They are cruel and have no mercy, their voice roareth like the sea; and they ride upon horses set in array as men of war.
- Jeremiah vi. 23.
The scene widened, and with it the rapacity and rage for gold in the Spaniards. The possession and the plunder of Mexico only served to whet their appetite for carnage, and for one demon of avarice and cruelty to raise up ten. They had seen enough to convince them that the continent which they had reached was immense, and Mexico filled their imagination with abundance of wealthy empires to seize upon and devour. Into these very odd Christians, not the slightest atom of Christian feeling or Christian principle ever entered. They were troubled with no remorse for the horrible excesses of crime and ravage which they had committed. The cry of innocent nations that they had plundered, enslaved, and depopulated, and which rose to heaven fearfully against them, never seemed to pierce the proud brutishness of their souls. They had but one idea: that all these swarming nations were revealed to them by Providence for a prey. The Pope had given them up to them; and they had but one feeling,—a fiery, quenchless, rabid lust of gold. That they might enlighten and benefit these nations—that they might establish wise and beneficent relations with them; that they might enrich themselves most innocently and legitimately in the very course of dispensing equivalent advantages, never came across their brains. It was the spirit of the age, coolly says Robertson—but he does not tell us how such came to be its spirit, after a thousand years of the profession of Christianity. We have seen how that came to pass; and we must go on from that time to the present, tracing the dreadful effects of the substitution of Popery for Christian truth and mercy.
Rumours of lands lying to the south came ever and anon upon the eager ears of the Spaniards,—lands still more abundant in gold, and vast in extent. On all hands the locust-armies of Moloch and Mammon were swarming, “seeking whom they might devour:” and amongst these beautiful specimens of the teaching of the infallible and holy Mother Church, were three individuals settled in Panama, who were busily employed in concocting a scheme of discovery and of crime, of blood and rapine, southward; and who were destined to succeed to a marvellous degree. These worthy personages, who were occupied with so commendable and truly Catholic a speculation as that of finding out some peaceful or feeble people whom they might, as a matter of business, fall upon, plunder, and if necessary, assassinate, for their own aggrandizement—were no other than Francis Pizarro, the bastard of a Spanish gentleman, by a very low woman, who had been employed by his father in keeping his hogs till he ran away and enlisted for a soldier; Diego de Almagro, a foundling; and Hernando de Luque, schoolmaster, and priest! a man who, by means which are not related, but may be imagined, had scraped together sufficient money to inspire him with the desire of getting more.
Pizarro was totally uneducated, except in hog-keeping, and the trade of a mercenary. He could not even read; and was just one of the most hardened, unprincipled, crafty, and base wretches which history in its multitudinous pages of crime and villany, has put on record. Almagro was equally daring, but had more honesty of character; and as for Luque, he appears to have been a careful, cunning attender to the main chance. Having clubbed together their little stock of money, and their large one of impudent hardihood, they procured a small vessel and a hundred and twelve men, and Pizarro taking the command, set out in quest of whatever good land fortune and the Pope’s bull might put in their way. For some time their fortune was no better than their object deserved; they were tossed about by tempestuous weather, exposed to great hardships, and discouraged by the prudential policy of the governor of Panama; but at length, in 1526, about seven years after Cortez had entered Mexico, they came in sight of the coast of Peru, and landing at a place called Tumbez, where there was a palace of the Incas, were delighted to find that they were in a beautiful and cultivated country, where the object of their desires—gold, was in wonderful abundance.
Having found the thing they were in quest of—a country to be harried, and having the Pope’s authority to seize on it, they were now in haste to get that of the emperor. The three speculators agreed amongst themselves on the manner in which they would share the country they had in view. Pizarro was to be governor; Almagro, lieutenant-governor; and Luque, having the apostle’s warrant, that he who desires a bishopric, desires a good thing, desired that—he was to be bishop of this new country. These preliminaries being agreed upon, Pizarro was sent off to Spain. Here he soon shewed his associates what degree of faith they were to put in him. He procured the governorship for himself, and not being ambitious of a bishopric, he got that for Luque; but poor Almagro was dignified with the office of commandant of the fortress of Tumbez—when such fortress should be raised. Almagro was, as might be expected, no little enraged at this piece of cool villany, especially when he compared it with the titles and the powers which Pizarro had secured to himself, viz.—a country of two hundred leagues in extent, in which he was to exercise the supreme authority, both civil and military, with the title of Governor, Adelantado and Captain-general. To appease this natural resentment, the greedy adventurer agreed to surrender the office of Adelantado to Almagro; and having thus parcelled out the poor Peruvians and their country in imagination, they proceeded to do it in reality. But before we follow them to the scene of their operations, let us for a moment pause, and note exactly what was the actual affair which they were thus comfortably proposing to themselves as a means of making their fortunes, and for which they had thus the ready sanction of Pope and Emperor.
Peru,—a splendid country, stretching along the coast of the Pacific from Chili to Quito, a space of fifteen hundred miles. Inland, the mighty Andes lifted their snowy ridges, and at once cooled and diversified this fine country with every variety of scene and temperature. Like Mexico, it had once consisted of a number of petty and savage states, but had been reduced into one compact and well-ordered empire by the Incas, a race of mysterious origin, who had ruled it about four hundred years. The first appearance of this race in Peru is one of the most curious and inexplicable mysteries of American history. Manco Capac and Mama Ocollo, a man and woman of commanding aspects, and clad in garments suitable to the climate, appeared on the banks of the lake Titiaca, declaring that they were the children of the Sun, sent by him, who was the parent of the human race, to comfort and instruct them. They were received by the Peruvians with all the reverence which their claims demanded. They taught the men agriculture, and the women spinning and weaving, and other domestic arts. Who these people might be, it is in vain to imagine; but if we are to judge from the nature of their institutions, they must have been of Asiatic origin, and might by some circumstances of which we now can know nothing, be driven across the Pacific to these shores. The worship of the sun, which they introduced; the perfect despotism of the government; the inviolable sanctity of the reigning family, all point to Asia for their origin. They soon, however, raised the Peruvians above all the barbarous nations by whom they were surrounded; and one by one they added these nations to their own kingdom, till Peru had grown into the wide and populous realm that the Spaniards found it. That they had made great progress in the arts of smelting, refining, and working in the precious metals, the immense quantity of gold and silver vessels found by the Spaniards testify. Their agriculture was admirable: they had introduced canals and reservoirs for irrigating the dry and sandy parts of the country; and employed manures with the greatest judgment and effect. They had separated the royal family from the public, it is true, by the very singular constitution of marrying only in the family, but they had given to all the people a common proportion of labour in the lands, and a common benefit in their produce. They had established public couriers, like the Mexicans, and constructed bridges of ropes, formed of the cord-like running plants of the country, and thrown them across the wildest torrents. They had at the time the Spaniards entered the country, two roads running the whole length of the kingdom; one along the mountains, which must have cost incalculable labour, in hewing through rocks and filling up the deepest chasms, the other along the lower country. These roads had at that time no equals in Europe, and are said by the Inca, Garcillasso de la Vega, to have been constructed in the reign of Huana Capac, the father of Atahualpa, the Inca whom they found on the throne. In some of the finest situations, he says that the Indians had cut steps up to the summits of the Andes, and constructed platforms, so that when the Inca was travelling, the bearers of his litter could carry him up with ease, and allow him to enjoy a survey of the splendid views around and below. These were evidences of great advances in civilization, but there were particulars in which they were far more civilized than their invaders, and far more Christian too. Their Incas conquered only to civilize and improve the adjoining states. They were advocates for peace, and the enjoyment of its blessings. They even forbad the fishing for pearls, because, says Garcillasso, they preferred the preservation of their people, rather than the accumulation of wealth, and would not consent to the sufferings which the divers must necessarily undergo. When did the Christians ever shew so much true philanthropy and human feeling?
And these are the people whom Robertson, falling miserably in with the views, or rather, the pretensions of the Spaniards, says, appeared so feeble in intellect as to be incapable of receiving Christianity. The idea is a gross absurdity. What! a people who, like the Mexicans and Peruvians, had cities, temples, palaces, a regular form of government; who cultivated the ground, and refined metals, and wrought them into trinkets and vessels, not capable of receiving the simple truths of Christianity which “the wayfaring man though a fool cannot err in?” The Mexicans had introduced their hieroglyphic writing, the Peruvians their quipos, or knotted and coloured cords, by which they made calculations, and transmitted intelligence, and handed down history of facts, yet they could not understand so plain a thing as Christianity! It is the base policy of those who violate the rights of men, always to add to their other injuries that of calumniating their victims as mere brutes in capacity and in the scale of being. By turns, Negroes, Hottentots, and the whole race of the Americans, have been declared incapable of freedom, and of embracing that simple religion which was sent for the good of the whole human family. If such an absurdity needed any refutation, it has had it amply in the reception of this religion by great numbers of all these races: but the fact is, that it would have been a disgrace to the understanding of the American Indians to have embraced the wretched stuff which was presented to them by the Spaniards as Christianity. A wooden cross was presented to the wondering natives, and they were expected instantly to bow down to it, and to acknowledge the pope, a person they had never heard of till that moment, or they were to be instantly cut to pieces, or burnt alive. No pains were taken to explain the beautiful truths of the Christian revelation—those truths, in fact, were lost in the rubbish of papal mummeries, and violent dogmas; and what could the astonished people see in all this but a species of Moloch worship in perfect keeping with the desperate and rapacious character of the invaders? Garcillasso de la Vega, the Inca, tells us that Huana Capac, a prince whose life had more of the elements of true Christianity in it than those of the Spaniards altogether, being full of love and humanity, was accustomed to say, that he was convinced that the sun was not God, because he always went on one track through the heavens,—that he had no liberty to stop, or to turn out of his ordinary way, into the wide fields of space around him; and that it was clear that he was therefore only a servant, obeying a higher power. The Peruvians had, like the Athenians, an unknown god, to whom they had a temple, and whom they called Pachacamac, but as he was invisible and was everywhere, they could not conceive any shape for him, and therefore worshipped him in the secret of their hearts. How ridiculous to say that people who had arrived at such a pitch of reasoning, and at such practice of the beneficent principles of love and humanity which Christianity inculcates, were incapable of embracing doctrines so consonant to their own views and habits.
How lamentable, that a British historian should suffer himself to follow the wretched calumnies of Buffon and De Paw against the Americans, with the examples of Mexico and Peru, and the effects of the Jesuit missions staring him in the face. The Spaniards and Portuguese, as we shall presently see, and as Robertson must have known, soon found that the Indians were delighted to embrace Christianity, even in the imperfect form in which it was presented to them, and by thousands upon thousands exhibited the beauty of Christian habits as strikingly as these Europeans did the most opposite qualities.
But the strangest remark of Robertson is, “that the fatal defect of the Peruvians was their unwarlike character.” Fatal, indeed, their inability to contend with the Europeans proved to them; but what a burlesque on the religion of the Europeans—that the peaceful character of an innocent people should prove fatal to them only from—the followers of the Prince of Peace!
But the fact is, that the Peruvians as well as the Mexicans were not unwarlike. On the contrary, by their army they had extended and consolidated their empire to a surprising extent. They had vanquished all the nations around them; and it was only the bursting upon them of a new people, with arts so novel and destructive as to confound and paralyse their minds, that they were so readily overcome. A variety of circumstances combined to prostrate the Americans before the Europeans. Those prophecies to which we have alluded, the fire-arms, the horses, the military movements, and the very art of writing, all united their influence to render them totally powerless. The Inca, Garcillasso, says that at the period of Pizarro’s appearance in Peru, many prodigies and omens troubled the public mind, and prepared them to expect some terrible calamity. There was a comet—the tides rose and fell with unusual violence—the moon appeared surrounded by three bands of different colours, which the priests interpreted to portend civil war, and total change of dynasty. He says that the fire-arms, which vomited thunder and lightning, and mysteriously killed at a distance—the neighing and prancing of the war-horses, to people who had never seen creatures larger than a llama, and the art of conveying their thoughts in a bit of paper above all, gave them notions of the spiritual intercourse of these invaders, that it was totally hopeless to contend against. The very cocks, birds which were unknown there before their introduction by the Spaniards, were imagined to pronounce the name of Atahualpa, as they crew in triumph over him, and became called Atahualpas, or Qualpas, after him. He assures us that even after the Spaniards had become entire masters of the country, the Indians on meeting a horseman on the highway, betrayed the utmost perturbation, running backward and forward several times, and often falling on their faces till he was gone past. And he relates an anecdote, which amusing as it is, shews at once what was the effect of the art of writing, and that the humblest natives did not want natural ingenuity even in their deepest simplicity. The steward of Antonio Solar, a gentleman living at a distance from his estate, sent one day by two Indians ten melons to him. With the melons he gave them a letter, and said at the same time—“now mind you don’t eat any of these, for if you do this letter will tell.” The Indians went on their way; but as it was very hot, and the distance four leagues, they sate down to rest, and becoming very thirsty, longed to eat one of the melons. “How unhappy are we that we cannot eat a melon that grows in our master’s ground.”—“Let us do it,” says one—“Ah,” said the other, “but then the letter.”—“Oh,” replied the first speaker, “we can manage that—we will put the letter under a stone, and what it does not see it cannot tell.” The thing was done; the melon eaten, and afterwards another, that they might take in an equal number. Antonio Solar read the letter, looked at the melons, and instantly exclaimed—“But where are the other two?” The confounded Indians declared, that those were all they had received. “Liars,” replied Antonio Solar, “I tell you, the letter says you had ten, and you have eaten two!” It was no use persisting in the falsehood—the frightened Indians ran out of the house, and concluded that the Spaniards were more than mortal, while even their letter watched the Indians, and told all that they did.
Such were the Peruvians; children in simplicity, but possessing abundant ingenuity, and principles of human action far superior to their invaders, and capable of being ripened into something peculiarly excellent and beautiful. Twelve monarchs had reigned over them, and all of them of the same beneficent character. Let us now see how the planters of the Cross conducted themselves amongst them.
The three speculators of Panama had made up their band of mercenaries, or what the Scotch very expressively term “rank rievers,” to plunder the Peruvians. These consisted of one hundred and eighty men, thirty of whom were horsemen. These were all they could raise; and these were sufficient, as experience had now testified, to enable them to overrun a vast empire of Americans. Almagro, however, remained behind, to gather more spoilers together as soon as circumstances would permit, and Pizarro took the command of his troop, and landed in the Bay of St. Matthew, in the north of the kingdom. He resolved to conduct his march southward so near to the coast as to keep up the communication with his vessels; and falling upon the peaceable inhabitants, he went on fighting, fording rivers, wading through hot sands, and inflicting so many miseries upon his own followers and the natives, as made him look more like an avenging demon than a man. It is not necessary that we should trace very minutely his route. In the province of Coaque they plundered the people of an immense quantity of gold and silver. From the inhabitants of the island of Puna, he met with a desperate resistance, which cost him six months to subdue, and obliged him to halt at Tumbez, to restore the health of his men. Here he received a reinforcement of troops from Nicaragua, commanded by Sebastian Benalcazor, and Hernando Soto. Having also his brothers, Ferdinand, Juan, and Gonzalo, and his uncle Francisco de Alcantara, with him in this expedition, he pushed forwards towards Caxamalca, destroying and laying waste before him. Fortunately for him, that peace and unity which had continued for four hundred years in Peru, was now broken by two contending monarchs, and as unfortunately for the assertion of Robertson, that the Peruvians were unwarlike, they were at this moment in the very midst of all the fury of a civil war. The late Inca, Huana Capac, had added Quito to the realm, and at his death, had left that province to Atahualpa, his son by the daughter of the conquered king of Quito. His eldest son, who ascended the throne of Peru, demanded homage of Atahualpa or surrender of the throne of Quito; but Atahualpa was too bold and ambitious a prince for that, and the consequence was a civil contest. So engrossed were the combatants in this warfare, that they had no time to watch, much less to oppose, the progress of the Spaniards. Pizarro had, therefore, advanced into the very heart of the kingdom when Atahualpa had vanquished his brother, put him in prison, and taken possession of Peru. Having been solicited during the latter part of his march by both parties to espouse their cause, and holding himself in readiness to act as best might suit his interests, he no sooner found Atahualpa in the ascendant, than he immediately avowed himself as his partizan, and declared that he was hastening to his aid. Atahualpa was in no condition to repulse him. He was in the midst of the confusions necessarily existing on the immediate termination of a civil war. His brother, though his captive, was still held by the Peruvians to be their rightful monarch, and it might be of the utmost consequence to his security to gain such extraordinary and fearful allies. The poor Inca had speedy cause to rue the alliance. Pizarro determined, on the very first visit of Atahualpa to him in Caxamalca, to seize him as Cortez had seized on Montezuma. He did not wait to imitate the more artful policy of Cortez, but trusted to the now too well known ascendency of the Spanish arms, to take him without ceremony. He and his followers now saw the amazing wealth of the country, and were impatient to seize it. The capture of the unsuspecting Inca is one of the most singular incidents in the history of the world; a mixture of such naked villany, and impudent mockery of religion, as has scarcely a parallel even in the annals of these Spanish missionaries of the sword—these red-cross knights of plunder. He invited Atahualpa to an interview in Caxamalca, and having drawn up his forces round the square in which he resided, awaited the approach of his victim. The following is Robertson’s relation of the event:—
“Early in the morning the Peruvian camp was all in motion. But as Atahualpa was solicitous to appear with the greatest splendour and magnificence in his first interview with the strangers, the preparations for this were so tedious, that the day was far advanced before he began his march. Even then, lest the order of the procession should be deranged, he moved so slowly, that the Spaniards became impatient, and apprehensive that some suspicion of their intention might be the cause of this delay. In order to remove this, Pizarro dispatched one of his officers with fresh assurances of his friendly disposition. At length the Inca approached. First of all appeared four hundred men, in an uniform dress, as harbingers to clear the way before him. He himself, sitting on a throne or couch, adorned with plumes of various colours, and almost covered with plates of gold and silver, enriched with precious stones, was carried on the shoulders of his principal attendants. Behind him came some chief officers of his court, carried in the same manner. Several bands of singers and dancers accompanied this cavalcade; and the whole plain was covered with troops, amounting to more than thirty thousand men.
“As the Inca drew near to the Spanish quarters, Father Vincent Valverde, chaplain to the expedition, advanced with a crucifix in one hand and a breviary in the other, and in a Jong discourse explained to him the doctrine of the creation; the fall of Adam; the incarnation, the sufferings, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the appointment of St. Peter as God’s vicegerent on earth; the transmission of his apostolic power by succession to the Popes; the donation made to the king of Castile by Pope Alexander, of all the regions in the New World. In consequence of all this, he required Atahualpa to embrace the Christian faith; to acknowledge the supreme jurisdiction of the Pope, and to submit to the king of Castile as his lawful sovereign; promising, if he complied instantly with his requisition, that the Castilian monarch would protect his dominions, and permit him to continue in the exercise of his royal authority; but if he should impiously refuse to obey this summons, he denounced war against him in his master’s name, and threatened him with the most dreadful effect of his vengeance.
“This strange harangue, unfolding deep mysteries, and alluding to unknown facts, of which no powers of eloquence could have conveyed at once a distinct idea to an American, was so lamely translated by an unskilful interpreter, little acquainted with the idiom of the Spanish tongue, and incapable of expressing himself with propriety in the language of the Inca, that its general tenor was altogether incomprehensible to Atahualpa. Some parts of it, of more obvious meaning, filled him with astonishment and indignation. His reply, however, was temperate. He began with observing, that he was lord of the dominions over which he reigned by hereditary succession; and added, that he could not conceive how a foreign priest should pretend to dispose of territories which did not belong to him; that if such a preposterous grant had been made, he, who was the rightful possessor, refused to confirm it. That he had no inclination to renounce the religious institutions established by his ancestors; nor would he forsake the service of the Sun, the immortal divinity whom he and his people revered, in order to worship the God of the Spaniards who was subject to death. That, with respect to other matters contained in this discourse, as he had never heard of them before, and did not understand their meaning, he desired to know where the priest had learned things so extraordinary. “In this book,” answered Valverde, reaching out to him his Breviary. The Inca opened it eagerly, and turning over the leaves, lifted it to his ear. “This,” said he, “is silent; it tells me nothing;” and threw it with disdain to the ground. The enraged monk, running towards his countrymen, cried out, ‘To arms! Christians, to arms! The word of God is insulted; avenge this profanation on these impious dogs!’
“Pizarro, who, during this long conference, had with difficulty restrained his soldiers, eager to seize the rich spoils of which they had now so near a view, immediately gave the signal of assault. At once the martial music struck up, the cannon and muskets began to fire, the horses sallied out fiercely to the charge; the infantry rushed on, sword in hand. The Peruvians, astonished at the suddenness of an attack which they did not expect, and dismayed with the destructive effects of the fire-arms, and the irresistible impression of the cavalry, fled with universal consternation on every side, without attempting either to annoy the enemy or to defend themselves. Pizarro, at the head of his chosen band, advanced directly towards the Inca; and though his nobles crowded round him with officious zeal, and fell in numbers at his feet, while they vied with one another in sacrificing their own lives that they might cover the sacred person of their sovereign, the Spaniards soon penetrated to the royal seat, and Pizarro seizing the Inca by the arm, dragged him to the ground, and carried him as a prisoner to his quarters. The fate of the monarch increased the precipitate flight of his followers. The Spaniards pursued them towards every quarter, and, with deliberate and unrelenting barbarity, continued to slaughter the wretched fugitives, who never once offered to resist. The carnage did not cease till the close of the day. Above four thousand Peruvians were killed. Not a single Spaniard fell, nor was one wounded, but Pizarro himself, whose hand was slightly hurt by one of his own soldiers, while struggling eagerly to lay hold on the Inca.
“The plunder of the field was rich beyond any idea which the Spaniards had yet formed concerning the wealth of Peru, and they were so transported with the value of their acquisition, as well as the greatness of their success, that they passed the night in the extravagant exultation natural to indigent adventurers on such an extraordinary change of fortune.”
Daring, perfidious, and every way extraordinary as this capture of the Inca was, his ransom was still more extraordinary. Observing the insatiable passion of the Spaniards for gold, he offered to fill the room in which he was kept with vessels of gold as high as he could reach. This room was twenty-two feet in length, and sixteen in breadth; and the proposal being immediately agreed to, though never for a moment meant on the part of the Spaniards to be fulfilled, a line was drawn along the walls all round the room to mark the height to which the gold was to rise. Instantly the Inca, in the simple joy of his heart at the hope of a liberty which he was never to enjoy, issued orders to his subjects to bring in the gold; and from day to day the faithful Indians came in laden from all quarters with the vessels of gold. The sight must have been more like a fairy dream, than any earthly reality. The splendid and amazing mass, such as no mortal eyes on any other occasion probably ever witnessed, soon rose to near the stipulated height, and the avarice of the soldiers, and the joy of Atahualpa rose rapidly with it. But the exultation of the Inca received a speedy and cruel blow. He learned that fresh troops of Spaniards had arrived, and that those in whose hands he was, had been tampering with Huascar, his brother, in his prison. Alarmed lest, after all, they should, on proffer of a higher price, liberate his brother, and detain himself, the wretched Inca was driven in desperation to the crime of dooming his brother to death. He issued his order, and it was done. Scarcely was this effected, when the Spaniards, unable to wait for the gold quite reaching the mark, determined to part it; and orders were given to melt the greater portion of it down. They chose the festival of St. James, the patron saint of Spain, as the most suitable to distinguish by this act of national plunder, and proceeded to appropriate the following astonishing sums.—Certain of the richest vessels were set aside first for the crown. Then the fifth claimed by the crown was set apart. Then a hundred thousand pesos, equal to as many pounds sterling, were given to the newly arrived army of Almagro. Then Pizarro and his followers divided amongst them, one million five hundred and twenty-eight thousands five hundred pesos: every horseman obtained above eight thousand, and every footman four!
Imagine the privates of an army of foot soldiers pocketing for prize-money, each four thousand pounds! the troopers each eight thousand! But enormous as this seems, there is no doubt that it would have been vastly more had the natives been as confident in the faith of the Spaniards as they had reason to be of the reverse. The Inca, Garcillasso, and some of the Spanish historians, tell us that on the Spaniards displaying their greedy spirit of plunder, vast quantities of treasure vanished from public view, and never could be discovered again. Amongst these were the celebrated emerald of Manta, which was worshipped as a divinity; was as large as an ostrich egg, and had smaller emeralds offered to it as its children; and the chain of gold made by order of Huana Capac, to surround the square at Cuzco on days of solemn dancing, and was in length seven hundred feet, and of the thickness of a man’s wrist.
The Inca having fulfilled, as far as the impatience of the Spaniards would permit him, his promises, now demanded his freedom. Poor man! his tyrants never intended to give him any other freedom than the freedom of death. They held him merely as a lure, by which to draw all the gold and the power of his kingdom into their hands. But as, after this transaction, they could not hope to play upon him much further, they resolved to dispatch him. The new adventurers who had arrived with Almagro were clamorous for his destruction, because they looked upon him as a puppet in the hands of Pizarro, by which he would draw away gold that might otherwise fall into their hands. The poor Inca too, by an unwitting act, drew this destruction more suddenly on his own head. Struck with admiration at the art of writing, he got a soldier to write the word Dios (God) on his thumb-nail, and shewing it to everybody that came in, saw with surprise that every man knew in a moment the meaning of it. When Pizarro, however, came, he could not read it, and blushed and shewed confusion. Atahualpa saw, with a surprise and contempt which he could not conceal, that Pizarro was more ignorant than his own soldiers; and the base tyrant, stung to the quick with the affront which he might suppose designed, resolved to rid himself of the Inca without delay. For this purpose, he resorted to the mockery of a trial; appointed himself, and his companion in arms, Almagro, the very man who had demanded his death, judges, and employed as interpreter, an Indian named Philippillo, who was notoriously desirous of the Inca’s death, that he might obtain one of his wives. This precious tribunal charged the unfortunate Inca with being illegitimate; with having dethroned and put to death his brother; with being an idolater—the faith of the country; with having a number of concubines—the custom of the country too; with having embezzled the royal treasures, which he had done to satisfy these guests, and for which he ought now to have been free, had these wretches had but the slightest principle of right left in them. On these and similar charges they condemned him to be burnt alive! and sent him instantly to execution, only commuting his sentence into strangling instead of burning, on his agreeing, in his terror and astonishment, to acknowledge the Christian faith! What an idea he must have had of the Christian faith!
The whole career of Pizarro and his comrades, and especially this last unparalleled action, exhibit them as such thoroughly desperado characters—so hardened into every thing fiendly, so utterly destitute of every thing human, that nothing but the most fearful scene of misery and crime could follow whenever they were on the scene; and Peru, indeed, soon was one wide field of horror, confusion, and oppression. The Spaniards had neither faith amongst themselves, nor mercy towards the natives, and therefore an army of wolves fiercely devouring one another, or Pandemonium in its fury can only present an image of Peru under the herds of its first invaders. It is not my province to follow the quarrels of the conquerors further than is necessary to shew their effect on the natives; and therefore I shall now pass rapidly over matters that would fill a volume.
Pizarro set up a son of Atahualpa as Inca, and held him as a puppet in his hands; but the Peruvians set up Manco Capac, brother of Huana; and as if the example of the perfidy of the Spaniards had already communicated itself to the heretofore orderly Peruvians, the general whom Atahualpa had left in Quito, rose and slew the remaining family of his master, and assumed that province to himself. The Spaniards rejoiced in this confusion, in which they were sure to be the gainers. The adventurers who had shared amongst them the riches of the royal room, had now reached Spain with Ferdinand Pizarro at their head, bearing to the court the dazzling share which fell to its lot. Honours were showered on Pizarro and his fellow-marauders,—fresh hosts of harpies set out for this unfortunate land, and Pizarro marching to Cuzco, made tremendous slaughter amongst the Indians, and took possession of that capital and a fresh heap of wealth more enormous than the plunder of Atahualpa’s room. To keep his fellow officers, thus flushed with intoxicating deluges of affluence, in some degree quiet, he encouraged them to undertake different expeditions against the natives. Benalcazar fell on Quito,—Almagro on Chili; but the Peruvians were now driven to desperation, and taking the opportunity of the absence of those forces, they rose, and attacked their oppressors in various quarters. The consequence was what may readily be supposed—after keeping the Spaniards in terror for some time, they were routed and slaughtered by thousands. But no sooner was this over than the Spaniards turned their arms against each other. “Civil discord,” says Robertson, “never raged with a more fell spirit than amongst the Spaniards in Peru. To all the passions which usually envenom contests amongst countrymen, avarice was added, and rendered their enmity more ravenous. Eagerness to seize the valuable forfeitures expected upon the death of every opponent, shut the door against mercy. To be wealthy, was of itself sufficient to expose a man to accusation, or to subject him to punishment. On the slightest suspicions, Pizarro condemned many of the most opulent inhabitants in Peru to death. Carvajal, without seeking for any pretext to justify his cruelty, cut off many more. The number of those who suffered by the hand of the executioner, was not much inferior to what fell in the field; and the greater part was condemned without the formality of any legal trial.”
Providence exhibited a great moral lesson in the fate of these discoverers of the new world. As they shewed no regard to the feelings or the rights of their fellow men, as they outraged and disgraced every principle of the sacred religion which they professed, scarcely one of them but was visited with retributive vengeance even in this life; and many of them fell miserably in the presence of the wretched people they had so ruthlessly abused, and not a few by each other’s hands. We have already shewn the fortunes of Columbus and Cortez; that of Pizarro and his lawless accomplices is still more striking and awful. Almagro, one of the three original speculators of Panama, was the first to pay the debt of his crimes. A daring and rapacious soldier, but far less artful than Pizarro, he had, from the hour that Pizarro deceived him at the Spanish court, and secured honours and commands to himself at his expense, always looked with suspicious eyes upon his proceedings, and sought advancement rather from his own sword than from his old but perfidious comrade. Chili being allotted to him, he claimed the city of Cuzco as his capital;—a bloody war with the Pizarros was the consequence; Almagro was defeated, taken prisoner, and put to death, being strangled in prison and afterwards publicly beheaded. But Pizarro’s own fate was hastened by this of his old comrade. The friends of Almagro rallied round young Almagro his son. They suddenly attacked Pizarro in his house at noon, and on a Sunday; slew his maternal uncle Alcantara, and several of his other friends, and stabbed him mortally in the throat. The younger Almagro was taken in arms against the new governor, Vaca de Castro, and publicly beheaded in Cuzco; five hundred of these adventurers falling in the battle itself, and forty others perishing with him on the scaffold. Gonzalo Pizarro, after maintaining a war against the viceroy Nugnez Vela, defeating and killing him, was himself defeated by Gasca, and put to death, with Carvajal and some other of the most notorious offenders.
Such were the crimes and the fate of the Spaniards in Peru. Robertson, who relates the deeds of the Spanish adventurers in general with a coolness that is marvellous, thus describes the character of these men.
“The ties of honour, which ought to be held sacred amongst soldiers, and the principle of integrity, interwoven as thoroughly in the Spanish character as in that of any nation, seem to have been equally forgotten. Even the regard for decency, and the sense of shame were totally lost. During their dissensions, there was hardly a Spaniard in Peru who did not abandon the party which he had originally espoused, betray the associates with whom he had united, and violate the engagements under which he had come. The viceroy Nugnez Vela was ruined by the treachery of Cepeda and the other judges of the royal audience, who were bound by the duties of their function to have supported his authority. The chief advisers and companions of Gonzalo Pizarro’s revolt were the first to forsake him, and submit to his enemies. His fleet was given up to Gasca by the man whom he had singled out among his officers to entrust with that important command. On the day that was to decide his fate, an army of veterans, in sight of the enemy, threw down their arms without striking a blow, and deserted a leader who had often led them to victory.... It is only where men are far removed from the seat of government, where the restraints of law and order are little felt; where the prospect of gain is unbounded, and where immense wealth may cover the crimes by which it is acquired, that we can find any parallel to the cruelty, the rapaciousness, the perfidy and corruption prevalent amongst the Spaniards in Peru.”
While such was their conduct to each other, we may very well imagine what it was to the unhappy natives. These fine countries, indeed, were given up to universal plunder and violence. The people were everywhere pursued for their wealth, their dwellings ransacked without mercy, and themselves seized on as slaves. As in the West Indian Islands and in Mexico, they were driven to the mines, and tasked without regard to their strength,—and like them, they perished with a rapidity that alarmed even the Court of Spain, and induced them to send out officers to inquire, and to stop this waste of human life. Las Casas again filled Spain with his loud remonstrances, but with no better success. When their viceroys, visitors, and superintendents arrived, and published their ordinances, requiring the Indians to be treated as free subjects, violent outcries and furious remonstrances, similar to what England has in modern times received from the West Indies when she has wished to lighten the chains of the negro, were the immediate result. The oppressors cried out that they should all be ruined,—that they were “robbed of their just rights,” and there was no prospect but of general insurrection, unless they might continue to devour the blood and sinews of the unfortunate Indians. One man, the President Gasca, a simple ecclesiastic, exhibited a union of talents and integrity most remarkable and illustrious amid such general corruption; he went out poor and he returned so, from a country where the temptations to wink at evil were boundless; and he effected a great amount of good in the reduction of civil disorder; but the protection of the Indians was beyond even his power and sagacity, and he left them to their fate.
Source: William Howitt, Colonization and Christianity: A popular history of the treatment of the natives by the Europeans in all their colonies