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Transactions in Old Spain.


IN the year one thousand five hundred and twenty one, our most Holy Father Pope Adrian of Lobayana succeeded to the sovereign pontificate. He was then governor of Castille, and resided in the city of Vittoria, where our agents waited upon him to kiss the foot of his holiness. At the same time arrived a great nobleman from Germany, called Mosiur de Lasoa, chamberlain to his Majesty, by whom he was sent to congratulate his holiness on his election. This M. de Lasoa, having heard the heroical actions of the conquerors of Mexico, and the great works they had done for the extension of our holy faith, by the conversion and baptism of so many thousands of Indians, was interested in our behalf, and applied to the Holy Pontiff, requesting him to accelerate the business wherein our agents were employed. This request was readily granted, for independent of what was laid before him by our agents, our holy father had received many complaints against the Bishop of Burgos from persons of high honour and quality, whereby our agents were encouraged toil proceed in a formal accusation against him. Those who were most active in the business were Francisco de Montejo, Diego de Ordas, the licentiate Francisco Nunez cousin to Cortes, and Martin Cortes our general’s father, who were assisted by many great and, powerful noblemen, but principally by the Duke de Bejar; and thus countenanced, they brought forward their charges with great effect.

The first was, that Velasquez had bribed him with a district, with the people of which he worked gold mines. Secondly, that in the 

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year one thousand five hundred and seventeen, when one hundred and ten of us procured vessels at our own expence and set out for the discovery of New Spain, the Bishop of Burgos informed his Majesty that it was Diego de Velasquez who had done so, contrary to the truth.

Thirdly that Velasquez had sent twenty thousand crowns in gold, which his nephew Juan de Grijalva had obtained, to the bishop, and no part to his Majesty; and that when Cortes sent a present of gold the bishop seized it, suppressing our letters, and substituting others, ascribing the said present to Velasquez. Also that the bishop retained one half of the treasure, and when Puertocarrero applied to him for permission to wait upon his Majesty, he caused him to be seized and thrown into prison, where he died. Also, that he sent orders to the officers of the Casa de Contractacion of Seville, that they should not give any assistance to Cortes. Farther, that he appointed as officers to the military service in New Spain, such as were not fit for it, as was the case in regard to one Tapia, to whom, in order to bring about a marriage between his niece and the said Tapia, he promised the government of New Spain. Also, that he approved for good, the false relations transmitted by the agents of Velasquez, which he forwarded to his Majesty, suppressing those of Cortes which were the true ones. There were besides many other charges, all very well substantiated, and which he could not deny.

These things being all brought to light, his holiness was pleased to order, that the Bishop of Burgos should have no farther authority in New Spain, that Cortes should be declared governor thereof, and that Velasquez should receive compensation for the expences he had been at, and could duly prove. His holiness sent alto to New Spain a number of indulgences for the hospitals and churches, and was pleased to direct Cortes and us the conquerors to pay unremitting attention to the conversion of the Indians, adding how much it was the duty of himself and all Christendom to pray for those who had done so much for the advancement of our holy faith. He also was pleased to send to us his

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holy bulls of absolution. All this his Majesty graciously thought proper to confirm, so far as relates to the civil and military establishment, adding thereto his order to Velasquez to give up his government of Cuba, on account of his having, sent out the armament under Narvaez in defiance of the peremptory orders of the royal chamber of audience, and of the brethren of the order of St. Jerome. The Bishop of Burgos was so affected by the censure which his holiness the Pope passed upon his conduct, and by his Majesty’s orders in consequence thereof, that when he retired to his country seat at Toro he fell dangerously ill.

At this period arrived in Old Castille, Pamphilo de Narvaez, and Christoval de Tapia, whom the Bishop of Burgos had created governor of New Spain, together with the pilots Umbria and Cardenas. These persons waited on the bishop to demand his permission to lay their accusations against Cortes before his Majesty, and as the bishop desired nothing better than to hear complaints of Cortes and of us, he shewed them every favour in his power. When the agents of Velasquez perceived this, they gladly joined the party, and all together went to prefer their charges before the Emperor.

They made strong accusations against Cortes; first, that Velasquez fitted out armaments three times to his own great cost, and entrusted the command of the last to Cortes, who broke his engagement. Farther, that when Velasquez sent Narvaez with his Majesty’s commission as governor general of New Spain, Cortes made war upon, and defeated him. Also, that when the Bishop of Burgos sent Tapia to take the government of those countries in his Majesty’s name, he refused to obey, and by main force compelled him to reimbark. They also accused Cortes of having obtained a quantity of gold in the name of his Majesty, and converting it to his own use; of having taken to himself a fifth of all prizage; of having burnt the feet of Guatimotzin; of retaining the soldiers shares; and building palaces and fortified houses that were as large as whole villages, making the inhabitants round Mexico work at them, and forcing them to draw large cypress trees, and stones, from a great 

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distance; and that he had given poison to Francisco de Garay, to get from him his troops and shipping. There were many other accusations brought forward, so that his Majesty was at last tired of hearing them, believing them to be true.

Narvaez, when admitted into the Emperor’s presence addressed him in his pompous tone of voice, as follows. “Your Majesty must further know, that on the night I was taken prisoner, having your royal commission in my pocket, my eye put out, and in apprehension of being burnt alive, for the apartment was in flames, one of Cortes’s captains, Alonzo de Avila at preterit prisoner in France, violently tore your commission out of my pocket, and when I claimed it, declaring what it was, he denied the fact, and said that they were bonds for money owing me by Spaniards in Mexico, and which I was coming to enforce.” At this the Emperor could not refrain from laughing. In regard to the charges, his Majesty said, he would give orders that strict justice should be done; and he forthwith commanded that certain persons of his royal privy council should be formed into a court of enquiry to hear and decide upon these allegations. The persons who composed this court were Mercurio Catarinaria grand chancellor of Italy, De la Soa, and Doctor De la Roche, Flemings, Hernando de Vega lord of Grajales, the Doctor De Garavajal, and the Licentiate Vargas.

This court gave notice to the parties to come forward; and accordingly they produced their charges in the same form that they had been laid before his Majesty. To the charges brought by Velasquez it was replied, that De Cordova was the discoverer of New Spain, who did it with his companions at their own cost, and that Velasquez was here also criminal, in that he ordered him to go to the Island of Los Guanajes, to take Indians by force, and make slaves of them. Farther, that admitting he sent Juan de Grijalva thither, it was not for the purpose of colonization but only for trade. That for the expences incurred, the principal part was born by the different captains, and not by Velasquez,

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and these captains had there colleted twenty thousand crowns, the principal part of which went to Velasquez. Farther, that Velasquez gave the Bishop of Burgos Indians in the Island of Cuba to procure gold, neglecting his duty to his Majesty. Also, that admitting it was he who sent Cortes, it was by the approbation of his Majesty, and by the providence of God; for that any other commander would have failed in an undertaking of such danger, and that Cortes was not sent by him to colonize, but to barter; and that his establishment in the country was owing, not to the instructions of Velasquez, but the instances of his companions, for the service of God, and his Majesty. Also that it was well known, that Cortes reported the whole of his proceedings to his Majesty, sending therewith all the gold he had been able to procure, he, and his companions, awaiting his Majesty’s further orders, prostrate on the earth. It was also represented, how the Bishop of Burgos suppressed the said letters, and seized the presents, concealing from his Majesty our meritorious service; and when our agents wanted to obtain permission to wait on his Majesty, he threw one of them, Puertocarrero, into prison, where he died; and that he forbid the officers of his Majesty at Seville, to furnish us with what we required. All which was done by the said bishop, from a corrupt motive, as he wanted to procure a marriage between either Velasquez or Tapia, and his niece named Donna Petronila de Fonseca, as he had promised that his son-in-law should be governor of Mexico. In support of all which accusations they were ready to produce proofs. As to the expedition of Narvaez, our agents replied, that in the first place Velasquez deserved to suffer death for disobedience of his Majesty’s orders; and also, that he applied himself solely to the bishop, neglecting his Majesty, which was a high disrespect; in consequence therefore of the above misdemeanors and crimes, our agents, prayed that the court would be pleased to award punishment; to which the court replied that they would take it into consideration.

In reply to the charges brought against Cortes by Narvaez it was represented, that on his coming to New Spain he sent word to the great 

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King Montezuma, that he came to rescue him, and thereby caused such a disturbance in the country, as produced a dangerous war. That on his arrival at Vera Cruz, Cortes had written to him a friendly letter, desiring to see his commission, to which Narvaez would make no answer; but declared war against Cortes and his companions, notwithstanding that Cortes invited him to, and represented the necessity of, an amicable junction, for the good of his Majesty’s service, lest all should be lost. But Cortes finding that all his offers were neglected, and Narvaez not shewing him his Majesty’s commission, and knowing the misconduct of Narvaez in seizing his Majesty’s oydor, to bring him to punishment for so doing, went to him, determined to see his authority, and to know the reason of his conduct, and that Narvaez had, then attempted to surprise and seize him, of which he could adduce proofs and witnesses, amongst others Andrez de Duero, who was at that time with Narvaez. In regard to his causing the failure of Garay, and poisoning him at breakfast, it was replied that the failure of the expedition was owing to Garay’s own misconduct, and ignorance of the country. That when Garay found his situation hopeless, he accepted the friendly offer which Cortes had made him, of an hospitable reception at Mexico, where an alliance was agreed upon between the families, and Garay was to have had assistance to establish a colony on the river Palmas; and that if it was God’s will to take him from this life, according to the oaths of the physicians, by a pleurisy, it was not in the power of Cortes to prevent it. Cortes also proved in answer to the charge of, having retained his Majesty’s fifth, that he had fairly expended it in the service, together with six thousand crowns of his own property: that the fifth which he deducted for himself was according to compact, and in regard to the charge of detaining the soldiers prize money it was replied, that in the capture of Mexico very little gold remained to be divided, inasmuch as the wealth of the place was almost all fallen into the hands of the Tlascalan and Tezcucan allies. In regard to burning the feet of Guatimotzin, it was done contrary to the inclination of Cortes, by his Majesty’s officers, to force him to discover where Montezuma’s treasure was concealed. In answer to the charge of his buildings it was stated, that they 

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were truly sumptuous, and that the cypresses and stones were brought from a great distance, but that the said buildings were for the use and honor of his Majesty and his successors: that the materials were brought the principal part of the way by water, and that the work was carried an by the general labour of the Indians, under the order of Guatimotzin, as is always the case in building the houses of the great in that country. As to the complaint of Alonzo de Avila forcibly taking the commission from Narvaez, it appeared upon inspection that there was no commission whatever in those papers, the whole of which were receipts for the purchase of horses, and other things similar; but that Cortes never saw them, nor was it done by his order. In regard to the complaints of the pilots against Cortes; the feet of Umbria were cut off by the hand of justice, as a punishment for running away with his ship, and Cardenas had refuted to take his share in the division of the gold, consenting that the whole should be sent to his Majesty, but that Cortes had given him out of his own purse three hundred crowns, which was as much as he deserved, being a person of little consideration, and no soldier. In regard to the charge relative to Tapia, it was alledged that had he come to Mexico and produced his Majesty’s orders, they should have been received by Cortes, prostrate on the ground, with all respect, and humility; but his incapacity was so notorious, that it was the universal desire, and advice, of the Spaniards then in New Spain, that Cortes should remain in the command. These charges and exculpations having been duly weighed by the court for five days, it was determined to lay the whole of the proceedings before his Majesty, together with their decision, which was accordingly done. The sentence which they gave was entirely in favour of Cortes: the merit and valour of him and the old conquerors of Mexico were highly praised, and silence was imposed on Velasquez as to his complaints, he being told that if he looked for a remuneration of his expences he must seek it from Cortes by course of law. Cortes was also declared governor general of New Spain, according to the orders of his holiness the Pope. The court also approved of the arrangements made by him in that country, and authorized him to make the divisions of the districts in such a manner as he thought fit. 

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Narvaez was referred for redress to France, where Avila who had seized his papers was at present prisoner; the pilots Umbria and Cardenas obtained royal cedules, granting to them property in New Spain to the amount of one thousand crowns in rent; and it was ordained, that Cortes’s veterans should all have immediate and ample gratifications, in lands and Indians, and should enjoy pre-eminence and precedency, such as their valour deserved. The sentence thus given was taken to Valladolid to be confirmed by his Majesty, who was then on his way to Flanders, and who did confirm and ratify it accordingly. His Majesty also gave orders relative to the banishment of lapsed converts in that country, and forbid the admission of scholars for a term of years. His Majesty and the King of Hungary were also pleased to write to Cortes and to us, thanking us for the services we had rendered. The affair being thus decided in our favour, the documents were intrusted to Rodorigo de Paz, cousin to Cortes, and to another relation of his, named Francisco de las Casas, who arrived at St. Jago in Cuba, the residence of Velasquez the governor, where the sentence being made known to him, and proclaimed by sound of trumpet, he fell ill from vexation, and shortly after died very poor and miserable. Montejo was given by his Majesty the government of Yucatan and Cozumel, with the lordship and title of Don. To Diego de Ordaz he confirmed his possessions in New Spain, and ennobled him giving him for a coat of arms the Volcano of Guaxocingo, and with these honours and emoluments they returned to Mexico, from whence in two or three years De Ordas went back to Castille, to obtain from his Majesty permission to conquer the province of Maranion, in which undertaking he lost his life and all his property. The Bishop of Burgos was reduced to despair when he learned the manner in which the affair had gone, and that all his transactions with Velasquez had come to light.

When Las Casas and Rodrigo de Paz brought the intelligence to Mexico, that Cortes was appointed governor of that country, there was universal rejoicing. The messengers were liberally rewarded, Las Casas being made captain and presented with a good district called Anquitlan,

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and De Paz obtained other valuable possessions, and was appointed by Cortes his major domo and secretary. To all those who came from his country of Medellin, Cortes gave Indians, and to the captain of the vessel a liberal reward in gold.

Some readers may be curious to learn how these matters came to my knowledge; to which I reply, that the conquerors received information of the proceedings of our agents or procuradors, in four or five letters written by them from Castille; but I used then to say often, that it appeared to me that they procured only for Cortes and themselves, and during all that time, we who had made Cortes what he was, remained encountering one danger and hardship after another. May God grant us his protection, and instil into the mind of our great Caesar the determination to cause his true and just intentions to be carried into effect.