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date: 30 April 2017

The Pizarro Clan

Summary and Keywords

This essay focuses on the principal Pizarro family members who played active roles in the exploration, invasion, and colonization of the Andes. Francisco Pizarro served as leader until his assassination by Diego de Almagro partisans in 1541. Juan fought against stout native resistance until he was fatally injured during the siege of Cuzco. Gonzalo led the forces against the New Laws and their implementation by the first viceroy, Blasco Núñez Vela. After the viceroy and his forces were defeated and he was executed, Gonzalo ruled the Andes until Licenciado Pedro de la Gasca arrived to reestablish crown hegemony. Royalist and Gonzalo’s rebel forces clashed. Gonzalo’s defeat cost him his life. Hernando, long the de facto patriarch of the family, emerged as the defender of family interests. He married his niece, the mestiza daughter of Francisco; consolidated their holdings, selling assets at risk of confiscation in Peru; and reinvested the proceeds in safer products in Spain. His manipulations and planning allowed him to establish an endowment that assured the survival of the family into the 20th century.

Keywords: Cajamarca, Conquest, Diego de Almagro, encomienda, Francisco Pizarro, Gonzalo Pizarro, Hernando Pizarro, Juan Pizarro, mining, Peru

Francisco Pizarro

Francisco Pizarro, the iconic protagonist of what started out as a Spanish treasure-seeking expedition, eventually established the basis of another, long-lasting imperial theater, rivaling Mexico. But, he did not accomplish this alone. In this era, family proved the best allies and assistants, so Pizarro recruited and depended on his brothers, other kin and clansmen, and persons of his region for support of his exploits. After mid-century when most of the Pizarros had left the Andes, their agents, overseers, and other personal retainers (criados) who often originated in Extremadura, their ancestral home, continued to manage their assets. Astute planning and maneuvering helped create and preserve a fortune that established the family, its name, and a lineage that lasted into the 20th century.

Francisco Pizarro, himself, hailed specifically from the city of Trujillo, where he grew up as a younger son of an up-and-coming gentleman (Captain Gonzalo Pizarro) from the ranks of the lower nobility (hidalgo) and an unmarried peasant girl by the name of Francisca Gonzalez. Though not officially legitimized, he spent time with his paternal grandfather and his half-brothers and followed his father into crown service. James Lockhart writes that he sought his fortune on the periphery of the Spanish domains, serving probably in a minor role briefly in Italy before sailing for the Indies.

He departed for the Indies in 15021 in the fleet of governor of the island of Hispaniola, Nicolás de Ovando, along with a large number of his Extremaduran compatriots. Lockhart speculates that he accompanied his uncle Juan to Santo Domingo or met him there. While in Hispaniola he gained experience and rose in status, joining Alonso de Ojeda’s expedition to the Gulf of Urabá in 1509 already as a leader. When Ojeda returned to Santo Domingo to find reinforcements, he left Pizarro as his lieutenant general in charge of all those who remained behind. He was soon replaced by Bachiller Martín Fernández de Enciso, with superior authority from Ojeda, and, after that by Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who had previous experience in the region. Yet, he remained an admired captain. He was listed as one of the first sixty-seven Spaniards to see the Pacific Ocean in 1513. During the following years he served as second-in-command under Pedro Arias de Avila (or Dávila) (also known as Pedrarias) on several expeditions, one of which also included Pedrarias’s cousin Gaspar de Morales. Spanish chronicles mention him as the leader of a column of a hundred men on a seaborne venture headed by Licenciado Gaspar de Espinosa into Veragua (Panama). Pedrarias also asked him to accompany Luis Carrillo, the young brother-in-law of the royal secretary Lope Conchillos, into the province of Abraime (modern Colombia). Lockhart found that “from time to time Pizarro led expeditions himself, though they were neither large nor lucrative.”2

Pizarro was rewarded for this “service to the king” when Panama City was founded on the west coast of the isthmus in 1519. Pizarro became a prominent citizen, one of the men with the largest encomiendas, and, despite his illiteracy, a council member. The same year he joined Pedrarias and Licenciado Espinosa on an expedition to Nicaragua. In 1522 he remitted with Diego de Almagro, Hernando de Luque, and Diego de Mora 705 gold pesos that they had obtained from their mining company in Panama. By 1523–1524, when the organization of the Peru expedition was beginning, Pizarro was one of the most senior men on the isthmus and had commanded men on the mainland longer than any other Spaniard in the New World. His encomienda when added to the smaller one entrusted to his junior partner and business manager, Diego de Almagro, gave them the resources for the organization of the expedition. Pascual de Andagoya had led seaborne expeditions to the south, where talk promised large populations and probable mineral wealth. He eventually gave up given the difficulties of the jungle coast and the unfavorable winds.

At this point, Pizarro requested permission to sail south and received it. As military commander of the expedition, Pizarro spent from late 1524 to early 1525 reconnoitering along the coast south from Panama. He and partners Almagro and priest and entrepreneur Hernando de Luque financed it with some support supposedly given by Governor Pedrarias as well. Profits were to be shared.

The second voyage took place between 1526 and 1528. The expeditionists suffered agonizing hunger and disease. On this trip, the pilot Bartolomé Ruiz encountered a balsa raft full of textiles, beads and other valuables, providing clear evidence of the promise of riches further south. But hardship forced many on the expedition to turn back. A dozen or so, including Pizarro, decided to await reinforcements before proceeding south. Ruiz returned a few months later with ship and sailors. In early 1528, all reconnoitered along the west coast of South America as far as modern Santa. They landed multiple times, seeing, for example, the ceremonial center of Tumbes whose monumental architecture impressed them. These incursions yielded some gold, llamas, and natives who were later taken to Spain and trained as interpreters.

After this second excursion south, Pizarro returned to the Iberian Peninsula with evidence of a rich and well-populated land to negotiate a contract (capitulación) with Charles V, giving him permission and certain governing rights over the peoples that he encountered. His titles included adelantado and captain general with jurisdiction over 2003 leagues south of Santiago (Zemunqueya). The contract gave him the rights to name his successor; grant encomiendas; and appoint three lifelong regidores (council men) on each municipal council (cabildo) established under his jurisdiction. In addition, both he and his brother Hernando could take four female slaves on their voyage to Peru. Diego de Almagro received none of these honors and rewards, giving rise to increasing resentments. Their company was named Compañía del Levante or Armada del Levante and financed by Pizarro, Almagro, and a large network of contributions. Profits were to be shared in proportion to each individual’s backing.

Francisco Pizarro did not make the return voyage to America alone. He stopped in his home town of Trujillo and recruited family members, friends, and acquaintances who he expected would be trustworthy and share his ambitions. These included his paternal half-brothers, Hernando, Gonzalo, and Juan, and his maternal half-brother Francisco Martín de Alcántara. Kinsmen, Pedro Pizarro and Martín Pizarro, also accompanied the brothers. All would play important roles in the first years of the invasion and encounter.

In early 1531, three ships with some 180 men and a few dozen horses sailed south from Panama with Pizarro in command. Their first encounter at a large town called Coaque yielded some gold and silver, wetting their appetites for more. This treasure Pizarro sent back to Panama with a request for reinforcements and supplies that arrived a few months later. Subsequently, other ships and men appeared. Disease and the rainy season halted the expedition at the island of La Puná, where they spent weeks after some hard fighting to overcome native resistance. At this point, Hernando de Soto landed with two ships, about one hundred men, and twenty-five horses. By February 1532, this blended group sailed forth toward Tumbes. They found the ceremonial center abandoned and destroyed. After a few months they marched south, beginning to see Inca installations. In a fertile valley with a large native population, Pizarro founded the Spanish city of San Miguel (de Piura). Pizarro named its first citizens (vecinos) and allotted encomiendas of the nearby native populations. From there, they marched south through the homesteads of groups of coastal Jayancas, Sintos, and Sañas, before turning inland and east into the mountains to find the Inca emperor Atahualpa at Cajamarca.

After meeting and capturing the Inca ruler Atahualpa on November 16, 1532, in the central plaza of Cajamarca, Pizarro led his troops further south to the ceremonial center of Cuzco. Between 1533 and 1541, he or his agents founded the cities of Trujillo, Jauja, Cuzco, and Lima (Los Reyes); sent several expeditions east into the interior; rewarded his loyal followers with encomiendas; and further alienated his partner Diego de Almagro. It was Almagro, who felt that the rewards and honors were not being fairly apportioned between the partners, who assassinated Pizarro in Lima in 1541.

During these years, Pizarro had in succession two native mistresses, by whom he sired a total of four mestizo children. The first was Doña Inés Yupanqui Huaylas, the daughter of Huayna Capac (the last Inca ruler of the Andean empire and father of Atahualpa and Huascar) by an Indian noblewoman from the Huaylas population, Contarhuacho. In 1534, their daughter, Doña Francisca Pizarro, was baptized in Jauja. Another child of the couple, don Gonzalo Pizarro, was born in Lima, probably before 1536. By 1537, Pizarro had both children legitimated. Later, Francisco had two children, named Don Francisco and Don Juan, with Doña Angelina, an Inca noblewoman.

Pizarro’s Kin

Hernando Pizarro, Francisco’s well-schooled half-brother, was the eldest of Captain Gonzalo Pizarro’s sons and had already inherited his father’s estate (the family residence on the plaza of Trujillo in Spain and certain rights to the village of La Zarza) and served as the head of the family when he followed Francisco to America. Of all the brothers, Hernando was singular in having seen major European military action. He served with his father in the wars in Navarre. In 1521 when about twenty years of age, his father’s influence helped him receive a royal appointment as infantry captain. This involvement served him well at Cajamarca as one of the few men, other than Francisco, who had leadership experience. Thus, his birth, education, and leadership gave him advantage and directed his career.

His position as head of the family gave him authority over his younger brothers. After his father’s death, he became the guardian of Juan and Gonzalo. Francisco found in him an essential advisor who could be trusted and as such was given considerable leeway and initiative. He thus became a key voice and power in Francisco’s deliberations, acting at times like lieutenant general. He sometimes carried out functions commonly exercised personally by governors in the Indies, such as giving out titles to Peru’s encomiendas. Hernando was in charge of the conduct of the “War of Salinas” in 1538. It was he who ordered the execution of Diego de Almagro.

Juan Pizarro died young, thus cutting his role in these events short and preventing him from achieving his potential. Although illegitimate, his father made provision for him in his testament, leaving him a mount and a portion of his wealth. In the early years, he led groups of horsemen on various missions, on the island of La Puná and on the initial march south on the mainland. His role at Cajamarca and his relation to Francisco earned him a share of the treasure, only smaller than his two brothers (Francisco and Hernando) and Hernando de Soto. By the time the Spanish reached Cuzco in 1533, he was recognized as a captain. He represented his brother in Cuzco and sat on its municipal council. In 1535 Juan was the protagonist in the first great Pizarro-Almagro clash. Almagro received word that the crown had made him governor of the area to the south (including Chile). He used this as an opportunity to seize the city of Cuzco. Juan gathered the Pizarro faction and resisted Almagro’s advances. Francisco Pizarro revoked Almagro’s powers and named Hernando de Soto as corregidor (district governor) and Juan as “captain general.” Later, Francisco Pizarro tried to work out a reconciliation.

After this incident, Francisco made Juan corregidor of Cuzco, while Soto returned to Spain, and Almagro marched to Chile. When Hernando returned to Peru, Francisco made him district governor. Juan retained the title of captain general, but died while leading sixty men on an attack of the natives at Sacsahuaman during the native siege of Cuzco (1536–1537). At the time of his last battle, he already had a wound that prevented him from wearing his helmet. A crushing blow from a stone projectile fatally wounded him. He died two weeks later, leaving his full brother Gonzalo as his principal heir. His will, drafted as he was dying of that head wound, generously left legacies to religious and charitable establishments in Spain and the Indies and made a donation to all the inhabitants of La Zarza. He instructed his executors not to bother his debtors too much nor collect debts under 50 pesos. Only after Juan’s death, did Hernando take the title of captain general himself.

Gonzalo Pizarro was the youngest of the four Pizarro brothers. His father, Captain Pizarro, provided at least a rudimentary education for this son and hoped that he would be put in some gentleman’s service at the proper age. After he arrived in Peru in 1531, he rode with Hernando de Soto to interview Atahualpa at the hot springs of Cajamarca in November 1532 and accompanied his brother Hernando to the sacred oracle and pilgrimage precinct of Pachacamac on the central coast. He accompanied Francisco at the founding of the city of Cuzco and received a seat on its municipal council. Gonzalo’s visibility emerged during the siege of Cuzco. Hernando named him an infantry captain and the chronicler Pedro Pizarro lists him as one of the main Spanish defenders. After the end of the “War of Salinas” in 1538, Governor Francisco Pizarro began grooming him to take Hernando’s place as second-in-command. Gonzalo commanded the party sent to occupy Charcas, the mining district of far Upper Peru (modern Bolivia), and was the effective founder of the city of La Plata (also known as Chuquisaca or Sucre). Francisco sent Gonzalo to the Quito region as governor, but this title was never confirmed by the Council of the Indies in Spain. He then led a large, well-provisioned expedition into the Amazon, where he expected to find gold, spices, and a large native population. He and a few survivors of famine and disease reappeared near Quito in 1542 and entered the city dressed in their rags and on foot to underscore their suffering in “service to the king” to establish their merit and future claims of monarchical rewards and pensions.

He found the situation changed. His half-brother, Francisco, had been assassinated in Lima in 1541 by the mestizo son and namesake of his partner Almagro. Licenciado Cristóbal Vaca de Castro, named as President of the Audiencia, had been sent to adjudicate the Pizarro-Almagro dispute over the distribution of the rewards and honors resulting from their efforts in subduing and controlling the Incas. Francisco had named Gonzalo his successor in his will. Gonzalo overcame his antagonism; and, despite lingering resentment, he offered to help Vaca de Castro defeat the Almagrist rebels. His offer was rejected. Vaca de Castro ultimately banished Gonzalo to Charcas under a polite pretext. The situation simmered until Peru’s first viceroy, Blasco Núñez Vela arrived in 1544 to implement the New Laws, which undermined the encomienda system, the basis of the wealth and status of the Spanish encomendero elite. He emerged as the leader of the serious opposition to the literal interpretation of the New Laws, propounded by Núñez Vela, with a large following of upset and worried encomenderos, captains, and council members. Municipal councils named him their captain general and representative. He raised an army and marched from Cuzco to Lima, where the viceroy had already been ejected by the Audiencia. The Audiencia named Gonzalo governor of Peru and he entered Lima in triumph in October 1544. Núñez Vela headed north and Gonzalo followed, finally meeting him in battle near Quito. He defeated the viceroy there in late 1545.

Gonzalo Pizarro ruled Peru until Licenciado Pedro de la Gasca arrived, having effectively repealed the New Laws and offered a pardon to all. La Gasca did not recognize Gonzalo’s authority and regarded him as a rebel. The forces of the two skirmished near Cuzco in April 1548. Gonzalo was defeated and executed the next day.

Francisco Pizarro’s maternal half-brother, Francisco Martín de Alcántara (d. 1541), was not at the capture of Atahualpa in Cajamarca, because he stayed behind in San Miguel, the first Spanish city founded in Peru on the north coast. He was close to his brother Francisco and died at his side in the assault of Almagro El Mozo (the Younger) in 1541. According to his will, the governor’s children, Doña Francisca and Don Gonzalo, were given into his care. His wife and widow, Doña Inés Muñoz, accepted this responsibility. The guardianship survived after she married Don Antonio de Ribera (a servant (criado) of Francisco Pizarro).

Two other kin appear in the records. Martín Pizarro’s familial ties to Francisco Pizarro and the rest of the family have not been definitively established. He came from Trujillo as did the others, joined the rest in leaving for Peru in 1529, and received a share of Atahualpa’s ransom in Cajamarca in 1532. After the Andean situation stabilized, he settled in Lima and ran a shoemaker’s shop for many years. He was a citizen of Lima and held the encomienda of Huamantanga, which yielded him a good income. He served as Lima’s chief constable and, from 1540 to 1558, he held the office of alcalde (mayor) of the city four times. He married Catalina Cermeño, connected to an important family of early conquerors, about 1545. He died in 1557, leaving Spanish and mestizo heirs, legitimate, illegitimate, and legitimated.

Pedro Pizarro was Francisco’s cousin and his page during the early part of the Peruvian expedition. He was not at the taking of Atahualpa, probably having stayed behind in San Miguel. He was present at the taking of Cuzco, where he settled. Years later in the 1570s, he wrote a well-regarded chronicle of these early years.

The Rewards of Service to the King

Not surprisingly, the brothers received the bulk of the awards for their efforts. Rafael Varón Gabai, whose book summarizes the voluminous records on the Pizarro brothers, believes that Francisco, Hernando, and Gonzalo tried to appropriate the most productive resources, assets that would complement each other and that were located in different regions. Throughout the years of their activity in the Andes, the Pizarro brothers and Francisco Martín acted on each other’s behalf. Such actions enabled Francisco Pizarro during his governorship to order the excavation of sacred monuments (huacas4) to access the rich funeral offerings in the ancestral tombs buried there; to commission the construction of homes in Quito, Cuzco, Arequipa, Potosí, Porco, and La Plata; to reserve the best repartimientos5 for himself, members of his family, and his loyal followers; to exploit the mines of Porco and Chuquiapo; to establish herds of Spanish animals on the common pasturelands near Huaylas, Jauja, Lima, Cuzco, and Potosí; to order the planting of wheat and other crops near Lima, Quito, Cuzco, and Arequipa; to establish a sugar mill and refinery to distill alcohol in the Nazca Valley; and to possess coca leaf plantations near Cuzco and Chuquiapo. He also imported clothes for sale to the newly enriched men around him. Furthermore, he claimed for his own use an Inca palace in Cuzco. At one point or another, his encomienda holdings included the people of Chuquiapo, Puna, Huaylas, Chimú, Conchucos, Lima, Chuquitanta, Atabillos, and Cuzco. Varón Gabai calculated that by 1540 he held twenty-seven thousand to thirty thousand tribute payers in his encomiendas, thousands more than Fernando Cortes gave himself in central Mexico.

Many of these same assets passed to his children upon his death. Doña Francisca, for example, specifically held four lots and a house in Lima; and eight lots, two of which with a house, were in Arequipa. Her encomiendas included those of the Chimú, Huaylas, Conchucos, Lima, and Chuquitanta. She also held fields in Chuquitanta and shared with her brothers the coca fields of Avisca. Don Gonzalo, her brother, possessed the encomiendas of Canta, Huaura, and Yucay.

The same was true for Hernando. The first time that he returned to Spain with the king’s share of Atahualpa’s ransom in 1534, he was admitted to the Order of Santiago as Francisco had been before him and was awarded with an annual pension of 200,000 maravedis (equivalent to 25,000 pesos of 8 reales each) for life. His huge share of Atahualpa’s ransom was above what any individual captain could expect. Hernando also held encomiendas in several jurisdictions, including the repartimientos of Chincha, Tambo, Amaybamba, Toayma and Quizquinto, Calca, Piquicho (or Picchu), Urcos, Tomebamba, Choco, La Plata, Chayanta, and Chalca of the Chichas Indians. By 1540, he administered the labor of between 6,887 and 9,256 native tributaries. He owned houses in Lima and Cuzco. His holdings further included stock pasturing near Cuzco, La Plata, and Potosí; fields near Cuzco, Arequipa, La Plata and in the Toayma Valley; mines in Potosí; and coca plantations near Cuzco and Chichas. Thus, his birth, his experience, and his position vis-à-vis his brother, Francisco, contributed to his power and noted arrogance.

The other brothers likewise became wealthy during their lifetimes. Gonzalo is known to have taken the Cañaris in encomienda, and a second one near La Plata in addition to the one he held in Cuzco. By the mid-1540s he also directed a lucrative encomienda in Arequipa. Altogether, he had some eight thousand tribute payers working for him. He also acquired, like his brothers, lots and houses in Quito, Cuzco, Arequipa, and La Plata. His workers guarded cattle near Quito; tended coca bushes near Cuzco and Tiraque; and worked mining deposits in Porco and Potosí.

His other brother, Juan, by the time of his untimely death, had acquired his own following and retainers and his own large fortune. He held the encomienda of Tomebamba near Quito. A fellow Trujillan took 25,000 pesos to Spain for Juan and Don Alonso Enriquez estimated that Juan was worth 200,000 ducats or the equivalent of 275,000 pesos of 8 reales each.

Finally, Francisco Martin, too, held the encomiendas of Mancha[y] with its cacique called Vilca Yraxi in the jurisdiction of the city of Huánuco; of Collique in the capital city’s district, which once belonged to Domingo de la Presa; and the cacique Alaya and his subjects, who were later granted to Hernando Gonzalez.

The Pizarro Clan’s Fortune

The ideal and hope of many early-modern Spaniards was to found a noble family, whose name would continue to bring honor and respectability to descendants into perpetuity. It was Hernando who emerged as the genius behind consolidating the brothers’ far-flung holdings and establishing the family’s long-lasting legacy. He did not remain in Peru. As noted above, Francisco sent Hernando to Spain with the king’s gold and silver from Atahualpa’s Cajamarca ransom in 1533. He did not identify with the Andes. Instead, he wanted to extract its wealth and retire to Spain where he would acquire lands and income from annuities. He returned to Peru in 1535 with the aim of amassing more treasure for the king and himself quickly; but was detained there for five years because of the native rebellion and the conflict with Almagro and his partisans over the spoils and rewards of their exploits. His quest for precious metal explains why he took twenty men on a four-month trip through unpacified areas to reach Pachacamac and the valuable offerings amassed there. He also went to Cuzco to obligate the newly named “citizens” to serve the king with donations of gold and silver. Furthermore, he would not accept natives as allies without a gift of a quota of gold. His quest for more treasure, like the two golden statues that Manco Inca gave him, bought some natives lenient treatment. He was also obsessed with excavating native burial sites in his efforts to find more metallic treasure.

In his quest for a solid financial base, he turned his education into managing business activities with the help of many stewards and agents. Hernando invested in a silver mine at Porco, second only to the mine at Potosí, using a large number of black slaves to work the deposits. In 1537–1538, he imported European merchandise that he sold to the Spanish through his own agents and merchants in his employ. Francisco sent him back to Spain in 1539 to face punishment for the execution of Almagro that he had ordered. Once there, he was imprisoned for more than two decades. But, he managed to continue to extract wealth from Peru and import it to Spain, past the consular and treasury officials of Seville.

About the same time, the king sent instructions that challenged the Pizarrista regime. The crown tried to curb the “characteristic monopolization” of resources by the first on the scene, wanting ultimately to limit the power of the conquerors and eventually push them aside as the crown had already done to Christopher Columbus in Santo Domingo and Fernando Cortes and his cohorts in Mexico. This attitude explains why Vaca de Castro began reducing the power of the Pizarros. He separated them from some of their estates and confiscated the Pizarro children’s encomiendas of Chimú, Huaylas, Conchucos, Lima, Chuquitanta, Atabillos, and Chuquiabo.

Hernando Pizarro spent the rest of his life manipulating what was left—the bonds of the royal treasury or juros, mortgages, and annuities that he bought largely with tribute income, thus preserving and consolidating the patrimony of the Pizarro heirs. The biggest step in this direction was his marriage in 1552, not long after her arrival in Spain in 1550, to his mestiza niece, Doña Francisca Pizarro, Francisco’s daughter with Contarhuacho. The main reason behind the match was to combine all the Pizarro claims and entails in one coherent body. He took over the estate and executed the legacies of Juan Pizarro. Gonzalo’s holdings, however, because of his status as rebel, were lost. By mid-century, the sale of Hernando Pizarro’s tribute goods yielded 32,000 pesos per year, which should be regarded as a minimum figure because it represented only part of his total income. A few years later, a lawyer estimated his and Doña Francisca’s income as 100,000 to 150,000 pesos a year.

In 1553, he began a campaign to recover the family’s possessions and encomiendas in Peru. In the end, Varón Gabai concludes that “Hernando did get to control the vast majority of the estate his brothers had acquired during the conquest, and attempts to have him give up some of the properties were largely unsuccessful.”6 Yet, native depopulation and other factors meant that the income from the Peruvian holdings gradually declined through the 1550s and 1560s. By 1570, the Pizarro possessions and funds were largely concealed and, therefore, could not be attached. Hernando centralized the management of the assets and delayed lawsuits to prevent further expropriations and losses.

In the 1570s Viceroy Francisco de Toledo confiscated the family’s encomiendas and tried to force the Pizarro agents out of Peru. Hernando gradually sold the remaining properties there to consolidate and invest the income in Spain. To guarantee the family’s status, Hernando astutely established a mayorazgo, an entailed estate that theoretically passed intact to the eldest son in each generation. Before he died, he built a palatial home on the square in Trujillo and another in the village of La Zarza, the heart of the family patrimony as monuments to their collective successes. He also acquired for his heirs the prestigious honorific municipal post of Trujillo’s alférez mayor or royal standard bearer. He died with a vast estate and income in 1578.

Thus, this story of conquerors and entrepreneurs ends, leaving the family’s goals of establishing a clan of great wealth and regional power fulfilled, while the crown succeeded in gaining control of the government of Peru without any interference from the Pizarros. Francisco Pizarro’s disproportionate gains vis-à-vis his partner Almagro brought a premature death, but guaranteed a lasting immortality, while providing amply for his descendants. Their collective ability to overcome the hardships of exploration and the real dangers of the encounter and settlement epitomize the risks and rewards possible in the opening of new frontiers in this era of global expansion.

Discussion of the Literature

Much has been written on the history of the exploration and conquest of the Americas. Too many popular secondary sources describe the exploits of the principals involved as heroes, energetic and courageous men who overcame hunger, disease, and great discomfort, eventually fought, despite being outnumbered by native forces, and won. Such mythification of the personalities involved, even by such classic histories as that written by William Prescott, also limits our understanding of the establishment of Spanish power in the Andes.

Early writers such as Prescott were lauded for their accounts when they were published for consulting primary sources, such as those written by eye-witnesses and participants in the events, like Pedro Sancho and Francisco de Jerez (Xerez) who both served as Francisco Pizarro’s secretaries. What is often left unsaid or unrealized is that these accounts were written by Spaniards for a Spanish audience and particularly the crown in the hope of being materially rewarded for their bravery and accomplishments or establishing status and reputation. Thus, certain exaggerations crept in, especially in regard to the size and viciousness of the native forces that the Spanish vanguard faced on the battlefields. Such accounts also explain to some extent why such authors as José Antonio del Busto Duthurburo and Raul Porras Barrenechea crafted their mostly flattering biographies.

Recent research, including pathbreaking archaeological conclusions based on the material record, shows that the “conquest” was gradual, only reaching more remote areas after decades or longer; that the huge battles suggested by some of the primary sources were actually few and that more frequently the foes met in skirmishes, consistent with a guerrilla war; and that native allies were crucial to some of the Spanish victories. These findings suggest that the protagonists of these adventures were more complex than usually imagined. Contemporary scholars have now begun to rewrite the history from a more native point of view. The use of native sources and mestizo chronicles, though not without problems of interpretation, has helped in this endeavor. Reliance on more mundane ethnic sources in local archives has also supplied needed informants’ testimonies that undercut the aura that surrounds the fame of Pizarro, his brothers, and their close associates.

Primary Sources

There are two main types of primary sources: published and unpublished Spanish chronicles and handwritten judicial and administrative manuscripts and notarial records. One of the earliest of the first is a long letter to the crown written by Hernando Pizarro on his return journey to the Peninsula that recounted Spanish exploits and accomplishments to the capture and ransoming of the Andean ruler Atahualpa in Cajamarca. Other published eyewitness accounts appeared starting in the 1530s. These include one often referred to as the “anonymous account” of 1534, but attributed to Captain Cristóbal de Mena by Porras Barrenechea, a bibliographic authority. Following these are the most notable of the brief narratives by Francisco de Xerez and Pedro Sancho, Francisco Pizarro’s two secretaries. Since he remained illiterate his entire life, only learning to make a sign to represent his person and authority, these secretaries were essential for exercising his power. Xerez wrote his account to refute certain of Mena’s claims, exposing the polemical nature of the events from their start. Pedro de Sancho replaced Xerez at Pizarro’s side and wrote of his adventures to July 1534. Miguel de Estete, one of the most daring of the men in Pizarro’s company, also wrote an account. He was present in Cajamarca in 1532, accompanied Hernando Pizarro to Pachacamac, and then followed Francisco Pizarro to Jauja and Cuzco. Another worthy of reading is the memorial written by Juan Ruiz de Arce. Porras Barrenechea regards this last account as authoritative as those by Mena, Xerez, Sancho, and Estete. Pedro Cieza de Leon traveled through the Andes after most of the Pizarros were no longer on the scene; but, because he interrogated many participants and witnesses along the way, his accounts (published in several volumes) are regarded as sources of credible information. Another of particular interest for its information on native peoples is the long chronicle by Pedro Pizarro, written in 1572, years after the events, that incorporates information obtained from long years of residence in the Andes.

Complementing these are the long, early 17th-century accounts by mestizo Garcilaso de la Vega and the Hispanicized native Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala. Garcilaso was born and raised in Cuzco and recognized and educated by his Spanish father. He eventually was exiled to Spain, where he wrote his account in retirement. He, too, includes abundant information on native culture and perspective, though his bias tends to whitewash certain aspects of both that his Spanish audience might consider objectionable. Guaman Poma de Ayala’s long “letter to the king” places the Andes in a global, Christian context. He exposes the misconduct and poor governing of the Spanish, while arguing that he should be entrusted with its administration as a loyal, Christian vassal. His account is peppered with Quechua words and phrases and some four hundred ink drawings that make his narrative singular.

Manuscript sources in local and national repositories are slowly yielding further perspectives, often lacking from the broader generalized chronicler accounts. The Archivo General de la Nación and the Biblioteca Nacional in Lima are the most accessible archives. Church documents are located in the Archivo Arzobispal de Lima and the capitular archives in the cathedral. Since the 1970s, authorities have established local archives in Tumbes, Piura, Lambayeque, Trujillo, Cajamarca, Huánuco, Lima, Ayacucho, Arequipa, Puno, and Cuzco. Here, researchers find manuscript letters and petitions from or by local residents, administrative and judicial records, and notarial registers. The mecca of all investigators of Spanish-American history remains the Archive of the Indies in Seville. Fortunately, some of the most important items there are now online.

Colección de documentos inéditos para la Historia de España (Madrid: Imprenta de la Viuda de Calero, 1842–1895Joachín Francisco Pacheco and Francisco Cárdenas y Espejo as Colección de documentos inéditos relativos al descubrimiento, conquista y colonización de las posesiones españolas de América y Oceanía (Madrid: Imprenta de M. Bernaldo de Quirós, 1864–1884)Colección de documentos inéditos para la historia de Chile (Santiago, Chile: Imprenta Ercilla, 1888–1902) edited by José Toribio MedinaDocumentos relativos al licenciado Pedro de la Gasca sobre . . . ir a pacificar el Perú sublevado por Gonzalo Pizarro y los suyos (Madrid: Imprenta de la Viuda de Calero, 1866–1867) edited y Miguel Salva y MunarDocumentos relativos a don Pedro de la Gasca y Gonzalo Pizarro (Madrid: Real Academia de la Historia, 1964), edited by Juan Pérez de Tudela y BuesoJ. H. Parry and Robert G. Keith in a five-volume collection, entitled New Iberian World: A Documentary History of the Discovery and Settlement of Latin America to the Early Seventeenth Century (New York: Times Books, 1984)

Some of the documents important for American history are published, convenient for researchers unable to travel. José Sancho Rayón published 112 volumes of primary documents for the history of Spanish America under the title ). Other sources of similar material include the over three dozen volumes published by ; the thirty volumes of the ; the ; and . Fourteen volumes of letters and papers of Peruvian governors were published between 1921 and 1926 under the title Gobernantes del Perú. Cartas y papeles by Roberto Levillier. For biographical material on Francisco Pizarro, researchers are directed to Guillermo Lohmann Villena’s Francisco Pizarro. Testimonio. Documentos oficiales, cartas y escritos varios, published in Madrid by the Centro de Estudios Históricos (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas) in 1986. Finally, translated documents were published by .

Links to Digital Materials

Further Reading

Busto Duthurburu del, José Antonio. Diccionario histórico biográfico de los conquistadores del Perú. 2 vols. Lima, Peru: Studium, 1986–1987.Find this resource:

Busto Duthurburu del, José Antonio. Francisco Pizarro, El Marqués Gobernador. Lima, Peru: Editorial Brasa, 1993.Find this resource:

Busto Duthurburu del, José Antonio. Pizarro. 2 vols. Lima, Peru: Departamento de Relaciones Públicas de Petroperú, 2001.Find this resource:

Lockhart, James. Men of Cajamarca: A Social and Biographical Study of the First Conquerors of Peru. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972.Find this resource:

Porras Barrenechea, Raúl. Pizarro. Lima, Peru: Editorial Pizarro, 1978.Find this resource:

Prescott, William H. History of the Conquest of Peru. New York: The Modern Library, 1936.Find this resource:

Puente Brunke de la, José. Encomienda y encomenderos en el Perú. Seville, Spain: Excma. Diputación Provincial de Sevilla, 1992.Find this resource:

Stirling, Stuart. Pizarro: Conqueror of the Inca. Stroud, UK: Sutton2005.Find this resource:

Varón Gabai, Rafael. Francisco Pizarro and His Brothers: The Illusion of Power in Sixteenth-Century Peru. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.Find this resource:


(1.) Varón Gabai writes that it was 1501. Rafael Varón Gabai, Francisco Pizarro and His Brothers: The Illusion of Power in Sixteenth-Century Peru (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), 10.

(2.) James Lockhart, Men of Cajamarca: A Social and Biographical Study of the First Conquerors of Peru (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972), 142.

(3.) Later augmented to 270 leagues.

(4.) To give the reader an idea of the gold and other valuables deposited in native sacred structures (huacas), it was reported that Martín Estete and Francisco Pizarro received more than 100,000 pesos from a sacred structure of the people of his encomienda of Chimú. (Varón Gabai, Francisco Pizarro and His Brothers, 59, 83) Hernando Pizarro also found a “great amount of gold and silver” in Huamachuco (Varón Gabai, 71. See also Varón Gabai, 77). Francisco Pizarro also received treasure from the burials of the Indians in Quito, found by Lorenzo de Aldana (Varón Gabai, 83).

(5.) A synonym for encomienda, specifically referring to the population of the grant.

(6.) Varón Gabai, 120.