<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>The Era of Columbus and the "Discoverers"</b> <p> <p> Christopher Columbus arrived in Las Casas's hometown of Seville on Palm Sunday, March 31, 1493. The Admiral was on a triumphal passage through Spain on his way to meet the sovereigns, Isabel and Ferdinand, in Barcelona after returning from his historic first voyage. Columbus was expected for High Mass at the cathedral, and Sevillans gathered in the center of the city to get a good view of the Admiral and his entourage. <p> With Columbus marched eight to ten Taino Indians captured in the Caribbean. Dressed in their native feathers and fishbone and gold ornaments, they drew curious stares from the onlookers, as much impressed by the accompanying parrots as the strange "Indians." Young Bartolom de las Casas, then eight years old, witnessed the procession into the city. The procession could hardly have been missed. Even in Spain, where the horse was the fastest form of transportation, the news of the Admiral's return from his voyage spread rapidly through the many kingdoms of medieval Spain—Castile, León, Aragón, Valencia—united by the marriage of King Ferdinand of Aragn and Queen Isabel of Castile in 1469. Early modern Spain was emerging as these two forged the links of a powerful monarchy, but a Spaniard of the age of the Crusades hundreds of years earlier would have recognized his land and its people easily. Change came about slowly in the medieval world, but the first voyage of Columbus detonated an explosion of knowledge that transformed that world. <p> Columbus had sailed west and discovered some islands on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Las Casas's father, Pedro de las Casas, a small merchant with large ambitions, joined Columbus on his second voyage in 1493, while two uncles, Francisco de Pealosa and Juan, soon also became involved with the Admiral, as Columbus was now being called. The Genoese explorer's star rose rapidly through the ranks of Spanish sailors and merchants ever since the King and Queen had summoned him to Barcelona and granted him the privileges and rank he desired. <p> Columbus continued from Seville on his triumphant trip to Barcelona, mobbed by curious sightseers and well-wishers, to say nothing of potential gentlemen adventurers seeking favor and a place on the next voyage. The news of the Admiral's voyage rapidly spread across the plains and mountains of the many kingdoms of Spain. Only one year previously the Queen and King had finally defeated the last Moors (Muslims from Africa) of Spain in Granada and completed the centuries-long Reconquest of Spain for Christendom. The men of Castile dreamed of being knights in the Queen's Castilian army, charging into battle with the standards of the great Spanish warrior saint, Santiago, unfurled in the wind, to slay infidels in the name of the true Holy Catholic faith. That they also were most interested in gaining wealth and honor in a decidedly secular fashion, even while making their way up in the spiritual hierarchy of Christendom by slaying Moors, was just as true. The Reconquest was a way of life in which one gained prizes, wealth, slaves, land, titles, and honor through war. <p> This long Reconquest rises above all other affairs at the end of the fifteenth century. As mentioned in the Introduction, in ad 711, a wave of Muslims crossed the eight-and-a-half-mile strait dividing Africa from Europe. Commanded by Tariq ibn Ziyad, these 12,000 invaders soon conquered almost all of Iberia. Gibraltar (Jabal al Tariq, or the mount of Tarik) still bears the imprint of this long-ago invasion. For a few hundred years, an uneasy but prosperous peace ensued in Iberia among Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Indeed, a bright center of civilization sparkled around the caliphate and city of Córdoba in southern Spain. Crdoba became the richest and most powerful state in all Europe. Around the year 1000 ad, the Reconquest of the peninsula began in earnest, led by small Christian kingdoms in the north that had survived the Muslim invasion. <p> The Reconquest stamped Spain with a martial culture. After nearly five hundred years of intermittent warfare, the only surviving Moorish kingdom was Granada on the southeastern corner of the Iberian peninsula, and Granada fell in January, 1492. The triumph of Ferdinand and Isabel was a triumph of the militant Church, and the two—Christianity and arms—were indelibly linked in the Spanish consciousness of the age. <p> But Columbus, who emerges preeminent in the history of the period, was no warrior. He represented a different, powerful tradition in Europe emerging in the fifteenth century, led by Portuguese explorers and merchants. Driven by commercial desire to expand the boundaries of trade beyond the Iberian peninsula, and with increasingly effective technological developments in the tools of navigation and sailing, the Portuguese pushed down the African coast for most of the fifteenth century until they rounded Cape of Good Hope in 1488, opening the way for sailing into the Indian Ocean and beyond by the end of the century. Columbus sailed for a number of years in the service of Portugal into the ports and harbors of the Atlantic—all the way from Iceland to Africa—during this period of expansion. This move from the relative provincialism and insularity of the European medieval period into a dynamic epoch of exploration, discovery, and trade has usually been labeled the era of "early modern Europe." The stage for the emergence of early modern Portugal or Spain was the Atlantic world, another modern paradigm which emphasizes the growing connectivity among islands and continents bordering the great Atlantic Ocean. And Columbus was the quintessential navigator, merchant, explorer, and discoverer of this age. <p> In his life we see converging all of these different elements that contributed to the making of early modern Spain. Among these were the mercantile tradition, the technological advantages in sailing and navigation, the powerful religious dimension, and, perhaps underscoring them all, the entrepreneurial spirit of change that drove these communities of navigators, merchant princes, bankers, and kings and queens to push beyond the old geographical and cultural boundaries of Europe into the Atlantic world. <p> The religious fervor of the Reconquest, seen as carrying over into and deeply influencing the later conquest of the Americas, has long received the most attention by historians. In a spate of religious zealotry, Jews were expelled (unless they chose to convert) from Spain in 1492, and ten years later all Moors were forced to convert to Christianity or choose exile, the same as the Jews. Ethnically and racially this was an intolerant society. The Spanish Inquisition was established precisely at that time to ensure Christian orthodoxy and stamp out heresy and apostasy. <p> Columbus shared this religious passion with his sponsors, especially the pious Queen Isabel. He promised to turn over much of what he stood to earn by his voyages to the Queen and the Church for the restoration of Christianity in the Holy Land and to crush the infidels. These were grandiose visions when one considers the boundaries of the world inhabited by Columbus, until one recalls that in his commercial voyages in the service of Portugal, he already had reached probably as far north as Iceland and had visited the African coast far to the south before taking off on his voyage of discovery in August, 1492. Columbus, the religious zealot, was also Columbus the merchant and experienced explorer. Other events also drove Europeans farther into the Atlantic world. <p> When in 1453 Constantinople fell to the Turkish Ottomans, the orientation of European trade shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, with Portugal leading the way down the African coast and into the Atlantic islands. The profitable trade in African slaves grew as Portuguese explorers pushed down the coast of West Africa, while other trade between Portugal and Africa was equally lucrative. Horses, saddles, stirrups, cloth, caps, hats, saffron, wine, wheat, salt, lead, iron, steel, copper, and brass all moved south and east from Portugal to be traded for African slaves, gold, animal skins, gum arabic, cotton, malagueta pepper, parrots, and even camels. It remained for the visionary Columbus to challenge the Portuguese crawl down around Africa on their way to Asia by proposing to sail directly west across the Ocean Sea (the Atlantic) to reach the East. That was his Great Enterprise that he had presented to Isabel and Ferdinand as early as the 1480s, but only received his commission and their blessing after the fall of Granada. <p> Columbus had actually presented the idea to the Portuguese court earlier, but a learned and experienced commission appointed by the King rejected both Columbus's premise and his plan. The commission said he had grossly underestimated the actual circumference of the globe and that the voyage he was proposing—from the Atlantic coast of the Iberian peninsula to the islands off the Chinese coast—was impossible given the distance and time that would have to be spent at sea. It could not be done. And the commission was right on both counts. What neither the commission nor Columbus accounted for was the existence of the American continents about 3000 miles to the west, blocking the passage to the East. <p> The Portuguese continued to explore down the coast of Africa, looking for a way to round that continent and then sail to India, for the capture of Constantinople earlier in the century by the Turks had made the search for alternate lines of trade to the great emporiums of Asia even more urgent for European merchants long dependent upon the overland route to India and the East. <p> Over the next several decades Seville, the quiet medieval port of the province of Andalucia, was rapidly transformed into the entrepôt of seaborne traffic with the Indies. While some of the early fleets to the Indies sailed from ports along theAtlantic coast—Cádiz, Huelva, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, for example—after the turn of the century, Seville was more and more preferred for assembly and dispatch of the fleets. <p> These were exciting times. News of returning fleets from the islands Columbus had discovered commingled with the decrees of new crusades. In 1500, for example, the Muslims of Granada, under increasingly oppressive Christian rule, revolted. The primate of Spain, Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros (1436–1517), wanted more conversions, less heresy (by the new converts), and more conformity, and grew increasingly intolerant. He was backed by Isabel and Ferdinand, who sensed that the Muslims of Granada, and to a lesser extent those of Castile and Aragôn, where they existed in smaller numbers, nonetheless represented a suspicious minority. If Spain were ever invaded again from Africa, where would the loyalty of these Muslims lie? <p> The Muslims of Granada rebelled out of frustration and disgust with the perfidy of the Christians who spoke tolerance, but demanded conversion. The campaigns of subjugation were brutal and effective. King Ferdinand himself joined the campaign in March, 1500, slaying all the inhabitants in some villages, claiming with an astonishing satisfaction that in Lanjern "the occupants were baptized before perishing." Las Casas—then about 15 or 16—may have witnessed the rebellion at first hand and perhaps even marched with militia from Seville dispatched in 1500 to Granada to assist in suppressing the Muslim rebels. <p> Fifty-five years later, when writing about the physical appearance of the city of Tlaxcala in Mexico in his <i>Apologética Historia Sumaria</i> (a treatise on the Indians of America), he remembered Granada. <p> "From a distance and below," Las Casas wrote, "Tlascala looks like nothing less than Granada, in Spain, which appears that way coming from Archidona if my memory serves me because it has been more than fifty-five years since I saw so much of that city, like the Alhambra, which is the royal house." More than likely, his overland trip to Granada was in the company of his father, who had returned from the Indies two years earlier, in 1498. Being merchants, they may have been only lightly armed and witnessed nothing more than an uneasy province, cold glances from Moorish villagers, and mounted Christian knights thundering by on veteran war horses. <p> If by 1500 Columbus was a seasoned explorer, navigator, and governor of Spain's growing claims on the islands he discovered, the young Las Casas was just beginning his career. He was bright, curious, and energetic, and probably already possessed the quick temper he became so famous for. He had studied Latin and theology with his uncle in the Cathedral school in Seville and was an apt learner. He could size up situations and people rapidly, had a rather good opinion of himself, and did not suffer from a lack of confidence. In addition to abundant energy and a penetrating mind, he possessed a phenomenal physical endurance. He certainly needed the latter just to survive the eight trans-Atlantic voyages he made during his lifetime where the water was foul, the food wormy, the company close, and sea sickness the incessant companion of the landsman. <p> We come away with the image of a self-confident teenager of 15 or 16 in 1500, cocky to the point of brash. "Bold to the point of temerity, sharp-witted and eloquent ... he was always to command respect, though in the case of his numerous enemies this was sometimes mingled with fear." <p> The coming and going of ships and fleets quickened as the century neared an end, and the return of his father in 1498 from Santo Domingo pointed him in the direction of the Indies. His father had returned to Seville on a small fleet that sailed from Santo Domingo on October 18, 1498. Three hundred Taino Indian slaves also traveled on those ships. One of them, renamed Juanico, was given to Las Casas by his father who had received Juanico as a gift from the Admiral—Columbus himself. In fact, Columbus had given slaves to each of the Spaniards returning from the islands. When the Queen, then in Seville, heard the news, she exploded in anger. <p> "What right does the Admiral have to give my vassals to anyone?" she asked indignantly, and rhetorically. Isabel, of course, was in a position not only to question such impertinence on the part of the Admiral, but also to take action. She ordered all the Indians returned to their homes in Santo Domingo, "on pain of death" as Las Casas recalled many years later while composing his history of the Conquest. Las Casas was surprised at the severity of her reaction. <p> "I don't know why the Queen so angrily and emphatically demanded that these three hundred Indians which the Admiral had enslaved be returned, especially when she'd said nothing about others the Admiral had sent." Las Casas could not think of no other "reason, other than perhaps the Queen thought that the previous Indians brought over had been enslaved in a just war." Whatever he may have thought, his new Indian friend Juanico was returned in the June, 1500 fleet to Santo Domingo commanded by Francisco de Bobadilla. This famous knight commander who had served the Queen in the recent wars against the Muslims was sent to investigate charges of mismanagement and corruption leveled against Columbus by Spanish settlers on the island. <p> Bobadilla's fleet arrived in the harbor of Santo Domingo on August 23, 1500. While he waited for the tide to change to enter the harbor, he was shocked to see seven corpses swinging from the gallows. Going ashore, the knight commander discovered five more Castilians waiting to swing, sentenced to death by Columbus for insurrection and treason. Bobadilla did not tarry very long to investigate the matter, one that had been simmering between Columbus and the Spanish-born settlers who resented the Genoese mariner for his high-handed ways. The Admiral of the Ocean Sea was arrested and shackled. Bobadilla returned him to Spain on a small fleet that sailed in October, 1500. The master of the ship offered to release the Admiral for the long voyage, but Columbus refused. The Queen and King would have to face him in his ignoble state and, hopefully, be shamed by his condition. It worked. <p> Soon after he came ashore at Cádiz in November, the sovereigns ordered his chains struck and commanded that Columbus travel to the court then in Granada. Las Casas witnessed much of this. He not only recalled that the King and Queen sent Columbus a generous allowance—two thousand ducats—to make the trip to Granada, but also recounted the details of Columbus's dramatic appearance at court with an eye-witness's ring of authenticity. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Bartolom de las Casas and the Conquest of the Americas</b> by <b>Lawrence A. Clayton</b> Copyright © 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Excerpted by permission of John Wiley & Sons. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.