Bernal Díaz del Castillo

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Bernal Diaz del Castillo memorial, in Medina del Campo (Spain) Bernal Diaz del Castillo.jpg
Bernal Díaz del Castillo memorial, in Medina del Campo (Spain)

Bernal Díaz del Castillo (c. 1496 – January 11, 1584) was a Spanish conquistador, who participated as a soldier in the conquest of Mexico under Hernán Cortés and late in his life wrote an account of the events. As an experienced soldier of fortune, he had already participated in expeditions to Tierra Firme, Cuba, and to Yucatán before joining Cortés. In his later years he was an encomendero and governor in Guatemala where he wrote his memoirs called The True History of the Conquest of New Spain . He began his account of the conquest almost thirty years after the events and later revised and expanded it in response to the biography published by Cortes's chaplain Francisco López de Gómara, which he considered to be largely inaccurate in that it did not give due recognition to the efforts and sacrifices of others in the Spanish expedition.

<i>Conquistador</i> soldiers, explorers, and adventurers primarily at the service of the Spanish Empire, and also to the Portuguese Empire

Conquistadors were the knights, soldiers and explorers of the Spanish Empire and the Portuguese Empire. During the Age of Discovery, conquistadors sailed beyond Europe to the Americas, Oceania, Africa, and Asia, conquering territory and opening trade routes. They colonized much of the world for Spain and Portugal in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

Hernán Cortés Spanish conquistador

DonHernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of what is now mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century. Cortés was part of the generation of Spanish colonizers who began the first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas.

<i>Encomienda</i> labor system used during the Spanish colonization of the Americas and the Philippines

Encomienda was a Spanish labor system that rewarded conquerors with the labor of particular groups of subject people. It was first established in Spain following the Christian conquest of Muslim territories. It was applied on a much larger scale during the Spanish colonization of the Americas and the Philippines. Conquered peoples were considered vassals of the Spanish monarch. The Crown awarded an encomienda as a grant to a particular individual. In the conquest era of the sixteenth century, the grants were considered to be a monopoly on the labor of particular groups of indigenous peoples, held in perpetuity by the grant holder, called the encomendero, and his descendants.

Contents

Early life

Bernal Díaz del Castillo was born around 1496 in Medina del Campo, a prosperous commercial city in Castile. His parents were Francisco Díaz del Castillo and María Díez Rejón. His father was a regidor (city councilor) of Medina del Campo which provided the family with some prominence. Díaz had at least one older brother and they attended school together, learning to read and write. Bernal Diaz was intelligent and later showed a knack for languages, learning to speak the native dialect in Cuba, Nahuatl in Mexico, and the Cakchiquel language of the Guatemalan natives. [1]

Medina del Campo Municipality in Castile and León, Spain

Medina del Campo is a town located in the province of Valladolid, Castile and León autonomous region, 45 km from Valladolid. It is the capital of a farming area, far away from the great economic centres.

Crown of Castile Former country in the Iberian Peninsula

The Crown of Castile was a medieval state in the Iberian Peninsula that formed in 1230 as a result of the third and definitive union of the crowns and, some decades later, the parliaments of the kingdoms of Castile and León upon the accession of the then Castilian king, Ferdinand III, to the vacant Leonese throne. It continued to exist as a separate entity after the personal union in 1469 of the crowns of Castile and Aragon with the marriage of the Catholic Monarchs up to the promulgation of the Nueva Planta decrees by Philip V in 1715.

Nahuatl, known historically as Aztec, is a language or group of languages of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Varieties of Nahuatl are spoken by about 1.7 million Nahua peoples, most of whom live in central Mexico.

In 1514, when Díaz was about eighteen years old, he left home to join an expedition to the New World led by Pedrarias Dávila. It was the largest fleet yet sent to mainland America, consisting of 19 vessels and 1,500 persons. Díaz served as a common foot soldier and hoped to make his fortune but when they reached Darien in present-day Colombia, they were quickly overcome by famine and an epidemic that killed more than half of the settlers. [2] Many of the colonists grew discouraged and looked elsewhere for new opportunities; some returned to Spain while others sailed to Hispaniola or Cuba. [1]

Santa María la Antigua del Darién Former Spanish settlement in Colombia

Santa María la Antigua del Darién, formerly also known as Dariena, was a Spanish colonial town founded in 1510 by Vasco Núñez de Balboa, located in present-day Colombia approximately 40 miles (64 km) south of Acandí, within the municipality of Unguía in the Chocó Department. It was the first city founded by conquistadors in mainland America. After Pascual de Andagoya, a Spanish-Basque conquistador under the direction of Panama governor Pedrarias Dávila, founded Panama City in 1519, Santa María la Antigua del Darién was abandoned and in 1524 was attacked and burned by the indigenous people.

Hispaniola Caribbean island divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Most populous and second-largest island in the West Indies.

Hispaniola is an island in the Caribbean archipelago known as the Greater Antilles. It is the most populous island in the West Indies and the region's second largest after Cuba.

Expedition to Yucatán

In 1516, Diaz sailed to Cuba with about 100 other soldiers looking for a share of the gold and native laborers that were said to be found on the island. They discovered that gold was scarce and the native labor was in short supply, leading Díaz, in 1517, to join an expedition organized by a group of about 110 disaffected soldiers and settlers to "discover new lands". [3] They chose Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, a wealthy Cuban landowner, to lead the expedition. It was a difficult venture and, after sailing from Cuba for 21 days, they came across the Yucatán coast in early March 1517, on the Cape Catoche.

Francisco Hernández de Córdoba (Yucatán conquistador) conquistador, explorer

Francisco Hernández de Córdoba was a Spanish conquistador, known to history mainly for the ill-fated expedition he led in 1517, in the course of which the first European accounts of the Yucatán Peninsula were compiled.

Yucatán Peninsula peninsula in North America

The Yucatán Peninsula, in southeastern Mexico, separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, with the northern coastline on the Yucatán Channel. The peninsula lies east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a northwestern geographic partition separating the region of Central America from the rest of North America. It is approximately 181,000 km2 (70,000 sq mi) in area, and is almost entirely composed of limestone.

On March 4, 1517, the Spanish had their first encounter with the Yucatán natives who came to meet them on five or perhaps 10, depending on the version/translation of his work, large wooden canoes. The next day, the Spaniards disembarked, invited by the natives who wanted to show them their village. They were ambushed but managed to retreat, after killing 15 locals and having 15 wounded, 2 of whom later died. Upon leaving, the Spaniards captured 2 natives who would be translators in future expeditions. The Spanish almost died of thirst and sailed to Florida in search of potable drinking water. As they were digging a well on the beach, the Spaniards were attacked by locals. During this fracas, one Spaniard was captured by the native Floridians while the Spanish killed 22 natives. The Spanish managed to make a retreat but were also able to gather some water. They returned to Cuba, all of them severely wounded. The captain, Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, and other soldiers died shortly after making it back to Cuba.

Nevertheless, Díaz returned to the coast of Yucatán in April 1518, in an expedition led by Juan de Grijalva, with the intent of exploring the lands. Upon returning to Cuba, he enlisted in a new expedition, this one led by Hernán Cortés.

Juan de Grijalva Spanish conquistador

Juan de Grijalva was a Spanish conquistador, and relation of Diego Velázquez. He went to Hispaniola in 1508 and to Cuba in 1511. He was one of the early explorers of the Mexican coastline.

Conquest of Mexico

In this third effort, Díaz took part in the campaigns against the Mexica, later called the Aztec Empire. By this time, he was a highly experienced member of Hernán Cortés's expedition. During this campaign, Díaz spoke frequently with his fellow soldiers about their experiences. These accounts, and especially Díaz's own experiences, served as the basis for the recollections that Bernal Díaz later told with great drama to visitors and, eventually, a book entitled Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (English: The True History of the Conquest of New Spain). In the latter, Díaz describes many of the 119 battles in which he claims to have participated in, culminating in the defeat of the Aztecs in 1521.

Aztec Empire Imperial alliance of city states located in central Mexico during the 15th and 16th centuries

The Aztec Empire, or the Triple Alliance, was an alliance of three Nahua altepetl city-states: Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. These three city-states ruled the area in and around the Valley of Mexico from 1428 until the combined forces of the Spanish conquistadores and their native allies under Hernán Cortés slaughtered them in 1521.

<i>Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España</i> book

Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España is the first-person narrative written in 1576 by Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1492–1581), the military adventurer, conquistador, and colonist settler who served in three Mexican expeditions; those of Francisco Hernández de Córdoba (1517) to the Yucatán peninsula; the expedition of Juan de Grijalva (1518), and the expedition of Hernán Cortés (1519) in the Valley of Mexico; the history relates his participation in the fall of Emperor Moctezuma II, and the subsequent defeat of the Aztec Empire.

This work also claims to describe the diverse native peoples living in the territory renamed New Spain by the Spaniards. Bernal Díaz also examines the political rivalries of Spaniards, and gives accounts of the natives' human sacrifices, cannibalism and idolatry, which he claims he witnessed first-hand, as well as the artistic, cultural, political and intellectual achievements of the Aztecs, including their palaces, market places and beautifully organized botanical and zoological gardens. His account of the Mexica along with that of Cortés are first-person accounts recording important aspects of Mesoamerican culture. True History remains one of the best accounts we have of Mexico at the time of the conquest, but its purpose and style betrays some of the biases that appear in this so-called truthful history. Bernal Díaz's account has not been fully utilized as a source for conquest-era Mesoamerican culture. [2]

Governor of Antigua Guatemala

As a reward for his service, Díaz was awarded an encomienda by Cortés in 1522. That was confirmed and supplemented by similar awards in 1527 and 1528. [4] In 1541, he settled in Guatemala and, during the course of a trip to Spain, was appointed regidor (governor) of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, present-day Antigua Guatemala, in 1551.

True History

Title page, Historia verdadera, 1632 Bernal Diaz del Castillo Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva Espana 1632.jpg
Title page, Historia verdadera, 1632

His Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España, finished in 1568, almost fifty years after the events it described, was begun around the same time as his appointment as regidor and was well in progress by the mid-1550s when he wrote to the Holy Roman Emperor (and king of Spain), Charles V, describing his services and seeking benefits. That was a standard action of conquerors to document their services to the crown and requests for rewards.

Some version of his account circulated in central Mexico in the 1560s and 1570s, prior to its seventeenth-century publication. Bernal Díaz's account is mentioned by Alonso de Zorita, a royal official who wrote an account of indigenous society, and mestizo Diego Muñoz Camargo, who wrote a full-length account of the Tlaxcalans' participation in the conquest of the Mexica. [2] Bernal Díaz's manuscript was expanded in response to what he later found in the official biography of Hernán Cortés commissioned by Cortés's heir, Don Martín Cortés, published in 1552 by Francisco López de Gómara. The title Historia verdadera (True History) is in part a response to the claims made by Hernán Cortés in his published letters to the king, López de Gómara, Bartolomé de las Casas, Gonzalo de Illescas and others who had not participated in the campaign. Bernal Díaz also used the publication of Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda on just war, which allowed Bernal Díaz to cast the conquest of Mexico as a just conquest. [2]

Despite Bernal Díaz's lack of formal education and the self-interest that gave birth to his volume, the Historia verdadera evokes, like no other source, the often tragic and painful yet fascinating process through which one empire ended and another began to take shape. [5]

Death

Bernal Díaz died on January 11, 1584. He was alive on 1 January, but on 3 January, his son, Francisco, appeared before the Cabildo of Guatemala and informed them that his father had died. [6] Miguel León-Portilla accepts this date in his Introduction (dated July 1984 "a cuatro siglos de la muerte de Bernal") to the anthology of extended excerpts from the Historia verdadera. [7] Alicia Mayer (2005) praised that edition, its selection, and León-Portilla's introduction, saying they remained, down to the date of her review, "fuente imprescindible de consulta" (an indispensable source to consult) without seeing his manuscript published. An expanded and corrected copy of the manuscript kept in Guatemala was sent to Spain and published, with revisions, in 1632. The manuscript was edited by Fray Alonso de Remón and Fray Gabriel Adarzo y Santander prior to publication. In this first published edition of Bernal Díaz's work, there is a chapter (212), which some consider apocryphal with signs and portents of the conquest and omitted for later editions. [2]

Notes

  1. 1 2 Cerwin (1963)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Rolena Adorno, "Bernal Díaz del Castillo", Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerica, David Carrasco, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001, vol. 1, p. 323.
  3. Weddle (1985)
  4. Carmelo Saenz de Santa María, Historia de una historia: la crónica de Bernal Díaz del Castillo. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1984, pp. 89–90
  5. David A. Boruchoff, "Beyond Utopia and Paradise: Cortés, Bernal Díaz and the Rhetoric of Consecration." M L N [Modern Language Notes] 1991, 106, 2. pp. 330-369
  6. Henry R. Wagner, "Notes on Writings by and about Bernal Díaz del Castillo", The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 25, No. 2 (May, 1945), pp. 199-211, at p. 207.
  7. published in 1988 by Conaculta (Consejo nacional para la cultura y las artes) in its series "100 de México", p. 31.

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References


Díaz del Castillo, Bernal (1963) [1632]. The Conquest of New Spain . Penguin Classics. J. M. Cohen (trans.) (6th printing (1973) ed.). Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books. ISBN   0-14-044123-9. OCLC   162351797.
Díaz del Castillo, Bernal (2005) [1632]. Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (in Spanish). Felipe Castro Gutiérrez (Introduction). Mexico: Editores Mexicanos Unidos, S.A. ISBN   968-15-0863-7. OCLC   34997012.
Saenz de Santa María, Carmelo. Historia de una historia: la crónica de Bernal Díaz del Castillo. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1984.
Mayer, Alicia (2005). "Reseñas: Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (Manuscrito Guatemala)" (PDF). Estudios de Historia Novohispana (in Spanish). 33: 175–183. ISSN   0425-3574. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-03-06.