others of his majesty's privy councillors.

This distinguished body of prelates and cavaliers met together in the residence of Pedro Gonzalez de Leon, where the council of the Indies hold their sittings, and began to deliberate on the subject of the distribution of commendaries in perpetuity in New Spain, Peru, and if I mistake not, also in New Granada and Bobotan. The reasons which were adduced for carrying this into effect were indeed just and Christian. For it was said, among other things, that those Indians who were distributed in perpetuity would receive better treatment; would be more thoroughly instructed in the Christian doctrine, be attended in sickness as children, and their lives would be altogether made more comfortable to them. It would be an incitement also for those who possessed commendaries to attend more to agriculture and the breeding of cattle. The endless lawsuits about the possession of Indians would cease altogether; no inspectors would be further required in the townships; and the soldiers would live in peace and friendship with each other as soon as they found that the presidents and governors durst no longer distribute the vacant commendaries among their relations for party purposes, as was too often the case. Besides which, if perpetual distribution were carried into effect, and the commendaries were solely given to men who had rendered services to the crown, his majesty's real views would not only be carried out, but it would be an effectual means of dispossessing the crew of vagabonds in Peru of the lands they had unjustly seized, and put it out of their power to create further dissensions.

After this august body had well argued these points pro and con, the several deputies and we, the other cavaliers, were required to give our opinion, and the greater part voted for the distribution in perpetuity.

Of those who were opposed to it the bishop of Chiapa was first and foremost, and was supported by his colleague, brother Rodrigo, of the Dominican order, the new bishop of Palencia, De la Gasca, the marquis de Mondejar, and by two auditors of the royal council of the Indies. These prelates, in opposition to the opinion of all the above-mentioned cavaliers, (with the exception of the marquis de Mondejar, who refused to pronounce in favour either of the one or the other party, merely listening to what each had to say, and to see which way the majority would go,) declared that the Indians should not be distributed in perpetuity, and that they should be compelled to deprive many persons of their Indians, who at present derived considerable incomes from them; though, in the first instance even, they had been more deserving of punishment than of reward. This was particularly the case in Peru, they said, where peace would be maintained if these views were carried out; for it was to be feared that the troops there would rise up in open insurrection, if they found no further distribution of Indians was to be allowed.

To this the bishop of Mechoacan, who was on our side, answered, by asking the licentiate De la Gasca, why, instead of punishing all the thieves and vagabonds, whose infamous practices were notorious to the world, he had even presented them with additional Indians?

To this the licentiate smilingly replied: "Indeed, I considered, gentlemen, that it was no little matter for me to maintain peace there, and that I escaped with my life, after I had deprived so many persons of their possessions and punished them as the law required."

After a good deal of further speechifying pro and con, we, supported by several others who were present, proposed that the distribution in perpetuity should at least be carried into effect in New Spain, though only for the benefit of the true Conquistadores, who sailed from Cuba with Cortes, and those of Narvaez's and Garay's troops, who were still living. Of the Conquistadores, we added, there were but few remaining, for the greater part had lost their lives in battle in the service of their monarch. The services which we had rendered to the crown fully merited such distinction; the other troops could be rewarded in some other way.

As the commissioners could not come to any decision among themselves on this point, some of the prelates and royal auditors proposed that the matter should be laid at rest until his majesty returned to Spain, as it was necessary that the emperor should himself be present in discussing a matter of so much importance. We others, the bishop of Mechoacan, and several of the cavaliers present said, however, that the majority, as far as regarded New Spain, had declared in favour of the distribution in perpetuity, and that our affairs must not be mixed up with those of Peru; that it was also very evident, from the commands which his majesty issued in appointing the commission, that he was in favour of this measure. However, all the arguments we adduced, all we might say with regard to the important services we had rendered to the crown was to no purpose; the auditors of the royal council of the Indies, the bishop las Casas, and brother Rodrigo persisted in their opinion, and added, that on his majesty's return from Germany, the Conquistadores would be rewarded in such a manner that they would never find cause of complaint hereafter.

Intelligence as to how this matter had terminated was brought to New Spain by the very next vessel, and the Conquistadores determined to despatch procuradores in their own name to his majesty. I had again returned to Guatimala about this time, when Andreas de Tapia, Pedro Moreno Medrano, and Juan Limpias Carvajal wrote to me on the subject of our memorial, in which I was mentioned as one of the oldest of the Conquistadores. I then communicated with the other Conquistadores staying in Guatimala, desiring them to subscribe what they could to defray the expenses of our procuradores. We could not, however, raise sufficient money for the purpose, and it was therefore determined that the citizens of Mexico should join us in this matter, that we might despatch our procuradores in common; but this also came to nothing, and thus matters remained until our invincible king, Don Philip, whom God grant a long life, made certain regulations in favour of the Conquistadores and their children; and also of the oldest settlers who had families, as may be seen by the royal decrees which were issued.


Source:  The Memoirs of the Conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Vol 2 (of 2) Written by Himself Containing a True and Full Account of the Discovery and Conquest of Mexico and New Spain. Author: Bernal Diaz del Castillo

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