Spain: Tradition and Enlightenment II

Manuel Godoy

The apparent indifference of many of the top people of Spain to the arts and sciences is reflected in the scant production of much that was memorable. Valencia’s university, long strong in science, benefited from Philip V’s temporary closure of Catalan universities. The medical research of Andres Piquer added to Valencia’s renown and led to improvement in Spanish medical practice. The best known literary figure was a Benedictine professor in Galicia, Padre Benito Feijoo (1676-1764), who wrote critical works about the shortcomings of his countrymen. In music, the Catalan composer Antonio Soler (1729-1783) worked with Domenico Scarlatti in Madrid and headed the choir at the Escorial, where the Bourbons established new royal apartments. The Bourbons also brought opera to Spain, and Spanish composers wrote operas. Architecture had a late Baroque fling with a style named after the brothers Churiguerra, who did the elegant Plaza Mayor of Salamanca. It soon settled into the respectable classicism of the era, as evidenced by the Royal Palace of Madrid. Carlos III imported his chief painters, but he also gave work to a rising Spanish painter, Francisco de Goya, who would prove to be one of the great artists of all time. Under Carlos, Goya began for the royal tapestry factory the Bourbons established in Madrid a series of cartoons that depict scenes of Spanish popular life. The tapestries graced royal apartments; Goya’s cartoons are now in Madrid’s Prado Museum. Commissions from the king introduced Goya to high society, and he painted splendid portraits of the rich, titled, and famous, as well as of the royal family, and circulated in their company.

Beneath a colorful veneer the clash of Enlightenment and Church simmered and took its most dramatic turn with the expulsion and suppression of the Jesuits. In control of secondary education, the Jesuits remained current with developments in philosophy and science but kept them in a religious framework. The Jesuits’ successes earned them the hostility of rival Catholic religious orders and people who believed that Jesuits compromised morality with worldliness. The Jesuits tended to smear any Catholic opponent, including regalists, as “Jansenists.” The papacy had condemned Jansenism, derived from the austere theology of Cornelius Jansen, a seventeenth-century Flemish bishop, and by mideighteenth century, it had become largely confused in politics.

The Jesuits also dominated the Inquisition, which many enlightened ministers found an embarrassment, and they opposed the spread into Spain of freemasonry, which many enlightened ministers found attractive. Freemasonry on the European continent had a decidedly political dimension. In Masonic lodges, differences of creed and social class were suspended, and members talked of the brotherhood of mankind. While Freemasons admitted a Supreme Being, they accepted the validity of many religions. The papacy lost no time in condemning freemasonry for Deism (a belief in God but no single church), immorality, and intent to subvert the true Catholic faith. Among secular rulers, reaction to freemasonry was mixed. While instinctively suspicious of secret societies, many thought freemasonry to be a viable alternative to the power of organized religion as well as a clearinghouse for fresh ideas. In Madrid, the count of Aranda was grand master of the Masonic lodge.

The downfall of the Jesuits began in neighboring Portugal, where the enlightened chief minister, the marquis of Pombal, had them expelled in 1759. In France the Jesuits’ enemies had them expelled in 1764. In Madrid, the Jesuits were made scapegoats for the Esquilache riots of 1766, and the count of Aranda proposed that they be expelled from Spain, too. Aranda had traveled widely, studied military tactics in Prussia, fought in Italy, and met the famous Voltaire, who detested the Jesuits. Aranda arranged an investigation of the Jesuits, which a panel of bishops and councillors hostile to them carried out. As a result, Carlos expelled the Jesuits from Spain in 1767. Aranda then joined with the Bourbon courts of France and the Two Sicilies to pressure the pope to suppress the Jesuit order entirely, which he did in 1773.

Without its Jesuits, the Inquisition investigated the bishops who recommended their expulsion but failed to find sufficient evidence. They also went after Aranda and his colleagues until Carlos III stopped them. Yet he and Aranda both knew that the Inquisition remained popular among ordinary Spaniards and would not abolish it. The days of burning heretics and torture waned as even inquisitors yielded to Enlightenment ideas. Still, a woman was burned as a witch in Seville in 1787, though she was strangled before the fire was lit. The most sensational case involved Pablo Olavide, royal. intendant of the province of Seville. Peruvian born, Clavicle, like Aranda, had met Voltaire and knew the intellectual life of the Parisian salons. In Seville he held salons to discuss new ideas and the arts in his home, which he hung with contemporary French paintings. At the same time, he made vigorous efforts to improve provincial agriculture, which aroused opposition from many landlords, including churchmen. His enemies had him hauled before the Inquisition for the possession of pornographic pictures and forbidden books, for unorthodox ideas, and for interfering with the Church in the management of its lands. The number of witnesses ready to testify against Olavide convinced even the king to let the trial proceed. It was held behind closed doors and resulted in his conviction. Humiliated, forced to wear the sanbenito and dunce cap, Olavide protested that he had not lost his Catholic faith. He was stripped of his offices and confined to a monastery for reeducation. He escaped to France and was lionized by the intellectual set. Not until 1798 was he allowed, at age seventy-three, to return to Spain.

The cases of Olavide and several other intellectuals convicted by the Inquisition chilled but did not stop the spread of the Enlightenment among its small Spanish following. Not only public servants and some of the better educated clergy but also many members of the prosperous middle class continued to seek the latest ideas in the press and periodicals, although they remained wary. Even though religious censorship prevented the publication of Denis Diderot’s French Encyclopedia, lesser encyclopedias that emphasized science and technology and avoided criticism of religion and the Church did appear. However, the prosperity that permitted a few to keep up with new ideas and developments did not extend to the many, whose incomes failed to keep pace with inflation. Envious of the few whose lives seemed ever more dedicated to private fulfillment and pleasure, the many clung to Spain’s old traditions and considered the new ideas disturbing, foreign, atheistic, and potentially dangerous to the God-given order of society.

However disturbing some of their ideas and reforms seemed to many, Carlos and his ministers persisted in what they believed best for Spain. After Aranda went to Paris as ambassador, the counts of Campomanes and Floridablanca and Asturian legal expert Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos emerged as the ministers with the greatest influence over policy. Floridablanca provides a good example of the kind of men who served the eighteenth-century Bourbon kings. Born Jose Monino to a hidalgo family of Murcia, he studied law at Salamanca, proved a successful lawyer, and was brought into government by Esquilache. Jovellanos was arguably the most brilliant of Carlos’s ministers, with the broadest range of knowledge. Though his father wanted him to be a priest, he pursued the study of law with the support of his uncle, a duke. He wrote essays, poetry, dramas, and histories and was active in the royal academies of language and history, founded by the Bourbons to promote scholarship.

Carlos III remained interested in foreign policy and kept Spain in the company of the great powers when he joined France in 1778 against Great Britain during the War of American Independence. In Paris, Aranda met Benjamin Franklin and John Jay and favored the American cause, though he acknowledged the differences between Spain and the infant republic over Florida and the Mississippi Valley. Unlike Louis XVI of France, Carlos did not recognize or directly ally with the new United States, because of territorial issues and because he did not wish to encourage his own American colonies to seek independence. In Spain there was talk that Spanish America should be divided into three independent kingdoms, each under a younger son of the king, but the most obvious candidates all died young.

In the war the Spanish army and navy failed to recover Gibraltar, despite a bitter siege. The Spaniards did combine with the French to take Minorca, and in the Atlantic the Spanish and French fleets joined to threaten England with invasion, which prevented the English from sending General Charles Cornwallis needed reinforcements and led to his surrender in 1781 at Yorktown. The Spanish navy also found time to bombard Algiers and force its corsairs to forgo further raiding of Spanish commerce and coasts. The Spanish governor of New Orleans defeated the British in the Mississippi Valley, then took Mobile, and proceeded to reconquer Florida. The 1783 Peace of Paris, which recognized the independence of the United States, conceded Florida and Minorca to Spain, although Britain kept Gibraltar. Carlos earlier recovered Uruguay from Portugal but failed to get the Falkland Islands back. Disputes between Spain and the United States over Florida and the Mississippi, valley remained unsettled, despite negotiations in 1785-1786 between Spain’s emissary, Diego de Gardoqui, and John Jay, appointed by Congress to deal with him.

Under Carlos III Spain’s overseas empire reached its greatest extent. In distant Alta, California, Franciscan friars established missions as far north as San Francisco, where a statue of Carlos III, a recent gift from Spain, graces the Embarcadero. To defend California the Spaniards had fewer than 200 soldiers, scattered among the presidios of San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco and doing sentry duty at the missions. Unruly California Indians were their chief concern. Only three cannons defended the Golden Gate, although both Great Britain and Russia had interests in the Pacific that potentially menaced California and New Spain.

Aged seventy-two, Carlos III died in December 1788. To Spaniards, his reign in retrospect seemed a second golden age, at least in international prestige, prosperity, and domestic tranquility, if not in literature and the arts. While the reign of his son, Carlos IV, began with good reason for hope, it would end in national calamity and the terrible war that gave the world the word guerrilla.

Carlos IV kept his father’s principal ministers of state, with Floridablanca as chief. Yet during the first year of his reign, revolution erupted in France and threatened the throne of his Bourbon cousin, Louis XVI. News of developments in France caused great stir in Spain and alarmed Floridablanca. Though he favored reform, it was reform from the top directed by an absolute sovereign, not reform promoted by an unruly constitutional legislature. Alarmed by the irreligion of many French revolutionary leaders, the Spanish Church shared Floridablanca’s fears. The French Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 1790 caused many French clergymen to seek refuge in Spain, where they spread horror stories about the revolution. Floridablanca put the Inquisition to the vain task of keeping news of French developments from Spain. Enemies of enlightened reform in Spain linked reformist ideas with revolution, and leading ministers began to waffle. Floridablanca censored new ideas in Spanish periodicals. Campomanes refused to support a minister under attack from the Inquisition, and Jovellanos, who defended the minister, was ordered home to Asturias.

In February 1792, Carlos IV replaced Floridablanca with Aranda, whose connections in Paris seemed helpful to Louis XVI. Aranda restructured Spain’s government around the Council of State, which unfortunately put more power into the hands of the weak-willed king and allowed less independence to ministers. Aranda pursued a friendly policy toward France until events overwhelmed him. In September 1792, France became a republic and put Louis XVI on trial. War had broken out between France and a coalition headed by Austria and Prussia. Carlos IV intervened on behalf of Louis XVI, who was guillotined in January 1793. French propaganda aimed at Spain called for the Cortes to arise, overthrow the Bourbon dynasty, and end the Inquisition. In Spain the most effective response came from the pulpit. Inspired by their priests, most Spaniards saw the brewing conflict as a struggle on behalf of God, fatherland, and king, against a nation of regicides leagued to the devil. Even enlightened Spaniards like Jovellanos were appalled by the spectacle of the Reign of Terror in France. Lingering sympathy for the ideals of the French revolution was reduced to university students, whom the Inquisition hounded.

In March 1793, France declared war on Spain. Spanish troops invaded Languedoc, while French troops occupied two enclaves in the Pyrenees. In 1794 the death of Spanish General Antonio Ricardos and the appearance of more aggressive French commanders led to a French invasion of Catalonia. While French officers spread revolutionary propaganda, French soldiers plundered the countryside and aggravated the hatred already incited by the clergy. French promises of Catalan independence fell on deaf ears. The French invasion of Navarre and the Basque Country met similar popular resistance.

The cost of war was stiff, and in early 1794 Aranda proposed that Spain seek peace. By then Aranda had been supplanted as chief minister by Manuel de Godoy, newly made duke of Alcudia. A handsome, twenty-five-year-old guards officer of rough charm, from a poor but proud hidalgo family of Extremadura, Godoy had become the favorite of the queen, Maria Luisa of Parma, sixteen years his senior. They met when she was still princess of Asturias, her looks not yet faded, and became constant companions and perhaps lovers. The king accepted and genuinely liked Godoy, which caused people to call him “the royal cuckold.” In Godoy’s explanation, Carlos IV and Maria Luisa knew that he was utterly loyal to them. They promoted him to ever higher posts and gradually demoted or eliminated the ministers who had served Carlos III. When Carlos IV rejected Aranda’s proposed peace with France and dismissed him, an uproar followed. Almost everybody-nobles, intellectuals, clergymen, and commoners-clamored for Godoy’s removal.

Peace did not come until the regicide government in Paris fell. By the Treaty of Basel made with the new French government in July 1795, Spain recovered the Pyrenean regions lost but ceded Santo Domingo on Hispaniola, where France already possessed what is today’s Haiti. Carlos bestowed on Godoy the title prince of the Peace and elevated him above all other grandees of Spain. In October, Spain signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo with the United States, represented by minister-extraordinary Thomas Pinckney, that settled differences over Florida and the Mississippi Valley. Spanish Florida’s border was adjusted roughly along the line of the thirty-first parallel. Spain accepted the Mississippi as the western boundary of the United States and permitted Americans free navigation through New Orleans.

The restoration of peace stifled the opposition to Godoy, who now opened negotiations with the French for an alliance. Spain had too many outstanding differences with Great Britain and feared for the future of Bourbon Parma when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded northern Italy. In August 1796, Spain and the French Republic became allies through the Treaty of San Idlefonso. Spain declared war on Britain, for which the price proved to be not o my higher taxes but a British blockade of Spanish commerce. In February 1797, off Cape St. Vincent, the Spanish battle fleet was beaten by a British squadron and the heroics of its Rear Admiral, Horatio Nelson. The English captured Trinidad and in 1798 again seized Minorca. The combined fleets of Spain and France could not match Britain’s, and Spain’s century-long effort to recover the Spanish-American market for Spanish shipping and manufactures collapsed. Under pressure, Carlos IV allowed his colonists to trade legally with neutrals, which benefited the merchant marine of the United States. Great Britain came to dominate the Spanish-American market and encouraged the tendencies of Spain’s colonies to seek independence.

Finding Spain pressed by war and its costs, Godoy sought the assistance of experienced ministers who had served Carlos III, including Jovellanos and his associate Mariano Luis de Urquijo. Jovellanos had refined his economic theories by reading Adam Smith and the French physiocrats, who favored the combination of free enterprise and private property. Smith emphasized commerce and manufacture, whereas the physiocrats held that all wealth came from the soil. Jovellanos drafted a detailed proposal for agrarian reform in Spain that became gospel for future reformers and anathema to the old landowning class. He believed that the system of entail, legitimized in the late Middle Ages, had resulted in the indifferent management of land, since the great clerical and noble landowners ran no risk of losing their estates, however encumbered they became with debt. Jovellanos argued that independent farmers with smaller estates, operating in a free market with its risks and profits, would prove more productive, and all Spain would benefit. Despite stubborn opposition, the needs of war forced the implementation of some of Jovellanos’s ideas to pay off government bonds. The crown appropriated some 10 percent of the Church’s property, sold it to private investors, and compensated the Church with low-paying annuities.

When Godoy fell victim to French intrigue and left court, Jovellanos and Urquijo carried on but were soon overwhelmed by religious issues thought dormant. When the French occupied Rome, in a gesture of charity Carlos IV allowed exiled Spanish Jesuits to return on an individual basis to Spain. They returned with a vengeance, leagued with the Inquisition, and pursued their enemies. They reached the ear of Carlos, who caved in to their demands. In 1798, he forced Jovellanos to resign and retire to Asturias. To placate Pope Pius VII, who negotiated with Napoleon Bonaparte a concordat that restored harmony between France and Rome, Carlos sacrificed Urquijo. Urquijo went to jail, and Jovellanos was sent to prison on Majorca. Rome and the Spanish Church had the upper hand over regalists and reformers.

Carlos recalled Godoy to power. Although his youthful instincts favored reform, Godoy cannily steered a cautious course between reformers and traditionalists. He won a bit of military glory in the brief War of the Oranges (1800-1801) against Portugal, when Carlos made him generalisimo of Spain’s army and began to see himself as Spain’s Napoleon. The war netted Spain the border district of Olivenza, although Carlos refused to annex Portugal from his son-in-law, the prince-regent, as Napoleon urged him to do.

In 1800 concern for another son-in-law, the duke of Parma, caused Carlos to cede Louisiana back to France. Bonaparte had annexed Parma to France but promised to establish an Italian kingdom of Etruria for the duke. Although Bonaparte agreed not to surrender Louisiana to a third party, in 1803 he sold it for hard cash to President Thomas Jefferson of the United States.

In March 1802, Spain and France made peace with Great Britain at Amiens. Spain recovered Minorca but not Trinidad. Peace did not last, and Spain’s renewal of war in December 1804 put an end to a brief recovery of prosperity and resumption of trade with Spanish America. In war, all the conflicting currents that developed during the eighteenth century would come to a violent head.



Villaviciosa, December 1710 confirmed Bourbon supremacy in Spain.

Europe in 1700, at the beginning of the War of the Spanish Succession.

Dynastic and governmental collapse in Spain coincided with the emergence of France as the dominant power in Europe. Louis XIV assumed full responsibility for the government of France when Mazarin died in 1661, and ruled for more than half a century with considerable skill and an infallible instinct for political theater. France became the political and cultural center of Europe with “the Sun King” as its visible symbol. More practically, Louis intended to secure his borders through the annexation of lands he regarded as historically French. These included the Spanish Netherlands which he claimed as the rightful inheritance of his queen. In 1667 he invaded the southern Low Countries, but was driven off by the Dutch with English and Swedish assistance. A second more successful war from 1672 to 1678 gave him parts of Luxemburg, Hainaut, and southern Flanders, together with Lorraine and the Franche-Comté. All except Lorraine had been part of the Burgundian inheritance of Charles V.

Spain may have lost the ability to defend its possessions in northern Europe, but it was not entirely helpless. The wars of Louis XIV enabled Spain and the Dutch Republic to formalize a relationship that had begun to develop even before the Treaty of Münster reopened the Spanish trade to Dutch ships. As the chief economic beneficiaries of the Spanish empire—and its chief creditors—the Dutch had a keen interest in its preservation. Dutch warships began to provide an escort for Spanish vessels in European waters. With the Treaty of the Hague (1673), the commercial alliance became a military pact. Spain’s remaining troops in the Army of Flanders found themselves under the command of the Dutch stadholder, William, Prince of Orange. William was the husband of Mary Stuart, daughter of James II of England and a Protestant. When the Glorious Revolution of 1688 deposed James, Parliament recognized Mary as queen of England and her consort as King William III. Louis XIV now faced one of the greatest crises of his reign. In the War of the Grand Alliance, also known as the War of the League of Augsburg or the Nine Years’ War (1688–1697), a Dutch, English, Austrian, and Spanish coalition fought the French to a standstill. The Treaty of Rijswick (1697) allowed Louis to retain his earlier conquests with the exception of Luxembourg, but a later agreement placed some of the most important fortresses in the Spanish Netherlands under Dutch control. To console Louis XIV, Spain had to cede the western portion of Hispaniola to the French, who developed it into the rich sugar colony of St. Domingue (modern Haiti).

The southern Netherlands remained at least nominally under Spanish rule for another 17 years, but it had changed greatly since the time of Philip II. The reduction in Spanish subsidies and the lack of direction from Madrid weakened the States-General and left provincial and municipal governments to fill the political void. Its cities, however, retained little of their former greatness. Heavy war taxation, the ongoing closure of the Scheldt, and Anglo-Dutch competition crippled their economies while leaving the countryside relatively prosperous even in the midst of almost constant warfare. The wars of Louis XIV, although bloody for combatants, were less harmful to civilians than those of the preceding age. Improved discipline and the logistical systems designed by Louis’s ministers of war (and copied to some extent by the armies of William III), reduced looting and other forms of direct contact between soldiers and the general population. Some rural districts actually prospered by selling supplies to the armies. Others benefited when the breakdown of trade restrictions forced cloth manufacturers to leave the cities in search of cheaper labor. The great days of Flemish cultural achievement had faded, but the society itself remained largely intact.

Spain’s new relationship with the northern powers helps to explain another great paradox of the age. Despite the appearance of governmental paralysis under Charles II, the Spanish empire did not collapse. In fact its economy and that of metropolitan Spain slowly began to revive. The ministers who served Charles in his last years, notably the count of Oropesa and the marquis of Los Velez, demonstrated a tough, quiet competence that had long been needed. By 1675 the premium of silver over vellón had reached 200 percent. In 1680 the government was forced to devalue even the vellón minted since 1660 by half, producing a nationwide flood of bankruptcies and riots in the major cities. Tax receipts from Castile dropped, but the crown’s ministers held firm. From 1677 to 1687 they also attacked the juros that consumed so large a proportion of the crown’s income. By annulling much of their value, reducing the interest rates, and taxing the remaining proceeds at 15 percent the government added to the prevailing misery, but by the end of the reign inflation was under control, the economy was growing, and the king was solvent for the first time in memory.

Silver shipments from Mexico and Peru continued at a high level, although the government’s share still amounted to only a small fraction of the total. There were even a few modest efforts at expansion overseas. Expeditions from Manila established the Marianas (formerly the Ladrones) as a Spanish colony between 1668 and 1685. In a demographic catastrophe that recalls the fate of the Canaries and West Indian islands two centuries earlier, the native Chamorros died or fled in great numbers, and by century’s end only Guam and Rota remained populated. The new colony served primarily as a place for the Manila Galleon to take on food and water, supporting itself through the cultivation of tobacco, sugar, and native crops. Another expedition claimed the Carolines in 1686. These islands were placed under the government of the Marianas in 1696, but no effort was made to settle them until late in the nineteenth century. In North America, the French expeditions undertaken by LaSalle between 1682 and 1687 inspired the Spanish authorities to authorize the first circumnavigation of the Gulf of Mexico followed by the establishment of Texas as a province in 1691. The Texas garrisons proved unsustainable, but the permanent settlement of Pensacola in 1698 gave Spain an important base with which to counter French ambitions on the Gulf Coast and Lower Mississippi valley. These developments proceeded from local initiative with only nominal support from the crown.

On a broader scale, Catalans and Basques began to take a larger role in Spanish economic life, and the informal deregulation of trade seems to have benefited even Castile. In the Americas, improved access to European markets strengthened the economy. It certainly increased the wealth and political influence of the landholding and merchant elites, a development that would have important consequences in the century to come. In short, the government’s inability to regulate commerce or even to protect parts of its empire without the help of foreigners may have profited its subjects even as it revealed Spain’s eclipse as a military power.


The death of Charles II on November 1, 1700 marked the end of the Habsburg dynasty in Spain and the beginning of a gradual but revolutionary transformation in imperial government. On his deathbed Charles staunchly resisted the influence of his Austrian queen and chose Duke Philip of Anjou, second son of the French dauphin and grandson of Louis XIV, to succeed him. The choice had been difficult and would lead to a world war of 12 years’ duration.

When the War of the Grand Alliance ended with the Peace of Rijswijk in 1697, there were three potential candidates for the Spanish throne: Philip of Anjou, Prince Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria, and Archduke Charles of Austria, second son of the Holy Roman Emperor. Louis XIV naturally favored the candidacy of his grandson, while Charles II’s queen, Mariana of Neuberg and some members of the Spanish elite supported the Austrian claimant. The Dutch and English favored the Bavarian because the acquisition of Spain and its empire by either France or Austria would threaten the balance of power in Europe. Knowing that France was in no condition to fight another war, Louis XIV signed the First Partition Treaty (October, 1698), a compromise agreement with William III of England and his allies that would give Spain, the Spanish Netherlands, and Spain’s American colonies to Joseph Ferdinand. Archduke Charles would get Milan. The rest of Spain’s Italian possessions plus the Basque Country would go to the French dauphin.

Charles II, however, was determined to avoid the breakup of his monarchy and drew up a will giving the entire inheritance to Joseph Ferdinand. When the seven-year-old Joseph Ferdinand died in 1699, a second partition treaty between Louis and William gave his inheritance to the Archduke Charles. Still unwilling to countenance the breakup of his empire and fully supported by his Council of State, Charles II wrote a second will in the days before his death that named Philip of Anjou as his sole heir. Louis XIV now realized that war was inevitable. Even if he honored the second treaty of partition he would have to fight the emperor and his maritime allies for Spain’s Italian possessions. If he did not, he would still have to fight, but he might at least be able to place a Bourbon on the Spanish throne. With nothing to lose, he refused to exclude Philip from the French succession and in December, 1700, Philip of Anjou became Philip V of Spain.

When the 17-year-old king entered Madrid for the first time in April, 1701 he discovered, apparently to his surprise, that he commanded only a vestigial fleet and an army that was in the last stages of decay. Its 10,000 infantry and 5000 cavalry had obsolete equipment or none at all. The kingdom’s fortresses were in disrepair, and the available military budget amounted to no more than about 3 million escudos. Spain was for all practical purposes defenseless. Alarmed, Louis XIV tried to support his grandson’s succession by garrisoning Spanish fortresses in the Netherlands with French troops and sending an army to protect Milan. These actions convinced the English, Dutch, and Austrians that Louis still harbored aggressive intentions. They renewed the Grand Alliance in September, 1701 and declared war against France and Spain in May, 1702. Portugal and Savoy joined the Alliance in 1703.

When the War of the Spanish Succession ended in 1713, Spain and its American colonies remained intact, but the European empire assembled by Charles V no longer existed. The 1688–1697 war had provoked an economic crisis in France, and by 1705 it was apparent that France could no longer confront the allies on equal terms nor could it fully protect Spanish interests. The English navy now dominated the seas because Louis had allowed his fleet to deteriorate after the treaty of Rijswijk. France could still raise formidable armies, but they were rarely a match for the allied forces in the north under the Duke of Marlborough or for the Austrians in Italy under Prince Eugene of Savoy. In Spain, the Archduke Charles captured Barcelona and Valencia with the help of the English fleet in 1705, and in 1706 the Portuguese army, to its own amazement, captured Madrid. Spain itself might have been lost had not a Franco-Spanish army under the Duke of Berwick defeated the English and Portuguese in the battle of Almansa on 25 April, 1707. Berwick, one of Louis XIV’s greatest commanders, was the illegitimate son of the exiled King James II of England. His victory paved the way for the re-conquest of Aragon and Valencia. Outside the peninsula, however, Spain’s position continued to deteriorate. Eugene of Savoy, who had grown up at the court of Louis XIV, forced the French out of northern Italy, and in July, 1707 an Austrian army occupied Naples. One year later, Marlborough having already defeated the French at Ramillies in 1706, defeated them again at Oudenarde, thereby securing most of the Spanish Netherlands for the allies. After the failure of peace talks in 1709, Marlborough completed his conquest of the Netherlands.

The treaties that ended the war, Utrecht (April 11, 1713) and Rastatt (September 7, 1714), reflected conditions on the ground with only a few modifications. Philip V retained Spain, including Catalonia which had been under Austrian control since 1705, and the Indies. The British (as they may now be called after the union of England and Scotland in 1707) retained Gibraltar and Minorca which they had captured during the war. Gibraltar’s importance was, and is, largely symbolic, although its survival as a British colony on Spanish soil is still deeply resented today. Minorca became an important base for the British navy which could now hope to control the Western Mediterranean by monitoring the French fleet based at Toulon. The Archduke Charles, who had been elected Emperor Charles VI in 1711, gained the most without actually signing the treaties. The allies gave him Naples, Sardinia, Milan, and the Tuscan forts, all of which enabled him to dominate the remaining states of northern Italy as Spain had done since the 1550s. The Spanish Netherlands was gradually transferred to Austrian rule as well after 200 years of Spanish rule, while Sicily went to Victor Amadeus II of Savoy.

Spain preserved its American empire primarily because France and the maritime powers knew that Philip’s cause was popular in America and had little stomach for waging war on the other side of the Atlantic. They hoped in any case to maintain the existing arrangement by which they harvested the profits of the Indies trade without the expense and trouble of maintaining a colonial government. Philip had already granted the French the right to trade in the Caribbean as a condition of Louis XIV’s support. By the Treaty of Utrecht he ceded the slave trade to to Britain as well.

Alexander Farnese, The Duke of Parma

The negotiations between France and the Netherlands have been massed, in order to present a connected and distinct view of the relative attitude of the different countries of Europe. The conferences and diplomatic protocolling had resulted in nothing positive; but it is very necessary for the reader to understand the negative effects of all this dissimulation and palace-politics upon the destiny of the new commonwealth, and upon Christendom at large. The League had now achieved a great triumph; the King of France had virtually abdicated, and it was now requisite for the King of Navarre, the Netherlands, and Queen Elizabeth, to draw more closely together than before, if the last hope of forming a counter-league were not to be abandoned. The next step in political combination was therefore a solemn embassy of the States-General to England. Before detailing those negotiations, however, it is proper to direct attention to the external public events which had been unrolling themselves in the Provinces, contemporaneously with the secret history which has been detailed in the preceding chapters.

By presenting in their natural groupings various distinct occurrences, rather than by detailing them in strict chronological order, a clearer view of the whole picture will be furnished than could be done by intermingling personages, transactions, and scenery, according to the arbitrary command of Time alone.

The Netherlands, by the death of Orange, had been left without a head. On the other hand, the Spanish party had never been so fortunate in their chief at any period since the destiny of the two nations had been blended with each other. Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma, was a general and a politician, whose character had been steadily ripening since he came into the command of the country. He was now thirty-seven years of age — with the experience of a sexagenarian. No longer the impetuous, arbitrary, hot-headed youth, whose intelligence and courage hardly atoned for his insolent manner and stormy career, he had become pensive, modest, almost gentle. His genius was rapid in conception, patient in combination, fertile in expedients, adamantine in the endurance or suffering; for never did a heroic general and a noble army of veterans manifest more military virtue in the support of an infamous cause than did Parma and his handful of Italians and Spaniards. That which they considered to be their duty they performed. The work before them they did with all their might.

Alexander had vanquished the rebellion in the Celtic provinces, by the masterly diplomacy and liberal bribery which have been related in a former work. Artois, Hainault, Douay, Orchies, with the rich cities of Lille, Tournay, Valenciennes, Arras, and other important places, were now the property of Philip. These unhappy and misguided lands, however, were already reaping the reward of their treason. Beggared, trampled upon, plundered, despised, they were at once the prey of the Spaniards, and the cause that their sister-states, which still held out, were placed in more desperate condition than ever. They were also, even in their abject plight, made still more forlorn by the forays of Balagny, who continued in command of Cambray. Catharine de’ Medici claimed that city as her property, by will of the Duke of Anjou. A strange title — founded upon the treason and cowardice of her favourite son — but one which, for a time, was made good by the possession maintained by Balagny. That usurper meantime, with a shrewd eye to his own interests, pronounced the truce of Cambray, which was soon afterwards arranged, from year to year, by permission of Philip, as a “most excellent milch-cow;” and he continued to fill his pails at the expense of the “reconciled” provinces, till they were thoroughly exhausted.

This large south-western section of the Netherlands being thus permanently re-annexed to the Spanish crown, while Holland, Zeeland, and the other provinces, already constituting the new Dutch republic, were more obstinate in their hatred of Philip than ever, there remained the rich and fertile territory of Flanders and Brabant as the great debateable land. Here were the royal and political capital, Brussels, the commercial capital, Antwerp, with Mechlin, Dendermonde, Vilvoorde, and other places of inferior importance, all to be struggled for to the death. With the subjection of this district the last bulwark between the new commonwealth and the old empire would be overthrown, and Spain and Holland would then meet face to face.

If there had ever been a time when every nerve in Protestant Christendom should be strained to weld all those provinces together into one great commonwealth, as a bulwark for European liberty, rather than to allow them to be broken into stepping-stones, over which absolutism could stride across France and Holland into England, that moment had arrived. Every sacrifice should have been cheerfully made by all Netherlanders, the uttermost possible subsidies and auxiliaries should have been furnished by all the friends of civil and religious liberty in every land to save Flanders and Brabant from their impending fate.

No man felt more keenly the importance of the business in which he was engaged than Parma. He knew his work exactly, and he meant to execute it thoroughly. Antwerp was the hinge on which the fate of the whole country, perhaps of all Christendom, was to turn. “If we get Antwerp,” said the Spanish soldiers — so frequently that the expression passed into a proverb — “you shall all go to mass with us; if you save Antwerp, we will all go to conventicle with you.”

Alexander rose with the difficulty and responsibility of his situation. His vivid, almost poetic intellect formed its schemes with perfect distinctness. Every episode in his great and, as he himself termed it, his “heroic enterprise,” was traced out beforehand with the tranquil vision of creative genius; and he was prepared to convert his conceptions into reality, with the aid of an iron nature that never knew fatigue or fear.

But the obstacles were many. Alexander’s master sat in his cabinet with his head full of Mucio, Don Antonio, and Queen Elizabeth; while Alexander himself was left neglected, almost forgotten. His army was shrinking to a nullity. The demands upon him were enormous, his finances delusive, almost exhausted. To drain an ocean dry he had nothing but a sieve. What was his position? He could bring into the field perhaps eight or ten thousand men over and above the necessary garrisons. He had before him Brussels, Antwerp, Mechlin, Ghent, Dendermonde, and other powerful places, which he was to subjugate. Here was a problem not easy of solution. Given an army of eight thousand, more or less, to reduce therewith in the least possible time, half-a-dozen cities; each containing fifteen or twenty thousand men able to bear arms. To besiege these places in form was obviously a mere chimera. Assault, battery, and surprises — these were all out of the question.

Yet Alexander was never more truly heroic than in this position of vast entanglement. Untiring, uncomplaining, thoughtful of others, prodigal of himself, generous, modest, brave; with so much intellect and so much devotion to what he considered his duty, he deserved to be a patriot and a champion of the right, rather than an instrument of despotism.

And thus he paused for a moment — with much work already accomplished, but his hardest life-task before him; still in the noon of manhood, a fine martial figure, standing, spear in hand, full in the sunlight, though all the scene around him was wrapped in gloom — a noble, commanding shape, entitled to the admiration which the energetic display of great powers, however unscrupulous, must always command. A dark, meridional physiognomy, a quick; alert, imposing head; jet black, close-clipped hair; a bold eagle’s face, with full, bright, restless eye; a man rarely reposing, always ready, never alarmed; living in the saddle, with harness on his back — such was the Prince of Parma; matured and mellowed, but still unharmed by time.

The cities of Flanders and Brabant he determined to reduce by gaining command of the Scheldt. The five principal ones Ghent, Dendermonde, Mechlin, Brussels Antwerp, lie narrow circle, at distances from each other varying from five miles to thirty, and are all strung together by the great Netherland river or its tributaries. His plan was immensely furthered by the success of Balthasar Gerard, an ally whom Alexander had despised and distrusted, even while he employed him. The assassination of Orange was better to Parma than forty thousand men. A crowd of allies instantly started up for him, in the shape of treason, faintheartedness, envy, jealousy, insubordination, within the walls of every beleaguered city. Alexander knew well how to deal with those auxiliaries. Letters, artfully concocted, full of conciliation and of promise, were circulated in every council-room, in almost every house.

The surrender of Ghent — brought about by the governor’s eloquence, aided by the golden arguments which he knew so well how to advance — had by the middle of September (19th Sept. 1584), put him in possession of West Flanders, with the important exception of the coast. Dendermonde capitulated at a still earlier day; while the fall of Brussels, which held out till many persons had been starved to death, was deferred till the 10th March of the following year, and that of Mechlin till midsummer.

The details of the military or political operations, by which the reduction of most of these places were effected, possess but little interest. The siege of Antwerp, however, was one of the most striking events of the age; and although the change in military tactics and the progress of science may have rendered this leaguer of less technical importance than it possessed in the sixteenth century, yet the illustration that it affords of the splendid abilities of Parma, of the most cultivated mode of warfare in use at that period, and of the internal politics by which the country was then regulated, make it necessary to dwell upon the details of an episode which must ever possess enduring interest.

It is agreeable to reflect, too, that the fame of the general is not polluted with the wholesale butchery, which has stained the reputation of other Spanish commanders so indelibly. There was no killing for the mere love of slaughter. With but few exceptions, there was no murder in cold blood; and the many lives that were laid down upon those watery dykes were sacrificed at least in bold, open combat; in a contest, the ruling spirits of which were patriotism, or at least honour.

It is instructive, too, to observe the diligence and accuracy with which the best lights of the age were brought to bear upon the great problem which Parma had undertaken to solve. All the science then at command was applied both by the Prince and by his burgher antagonists to the advancement of their ends. Hydrostatics, hydraulics, engineering, navigation, gunnery, pyrotechnics, mining, geometry, were summoned as broadly, vigorously, and intelligently to the destruction or preservation of a trembling city, as they have ever been, in more commercial days, to advance a financial or manufacturing purpose. Land converted into water, and water into land, castles built upon the breast of rapid streams, rivers turned from their beds and taught new courses; the distant ocean driven across ancient bulwarks, mines dug below the sea, and canals made to percolate obscene morasses — which the red hand of war, by the very act, converted into blooming gardens — a mighty stream bridged and mastered in the very teeth of winter, floating ice-bergs, ocean-tides, and an alert and desperate foe, ever ready with fleets and armies and batteries — such were the materials of which the great spectacle was composed; a spectacle which enchained the attention of Europe for seven months, and on the result of which, it was thought, depended the fate of all the Netherlands, and perhaps of all Christendom.

History of the United Netherlands, Volumes I-IV, Complete

by John Lothrop Motley – written 19856-07


BORN 27 August 1545

DIED 3 December 1592

KEY CONFLICTS Habsburg-Ottoman Wars, Eighty Years War

KEY BATTLES Lepanto 1571, Gembloux 1578, Siege of Antwerp 1584–85

Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, a nephew of Philip II of Spain, learned the principles of command from Don John of Austria, whom he followed to Lepanto in 1571, and subsequently to the Netherlands. Parma was given credit for the rout of the rebels at Gembloux in 1578 and succeeded Don John as governor-general soon after. He was a thorough professional with a lucid grasp of strategy, and showed his skill in siege warfare from the outset, taking Maastricht in 1579.

From 1582 he embarked on a systematic campaign of reconquest, capturing a series of strategic towns culminating with Antwerp.


Just as Parma was poised to reconquer all of the Netherlands, he was stopped. Philip II, frustrated by English piracy, resolved on an invasion of England. He ordered Parma to keep his Army of Flanders on standby at coastal ports, waiting for Spanish vessels to carry it to England. Parma opposed this plan, which ended in a debacle for Spain, and it deprived him of the chance of suppressing the Dutch revolt.


CAMPAIGN Eighty Years War

DATE September 1584-August 1585

LOCATION Antwerp, southern Netherlands

In September 1584 the Duke of Parma laid siege to the major port city of Antwerp. He knew that the answer to reducing the city lay in cutting it off from supplies arriving by sea, so he built a 750-m (2,460-ft) pontoon bridge blocking access to the port from the Scheldt estuary. On land Parma surrounded the city with siege lines and forts. Antwerp’s defenders responded by opening the dykes to flood the land around the city and attempting to destroy the bridge with fireships and floating explosives. Parma’s thorough conduct of the siege resisted all such efforts to break it, however, and after almost a year the starving city had no choice but to surrender.

Capturing Gibraltar I

Charles Holloway, the engineer, is amongst the principal officers recorded in the commemorative painting of the Siege of Gibraltar by George Carter.

Chevalier D’Arcon’s ‘floating batteries’ (Unknown 1781)

At the start of the siege in 1779, King Carlos III had asked for ideas on capturing Gibraltar. Of the sixty-nine replies, most were too outlandish to consider seriously. One that came to the fore was presented by Pedro Pablo Abarca de Bolea, the Count of Aranda, who proposed a massive Franco-Spanish invasion of England in order to force the British government to concede to various demands, including Spain taking possession of Gibraltar. This plan was received favourably, but shrank in size and scope after being discussed, amended and agreed with the French, resulting in the invasion attempt that had failed so dismally.

When the sustained bombardment of Gibraltar also failed to bring the garrison to its knees, the other plans were considered once again, and in July 1781 that of the forty-seven-year-old French military engineer, Jean-Claude-Eléonor Le Michaud d’Arçon, was chosen. His suggestion was for a combined attack from land and sea, relying especially on a bombardment from formidable floating gun batteries. There had been few previous attempts to build and use such vessels, and d’Arçon’s planned attack against Gibraltar would be the first to employ elaborately designed and constructed floating batteries as the main thrust of an attack. Warships were effectively floating batteries, because their main purpose was to carry as many cannons as possible to counter enemy warships, but they did not have a great deal of protection against cannonballs fired at them. At close range, solid shot could smash through both sides of a warship, and they were particularly vulnerable to red-hot shot, which might burn right through the bottom of a ship, set it on fire or ignite the gunpowder magazines. They could not withstand prolonged artillery fire from batteries on land and had no chance of making a dent in strongly built masonry defences, such as those on Gibraltar. D’Arçon therefore wanted to create gun batteries that floated on the sea, but had the resilience and firepower of land batteries.

By April 1782 he had been working on his plan for several months and had spent a considerable time surveying the coastline and defences of Gibraltar. From time to time suspicious activity was noticed, as on one occasion when Horsbrugh recorded: ‘At five in the morning the Vanguard and Repulse prames fired each a shot at a small boat they supposed to be sounding or reconnoitring.’ Using such a small boat in the dead of night, d’Arçon avoided being wounded or captured while he took soundings close to Gibraltar, but the surveying was only the beginning, because the major work was in the preparation of the floating batteries, which started in Cadiz and then shifted to Algeciras.

British newspapers also published other details they had learned about d’Arçon:

His plan has been adopted, and requires only 18,000 men. He is now at Algesiras, busy in the construction of boats, which are so formed as not to be overset or burnt. It is supposed that the principal attack will be made by sea, towards the New Mole … and the advanced works, which are daily encreasing, will unite in the general onset, the success of which, if not beyond doubt, appears at least very probable to those who are acquainted with the abilities of the engineer.

The attack on the Rock would be a battle between engineers: d’Arçon and his staff, who were devising novel methods of assault, pitted against William Green and his engineers, who were doing everything they could think of to defend Gibraltar.

News of d’Arçon’s scheme soon reached the garrison, and on 11 April one soldier wrote in his diary:

By letters from Portugal, by a boat this morning, we learn that the enemy are fitting up a number of ships, at Cadiz, intended for floating batteries to come against the walls: it is said they are to be lined with cork and oakum, and rendered shot and shell proof; that the Duke de Crillon is to have the command of the army in camp, and that, as soon as he arrives with the conquering troops from Minorca, the regular siege against this place will commence.

Having suffered so much for nearly three years, the soldier was appalled by the arrogance of the suggestion that, up to now, it had not been a proper siege. ‘In the name of all that is horrible in war,’ he raged, ‘what is meant by a siege, if bombarding, cannonading, and blockading on all sides … is not one?’ The idea that the French would now start a ‘regular siege’ probably emanated from their disdain for the Spanish military effort.

D’Arçon’s plan was to convert a number of merchant ships into floating batteries. The work had already begun at Cadiz, where the internal frames of each ship were strengthened and the hull covered with cork and oakum. The unpicked fibres from lengths of old rope were called ‘oakum’, while ‘junk’ was the old rope itself. On Gibraltar, the floating batteries were not only referred to as battering ships, but also as ‘junk ships’ because of the old rope used in their construction. Over this flexible layer of cork and oakum, a complete hull was built of new timber, resulting in a triple-thickness hull designed to absorb the impact of cannonballs, in the same way that worn-out rope made into mats was used by the garrison to absorb the impact of cannonballs fired at their gun batteries. In March one batch of ships had been brought to Algeciras for the next stage of conversion into floating batteries, and more arrived in early May, but Ancell heard that onlookers were not impressed: ‘The eight large ships that arrived over the way the 9th instant [9 May] are hauled close to the shore, and are unrigging, and those that arrived on the 24th March have proceeded to the Orange Grove. It is currently reported that they are lined with cork, and are to be converted into batteries, but most people think that they are more fit for fire-wood, than attacking a fortress.’

This work was taking place within sight of Gibraltar, and the progress of the ships was a subject of constant interest, with Horsbrugh recording what was happening only a few days later: ‘in the Bay of Algaziras they are begun to cut down the quarter deck and poops of the two ships lately hauled in shore, on which work a number of boats and men appear to be employed’. They were being prepared for one or two specially strengthened gun decks within the hull that could support large cannons. Towards the end of May, it became obvious that the ships were also being given additional protection. ‘This forenoon we had a tolerable good view of the Enemy at work on their shipping at Algaziras,’ wrote Horsbrugh. ‘They are covering their larboard [port] sides with timber or planks, which is no doubt intended as a defence against our shot &c.’ Speculation was rife, and another soldier commented: ‘The enemy have been fully employed these ten days past on two very large ships at Algesiras, thickening the larboard side with light materials. They have cut out eleven or twelve ports between decks, and shortened the larboard waist. I suppose they intend to make the upper deck splinter proof, as well as the sides shot proof. From every appearance, they will be snug batteries on the water.’

Because the starboard side was not being reinforced, the assumption was that the floating batteries were intended to fire only from their port side towards the garrison. They would therefore need to be towed into position by boats and be securely anchored, which would make them stationary targets. There was widespread scepticism, and Ancell remarked that ‘most of the garrison are of opinion, from their construction, that they will be found of very little use when they attack our walls, as they never will be able to tow them near enough to do any material execution, for should they daringly come on, their boats will be inevitably cut off by the grape shot from the garrison’.

Progress on the siegeworks slowed down while every effort was concentrated on the floating batteries. The Spanish firing also began to be aimed much more at the garrison’s upper batteries – including Koehler’s guns – that overlooked the isthmus, as Drinkwater saw: ‘The cannonade from the Enemy was now principally directed at our upper batteries. The rock-gun, mounted on the summit of the northern front, was become as warm, if not warmer than any other battery, and scarcely a day passed without some casuals [casualties] at that post.’ Most of the guns at the northern front were positioned on a series of terraces at the western side of the Rock, allowing gun batteries to be ranged in lines to face Spain. On the eastern side of Gibraltar at the north front, the terrain was too steep to establish many gun batteries. Although the sheer cliff face made an assault impossible, the lack of guns able to cover the eastern approach meant that the Spaniards could get very close this way. One legend is constantly repeated about the search for a solution:

the Governor, attended by the Chief Engineer [William Green] and staff made an inspection of the batteries at the north front. Great havoc had been made in some of them by the enemy’s fire, and for the present they were abandoned whilst the artificers were restoring them. Meditating for a few moments over the ruins, he said aloud, ‘I will give a thousand dollars to anyone who can suggest how I am to get a flanking fire upon the enemy’s works.’

At this point, Sergeant Major Henry Ince apparently proposed a tunnel, though there is no evidence that a reward was ever paid or even offered. After discussing such an idea in detail with Colonel Green, Eliott had in fact issued official orders for a tunnel a few days earlier than this supposed conversation, on 1 May: ‘To carry on a cannon communication by means of a souterrain gallery six feet high and 6 feet broad cut thro’ the solid rock beginning … above Farrington’s Battery, proceeding round towards the North East to a very favourable Notche in the Rock, nearly under the Royal Battery, in a commanding situation, being about 640 feet above the Isthmus, and will admit to form a level for a well shouldered establishment of two guns at least.’

The plan was to drive a tunnel eastwards, behind the cliff face, emerging at what they called ‘the Notch’ or ‘the Hook’, a projecting part of the rock face that was topped by an inaccessible platform nearly halfway up the cliff face, which it was hoped would be suitable as a gun emplacement, rather like a bastion, giving a wide field of fire over the area that they were currently unable to reach. It would then be possible, Eliott said in his orders, to respond to ‘any attack or approaches the Enemy may endeavour to push from the Devil’s Tower towards the pass of the Inundation at Lower Forbes, and will flank in an eminent degree any works they may advance towards the outer line … and may also command the access to, as well as the anchorage behind the mountain, all between the north east and south east quarters’.

It took until 25 May to start the tunnel: ‘This morning Sergt. Major Ince of the Artificer Company with 12 miners and labourers begun a new work at Greens Lodge above Willis’s to cut a dreft or subterraneous passage through the Rock to a declivity where a battery is to be made to annoy the enemy.’ Gibraltar nowadays has over 30 miles of tunnels and chambers, but tunnelling had never been attempted before Ince began his work. The mining was done using basic hand tools, with gunpowder for blasting, and the resulting debris was cleared away by hand. It would be a slow process, and time was pressing considering that an assault on the Rock was imminent.

D’Arçon’s plan was that after the floating batteries, gunboats and some warships had battered the garrison into submission, backed up by the gun batteries of the Spanish Lines and the advance works, thousands of troops would invade the Rock in several places, rather than a single massive assault against the strongest defences at the north end of Gibraltar. The attack would be supported by numerous warships of the combined French and Spanish fleet, as well as by every available smaller boat from the locality. Many of the troops were to be transported in small landing craft that had been specially designed by him so that they could attack weaker points in the defences to the south.

Capturing Gibraltar II

A projected assault upon Gibraltar.

The build-up of forces ranged against Gibraltar was increasing daily, and just as the tunnelling started, one soldier noted: ‘above ninety sail of Spanish transports arrived this evening, with a bomb-ketch, from the east, with troops and stores for the camp’. A few days later, he observed: ‘the number of vessels that have arrived at Algesiras exceeds a hundred: about ten battalions of troops have been landed from them’. Horsbrugh was more precise: ‘the enemy are pitching tents for a regiment in white to the right of the Catalan Camp on the south west face of the Queen of Spains Chair, and for the regiment in blue uniform on the west of Bona Vista Barracks’. This was a massive reinforcement of French forces who were no longer needed on Minorca.

The floating batteries were being monitored from Gibraltar, with increasing concern as more and more of the old merchant ships were converted. Although the garrison now had gunboats – some completed, others nearly so – to cope with the menace of the Spanish gunboats, it was difficult to see how they could withstand an attack by floating batteries. Spain was pouring everything into the scheme, and in Boyd’s journal it was acknowledged that Gibraltar’s inhabitants were in a state of terror: ‘The Enemy have now, about two hundred sail of vessels between Algaziers and the Orange Grove … This show of shipping before us puts our inhabitants and women in a great panic. They are hourly gathering up the little remains that devastation has left them, and carries it to caves, creeks and corners in the Rock, in order to save what they can of their remaining substances, as we daily expect a very heavy attack and storm both by sea and land.’ The inhabitants were still in makeshift huts and tents in the south, as were many of the soldiers, and after coming off guard duty, William Maddin from the 12th Regiment raised his musket, ‘making believe to shoot a girl in camp’. He had forgotten to unload his weapon and shot nine-year-old Maria Palerano, an inhabitant, through the head. She died instantly. Towards the end of May, Maddin was put on trial for murder and acquitted.

In spite of the anxiety of waiting for the attack, unexpectedly good health was recorded within the garrison at the start of June: ‘The Doctors reports does not show one man in the scurvy, and the fever brought here by the 97th Regiment is almost spent (as the men recovers very fast), neither has it been very fatal, so that we are at present, in general, in a much better state of health through the Garrison than we’ve been in since the Siege begun.’ It probably helped that supplies were managing to reach the garrison from Leghorn, Algiers and Portugal, and one Portuguese boat recently obtained thirty thousand oranges and a few casks of oil at Tetuan by the captain claiming the cargo was for Cadiz, then bringing it undetected to Gibraltar. Although the most effective remedy for scurvy was known to be fruit and vegetables, other ideas were still being pursued, and the Garrison Orders in early June said: ‘One quarter and half of a pint of vinegar to be issued to every ration, till further orders. The surgeons of the different corps are of opinion that this will be a great preventative in the sad effects of the scurvy.’

One asset to the garrison was the completion of the gunboats, with the final one being launched on 4 June, the king’s birthday. There were twelve in all, bearing suitable names such as Dreadnought and Vengeance. The day was celebrated with a royal salute of forty-four guns, the age of the king, all directed towards the Spanish siegeworks, while the ‘Governor honoured himself this morning with a captain’s guard and a standard of colours of the 73rd Regiment of Highlanders dressed in their tartan plaids’. There was also another glimmer of hope – that red-hot shot or heated cannonballs might deal with the floating batteries. Although known for decades as a theoretical technique, this dangerous procedure had until now been rarely used. It also required a great deal of fuel, which was in short supply. Solid cast-iron cannonballs were heated in a furnace and were fired by placing a cartridge into the gun, ramming down a well-soaked wad, followed by a heated cannonball. Another wet wad was rammed in on top of the red-hot shot if the cannon was to be fired while pointed downwards. Experiments at the beginning of the siege had established that a cannonball took about twenty-five minutes to heat and was still hot enough to ignite gunpowder after fifty minutes. On hitting the target, the intense heat made red-hot shot extremely difficult to deal with, and it set fire to anything combustible.

The technique of using red-hot shot was difficult to master. Early on, some equipment for heating shot had been set up, with Captain Paterson noting that ‘a detachment of artillery ordered to practise the motions of firing red hot shot daily’. These ‘motions’ were probably done with cold shot, but now that an attack was imminent, the gunners needed to be able to use the real thing. The red-hot shot furnaces, sometimes called grates or forges, comprised a strong iron framework to support a grid or rack to hold the cannonballs, with a fire of wood, coal and coke underneath. The heated shot was manhandled with specially made tools such as tongs and two-handled shot carriers, which were all made on Gibraltar by blacksmiths from the artificers.

The loaded cannons had to be aimed and fired quickly before the shot burned through the wad and fired the gun prematurely, which is what occurred at a practice session in early June: ‘On the 7th, our artillery practised from the King’s Bastion with red-hot shot against the Irishman’s brig.’ A few weeks earlier, this brig had sailed towards the Old Mole, but ran aground when fired on by the Spaniards. After being rescued, the captain was severely rebuked, but he explained that before leaving Cork in Ireland he had heard about the successful sortie and was told that the Old Mole, his old anchoring place in peacetime, was open. The garrison gunners were now using his vessel for red-hot shot practice: ‘In the first round, one of the artillery-men putting in the shot, the fire by some means immediately communicated to the cartridge, and the unfortunate man was blown from the embrasure in some hundred pieces. Two others were also slightly wounded with the unexpected recoil of the carriage.’

By now, the tunnel being cut by Ince was progressing steadily, but on the same day as this accident, Horsbrugh said that two miners were injured: ‘two men of the 72nd Regiment had the misfortune to lose each a leg by the blowing up of a mine in the communication we are making through the Rock to get at the Notch on the North Front, and one of them died soon after being carried to the Hospital.’ Because they were mercifully rare, such accidents were more newsworthy than the commonplace casualties caused by the Spanish bombardment, but an incident a few days later, on 11 June, turned out to be the worst single day for casualties in the last three years. Garrison working parties were making considerable improvements and repairs to the defences while the Spaniards were focused on the floating batteries and their guns remained fairly quiet, but during a random episode of firing, a single shot caused havoc. An emotional description was set down in Boyd’s journal:

Between 10 and 11 o’clock this forenoon a large shell from the enemy fell in the door of one of the small magazines at Willis’s, on Princess Ann’s Battery (where a great working party were repairing the fortification there); the shell on its explosion blew up the magazine which contained about 96 barrels, or, 9,600 pounds of powder, killing 13 men and wounding 12 more. This has been the most fatal day since the beginning of the siege. How horrid and dreadful to behold the terrible blast and explosion! To feel the town and the Rock tremble, and to see men, stones, timber, casks, mortar and earth flying promiscuously in the dark smoky cloud far above the surface, in the air; and on their coming down are dashed to pieces on the craggy rocks, some thrown headlong down the dreadful precipice into the Lines, a most shocking exit! having not time to offer up to God a single prayer preparatory to their acceptance in an everlasting state.

The huge explosion was clearly visible to those at the Spanish Lines, who were heard cheering at the sight of the disaster. Their firing continued to concentrate on the same spot, in the hopes of another spectacular hit: ‘The enemy poured in shot and shells upon that part as thick as hail, so that it was night before all the killed and wounded were gathered up.’ Because a mixture of soldiers had been drafted into the working party doing the repairs, the final casualty list was thirteen rank-and-file soldiers and one drummer killed, with many more injured.

Over at Algeciras, tents were now visible for the workmen who were converting the old warships into floating batteries. Even with powerful telescopes, though, observations from the Rock could yield only a limited amount of information about what the Spaniards and French were preparing, and all kinds of rumours circulated. Definite information at last arrived on 21 June from two former Genoese inhabitants, who had been captured when bringing a cargo to Gibraltar from Algiers. They had been taken to Algeciras, from where they had just managed to escape in the prison-ship’s boat. From them, it was learned that French reinforcements had indeed arrived, that ten ships were being converted into floating batteries, though a shortage of carpenters was causing delays, and that the Spaniards were in high spirits.

On the same day, the French troops finished landing, and it was said that there were now thirty thousand men in the camp. The commander of the Minorca siege, the Duc de Crillon, had also arrived to take over command of the siege of Gibraltar, and the two Genoese, Drinkwater said, ‘informed us that the grand attack was fixed to be in September, but that all, both sailors and soldiers, were much averse to the enterprise’. If they were correct, then the garrison still had at least two more months to prepare.

Four Brothers in a Conquest: The Alvarados and Guatemala I

These heady theological uncertainties in Seville seemed far away from the practical politics of New Spain. For another remarkable expedition mounted by Cortés was led by the brilliant, brutal, unpredictable, fascinating, and brave Pedro de Alvarado, an Extremeño from Badajoz, to the Tehuantepec peninsula and subsequently to Guatemala. Far away Guatemala may seem, yet the Spaniards were conquistadors from Extremadura. In November 1522, Alvarado had obtained a large encomienda in watery Xochimilco, just to the south of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, and then one in Tututepec in Tlaxcala. He had been used by Cortés since the conquest of Mexico-Tenochtitlan in August 1521, in a variety of ways: in Veracruz, in relation to Cristóbal de Tapia, the King’s representative (or the bishop of Burgos’s), sent improbably in December 1521 to seize command from Cortés; then in Pánuco in 1523 to deal with Francisco de Garay. But this complex and usually successful Extremeño now wanted a theater of conquest for himself.

In December 1523, Cortés gave Alvarado the mission to go to Guatemala to see if indeed, as he had been told, there were there “many rich and splendid lands inhabited by new and different races.” Presumably Cortés had also been informed that the region was fertile, that it produced both cotton and cacao, and that it had once contained the wild forebears of such plants as maize, tomato, avocado, and sweet potato. Cortés was always anxious to give his close friends a chance to fulfill themselves. With Alvarado in particular, he was always generous, for he had known him since their childhood together in Extremadura and throughout the conquest of Mexico. Alvarado’s reckless valor (with his own life, as well as those of others) and insolent pride impressed Cortés, who was prudent, cautious, cultivated, and patient: it was the charm of opposites. Alvarado, sometimes known as Tonatiuh (Son of the Sun) or sometimes just El Sol (Sun), to the native Indians because of his fair hair, height, good looks, and blue eyes, was the most popular of the many brave men whom Cortés had in his army. Bernal Díaz wrote that Cortés had asked Alvarado “to try and bring the people [of Guatemala] to peace [with Spain] without waging war and to preach matters concerning our holy faith by means of the interpreters which he took with him.” He took the opportunity to say that Alvarado was “very well made and active, of good features and bearing, and both in appearance and speech so pleasing that he seemed always smiling.” He was an excellent horseman, liked rich clothes, always had round his neck a small gold chain on which hung a jewel, and he wore also a ring with a good diamond. Díaz del Castillo´s criticism was that he talked too much and sometimes cheated at totoloque. Others would complain that he was insensitive to the feelings of Indians, whom he treated as beneath contempt. Several of his soldiers in this journey to Guatemala later testified to his brutality.

Alvarado set off. The distance was, of course, considerable. Even now to travel by land from Mexico to Guatemala is a challenge. Aldous Huxley wrote of the journey from Oaxaca to Chiapas with awe. But he did not travel by foot or on a horse, as Alvarado did, seeing for himself the long line of the Pacific coast.

Alvarado took with him about 330 men, of whom 120 were horse, the rest infantrymen. He had four pieces of artillery, which he arranged to be pulled by Indians, and he had a strong force of crossbowmen and musketeers. It was a family expedition from the beginning. With him rode his brothers—Jorge, Gonzalo, and Gómez—all of whom had accompanied Cortés on his dramatic journeys, as well as two nephews, Diego and Hernando de Alvarado, and his future son-in-law, Francisco de la Cueva. He had a chaplain in the shape of Fray Bartolomé de Olmedo, the Mercedarian who had been with Cortés: He was responsible for 2,500 conversions before the end of 1524, when he died. All these friends and relations worshipped Pedro de Alvarado. In addition, Alvarado had with him a substantial number of “natives” from central Mexico—perhaps six thousand or seven thousand men, according to Antonio de Luna, in an inquiry of 1570—including, it would seem, both Mexica and people from Tlaxcala, the Spaniards’ chief allies. There seem also to have been a prudent number of black African slaves.

Alvarado took a month to reach Soconusco, a territory well known for its chocolate and, then as now, for its beautiful, large women. Jorge de Alvarado was allocated that place as an encomienda by his brother, Pedro (Cortés himself had had it for a year or two). It had been fully conquered by the Mexica only in the early years of the century, in the days of Montezuma, but it had been sending semiannual tribute to the Mexica in Tenochtitlan for forty years before that. It was known for its supply of beautiful green feathers from the quetzal bird. Probably the plumage in the famous headdress in Vienna derived from birds from here.

The Alvarados were now on the verge of entering present-day Guatemala. At that time, three dominant peoples lived there: the Quichés, the Cakchiquels, and the Tzutúhil. All were close in social structure to the Mexica, and their priests said that they and their leaders originally came from Tollan and Teotihuacan. Beyond were a warlike tribe called the Mam. Archaelogists argue that there had been three waves of invasion from the north. These northern invaders had brought with them the idea of cremation rather than burial, they used caves (in which they deposited deities) for worship, they had a cult of war, they had good metallurgical traditions, they had experimented with a bicephalous system of government in the style of Rome or Sparta, they had sunken ball courts with vertical walls, they preferred tortillas to tamales, and they had regular commercial relations with Tenochtitlan. They fought with grenades of pottery sometimes filled with fire, sometimes with wasps or hornets: they decapitated prisoners; and they had bark on which to write painted genealogical trees. Their people wore cotton clothing: the women sarongs, the men loincloths. They had above all brought down from old Mexico the god of rain, Tlaloc, and some of his companions in the pantheon of Mexican deities such as Xipe Totec, the terrifying flayed fertility god, and Xolotl, the evening star who was Quetzalcoatl’s half-brother. Their calendar contained, as did that of Tenochtitlan, a sacred cycle of fifty-two years. They did not celebrate human sacrifice on anything like the scale that was practiced in the sixteenth century by the Mexica, which makes one see that the legends suggesting that the practice had much increased in the last generations before the arrival of the Spaniards were probably right. Famous opponents were the only ones to be routinely killed.

Though the Quiché and the Cakchiquels were plainly related, they had fought one another for years over possession of cacao and cotton fields. That was what marked them. Had the Spaniards not come, the region would probably have been eventually conquered by the Mexica. The land, Alvarado reported to his leader, Cortés, was so thickly populated that “there are more people than Your Excellency has governed till now.” Like all comments at that time on populations, or the size of armies, that was an exaggeration. But archaeologists have found pyramidical mounds of old Guatemala in which there were fifteen million shards, perhaps from about half a million vessels, suggesting that the mounds must have been built in the early Christian era by ten to twelve thousand laborers.

The country included the Cuchumatan highlands, the most sensational nonvolcanic region of Central America. The name may signify “that which has come together with great force,” but it can also mean, in Nahuatl, “place of the parrot hunters.” There are also the jungle lowlands of Petén and a chain of active and geologically young volcanic peaks, which can be seen from the sea and which inspired Disraeli’s famous comment about the aging Whig cabinet of 1868.

Guatemala was also the land of Popol Vuh, a poem composed in the fourth century A.D. about the creation of the world. By 1500 it probably had as many versions as there are dialects of Maya, but the one that has survived is that of one of the leading clans of the Quiché. The book that contained it was traditionally said to have been obtained as a result of a journey to the Atlantic or Caribbean coast and would be consulted by the lords of Quiché when they sat in council. The Quiché referred to the volume as “The light which came from near the sea.” Other names for it were “Our place in the shadows” or “The dawn of Life.”

The existence of this remarkable poem along with high-class pottery, elaborate ball courts, and dance platforms for the performance of religious and historical music dramas, as well as the Annals of the Cakchiquel, made Guatemala one of the most sophisticated countries the Spaniards set out to conquer. Repetitive, contradictory, and often incomprehensible to the modern reader, Popol Vuh has about it an unquestionable profundity, which makes it a landmark of indigenous literature.

Once beyond Soconusco in January 1524, Alvarado sent messages to the lords of Guatemala asking them not to impede his progress but to submit themselves to him as the representative of Charles the Emperor. If they resisted, he declared, he would make war on them. He understandably received no reply. Such communications were relatively easy, since Nahuatl was understood in many Quiché and Cakchiquel towns. So Alvarado’s mercenaries from Tlaxacala or Tenochtitlan could talk together easily and secure supplies at least of maize made into tortillas, or into drink (atole), or even boiled in a leaf (tamale), as today.

Alvarado moved on, passing Zapotitlán, the land of the sapodilla plum. Afterwards, the journey became more difficult since they were obliged to continue along the coastal plain, the llanura costera, between the sparsely populated Sierra Madre de Chiapas, which rises to about 4,000 feet at its border with Oaxaca and to 10,000 feet on the southeast frontier into Guatemala and the Pacific Ocean. The mosquitoes never left the Spaniards, who suffered thereby more than if they had met ferocious enemies. These, too, they encountered, though on a small scale. On February 19, they struck inland and up the hillside. This was the first time that any European had seen, much less visited, these Pacific-facing hills.

The pueblos of the mountains were small clusters of twenty-four to thirty-six mud-walled houses with palm-leaf roofs. The only certain item in these houses was a tripodal stone for grinding corn—a rounded or rectangular slab of hard igneous rock whose grinding surface would have been worn in the center. The villages were usually undefended, there were no avenues or fine plazas, nor, indeed, any kind of urban planning. What they did have, though, was much superb monochrome or bichrome pottery made into bowls, pots, and incense burners with three legs, as well as figurines and whistles.

Popol Vuh seemed to have forecast the Spaniards’ arrival: “And it is not clear how they crossed the sea, They crossed over as if there had been no sea. Where the waters were divided, they crossed over.” The Quiché people were, therefore, on a war footing. They fell on Alvarado’s indigenous mercenaries with pleasure. Their temporary success was set back by Alvarado’s horsemen. But the Quiché had heard of the menace of the horsemen and recovered to attack the Spaniards from above, in a valley under the volcano Santa María, approximately where there is now the city of Quezaltenango (Xela in Maya). The attack was eventually held and pressed back, the Quiché leader Tecún Umán being killed, perhaps by Alvarado himself. The Maya insisted that Tecún Umán immediately became a god, in the shape of an eagle with quetzal plumes. The legendary ability of many Quiché to become animals impressed even Alvarado.

After the battle, the Spaniards rested several days, only to receive yet another attack by another Quiché army, numbering, so Alvarado grandly put it, twelve thousand. This was also defeated by a clever Spanish combination of artillery and cavalry. After this, the Quiché agreed to seek peace and invited Alvarado to negotiate with them at Utatlán, their main city, a characteristic hilltop fortress town, known for the legend of the so-called “marvellous Kings,” Gucumatz, who died in 1425, and Quicab, who died in 1475. Those mythical individuals have reminded some learned archaeologists of the great god Quetzalcoatl in Mexico (Ehecatl, in Guatemala) and there were in Guatemala certainly the circular temples with which that deity had been associated in Tenochtitlan. There were ceremonial plazas and buildings that served as tombs, painted temples, and good avenues alongside pyramids as in Teotihuacán. The fine pottery from here included many figurines. The Spaniards duly went there in March, by then knowing of the tribal hatreds between the Quichés and the Cakchiquels, with the last-named of whom Alvarado had just made an alliance and who were said to have provided him with four thousand men.

Four Brothers in a Conquest: The Alvarados and Guatemala II

Alvarado found the city closed. Rightly afraid of being trapped with his horses and all his followers if he went inside, he camped outside the walls. There he received a visit from two lords who emerged from inside Utatlán. The discussions went badly, and Alvarado imprisoned them. This infuriated the other Quiché leaders, who ordered an attack. Alvarado responded by putting the city to the torch and, in the fire, amid sporadic fighting, the leaders whom he had captured were burned.

Alvarado was later accused of inhumanity in this instance: A number of Spanish witnesses were asked in interminable later lawsuits in Spain if they knew that when “the said Pedro de Alvarado was the captain … at Utlatan [sic] and at Guatimala [sic] … certain lords came in peace and said Pedro de Alvarado seized them and burned them for no good reason other than that he wanted to know if they had any gold.” The accusations never ended, but Alvarado was never charged.

In April 1524, Alvarado turned on the Cakchiquel who, from their capital at Quahtematlan, had observed with pleasure the defeat of their Quiché enemies. All the same, they were fearful of the Spaniards with their guns, their horses, and not least, their terrifying war dogs. They urged Alvarado to take his army against the people of Atitlán, another town of the Cakchiquels, who had already shown their hostility to Spaniards by killing four messengers who had come to propose a pact. So on April 17, 1524, Alvarado led a detachment of sixty horse, 150 foot, and a large unit of Cakchiquels toward Atitlán. After a skirmish with Tzutu Indians by a lakeside, they reached their destination with ease. But the city was deserted, for the people were justifiably terrified. Alvarado did, however, find some Indians and sent them to tell their lords that he would make peace with them if they returned and declared themselves vassals of the King of Spain. The lords soon accepted these conditions, but whether they understood what they had undertaken is doubtful. The word vassal is not easily comprehended.

In May, Alvarado embarked on a new journey to the south of Guatemala to Panatcat (Escuintla), where some of Alvarado’s indigenous allies, especially some who had come with him from Texcoco, were caught off their guard and slaughtered. Alvarado punished the town by burning it. He continued onward, passing through Atepac, Tacuilulá, Taxisco, Moquisalco, and Nancintla, and across the river now known as the Río Paz, into what is now El Salvador. Everywhere the meeting between the Spaniards and the naturales was similar: The former were received in peace; the naturales then abandoned the town and fled to the hills, where they planned a resistance. The only serious battle was at Achiutla, the gateway to El Salvador, where about six thousand fighters launched a serious attack and killed many of Alvarado’s indigenous allies. No Spaniards died, but some were wounded, including Alvarado himself. An arrow went through his leg and left him for a time crippled, one leg seeming for a long while shorter than the other. Alvarado’s life was for several months at risk because of infection.

Alvarado eventually continued into El Salvador, putting up with further attacks at Tlacusqualco and halting at Cuzcatlán, the most important of these towns, where the Spaniards would shortly found a settlement that they named San Salvador. One of Alvarado’s soldiers, Román Lópes, would testify later that, on the way to this city, the population of all the towns en route “came out in peace and Alvarado then burned them and made slaves of the people and branded them.” Pedro González de Nájera, who had come to New Spain with Narváez, said the same: “This witness was with Pedro de Alvarado and was present when those concerned were burned because they desired to burn them.” The lords in this last place offered food, fruit, cloaks—and obedience. But they then fled to the hillside as usual. After two and a half weeks, the Spaniards moved on to Ixmide, which they reached on July 21, and where soon, because of the date, they decided to found Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala (the day of Saint James, Santiago, is July 25). It would become the main city of the colony, though it suffered several changes of site (one can still see the narrow causeway that Alvarado and his men used to storm the old city). Alvarado gave this new city several municipal councillors or alcaldes ordinarios (Diego de Rojas from Seville and a son of Leonora de Alvarado, Baltasar de Mendoza) while his brother Gonzalo became the alguacil mayor (chief constable). Thus, the ways of Spain were once again transferred to a new site in an unknown country.

Here, eight months after leaving Mexico, Alvarado and his men rested. All his surviving indigenous troops except the loyal people of Tlaxcala made their way homeward. But “Tonatiuh” himself imposed on his Cakchiquel allies a tribute in gold, which he said that they had to pay even though they were helping him so substantially. The lords of the Cakchiquels refused and recommended all their people to abandon the cities and take refuge in the hills. The friendship between Alvarado and these people was thus broken.

But once again old hatreds were the best allies of the invaders. The Quichés and the people of Atitlán were happy to fight against their Cakchiquel enemies, even under new circumstances. The Cakchiquels had, however, learned new tactics from their months of alliance with the Spaniards, whom they forced to return to Quetzaltenango. Diego de Alvarado, nephew of Pedro, took two years reducing Cuzcatlán, while Gonzalo, his uncle, conquered the territory of the Mam between Chiapas and the Quiché. Gonzalo de Alvarado was named by his brother to conduct this campaign after it became evident that an abortive plan to burn the Spaniards at Atitlán in 1524 had been suggested to the Quiché leader, Chugna Huincelet, by the Mam, Caibil Balam. Chugna was killed, but his son Sequechul wanted to avenge him. Sequechul offered to guide Gonzalo to “the great and rich territory” of the Mam, which boasted what he explained was an abundant treasure.

For a year or so the initiative for further conquests lay with Gonzalo de Alvarado, not Pedro, who took many months to recover from the wound in his leg. Gonzalo had been in the Indies since 1510 and had been with Cortés throughout the great campaigns of conquest. He was devoted to his famous family and had even married into it since his wife, Bernardina, was his niece, being the daughter of Jorge de Alvarado (who himself had married Luisa de Estrada).

In July 1525, Gonzalo de Alvarado left Tecpán-Guatemala for the country of the Mam with forty horse, about eighty infantry, and two thousand or so Mexica and Quiché Indians, who acted either as porters or warriors in the early stages of the battles. He was delayed by the onset of rains. They went first to Totonicapán, on the edge of the Mam land, then to what they named the Río Hondo, “the deep river,” and seized the town of Mazatenango, which they re-christened San Lorenzo. Marching beyond that pueblo toward Huehuetenango, they met a Mam army from Malacatán. But Gonzalo de Alvarado charged it with his horsemen, and the Mam leader Cani Acab was killed by the Spanish commander himself with his lance. As so often after the death of a leader, the native resistance collapsed, and Gonzalo occupied Malacatán, whose inhabitants swiftly accepted to become vassals of the King of Spain.

The next Mam town to be occupied was Huehuetenango, where fine birds such as the quetzal, parrot, and cotinga could be found, with feathers for headdresses and cloaks, and whose inhabitants fled first to the fortress town of Zaculeu with ravines on three sides. This had been an important center of Mam culture for one thousand years. It had been captured by the Quichés in the early fifteenth century. But recently it had asserted what seemed to have been independence.

Gonzalo de Alvarado demanded its peaceful surrender: “Let it be known [to Caibil Balam] that our coming is beneficial to his people because we bring news of the true God and of the Christian religion sent by the Pope, the Vicar of Jesus, as of the Emperor King of Spain so that you may become Christians peacefully of your own free will. But if you should refuse our offer of peace, the death and destruction which will follow will be your own responsibility.” Gonzalo gave his opponents three days in which to consider his offer. No answer came. Instead, a Mam army came from the north to relieve Zaculeu. Gonzalo left his deputy, Antonio de Salazar, to continue the siege (Salazar had been with Narváez in New Spain and had subsequently been in most of Cortés’s battles round the lake of Tenochtitlan). He turned on the relief force, though by now his men were hungry, without much hope of food until Zaculeu was taken. The Spanish mercenaries were as usual held by the Indians, who were forced into defeat by the horsemen. Gonzalo returned to Zaculeu with starvation threatening. His surviving Indian auxiliaries were forced to the Indians, who were forced into defeat by the horsemen. Gonzalo returned to Zaculeu with starvation threatening. His surviving Indian auxiliaries were forced to eat dead horses. But then Juan de León Cardona, whom Pedro de Alvarado had made captain of the conquered Quiché territory, sent a substantial shipment of food. Zaculeu surrendered in September 1525, and Gonzalo assumed the command of all the western Cuchumatans.

By then, Pedro de Alvarado had recovered adequately from his wound to be able to contemplate a new expedition of his own, this time into Chiapas, seeking to meet his old commander and comrade Cortés, who was then en route for Higueras to punish the willful Cristóbal de Olid. Chiapas, it will be recalled, had some years before been conquered by Sandoval. Alvarado wanted Cortés’s support for his claim formally to become governor of Guatemala. But the dense jungles, the colossal rivers, and the wonderful mountains made any thought of meeting Cortés impracticable.

Alvarado returned to Guatemala, where he found that several of his settlements, such as San Salvador, had been destroyed. All the same, he had become attached to Guatemala and its people, even though he had treated them so harshly. Perhaps the landscape counted for him, improbable though it may seem. Relentless men have soft sides. The range of altitude, climate, and vegetation along the Pacific coast is astonishing. Perhaps he liked the cypresses, the high fertile valleys, the temperate climate, the volcanic stone for grinding maize and sharp knives, the availability of lime for mortar. The narrow coastal plain is very well watered. There was obsidian for weapons and iron pyrites with which to make looking glasses. There was a little gold in the streams, as well as copper, and also abundant fresh fish, and shellfish at the coast. There was bark for making paper, silk and cotton for quilted armor, tobacco, pumpkins for music, bees for honey. Some Spaniards were impressed by the diversity of gods in Guatemala, as by the ritual invoked on all occasions of celebration and by the speed with which Catholic saints were identified with local gods. Certainly this was a territory much richer than Alvarado’s hometown of Badajoz in Extremadura.

Hearing that Francisco de Montejo, a comrade of his in the early days of the campaign in New Spain, had been granted the governorship of Yucatán, Alvarado determined to return to Mexico-Tenochtitlan and then to Spain to obtain a similar nomination for himself in Guatemala. He had by then taken “such a fancy to this land of Guatemala and its people that he decided to stay there and colonise. So he laid the foundation for Santiago de Guatemala and prepared a cathedral.” He also established encomiendas and a town council for his new city, from whose members he went through the motions of requesting permission, as acting governor, to leave for Spain. His brother Jorge then became acting governor from August 1526.

Though the conquest of Guatemala was far from complete, Alvarado had made his mark there, and as Tonatiuh, Son of the Sun, he would be remembered in his absence. The Quiché lords would perhaps echo the prayer of the lords in Popol Vuh: “Heart of Sky, heart of earth, give me strength, give me the courage, in my heart, in my head, for you are my mountain and my plain.”