“A Kingdom Set Aflame”: Diego de Almagro and the Struggle for Spanish Peru


For ten months in 1536 the city of Cuzco had been under siege: The Spaniards who had only recently seized control of it now found themselves facing a revolt. Manco Capac, a member of the Inca royal family whom they had elevated to the position of “Great Inca” in the hope of placing a pliable puppet on the throne of the Inca Empire, had turned on them. His agents had stirred up unrest in villages throughout the region. When he finally escaped from under Spanish supervision, thousands of loyal troops were waiting for him.

When the siege finally lifted and Manco retreated to a fortified position in the mountains nearby, the danger for the Spanish remained far from over. Guerrilla fighters attacked any Spaniards or Spanish partisans trying to reach the city. Even if one were left physically unharmed, the journey to Cuzco was a harrowing one. Looking up, one could see Indians lining the hilltops, yelling down. The months after the siege’s end had become a violent cycle of Indian attacks and Spanish reprisals. Indians would attack a supply train; the Spanish would take prisoners and chop off hands. Nights remained tense as the Spanish waited for the next attack to come. This sense of fear is still present in chronicler and participant Pedro Pizarro’s account of the events written decades later. [1]

In March of 1537, two pieces of news came to the weary Spaniards garrisoning Cuzco. From the coast, reports arrived that aid was on its way. Alonso de Alvarado had been sent to bring reinforcements to Cuzco, but, at the moment, he was held up in Jauja. Alonso, it appears, had agreed to pacify the Indians living on Pedro Picado’s encommienda. Picado was Governor Francisco Pizarro’s secretary and Alonso’s detour was payback to Picado for having lined up the job of commanding the relief effort for him.

From the South, news came that Don Diego Almagro was approaching with three hundred men. Whether this brought cheer to the hearts of the Spaniards is uncertain—dependent on how far the state of relations and trust amongst the conquistadors had deteriorated by this point. Within days, the question had become moot. Further reports arrived that Almagro had halted at the town of Urcos, a mere six leagues from Cuzco. Rather than join his fellow countrymen, Almagro was sending messengers to Manco Capac.

It helps one understand the degree of hatred that developed between various factions of conquistadors to imagine how this appeared to those Spaniards in Cuzco receiving the intelligence. Here they were in a state of fear, exhausted, and caught up in a bloody counter-insurgency effort only to learn that, rather than receive relief, they were about to be attacked by one of their own. This was not the sort of act that could be forgiven. Even if the possibility still existed for some political accommodation, it is difficult to imagine the rank and file Spaniards ever forgiving Almagro for this betrayal.

That Don Diego de Almagro, Adelantado of Peru, Governor of New Toledo, joint leader of the conquest of the Inca Empire—as well as the three hundred who served with him—had turned on fellow Spaniards makes no sense if one attempts to understand the Conquest of Peru as a unified effort—a case of a European empire invading and taking control of another empire. Instead, the conflict between Almagro and the Pizarros stands as a vivid illustration of intensely self-interested nature of the conquest. It is a reminder that the conquest was carried out by individuals and that its successes and failures were the results of all too human actions and emotions.



I.Diego de Almagro and Peruvian Historiography

II. Diego de Almagro

III. Pizarro and Almagro’s Early Expeditions (1525-30)

IV. Almagro at Cajamarca

V. Almagro and Alvarado

VI. Failure in Chile and the Struggle for Cuzco (1535-8)

VII. Conclusion


I. Diego de Almagro and Peruvian Historiography

History is full of runners-up. Buzz Aldrin may have walked on the moon, but it’s Neil Armstrong we remember; Ralph David Abernathy may have been crucial to the Civil Rights movement, but we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. We have a tendency to simplify history by associating one name with one event. This is understandable: Thinking of complex events in terms of how one individual navigated them makes the events relatable and comprehensible to the human mind.

But it has a distorting effect. By ignoring the way in which other individuals experienced an event, we ignore other ways of understanding that event. History is always being revised to incorporate these new perspectives. Generally speaking, Peruvian history is in the process of being revised to include the perspectives of Indians—the people who then made up the vast majority of its population, the people whose descendants are, today, still trying to cope with the legacy of conquest.

Recent scholarship on Peru, like Peru’s Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest: Humanga to 1640 (1982) by Steve Stern or Karen Spalding’s Huarochirí: An Andean Society Under Inca and Spanish Rule (1984), focuses more on the lives of Indians; it tends to concentrate on specific regions and the relationship between the local population and whichever Spaniard had been given title to the land in that region. In general, this sort of scholarship attempts to capture the complexity of the conquest and colonial period by detailing the multitude of different relationships that formed the basis of Spanish rule. Such focus leads to fascinating results, but the emphasis is on the Spanish as managers, not as conquerors; as a result much of the complexity in regard to Spaniards’ relationships with one another has been overlooked. While it’s easy to argue that too much ink has been spent on the nature of the conquest, it does not follow that all the questions one could ask have been answered—or that we have arrived at a proper sense of the event.

The focus on native perspectives has also led to an emphasis on different sources. Consider the account of Titu Cusi Yupanqui: The document provides a native description of the conquest—albeit not an account by one alive at the time. [2] Such a source lets scholars ponder issues like “representation.” New sources of this type provide much food for scholarly thought, but they also push traditional conquest chronicles to the margins.

While all this revision goes on, the depiction of the conquistadors remains fairly static. We have held to a fairly simple narrative: Francisco Pizarro and his men conquered the Inca Empire. We have our protagonist to lead us through the complex event. There are many biographies of Pizarro. There are many scholarly studies of Pizarro and the men who were with him when he captured the Inca emperor at the city of Cajamarca; occasionally, the topic is expanded to include Pizarro’s brothers.[3] Yet even the best social-history of the conquest—the writings of James Lockhart—remains Pizarro-centric.[4] Focusing on Pizarro and those around him tends to emphasize a certain way the Conquista was experienced over other versions full of other meanings. The early exploration of the South American coast becomes a demonstration of Pizarro’s leadership; the capture and ransom of the Inca emperor Atahualpa becomes a moment of triumph; and the revolt of the Almagrists becomes yet another problem to be dealt with as control over Peru was consolidated.

In contrast to Pizarro, Diego de Almagro has no biographies in English, no major studies of which he is the focus. In fact, the only specific studies of Almagro are a pair of fifty-page papers written by Chilean graduate students in 1954—and those are focused on specific parts of his life. Consequently, there are no biographies of Almagro that attempt to reconstruct his life in its entirety. The immediate question, which any reasonable person should ask, is: Was Almagro unimportant? In terms of where current historiography tends to focus, perhaps. If one believes that there has been too much focus on Europeans in the story of the conquest, then Almagro can be little more than another long-dead Spaniard. In terms of the Great Man school of historical thought, again, perhaps. There are no sources one can point to that speak of his achieving great things due to any extraordinary characteristics.[5] These criticisms assume Peruvian history must be told either from the perspective of “successful” conquerors or from the perspective of the vanquished, but maintaining this dichotomy prevents us from arriving at a better understanding of this important moment in history. By focusing on leaders like the Pizarros we learn a great deal about how men who came from wealthy families and occupied privileged positions in their society accumulated more riches, but we fail to learn how those without such lofty positions worked to improve their positions.

As one of history’s runners-up, Almagro’s life helps to clarify these issues and add depth to our understanding of the Conquista. Navigating the events of the conquest through the life of Almagro, one becomes aware of nuances that can be missed by focusing only on the Pizarros. Almagro was involved in a number of events, crucial to the development and success of the conquest, which Pizarro and his supporters were not involved in. Almagro was tasked with raising money and manpower for the expeditions; Almagro was forced to convince colonial governors to grant licenses for the exploration; Almagro assumed the responsibility of dissuading other conquistadors from trying their luck in Peru; and Almagro came to represent the interests of Spaniards who arrived after Cajamarca and Cuzco, the two major cities, had been seized. Events like the early exploration, the capture of the emperor, and the revolt take on new meanings when seen in terms of Almagro’s life.

Almagro played an integral role in the conquest of Peru, but his sphere of influence and involvement was different from those we typically associate with the Conquista. To study Almagro is to study nitty-gritty issues like raising funds and rewarding recruits that speak to the power relationships embedded in Spanish conquest. Almagro’s story is not one of daring attacks against impossible odds; rather it is the story of human beings succumbing to greed. The debates are not epic; they are often petty squabbles over shares and boundary lines. It may not be inspiring, but it is revealing.

To see events in terms of Almagro’s interests and desires adds a level of complexity to our image of the Conquista. And complexity is necessary if the history of conquistadors is ever to achieve Steve Stern’s goal of

[Returning] the colonizers to more recognizable human dimensions as exploiters, power seekers, visionaries, and associated beneficiaries whose projects of social domination were encumbered by human contentiousness, initiative, and response from within and without. Contrary to facile cliché, to take seriously the polarizing dynamics of power and struggle that generated such moral debate and critique is to draw a more “humanized” interpretation of the conquest experience.[6]

Biographies of conquistadors like Almagro are necessary because biography is the best way “humanize” our interpretation of events. Its structure naturally arranges events in terms of how humans perceived and reacted to them. The lack of biographies focusing on conquistadors in positions similar to that of Almagro means that the experiences which shaped their lives are left abstracted, divorced from human experience and marooned in the realm of theory. A biography of Almagro works to remedy this by presenting the complex relationships of the conquest in human terms.


II. Diego de Almagro

Almagro’s life, compared with those of other Spaniards who journeyed to the New World, is fairly typical. He was from the region of Extremadura, born in the town of Almagro. Extramadura was a region of large landholders that depended on raising livestock for its prosperity. To be successful in this society meant to have land because land provided a stable income on which one could comfortably live. Extramadura was not a font of economic dynamism—its very stability meant that those Spaniards who were not in line to inherit large estates had to look elsewhere for opportunity. The region provided much of the Conquista’s manpower.

The “sleepy little town” of Almagro did not stand out against this backdrop. At the time of its founding, during the 13th century reign of Alfonso X, it had been militarily important, but that was long ago. In the intervening years—with the Reconquista over and with no internal threats to be faced—it had lost any claims to “rank and importance” and slipped into the multitude of non-descript Spanish villages. Almagro himself was born to a family of middling farmers in 1478/9.[7] The circumstance of his birth left him without even the minimal security that this background might afford him: He was born a bastard.

His mother, Elvira, had been engaged to Juan de Montenegro, the servant of a local nobleman. Some time after he proposed to her, she became pregnant. Before the wedding could occur, a friend of Juan’s advised him to call it off. Elvira was forced to hide her pregnancy and give the child to another woman to raise. Elvira eventually married a wealthy gentleman and relocated to Ciudad Real. At the age of four or five, Almagro was sent to live with his uncle. The two did not get along. His uncle was “a firm man who responded to Almagro’s restlessness with harsh punishments.”[8] The young Almagro stood the situation for ten years until his father died, separating him from any real connection to the town—one supposes his mother’s family wanted little to do with him. At the age of fourteen Almagro left home to seek fortune elsewhere.

After a brief stop in Ciudad Real to meet his mother, Almagro headed south to Seville where he joined the crowds of like-minded Spaniards trying to earn a quick buck.[9] Seville was the Iberian Peninsula’s connection to the New World. Its port served as the main departure point for those seeking a way out as well as the destination of ships carrying their American treasures to Spanish markets.[10] For the most successful, riches made through trade could be used to purchase titles like “Don”—to buy one’s way into the nobility. The result was a teeming, vibrant, chaotic city where restless Spaniards sought their fortunes or planned the next step in their quests. Somehow—and it is unclear how—Almagro rose above the “river wharves, [and markets that] teemed with youths and vagabonds living as ninos de esportillo or pilfering to live” and secured himself a job as manservant to Seville’s mayor, Luis de Polanco.[11]

This job ended abruptly when Almagro seriously injured another man in a fight. The “injuries were such that (although Almagro’s master was a mayor) he didn’t want to risk [his luck] with the justice system.”[12] Almagro left his master’s employ and turned his attentions to the New World where many men like himself, on the edges of their own society, hoped to start anew. To Spaniards of Almagro’s day, the Americas seemed to offer the possibility of utopia.[13] There, it was believed, one could achieve the sort of riches and social standing that were nigh unobtainable in post-reconquista Spain for a man of Almagro’s position. Whatever the reality, the fantasy was sufficient for many Spaniards like Almagro to take the risk and sail to distant lands.

Almagro arrived in Darién, Panama with the new governor, Pedrarias Dávila, in June.[14] Among Spaniards of Almagro’s time service such as he was providing to Dávila was directly connected with concrete rewards. The experience of the Reconquista had taught Spaniards to expect land grants or the equivalent repayment for military effort.[15] Almagro was not disappointed—he received a grant of land upon arrival. Quickly, he began developing his piece of property. He built a house, cultivated the land, and bought slaves to work it. From the very beginning of his time in Panama, Almagro was making important connections with people in the community who mattered—it is possible that, by this time, he had already formed a partnership with Francisco Pizarro or Father Luque, another of the initial investors in the Peruvian venture that was to come.[16]

Within three years Almagro found himself involved in Vasco Núñez Balboa’s plans to build ships on the Pacific coast in order to mount explorations from there. This was a major process that involved hauling boat parts across the isthmus. The endeavor cost the lives of many slaves.[17] Yet, although the project “offered nothing more than expenses and unheard of work,” it allowed Almagro to gain first-hand experience organizing a major expedition. When the expedition fizzled, Almagro joined an expedition to settle the as yet unconquered areas of Panama’s eastern gulf coast. He served under Gaspar de Espinoza and alongside newly-minted lieutenant Francisco Pizarro. Their services gained them the status of vecinos in the newly founded town of Natá. Vecino status signaled relatively high standing in the community.

By this point the two men had become partners. Almagro took on the role of Pizarro’s majordomo by managing the latter’s encomienda—a task for which the lieutenant had little talent. This was not an equal pairing; Pizarro had age and family standing on his side, a home he could point to back in Spain, and residency in the New World exceeding Almagro’s by twelve years.[18] Still, the two men had linked their fortunes to one another. This sort of partnership—compañia—had been widespread in the Spanish colonies “ever since the Caribbean period . . .and [was] becoming ever more” common.[19] It allowed those involved in expeditions to form alliances outside the general framework of the expedition.

Almagro had firmly established himself in Panama. Chroniclers who remember him personally or base their descriptions of him on details handed down to them by acquaintances, depict this period of his life in glowing terms. Almagro was seen as a “very good soldier, and so excellent a woodsman that he could follow an Indian through even the thickest forests merely by tracing his tracks.”[20] Alamagro and Pizarro had become “people on who the governor often relied, because they were enterprising and steady and would persevere in any task.”[21] Over time he had formed close relationships with local merchants “who sold horses, food, and arms.”[22] In short, Almagro and Pizarro were ready to make a stab at bigger things. With areas to the north of Panama being snatched-up quickly, they determined it was best to look south.[23]


III. Pizarro and Almagro’s Early Expeditions (1525-30)

Since organization and financing were not Pizarro’s forte, Almagro was made responsible for recruiting men, finding funding, outfitting the voyage, and obtaining the necessary permits to explore.[24] None of this proved easy and the burdens placed on Almagro increased his frustration with Pizarro who seemed unwilling to acknowledge his contribution. The mutual antipathy developed in this period led the two men to lose faith in one another and made possible much of the hostility and distrust of later years.

Many Spaniards were hesitant to commit to an expedition whose rewards were uncertain. A great number considered Pizarro and Almagro foolish—or worse—for attempting such a venture.[25] In order to encourage men to join the expedition, Almagro offered recruits benefits. An associate of Almagro’s in Nombre de Dios, Lorenzo Fernandez de Soria, “provided housing, paid money, and facilitated the transport of hired (soldiers) to Panama.”[26] Thus, men who joined could expect a period of relative ease while they waited for the expedition to sail.

Recruits were not the only men who needed to be convinced that the expedition was a sound venture: To leave, it would be necessary to obtain the support of the governor, Pedrarias Dávila. Once again, throwing money around helped solve the problem: Dávila “gave his consent to the expedition in exchange for a large percentage of the possible profits.”[27]

When Almagro had signed-up eighty Spaniards, the time had come for Pizarro to set sail. He left on November 12, 1524. Almagro remained behind in Panama to finish repairs on another ship, which he intended to use to transport additional men and supplies to periodically relieve Pizarro—a strategy similar to that of the Espinosa expedition, which both men had participated in years earlier. He also firmed-up his agreements with various merchants and associates so that he could come and go from Panama with the expectation that, on his arrival, supplies would be ready and turnaround, consequently, rapid.

After three months the ship was ready, but no word had come form Pizarro. Almagro became increasingly worried. Without a well-connected figure like Pizarro by his side, a man of Almagro’s position could not hope to move far upward in the world. He might find success in someone else’s expedition, but the crown did not give out capitulaciones to men like Almagro. Mandates granting the right to conquer and rule territory were given to nobles like Dávila or those with influential family members like Pizarro. To lose Pizarro would be disastrous for Almagro. Determining that a new expedition was necessary in order to reconnoiter with the captain, Almagro set about recruiting more men. When he had found around sixty-five, he set off in search of Pizarro.

Initially, the expedition did not go well. Almagro and company sailed as far down the coast as Pueblo Quemado where they disembarked. They found no signs of Pizarro, only natives. Relations with the locals as yet unsettled, Almagro made the decision “to attack the village and gain a stronghold.”[28] In the fighting that followed, many Spaniards were injured. Almagro received a severe injury to the eye and lost several fingers.[29] After several days of recuperation from the application of hot irons, which had been necessary to cauterize his wounds, Almagro was able to take charge of the expedition once more.[30] From this point onward he changed his tactics in dealing with natives—he decided not to attack first and ask questions later; he determined that taking hostages would cause counter-productive animosity. His new peaceful attitude attracted the attention of many local leaders who proceeded to send envoys and gifts to Almagro.

After exploring the region further Almagro determined that Pizarro must not be in the area. The trip had some success, however, in that gold was discovered in quantities sizeable enough to excite the interest of investors and recruits back in Panama. At this point, with supplies running low, and the boat suffering from an infestation of moths, he ordered the expedition to head back to Panama. On the return they encountered a dejected Pizarro who had paused at the island of Cuchamá. Pizarro was frustrated by the months he had spent in the humid equatorial climate with no lands to claim besides the endless mangrove forests he encountered.[31] After some discussion of Almagro’s discoveries Pizarro melancholy lifted. The two men agreed to continue the expedition. Almagro sailed back to Panama while Pizarro remained with the men on Cuchamá.

Back in Panama, Almagro encountered a problem that would become all too familiar—the unwillingness of the governor to allow him to recruit more men from Panama. At the time of Almagro’s arrival, the governor was busily trying to round up men for another expedition aimed at putting down sedition in Nicaragua. He needed everyone he could get and didn’t want Almagro siphoning off able-bodied men for his adventures. News that the expedition’s recruits were dying in droves also worried Dávila. He wanted to appoint someone else to watch over Pizarro—and, one imagines, keep Dávila’s finger in the pie. Almagro worked hard to woo Dávila. Ultimately, his charms had their effect and he was allowed to recruit more men, given the title of “Captain,” and invested with authority equal to that of Pizarro. Arriving once more at Cuchamá, Almagro explained the situation. Pizarro was “irritated . . .but, because the time was inopportune for imagining enemies, he suppressed his anger, though he did not forget it.[32]

Again Almagro made the voyage back to Panama to round up more bodies to aid Pizarro. In Darién the situation remained fluid. Dávila had now been replaced by Pedro de los Rios, who had been sent by the crown to straighten out the mess Dávila was seen as having created. Los Rios was even more hostile to Almagro’s expedition. Almagro was forced into another round of sweet talk in order to obtain gubernatorial support. Even so, it was “with great difficulties and troubles” that Almagro found an additional forty men to come with him.[33] Significantly, all these men were newly arrived from Spain; Almagro was reduced to procuring the greenest of recruits, men who were eager to find riches quickly.

Tensions were building when Almagro met with Pizarro’s group for the third—and final—time. Pizarro’s men were hungry, tired, and bitter. Disease was taking its toll. With the arrival of Almagro’s transport ship, they became hopeful of returning to Panama. Hearing such talk, “Almagro contradicted them, arguing that they were wrong… Indeed, in returning poor, they would be begging for food for the love of God, and those with debts would be in jail.”[34] Not surprisingly, his words had some effect.

It was in conversations with Pizarro that the real problems occurred. Pizarro—still, clearly, angry over Almagro’s promotion to captain—accused his partner of having things too easy. While Almagro flitted back and forth in well-provisioned ships, Pizarro’s men experienced the pangs of hunger, the spectre of disease, and the dangers of potentially hostile Indians. Almagro responded that he would gladly switch places. A “heated exchange” followed “so that the friendship and brotherhood turned to animosity, and they reached for their swords and bucklers, determined to harm one another.” It took the intervention of their friends to separate them and talk the two down.[35] Once passions subsided Almagro prepared to return to Panama. As part of his preparations, he attempted to ensure that no letters to the governor complaining about Pizarro or himself were smuggled aboard by the disaffected.

Despite Almagro’s attempts, news of the situation spread as soon as he returned to Panama. Letters and rumors reached Pedro de los Rios reporting the conditions that Pizarro’s men were suffering. Finally the governor made the decision to put an end to Pizarro’s expedition. Envoys were sent to Pizarro on the island of Gallo to inform him that all those who wished to return must be allowed to do so. The result of this ultimatum was that all but thirteen men returned to Panama. Those who remained with Pizarro made further explorations down the coast. They discovered several major towns, which suggested even greater towns on the interior, but their reduced numbers meant that they could make no actual conquests. It was time for Pizarro to return to Panama.

The time had come to petition the Crown. Pizarro and Almagro had developed reputations—at least locally—for leading expeditions that resulted in hardship and minimal short-term rewards. The governor had lost faith in them. It was necessary to gain royal sanction if the enterprise was to continue under their control. Pizarro, Almagro, and Luque decided that it was necessary that one of them return to Spain and petition the crown for the right to conquer the land of Peru.[36] It was decided that Pizarro should be the one to make this journey.[37]

While his partner was gone, Almagro spent his time raising additional funds for the expedition. Considering the sizeable—and, as yet, unpaid—debts he had already incurred, his skills at fund raising were quite remarkable.[38] In addition to finding more money, Almagro also had to keep Pedrarias Dávila, now governor of Nicaragua, from attempting to conquer Peru on his own. To deter Dávila, Almagro sent two of his friends, Nicolás de Ribera and Bartolomé Ruiz, to talk with him—and with other powerful Spaniards in the region. On both counts they were successful; Dávila did not launch an expedition and an alliance was struck-up with the compañia of Hernán Ponce de León and Hernando de Soto.

Considering all the work Almagro was doing for Pizarro while the latter enjoyed the luxuries of the Spanish court and the welcome of his hometown of Trujillo, the acrimony that soon followed is not surprising. Before Pizarro’s returned from Spain in January of 1531, word had already reached Almagro that he had been given very little by the Crown. There had been an expectation that Pizarro would negotiate the title of adelantado for Almagro and governor for himself. Instead Pizarro had been given both the governorship and position of adelantado of the territory to be named “New Castille,” Almagro had received only a lieutenancy, the right to govern a fortress at Tumbes, and a salary of 100,000 maravedis per year.[39]

Almagro felt that Pizarro had “secured the most and best solely for himself, without remembering how much his partner had suffered and deserved.” He felt as though he had been foolish to trust his interests to Pizarro.[40] Moreover, since the position of Governor gave Pizarro the authority to distribute land grants—encomidenas—it undercut Almagro’s status in the expedition.[41] In a culture where men served with the expectation of rewards, those who had no ability to reward could not expect service or loyalty.

The “Governor’s” return to Panama went smoothly—at first. Almagro met him with a public embrace, but in private he expressed his discontent clearly. Pizarro tried to smooth the situation by explain that he had tried to get the post of adelantado for Almagro only to be told that joint governorship was prohibited because it led to “bad government.”[42] This explanation left Almagro unimpressed—so much so that he refused to participate in the venture any further. He went so far as to claim all the money he had raised in recent months as his own on the basis that, while away, “Pizarro had spent his share and much more besides on his trip to Spain.”[43] Once again, it was necessary for friends on both sides to intervene and end the squabbling.

The issue of titles was not the only sore point between the two men. The real division between the two—and the one many chroniclers, both then and now, point to as the most important—was the arrival of the Pizarro brothers. After obtaining permission to conquer Peru from the Crown, Pizarro had returned to his hometown of Trujillo. While there he had enlisted the aid of his extended family of brothers and half-brothers. He had also recruited many new men in the area. Pizarro returned to Panama with men who Almagro didn’t know, who had no loyalty or attachment to Almagro, and with a group of siblings in tow. Thus a “Trujillo faction” was being formed in which Almagro had no part.

The most important of Pizarro’s brothers was Hernando. Hernando was only thirty when he arrived in Panama—twenty years younger than Almagro and Pizarro—but he had already developed a far more important position in Spain. While it is unclear that Pizarro was ever acknowledged by their father, Gonzalo, as a legitimate son, Hernando had campaigned with him in Navarre and been promoted to infantry captain by the king. Hernando was far better known than was his brother to the men who had joined them in Spain; he was also in a better position to dominate the other brothers who came than was Pizarro.

Hernando comes across in historians’ assessments as particularly self-centered.[44] It was in his interests to emphasize the hierarchy and traditions of Spain in order to cement his position in the New World. Emphasizing issues of lineage undermined Almagro’s authority since class and family background were the very obstacles he had overcome in Panama. Although the struggles over Peru are often depicted as a clash between the former friends Almagro and Pizarro, they may be better understood in terms of the conflict between Almagro and Hernando.

Increasingly bad relations between the two erupted in a minor incident. Two of Hernando’s squires needed horses if they were to accompany the expedition. Almagro, who was in charge of addressing such concerns, promised to outfit the men with horses. He didn’t follow through. Hernando was furious and called Almagro all manner of names, including “a roistering scoundrel.” Almagro was insulted and took some time to be calmed down enough to “make friends with Don Francisco and Hernando.”[45]

Almagro and Pizarro finally came to an accord. It was that Almagro could petition for governorship over the land lying to the south of Pizarro’s land; he could so with the expectation that Pizarro would support his efforts; he would receive titles before the Pizarro brothers received any; and the two men would split the riches of the land equally. With these agreements in place, Pizarro set out for Peru while Almagro remained behind. It appears that the two planned to continue their practice of using “ships with their small crew of mariners, in an auxiliary role, [making] continuous voyages to Panama and supporting a nucleus of conquistadors operating on the ground.”[46]

The expedition set out in good order “because Almagro knew how to provide the necessities, procuring victuals and all the rest needed for it.”[47] This time the expedition had enough men; it had a purpose; and it had the promise of rewards. Almagro may have remained full of distrust for his partner, but he had exacted a guarantee that would, he hoped, give his investment some security. Now he had to trust in Pizarro’s success.


IV. Almagro at Cajamarca


More Maps of Conquest-Era Peru HERE

The details of Pizarro’s expedition are usually the centerpiece of the conquest story. They are certainly the focus of most first-hand accounts that come down to us from the period. There are a least two reasons for this: In the first place, many of the men with any desire for fame back home quickly returned there after the events at Cajamarca. When they sat down to write about what they had seen, they could only speak of Cajamarca and the journey leading up to it. The second reason is simply that the events which occurred at Cajamarca are thrilling—the sort of story that lends itself to telling.

The small group of 168 Spaniards who made their way from the coast of Peru to the mountainous interior, past towering Inca guard towers and under the watchful eyes of thousands of Inca troops, to the center of South America’s grandest empire have captured our imagination. We can sense their fear of the unknown, their awareness of superior numbers. When Pizarro and his men arrive at Cajamarca and are invited to meet the emperor, Atahualpa, the following morning, the unease of that night is almost palpable. Then, in the morning, when the Spaniards meet the emperor and, after a series of mis-understandings, attack, capture the emperor, and disperse his mighty army, we are dumbstruck imagining the scale of the event. Whether one has sympathy for the Spaniards or views their baseless assault as emblematic of Spanish perfidy in the New World, Cajamarca stands as a seminal event in the history of South America.

Suffice it to say, Almagro was not there; he was in Panama recruiting more men and overseeing the construction of a new transport ship.[48] Being absent from this seminal event of the conquest denied Almagro the type of accomplishment needed were one to attain a reputation for honor and valor—a reputation that could be parlayed into the sorts of awards that an honorable man could expect to receive in Spanish society. When he finally left with a complement of 153 men and 50 horses, he was still unaware of Pizarro’s achievement; he knew only that Pizarro had landed at the coastal town of Coaque. From there Pizarro had sent back ships to Panama and Nicaragua with news of his success and evidence of the area’s riches in the form of gold pieces.

The word of Peru’s wealth spread rapidly through the colonies. Numerous Central American conquistadors began planning expeditions of their own. Almagro encountered one when his relief expedition landed at Puerto Viejo. Almagro convinced this group of Nicaraguan conquistadors, led by Francisco de Godoy, to submit to his command and come with him in search of Pizarro. To these men, Almagro was seen as the source of any potential rewards. His connection to “Governor” Pizarro would be their ticket to riches.

Almagro’s party, swelled now to 240 men, made its way along the coast until it reached San Miguel. Here they received news that Pizarro had captured Atahualpa and had, furthermore, promised to divide the ransom received exclusively among those men who were present at the Inca’s capture. The effect of this news on men who had been expecting great wealth and rewards cannot have been pleasant. And it was at this point that intrigue began in earnest. Rumors began to spread that Almagro “intended to head north and occupy the [region] of Quito and petition the king for its governance instead of providing Pizarro with assistance.” More seriously, Almagro’s own secretary, Rodrigo Pérez, chose this moment to write Pizarro with similar warnings.[49]

Pizarro was understandably worried by this information. He dispatched Pedro Sancho and Diego de Aguero to meet with Almagro for the purposes of divining his intentions.[50] They were to assure Almagro that, when he and his men arrived, they would receive a “portion” of the treasure. They were also sent with other letters, however, to be given in secret to men accompanying Almagro in the hope of gaining their support were the rumors about Almagro proved true.

During this time Almagro was sick.[51] The degree of his illness was such that he was forced to remain at San Miguel. When Almagro became aware of Pérez’s treachery, however, he quickly took action. He had his erstwhile secretary captured and tortured until he recanted all he had said. After recording Pérez’s “admission,” Almagro had him hanged. When he met with Sancho and Aguero at Tumbes, he explained the situation to them. With this mini-crisis past, and Almagro feeling better, his party began making its way toward Cajamarca.

Almagro’s arrival April 14 doubled the number of Spaniards in the city and fundamentally changed the balance of power in the region. Until he arrived, Pizarro had been playing a very dangerous game. He would have been greatly outnumbered were the Inca to rally and attempt to rescue their emperor. Two contradictory factors gave him a modicum security: The loyalty and disloyalty of Atahualpa’s subjects.

In the first place, Pizarro physically controlled the person of the emperor and could use the threat of violence to ward off any concerted effort. In keeping with this, he left Atahualpa under the impression that, were he to raise sufficient funds, the Spaniards would release him. Atahualpa promised to provide them with a room full of gold as ransom and, true to his word, he sent out word throughout his empire for gold to be brought to Cajamarca. The Spanish could merely sit back and watch as the gold flowed in. Pizarro—either magnanimously or out of simple necessity—promised to reward all the men with a cut.

The second factor working in favor of the Spaniards was the internal politics of the Inca Empire. Atahualpa had only recently come to the throne after emerging victorious from a bloody civil war with his brother Huascar. At the time of their father’s death Atahualpa controlled the imperial army, which was concentrated in the north—busily conquering the region around Quito—but he was not well liked in the southern areas of Cajamarca and Cuzco. By 1532 he had defeated his brother and was in the process of establishing control over the country—Atahualpa was in Cajamarca to oversee military operations when he met Pizarro that November.[52] The effect of these civil wars was to undermine support for Atahualpa. He was in control militarily—and, thus, his capture insured there would be no immediate counter-attack—but, politically, he lacked complete support. Different local leaders supported different factions and lacked the motivation to unite against the Spaniards.[53]

The spectacle of Atahualpa’s capture had also been well timed. A large number of kurakas—local headmen—were present at Cajamarca. The sight of the Spanish decimating the Inca forces had impressed them. The Spanish appeared to be a new power in the region with whom an alliance might be wise.[54] While Atahualpa was held captive, Pizarro met with numerous kurakas. These local leaders assiduously courted the Spanish in the hope that they could emerge from the situation with increased autonomy.[55] In the months to follow, as the lands of Peru began to be divvied up into encomiendas, these alliances with the kurakas proved to be very useful. Spaniards were paired up with kurakas. A close working relationship was formed in which the Spaniard provided security in return for a share of their region’s production. By utilizing their connections with kurakas the Spanish were able to avoid establishing new institutions to control the empire; instead they manipulated the existing system.[56]

The sudden increase in Spaniards unsettled these dynamics. For the Inca, it became apparent that the Spanish intended to stay in the region and multiply. Atahualpa began to become suspicious that the ransom he was collecting might not lead to his release. Tensions with the Inca increased sharply.

Nor did Almagro’s arrival lead to a more secure feeling among the Spanish themselves. Chroniclers of the conquest describe Almagro’s arrival in terms that recall the biblical Fall: “Pizarro and the 160 [sic] men were alone, there was constant harmony and love among all of them, but when the [royal] officials and Almagro’s people arrived, they had quarrels with each other as well as their jealousies, which never ceased.”[57] The men who arrived with Almagro were quickly put to work guarding the steadily accumulating treasure. They followed orders willingly enough, but the knowledge that they were to see none of the spoils did not sit well with them.

Grievances mounted, and the men complained of the unfair situation while

Those who came with Pizarro argued that they were the true conquistadors, that they had suffered more hardships and destitution before arriving in Cajamarca; because there were so few of them, they had exposed themselves to such great danger and captured Atahualpa, and it was their due and no body else’s to claim what he had given for his ransom. And if [the others] kept a watch and formed a guard, they were forced to do it to protect themselves.[58]

Even at this stage, a myth was being developed to support claims on loot. It was all well and good to speak of equal distribution when the conquest was merely a dream; now that it was a reality, things changed. As incredible as the events at Cajamarca had been, they were not enough to secure the entire Incan Empire—and yet that is exactly what the “men of Cajamarca” were claiming. They had the honor that stems from accomplishment on their side while men like Almagro had only financial activities at which to point.

Hernando Pizarro, who had been exploring areas surrounding Cajamarca when Almagro arrived, now returned to the city. Always contemptuous of Almagro, Hernando now upped the ante. Encountering Almagro, Hernando rode past him without acknowledging his presence. This insulted Almagro who complained to Pizarro. Once again the latter was forced to reign in his brother and extract an apology.

Now Almagro demanded a portion of the ransom.[59] After much haggling it was agreed to reserve 100,000 ducats of the treasure and give it to Almagro’s men before distributing the rest among Pizarro’s. This was not a satisfactory resolution. As it stood, Almagro’s men were guaranteed a static amount of money independent of the total ransom collected. In theory the ransom could double or triple after these men had arrived without them seeing a single additional bit of it. As long as Atahualpa lived treasure would keeping coming in; it seemed as if the entire country would be drained of gold before any further conquests were made. It was in the best interest of Almagro and his men to cut the flow of gold—and quick.

By the end of July Atahualpa was dead, executed by Pizarro’s order on the grounds that he was inciting a revolt. Beyond these undisputed details much remains uncertain. The execution of Atahualpa was not well received back home and, as a result, it has been manipulated by partisans for various ends. Supporters of Pizarro either blamed faulty intelligence—reported to the Spanish by self-interested locals—for misleading Pizarro or they blame Almagro and his allies.[60] Those sources closer to Almagro tend to emphasize the former argument.[61] Some chroniclers take a different tack and argue that Hernando was the only humane one of the lot; it’s observed that the execution did not occur until Hernando had left for Spain to recruit more troops.[62]

It is safe to assume that there is some truth to all of these explanations. Those men not benefiting from the ransom had no interest in defending Atahualpa. It is very possible that Hernando did argue for keeping Atahualpa alive—he was getting a cut of the ransom. But it is also possible to believe that Atahualpa was planning some sort of revolt. Almagro’s arrival signaled that the presence of the Spanish was no passing phenomenon and may have encouraged him to strike fast at the 300 men before more arrived—this is, essentially, what happened six years later when Manco Inca led a rebellion. Even were he only testing the waters, it is easy to imagine rumors spreading and the Spanish, hearing of them, over reacting. Without anyone to stand up for him, Atahualpa was in trouble.

The Spaniards quickly elevated Tupac Huallpa, the eldest member of the family-line that Atahualpa had recently defeated, to the position of emperor. One point of contention had, in any event, been removed. The ransom was divided up and, although it caused no end of bitterness, it was now a settled issue. In the campaigns to come, Almagro’s men could hope to get larger shares. Almagro himself was still far from satisfied. He wanted the title of adelantado. When Hernando had gone back to Spain, he had done so with the promise of getting the title for Almagro. Past experience made this promise seem dubious. To insure his interests were represented, Almagro sent back Cristóbal de Mena with instructions to keep an eye on Hernando and, should he fail to represent Almagro fairly, Mena was to “inform the Royal Council of the Indies of the entire truth so that they would know and understand it.”[63]

For the moment Almagro could only wait for news from Spain. In the meantime the focus of the conquest had shifted to the city of Cuzco—the capital of the Inca Empire. Almagro led the cavalry vanguard. The Spanish were accompanied by “over 3,00 Huanca warriors led by their own kurakas and served by additional men and women carrying supplies and provisions.”[64]

Twice along the way the Spaniards were confronted by Indian armies. Almagro and other commanders ordered their men to attack on the assumption that, “being chastised in the contest, [the Indians] themselves would ask for peace.”[65] But on both these occasions the Spanish found themselves in serious combat. Beyond these conflicts, from which the Spanish did emerge victorious, two major events stand out in the march on Cuzco. In the first place, Tupac Huallpa, the puppet emperor whom the Spaniards had appointed, died. The Spanish were forced to find a new prince to appoint so that they could continue to march on Cuzco in the guise of liberators. They quickly settled upon Manco Capac, another member of the royal line from the losing side of the recent civil war. In the second instance, tension seems to have arisen between Pizarro, Almagro, and Hernando de Soto.

Soto had been induced to join the expedition with promises of his own encomienda. Pizarro’s envoys had left him with the impression that he would be nothing short of Pizarro’s second in command in Peru. But when Soto arrived with his ship and contingent of men, he discovered that no such honors were waiting for him. Very similarly to Almagro, Soto found himself fighting for scraps. On the approach to Cuzco he came to the verge of “mutiny.”[66] Ignoring Pizarro’s orders he led his contingent of horsemen far ahead of the main body of troops. It was said that he had the “evil intention of entering Cuzco before the Marquis [Pizarro]” so as to claim the city as his own.[67]

Pizarro wrote to Soto’s party, “counseling them to be governed in these matters more by prudence, than by confidence in their own strength, and commanding, at all events, that, having passed the last bridge, they should await him there that they might then enter the city of Cuzco all together.”[68] This failing, Pizarro sent Almagro to halt Soto. The timing was fortuitous, Almagro arrived in time to help Soto resist a large force of Indians he had encountered near Villaconga.

Soto placed in check, the force continued onward toward Cuzco. The city was taken with relative ease on November 15. The population of the city accepted much of the looting that followed with limited resistance—such practices were common in Andean warfare, not something to give one’s life to prevent.[69] The immense spoils were quickly divided; Pizarro saw to it that Almagro “received more than anyone” and was given the title of Marshal. These rewards, one imagines, may have helped reaffirm their relationship after a period of tension.[70]

Cuzco was the last city “founded” in Peru where “essentially all those who wanted [an encomienda] got them.”[71] The treasure was divided up among the several hundred men present. As with was the case with their leaders, Cuzco helped settle much of the rancor that had built up between Almagro’s men and Pizarro’s men, but it did not put an end to bitterness. Neither Almagro nor Soto was satisfied with how matters stood. Almagro had nothing to return to in Spain while, in Peru, the possibility of having his own province seemed within reach. Money was good, but the honor and power that came with a title were to be even more desired.

Much depended on whatever news Hernando brought back on his return from Spain.


V. Almagro and Alvarado

During this intervening period, when neither Almagro nor Pizarro knew where he would ultimately stand in relation to the other, the situation in the region fundamentally changed. Until this point, differences between men had not been great—certainly not insurmountable. Pizarro’s men “came from all kinds of backgrounds except the high nobility . . .[there was] a strong overall numerical predominance of the humbler elements of Spanish society . . .[Almagro’s 200 were] “of much the same social composition.” The several hundred Spaniards gathered together in Spain may have been hungry for riches, but there was, to some extent, a camaraderie in this. After Cuzco, most were generally satisfied with their rewards so far. Tensions over the distribution of the Cajamaraca treasure had lowered with the distribution of the Cuzco loot. Many men who had already received the great wealth were planning their returns to Panama and Spain. Those who intended to remain behind were united in the goal of conquering and securing control of the region. The arrival of Don Pedro de Alvarado and a large contingent of men in the Quito region upset this delicate balance and injected poison into the region.

Alvarado, a noble who had made his name in the conquest of Mexico and Central America years earlier, held the title of Governor of Guatemala. Like other Central American governors—Pedrarias Dávila, for one—he was never quite satisfied with what he had achieved and was always on the lookout for new lands to conquer. The news of Peru’s riches had excited many and led Central American conquerors to begin plotting expeditions of their own. While others were scuttled, Alvarado’s went forward. On February 25 he arrived on the Ecuadorean coast. His party of six hundred men contained many Spaniards of noble rank—a new development in the Peruvian conquest.[72]

Alvarado’s goal was to carve out a territory of his own before Pizarro’s representative Sebastián de Banalcázar was able to, but his expedition never had much success. Alvarado consistently chose the worse possible routes to his various destinations. Passing through humid jungles left his men exhausted, starved, and covered in bug bites and rusting armor. Another wrong turn led his expedition through snow covered mountain passes and cost the lives of eighty Spaniards and huge numbers of Indian’s who Alvarado had pressed into his service.[73]

While these events were transpiring Pizarro was busy establishing a Spanish settlement at Lima. Learning of Alvarado’s arrival in Peru, Almagro took matters into his own hands and headed north with a large party of men. Almagro left so rapidly that he did not have time to inform his partner directly. When Pizarro learned of Almagro’s activities, he wrote with instructions that Almagro make sure Alvarado “should do no harm in this land” or act in manner counter to the interest of “His Majesty.”[74]

When Almagro neared Alvarado’s position, messengers were exchanged. Alvarado asked for permission to travel through the territory that had already been conquered in order to reach areas still independent of Pizarro’s control. Although this was phrased in a polite manner that appeared—on the surface—to respect Pizarro’s authority in the region, it was absolutely unacceptable. The request implied that Pizarro and his partners had conquered all the land that they could conquer. This was not the case, the current unity of men like Pizarro, Almagro, Soto, Benalcázar, etc. was premised on the fact that those still unconquered areas would be given to major leaders of the expedition to explore further. Were interlopers, like Alvarado, to begin staking claims on surrounding areas, men like Soto would claim parts of what had already been conquered. Strife would ensue.

At first Almagro demurred by claiming that “he could not, nor could it be allowed that, in order to explore, such a sizeable army should pass through what had been won, and that he [Almagro] was unable to furnish provisions for so many people.”[75] In the meantime, Almagro tried to win over the messengers that Alvarado sent to him. By offering hints of riches to be had were they to switch sides, Almagro believed he could peel off Alvarado’s men.[76] Considering what has been Alvarado’s abject failure to provide his men with rewards, this tactic was bound to yield some results: One of Alvarado’s men, Antonio Picado, defected to Almagro and several others suggested to Alvarado that he should consider an accord. Almagro’s strategy was not perfect in that Alvarado could respond in kind; for instance, Felipe—the native translator who had, earlier, related rumors of Atahualpa’s plots to the Spanish—defected to Alvarado.

A problem in the negotiations between the two men was one of relative status. Alvarado—like Hernando Pizarro—was far superior to Almagro in terms of rank and family standing. The expedition he headed also contained a number of men who viewed Almagro in similar fashion. He saw it as “disgraceful for him, who was with so many and such important people, to show any regard for Almagro.”[77] Despite the disdain he felt, Alvarado finally agreed to meet with Almagro. At the meeting he assured Almagro that it would be un-Christian to claim the land of another—he had merely felt it would be wrong to sit idly on his hands in Guatemala. After some thought, however, he had determined to submit himself to Almagro’s jurisdiction. At this point “those who had come with the adelantado [Alvarado] bowed to the marshal [Almagro] . . .Most of the principal men went to speak to [Almagro] and become acquainted with him.”[78] In conversations, Almagro gave them the impression that great riches were to be had.

It is unclear at what precise point Almagro, essentially, bribed Alvarado to leave the mainland, but one can suppose it happened fairly early in the discussions—likely before Alvarado found the humility to place himself under Almagro’s “jurisdiction.” Almagro offered to pay all of Alvarado’s expenses on the condition that he return to Guatemala. While this might not have been a stunning payoff for Alvarado, he probably benefited. Most of his men stayed with Almagro in the hope of winning greater riches. Since Alvarado was probably not the sole financier of the expedition, receiving a payout equal to the total expenses might have been a fairly good deal—not bad for several months of work that, under his poor leadership, would otherwise have produced no rewards at all.[79]

An accord arrived at, the two men agreed to travel to Cuzco to meet with Pizarro. What Pizarro thought of Almagro’s deal is debated. Some say that he was happy with the result, while others claim that he was annoyed. Without his agreement, Almagro had unilaterally offered a large payout which Pizarro now had to honor.[80] There were, moreover, rumors circulating that Almagro and Alvarado had made an alliance to “divest [Pizarro] of the governorship and even his life.”[81] That these sorts of rumors spread so easily, so often, speaks to the level of distrust that already existed between the two men.

Whatever his feelings or suspicions might be, Pizarro managed to put up an amiable front when the two appreared in Lima. The arrival of Alvarado’s men was an occasion for games and celebrations among the Spaniards. Many were happy to see reinforcements, others sensed the opportunity to go home with their earning had arrived—and, indeed, when Alvarado finally left, he took many home sick Spaniards with him. The occasion was also an opportunity for Almagro to show his largesse to the new arrivals. Almagro was given to large displays of his generosity—“but he did not want to give anything privately.” This distinction was lost on Alvarado’s men who “came to love [Almagro] and become as devoted to him as they were.”[82]

After the festivities, Alvarado was given his payoff. Unfortunately for him, there had been a fair amount of gambling during the course of the celebrations. Almagro seems to have emerged far better than Don Pedro who was forced to give Almagro a large sum before departing.[83] With Alvarado gone his men now fell under Almagro’s influence. They were, in effect, connected to Almagro in the same fashion that the recruits from Trujillo were to the Pizarros. These men looked to Almagro to provide for them and reward them for their loyalty.

These men had arrived in Peru from Central America and the Carribean. They had grown used to the type of conquest described in the tracts of the prist Bartolomé de las Casas—namely rapine and squeezing from the land every drop that they could extract. Whether the “Men of Cajamarca” were any better—a doubtful proposition—these men were had grown accustomed to worse. Since they had no stake in the area they made no effort to accommodate local conditions. They took what they could “for they came from those parts accustomed to do so, according to what they themselves gave [Pedro Pizarro and his fellow Spaniards] to understand. These were the first inventors of [rancheando] which, in . . .common speech, means to rob.”[84]

These men looked to Almagro not only because he was the first major figure they had encountered in the region, but because he was also, in a practical sense, among the most important. Although Almagro lacked the close personal connections that Pizarro had with his Trujillo recruits, he was intimately involved with the institutional framework of the conquest. Almagro had been involved in the founding of several towns—Cuzco, Riobamba—and he had appointed many town councilmen. In this way he exercised control over the governing of the region. Moreover, Almagro had the authority to spend funds as he saw fit without the approval of Pizarro—this allowed him some degree of latitude in rewarding his supporters. It has been argued that “although Pizarro held the title of governor, which he was, Almagro revoked and named and commanded according to his will.”[85] With Hernando still gone, perhaps Pizarro was once again coming to rely on his partner to deal with the drudgery of specifics.

With Alvarado out of the picture, Pizarro and Almagro divided the duties of administering the land between themselves. Pizarro headed northwards to found a city at Jauja while Almagro headed south to Cuzco. Pizarro devolved on Almagro “power such as he himself had” so that, on his arrival, Almagro “might take up his residence there and distribute the Indians to those persons whom he perceived it advisable to give them.”[86] This distribution of property shifted the social composition of the encomenderos in Peru. Among those receiving land allotments were men of Alvarado’s—high-nobility. From this point onwards, it would become more and more difficult for men of low-status to gain sizeable encomiendas in Peru.[87]

There was an assumption between the two men that, after settling things in Cuzco, Almagro woud begin preparing for an expedition to the area lying southwest of the city. Quickly, however, this equilibrium between the two was upended. A man named Cazalla informed Pizarro that the king had come to a decision regarding control of Peru. Almagro had been made governor of everything south of Chincha. This was fairly accurate: Despite Hernando’s best attempts to exclude Almagro from any major position, men like Cristóbal de Mena had spoken up and gained the king’s ear. Almagro had been awarded the two hundred leagues of coastline south of Pizarro’s province. The province was to be called “New Toledo.”

Pizarro had no idea what truth there was to Cazalla’s statements. Before there was time for Pizarro to verify the report or develop a plan of action, Diego de Aguero had left to inform Almagro. Learning that he had been named governor excited the ambitions of both Almagro and his followers. “His friends, who were many and very important, inflated his head with pride. They held the Pizarros so low that even the mangroves seemed too good for them to govern.”[88]

Almagro was forced to decide how he should react to this information. In the end, with the prompting of Alvarado’s men, he refused the position in Cuzco and the powers that Pizarro had granted him on the assumption that it would be beneath him to accept an appointment to an area that was, rightfully, his own. [89] Pizarro, acting as though this announcement had not been received, announced that since Almagro was surely busy preparing his expedition, it would be best if control of Cuzco were placed in less distracted hands—namely those of Juan Pizarro.

This was the worst dispute that had yet occurred between the two—previously Almagro had merely withheld his support or been the target of unverified rumors. Now, Almagro’s break was explicit. He had announced that he was no longer abiding—or even acknowledging the validity of—Pizarro’s commands. Now, there was actual money and territory on the line. As Cieza de Leon observes, looking back with the perspective of a decade, “From then on there were two factions: one bound to the Pizarros and another to the Almagros.”[90]

Paranoia, always present under the surface of their interactions, now took hold of Almagro and the Pizarros. Almagro became convinced that Pizarro would try to intercept Cazalla—whom Almagro believed to be in possession of documents giving him title to New Toledo. Wanting to prove his status as governor as soon as possible, Almagro sent Vasco de Guevara on a mission to find, meet, and safely bring Cazalla to Cuzco. In addition, Almagro mustered his men to strengthen his control over the city. Juan and Gonzalo Pizarro feared that Almagro had sent Guevara to kill Pizarro. The two brothers began concocting plans to intercept him before he reached Pizarro’s headquarters at Trujillo.

Hearing news of Juan and Gonzalo’s plans, Hernando de Soto—who was second-in-command of Cuzco and in charge of maintaining law and order—went to speak with them. Soto was still bitter about receiving no major posts and was eager to conquer territory of his own. Assuming that the establishment of New Toledo would discourage Almagro from leading further expeditions and leave the southwest to men like himself, Soto threw his lot in with Almagro.[91] With these concerns motivating him, Soto announced that he had come to arrest the brothers. Juan Pizarro accused Soto of being “unfairly partial” to Almagro. Soto denied this, words were exchanged, and tensions mounted until Juan “seized a lance and struck Soto with it.”[92]

Soto left and headed straight to Almagro. After hearing of the situation, Almagro gave Soto the support of his men. Soto headed back to confront the Pizarros once again. This time weapons were drawn and the argument spilled out into the central plaza. It seemed as though a major altercation was about to occur when Gomez de Alvarado intervened.[93] He convinced the Pizarro brothers that action on their parts would merely give Almagro the justification for a stronger, deadlier reaction. The brothers backed-down, returned home, and sent word to Francisco as to what was going on in the city. The situation in Cuzco settled into a state of quiet unease.

It was at this time that Almagro began to look around for new allies—native allies—and set his sights on Manco Inca. Manco was, to some degree, a puppet of the Spanish. He had been named Emperor in order to act as a figurehead while the Spanish went about establishing new cities and divvying-up the land. But this relationship could work both ways. Manco was neither lacking in ambition nor a fool. He was a member of the royal family with connections and supporters. If his goal were to consolidate power over the empire, he could use the Spanish to his advantage. It is difficult to imagine that the Inca already saw their empire as “fallen” or “conquered” after less than four years.

Manco had goals and Almagro had the power to help him realize them. Manco was afraid that remaining members of the royal family—brothers of his with claims to the position—might be elevated in his place were the Spanish to grow tired of him. He therefore asked Almagro to kill his brothers in return for directing Almagro to secret treasure caches in caves surrounding the city. Almagro obliged by “sending four Spaniards who stabbed [Manco’s brother, Atoc-Sopa] in the night.”[94] Ultimately only one brother, a youth named Paullu, was left alive. The murders cemented relations—if not trust—between the two. To further strengthen the bond, Almagro took Manco’s sister, Marca-Chimbo, as his concubine.[95]

Learning of the situation—though perhaps not of these last intrigues—Pizarro made his way to Cuzco. By now tensions had settled a bit. Almagro had learned that Cazalla did not have proof of his governorship and, one imagines, may have seen the need to display humility. Upon arriving Pizarro reprimanded his brothers and met with Almagro. The two arrived at yet another of their accords. This time it was agreed that Almagro would focus his attention on organizing a new expedition.

The lead-up to this expedition makes clear the sort of pressures Almagro was responsible for containing. As rumors circulated among the Spaniards about the great riches to be found to the south, the pressure on Almagro increased. Both Soto and Captain Rodrigo Orgóñez lobbied to be given a generalship and command of the expedition. Each man had with him a number of men loyal more to himself than to Almagro. Almagro ultimately chose Orgóñez over Soto as his general, but he assumed ultimate authority over the expedition which he now decided to accompany all the way. Soto, finally out of allies in Peru, made his way back to Spain.

While this sort of turmoil was distracting the Spanish, Manco Inca was busily working to foment a revolt. He was sending messengers to the villages around Cuzco, lining up support, and preparing to strike. With Almagro’s help he had positioned himself as the most viable leader for any potential resistance movement. Now his goal was to divide the Spanish forces. It appears that many of the rumors spreading through Cuzco of southern gold were creations of Manco’s agents.

Manco, hoping to use this expedition as an opportunity to reassert his own influence in the south, gave Paullu, his surviving brother, command of an Indian force 12,000 strong to join the Spanish.[96] In addition to Paullu and his army, Almagro requested that Villac Umu, a high priest, join the expedition. Almagro felt that both men would aid in diplomacy. But, while Almagro may have welcomed additional manpower, he was unaware that both Paullu and Villac Umu were in league with Manco and intended to murder Almagro and his men upon reaching the province of Collasuyu.


VI. Failure in Chile and the Struggle for Cuzco (1535-8)

The expedition left Cuzco on July 3, 1535. A great deal was riding on its success in that it offered an outlet for the antagonisms which had built up among the conquistadors. Ideally, men hungry for rewards would find them in the South and Almagro would find territory acceptable to his ambitions. It is tragic in this case that, from the beginning, the expedition was a disaster.

By the time Almagro reached the province of Paria, not far into the journey, local leaders were informing him that there were no riches to be had, that the roads ahead were bad, and that water was scarce. Either Almagro truly did not believe this news or he felt his men would not support such a quick turnaround for an expedition in which they’d placed a great deal of hope. In any event, Almagro informed them that the chiefs were lying.

The situation steadily deteriorated as they progressed. The men under his command ransacked the surrounding countryside. “Because men at arms can never be restrained, many of the soldiers exploited the Indians, taking from them by force whatever they wanted.”[97] This policy had the predictable effect of alienating the local population. In the town of Jujuy three Spaniards were killed. In response Almagro sent one of his captains with a force of thirty men to punish the entire village. This was insufficient and additional men needed to be dispatched.[98] During this tense period Villac Umu escaped in the night. Until that point he had been doing his best to incite the towns the Spanish passed through to revolt.

Controlling the large number of Indians that had been brought along also presented a formidable problem. There were 193 “Spaniards, horsemen, and footmen” in Almagro’s main party. Each of these needed natives to carry his supplies and belongings.[99] To ensure that these Indians did not escape, they “were all placed in chains, ropes, and other shackles, and had to endure being guarded by yanacona and Black tyrants, who gave them great blows and whippings if they stopped walking.”[100]

The size of the expedition being so large in an area with such scarce resources meant that the men were soon running low on food. As supplies ran out, the men began to eat their horses. In spite of the situation, the expedition moved forward in the hope of finding something—anything. To reach greener pastures they made a high mountain crossing that resulted in the death of many Indian servants.

Upon reaching the other side of the mountains Almagro became involved in local politics as he attempted to gain influence by replacing the ruler of Copiapó with another claimant.[101] This was a success in so far as Almagro defeated the current ruler and had him burned to death, but it was becoming clear that the expedition had gone off course—or that, perhaps, no course existed for it to follow. The men were becoming restless.

At best, tying the ruling faction in Copiapó closely to himself gave Almagro a secure base from which to plan his next move. It also meant that, when Rodrigo Orgóñez finally made it over the mountains—albeit minus a few fingers due to frost bite—he was “received with friendship” by the locals.[102] Official word of Almagro’s appointment as governor of everything below Chincha had reached Orgóñez, and as the word spread that Almagro had claim on Cuzco, “the people, desirous of returning to the comforts and riches of Peru” argued that he should return home and claim what was his.[103] The failure of the Chillean expedition meant that, if Almagro were to maintain the loyalty of his followers, he would have to find a new source of rewards. Both he and his men knew that the governorship was the best hope for finding such a source. And so they set off by the shortest route—the Atacama Desert, the driest desert on Earth.

By the time Almagro’s party emerged from the desert, Manco’s revolt was already in full swing. Manco had attempted to reassert his authority over the empire by working with the Spanish, but it had become all too clear that this would not work. The Spaniards—especially Pizarro’s brothers Juan and Gonzalo who had been left in charge of Cuzco—treated Manco with distain; their actions emphasized his status as a puppet. Under these circumstances it was impossible for Manco to control the kurakas—why, after all, should they submit to Manco when they could get better terms for themselves by negotiating directly with the Spanish?

After one failed attempt to sneak out of Cuzco, Manco tried a more direct method: He asked for permission to leave in order to visit the countryside for religious purposes.[104] This was granted. Once outside the city, he began to direct a massive revolt in which an army of thousands lay siege to the city of Cuzco in an attempt to drive the Spanish out. It is this conflict whose stresses Pedro Pizarro brings to life so vividly in his account.

Almagro learned about the revolt upon arriving at Arequippa. There his men were met with a hundred reinforcements under the command of Ruy Diaz. The news, which reached them from interpreters, was conflicting. Unsure of what to do, Almagro paused to assess the situation. On learning of the revolt, Almagro’s main interpreter, Felipe—who had always acted according to his own interests—made an escape in the direction of Cuzco. Almagro, finally fed up with Felipe, had him hunted down and killed.

The revolt raised the possibility that the Pizarro’s control of Peru had weakened. Men under Almagro’s command—notably Orgóñez and Gomez de Alvarado—became increasingly emphatic that he make his claim on Cuzco. They expected Almagro to reward them for the service they had provided; the Chilean expedition had proved to be a wild goose chase and now, with tangible rewards on the horizon, they wanted Almagro to claim a title that would benefit them all. To make the decision easier for Almagro, they encouraged interpreters to report that Pizarro had been killed in the uprising. Bowing to the wishes of his men and his own desires, Almagro continued onwards until he came to the town of Urcos, six leagues from Cuzco.

The chronicler Pedro Pizarro, no friend to Almagro, points to this decision as the point of no return. With this “he set aflame this kingdom, and it was the beginning of battles which have taken place therein.”[105] Whether or not this was so dramatic a turning point is debatable. Almagro did have title to the territory—which Pizarro might be forced to respect, but tensions certainly existed between the two men and the return of Hernando with more men from Trujillo had tipped the balance of power in favor of the Pizarros. The question is whether Almagro could have handled the situation in a better fashion than he did.

From Urcos Almagro began corresponding with Manco. Whether Almagro’s ability to deal with the Inca stemmed from the fact that they were, somehow, in collusion or whether he simply had a stronger relationship with Manco than other Spaniards is unclear—to partisans, of course, there was little doubt. In either case, Almagro certainly crossed a line here—he offered Manco a pardon in return for his support and Manco agreed to meet. In other words, Almagro was placing Indian allies before Spanish ones. Clearly, Almagro was not under the impression that he was working in the national or imperial interest—that God, king, or country were his primary concerns. No, Almagro’s ultimate concern was Diego de Almagro.

Hearing of Almagro’s activities through informants, Hernando Pizarro—now in the area suppressing the uprising and attempting to maintain the road from Cuzco to Lima—set out for Urcos with a party of men. As he made his way toward Urcos he encountered a contingent of Almagro’s men “armed as if for war.” Asking where Almagro was, he was informed that Almagro had gone to see Manco. “From this Hernando Pizarro understood the evil intention with which Almagro had [returned].”[106] Hernando chose not to confront Almagro’s men, but instead to use more indirect means. He sent messengers to Juan de Saavedra, one of Almagro’s captains, in an attempt to induce him to betray Almagro. Saavedra rejected his overtures and Hernando returned to Cuzco.[107]

Almagro’s meeting with Manco went even worse: Manco attacked Almagro inflicting many casualties. This ended the attempted détente; from here on out, Almagro treated Paullu as though he were the emperor. When Almagro returned to Urcos he was presented with an offer by Hernando to divide the city between the two of them. Seeing no cause for such a compromise when he had legal claim on the city, Almagro rejected this proposal and demanded full control of Cuzco. He petitioned the city council of Cuzco to recognize his title of governor. The council procrastinated by claiming that a boundary calculation must be made. In the interim, both sides agreed to stand down their men.

After a period of standoff Almagro raided the city on the night of April 18. He had Hernando’s house surrounded. The roof was set on fire to force Hernando into the open where he was arrested along with his brother Gonzalo. In the morning, after finding themselves in control of the city, Almagro and his men were unsure how to proceed with relation to Hernando’s followers—should they call the men “friends or traitors.” In the end they determined on the latter. As Pedro Pizarro, one of these men in question, recalls, “They entered our houses and took away our property and horses” and placed them in captivity.[108]

It was not until almost two months later that Alonso de Alvarado finally arrived with his reinforcements. Upon learning of Almagro’s actions he stopped and sent messengers to Pizarro. Before he was able to fully plan his next move he was betrayed. One of his captains, Pedro de Lerma, furious that Alonso had received command of the expedition instead of him, defected. He sent messages to Almagro who, aware now of Alonso’s presence in the area, sent men to confront him. With the aid of Lerma, Almagro’s men were able to quickly capture Alonso’s party. Prisoners were not treated kindly.

Pizarro dispatched his lawyer to negotiate with Almagro while he readied his men for battle back in Lima. Espinosa was told to buy time by encouraging Almagro to cease his hostilities and release his prisoners. Pizarro’s man appealed to Almagro that “if his Majesty were to hear what had happened and that they were in disagreement, he would send someone to replace them both and enjoy the conquests they had so painfully made.”[109] This may have merely been intended as distraction, but it may also signal that Almagro’s challenge had been sufficient to finally gain him the recognition and honor as a conquistador so important in making claims on titles and rewards.

These words from Pizarro seem to have left Almagro unaffected or worse for, at this point, he decided to march North and confront Pizarro. While in preparation he was confronted by one of his men, Lorenzo de Aldana, who demanded 10,000 pesos if he were to ride with Almagro against Pizarro. Almagro was not one to give money freely—unless it was in a very public fashion—and he explained he had nothing to give at the moment. Aldana furiously responded, “Well does your lordship see that we come [from Chile] ruined and lost men . . .and since your Lordship had given to others, it is just that you grant me some aid, for if you do not give me it I shall not be able to go and serve your Lordship upon this journey.” Almagro told him “stay then,” as his help wasn’t crucial anyway and left the city without him.[110]

Aldana was furious. Once Almagro had left he engineered Gonzalo and Alonso’s escape. In the past months men who had been captured in Cuzco or under Alonso’s commanded had been slipping away “twenty by twenty and ten by ten” in response to Almagro’s “ill-treatment.”[111] All in all these escapes combined with the steady leak of captives back to Pizarro undercut Almagro’s negotiating position. The betrayal of Aldana also revealed that Almagro’s control over his men was growing weaker. It would serve Almagro well to come to an accord quickly before similar incidents occurred.

Learning that Gonzalo and Alonso had joined up with Pizarro, Almagro halted his advance and began corresponding with Pizarro via messengers. It was agreed that the two men would meet at Mala bringing only twelve men each. But this accord was stymied by the mutual distrust on the part of both sides. Hearing rumors that Almagro had brought his entire force along with them and placed them in hidden positions behind the nearby hills, Gonzalo determined to protect his brother by following suit.[112] Learning of Gonzalo’s presence, Almagro cautiously advanced.[113]

Pedro Pizarro, however inaccurately, describes the meeting best:

[Almagro and Pizarro] saw each other and spoke together, albeit not with the affection with which in other times they were wont to receive each other, for both were envenomed, the Marquis on account of the injury that had been done to his brothers and Almagro by the evil heart he bore and the evil works he had done, for, when they saw each other in Cuzco after the quarrels between [Juan] Pizarro and Almagro, they had come to an agreement, and they poured forth their tears as it was their custom to do when they met after a long absence. And I speak truthfully when I say that all this [lack of harmony] was due to the evil counsels of those whom Don Pedro Alvarado had brought to this land, for they it was who began to set in flame this kingdom of Peru, a fire which has been great and lasted long, for all the rest who came from Nicaragua and other parts were peaceful and quiet men.[114]

Little was accomplished at the meeting. There were “complaints and recriminations,” but little or no progress. After Almagro retreated to Chincha, negotiations continued leading to the release of Hernando Pizarro against the wishes of many of Almagro’s supporters. Feeling, perhaps, that he had the upper-hand, Pizarro pointed out that, in conferring titles on Almagro, the king had allotted Pizarro all the “land he had discovered, settled, and conquered at the time of this notification.”[115] He suggested that Almagro settle in Arequipa or Charcas while the matter was referred to the king. Almagro—still encamped at Chincha—replied that each should remain in the territories he currently occupied. Pizarro responded to this by attacking Almagro’s forces at Huayatara and pushing them back toward Cuzco where they set about fortifying their position in the city.

At this point Pizarro sent Hernando toward Cuzco with nearly 800 men to confront Almagro once and for all. The force was made up of men completely unsympathetic to Almagro—men who owed Almagro nothing. It included new arrivals who knew no more of Almagro than that he was a rebel; men who had been captured with Alonso de Alvarado and had scores to settle; and various loyalists of the Pizarro family. Men who were neutral in the conflict, like Diego de Aguero, asked to sit out of the battles that followed. Hernando led these men quickly over long distances. His grueling pace led to many deaths among the Indian laborers who supported the force, but the result was that it arrived in the Cuzco area far quicker than had been expected. Almagro and his supporters were caught off guard and unprepared.[116]

The surprise of Hernando’s arrival in the area was but one of many difficulties facing Almagro. His syphilis had grown worse—so bad, in fact, that he was unable to move about with ease. While camped in the Vilcas Valley on the return from Cuzco, he had an attack so bad that rumors of his death had begun spreading.[117] Practically speaking, the illness interfered with his ability to manage the factional relations among his men. Since his revolt had begun, the ranks of his supporters had swelled with men whom he could not fully trust. Men like Pedro de Lerma could not be relied on—they had switched allegiance before and might easily do it again. Now, with his disease clearly progressing toward its last stages, the potential existed that Almagro might not live long enough to reward his men. Under these circumstances, many men began hedging their bets.[118]

Another unknown in Almagro’s calculations was the people of Cuzco. It was uncertain what the Spaniards living in the city thought about Almagro. They had been through a year of sieges and violence and were disinclined to put up with more. It Hernando attacked the city, Almagro suspected the inhabitants might betray him to the Pizarros to avoid an extended siege. The uncertainty surrounding the city also meant that he could not fight Hernando too close to the city for fear of men retreating or citizens attacking his rear.

The arrival of Hernando forced Almagro’s hand. Too ill to oversee operations himself, Almagro turned control of his forces over to Rodrigo Orgóñez. With limited time, Orgóñez readied his men. The results were dismal. On April 4, the day before they were to leave the city, a fourth of Almagro’s forces failed to muster. To insure that there were no deserters, guards were posted at the city gates and Indian auxiliaries were directed to kill anyone who tried to escape.

Orgóñez decided to make a stand utilizing the surrounding geography as best he could. Although many subordinates argued for fighting on open ground where their cavalry might give them an advantage, Orgóñez determined to fight on the nearby salt leaches—Las Salinas—where he could use a small stream as a barrier to hold off charges by Hernando. Paullu and his army would be placed on the hillsides where they could charge the moment Hernando’s flank was exposed. Thus positioned, the two sides met on the morning of April 6.

Fierce fighting followed and the tide of battle quickly turned against Orgóñez. Hernando had firepower in the form of arquebusiers. These men unleashed a volley at the Almagrists while Hernando charged across the stream—which turned out to be far more shallow than Orgóñez anticipated. Close combat followed. The Almagrists broke ranks and scattered. Orgóñez withdrew in the hope of regrouping for a second attack. He commanded Vasco de Guevara to charge Hernando’s men, but Guevara refused. Seeing the retreat of his general, Almagro, who in his incapacitated state was watching from a distance, ordered his stretcher-bearers to return to Cuzco.

Orgóñez reemerged on the field of battle and attempted to rally his forces. Initial success ended abruptly when a bullet killed his horse. Orgóñez was quickly surrounded by a number of Pizarrists. He demanded to be taken to a knight to whom he could surrender. One of the men stepped forward announcing himself to be a knight. Orgóñez handed over his shield—at which point the other men grabbed him and forced him to ground while the “knight” decapitated him.

The battle was full of similar tableaux. The most vicious of the combatants tended to be those embittered soldiers of Alonso de Alvarado. In one instance, Ruy Díaz surrendered to a friend only to be pulled from the friend’s horse and killed. Among his murderers was Melchor Rodríguez, “a common soldier” who held a grudge because Díaz “had struck him and pulled him by the beard” at Abancay bridge.[119] Many fleeing Almagrists were killed by Gonzalo Pizarro’s cavalry contingent which chased them along the road back to Cuzco. For their part the arquebusiers—who had arrived too recently in Peru to have any attachment to Almagro or his men—played games of Russian roulette with prisoners. By the end, over two hundred men had died in the battle. Even in the aftermath killings continued—Pedro de Lerma, who had been injured on the battle field, was murdered in his bed.

Hernando now made great efforts to win over Almagro’s men. He forbid the sort of theft of property from the defeated side that Almagro had permitted. The question of what to do with the captured Almagro was settled rapidly. Hernando determined that, as long as Almagro lived, he would represent an alternative to the Pizarros among the disaffected elements of the Spanish. Rumors of plots to release Almagro and retake the city forced Hernando’s hand—he determined Almagro must be put to death—strangulation followed by a symbolic beheading.[120]

At the sentencing, Almagro begged Hernando for his life. He pointed to his accomplishments, his advanced age of sixty-three, and his willingness to release Hernando. Hernando was unmoved and replied simply that Almagro should not show such fear. Almagro responded that even Christ showed fear at the moment of death—a moment that followed quickly for Diego de Almagro.


VII. Conclusion

Almagro’s death did not bring the Pizarros the sort of triumph they had hoped for. Although any opposition to their authority now lacked focused leadership, problems persisted. The Almagrists who had been defeated at Las Salinas had to be dealt with—they could not be trusted; news of the battle had to be suppressed; money needed to be raised to pay off Spanish authorities in the region; and Manco’s revolt still had to be defeated.

Some of these difficulties were overcome with greater ease than others. Many of the Almagrists concentrated in the Cuzco area—“troops who were without occupation”—were assigned to a new southern expedition led by Pedro de Candia.[121] A new attempt to find riches in the south was being made because Paullu, in an attempt to endear himself to the Pizarros, had revealed the location of large silver deposits near Charcas. When Almagro had passed by these same deposits, Paullu had said not a word, but now he was convinced as to who was the strongest power in Peru and acted accordingly. This information—and Paullu’s change of sides in the battle—led the Pizarros to treat him as the new Great Inca in the hopes of marginalizing Manco.

Despite these small victories, the Pizarros’ hold on power was slipping; events were already in motion that would limit the free rein conquistadors exercised over the land. Immediately after the battle, the Pizarros shut off communication with the outside world for two months. By May, however, grain was desperately needed and the quarantine was lifted.[122] Word began to spread and the royal authorities began to grow inquisitive. Ultimately, Hernando was sent back to Spain to defend the Pizarros’ actions in court.

At the subsequent trial much came to light that reflected poorly on the conquistadors. The most troubling revelation—from the perspective of the Crown—was the fact that, as they charged into battle at Las Salinas, partisans had not shouted the name of God or their king, but rather “Almagro” and “Pizarro.” In the years that followed, the partisanship in Peru grew worse. In 1541 a group of Almagrists rallying around Almagro’s son killed Pizarro. In 1544 conquistadors under the leadership of Gonzaol Pizarro rebelled against the Crown’s attempt to regulate their encomidenas. Clearly, in the distant land of Peru, old allegiances were slipping away and new ones were forming as men, separated from the life they had once known, sought personal gain.

This is, in many respects, counter to the image of the conquistadors we are typically presented with. Forty years ago, Spanish historian JH Elliot claimed, “The character of these men, and especially the predominance of the hidalgo class in the leadership of the expeditions, inevitably set a special stamp on the whole pattern of conquest.”[123] A decade later, James Lockhart argued, essentially, the same thing in that, “seniority pervades everything [in the conquest of Peru].”[124] Keeping with this view, Lockhart has more recently argued that, “the settlers of Peru were near one hundred percent loyal Spaniards.”[125]

These generalizations are not wrong, but after considering the life of Diego de Almagro, they should give us pause. Certainly “seniority” and rank were important—considerations that could never be ignored in a conquistador’s calculations—but they are insufficient for understanding the complexity of events. Almagro, after all, lacked family connections or rank, but was still able to carve out a position for himself in the early Peruvian conquest. He did so by concerning himself with matters like organization and assiduously courting those conquistadors who had more “seniority” than himself. In time, he had gained a position such that he could buy the loyalty of others. By positioning himself as an alternative source of rewards he could draw to his banner men who saw their potential rewards with Pizarro as limited. Almagro’s life reveals the presence of other factors that influenced the “pattern of conquest.”

Likewise, the idea of “loyal Spaniards” is tricky. On the one hand, it is totally subjective—what constituted “loyalty” to Spain under the circumstances in which the conquistadors found themselves? Almagro might have declared his loyalty to the king, but what did that mean? In this period, royal authority in Peru was weak enough that it could provide a conquistador little more than rhetorical cover. Almagro petitioned the king for rewards and, when he received titles and offices, he used the king’s decrees to support his claims. When rewards did not come, he bided his time, strengthened his connections with people who mattered, and tried again when the situation seemed more favorable. He never challenged the authority of the Crown—but are these actions in any way “loyal.”

In a sense yes, Almagro was being “loyal” as he understood it. He and his fellow conquerors claimed lands and presided over them in the name of the king. Since the time of the Reconquista such accomplishments had been rewarded. New World conquistadors likewise expected rewards for their actions and petitioned the king for titles commensurate with their services. For those men who lacked royal connections, survival and success depended on finding a patron who could reward one for his services. In Peru, far away from the king and his court, these bonds became the more important ones. The result was on full display in the revelations at Hernando’s trial.[126]

Following the life of Diego de Almagro makes it clear that, although ideals of honor and family connection, survived the journey across the Atlantic, they no longer exercised the same power as in Spain. In the New World men like Almagro could create new identities and new associations. Through their own exertions, they could rise-up in the colonial order. This freedom may have been liberating, but it could also created a chaotic environment of shifting loyalties—a chaos that becomes all too clear when the conquerors are returned to “more recognizable human dimensions.” From one man’s life we come to comprehend forces that shaped the lives of many. In the story of Almagro can be seen the opportunities the conquest provided Spaniards and the limitations that men’s greed placed on achieving them.





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[1]. This account of the siege is taken from Pedro Pizarro, Relation of the Discovery and Conquest of the Kingdoms of Peru, trans. Phillip Ainsworth Means (New York: The Cortes Society, 1921), pp. 328-35. As the name implies, Pizarro is no friend of Almagro. Pizarro came to Peru as Don Francico’s page in 1530 at the age of fifteen and began taking part in the conquest three years later at the age of eighteen. From this point onwards he was intimately involved in the major campaigns and battles of the conquest. That Pedro Pizarro speaks of Almagro and Almagrists in such harsh terms makes the work all the more fascinating: It serves as a window into the mind of Pizarro’s partisans and reminds us that the hatreds engendered in the period of 1525-1538 had not diminished by 1571, when Pedro Pizarro finished his Relación.

[2] Titu Cusi Yupanqui, An Account of the Conquest of Peru, trans. Ralph Bauer, (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2005).

[3] Biographies of Pizarro include: Fredrick A Ober, Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru (New York: Harper Brothers, 1906); Rosa Arciniega, Pizarro (Madrid: Editorial Cenit, 1936). Books about those at Cajamarca includes, of course, James Lockhart’s Men of Cajamarca (Austin: University of Texas, 1972). Books about Pizarro and his brothers include: Rafael Varon Gabai, Francisco Pizarro and His Brothers: The Illusion of Power in Sixteenth Century Peru (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997); Hoffman Birney, Brothers of Doom: The Story of the Pizarros of Peru (New York: GP Putnam’s Sons, 1942). Other works have been written about men, like Hernando de Soto, who spent time in Peru before proceeding on to other famous conquests.

[4] Lockhart, Men of Cajamarca; Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 1532-1560: A Colonial Society, (University of Wisconsin Press, 1968).

[5] I suspect another reason for the inattention to Almagro may lie in the availability of sources. He is mentioned sparsely in many of the primary sources and those that give him equal time—like Pedro de Cieza de Leon—have only emerged in recent years. Hemming’s The Fall of the Incas (1970) is the last major synthesis of the period and it was published before the sections of Cieza’s book dealing with the conquest came to light. I imagine that, when a future historian produces a major survey of the conquest period, Almagro will play a larger role—especially since that historian will probably have access to archival sources about which I can only fantasize.

[6] Stern, “Paradigms of Conquest,” p. 32.

[7] Ida Altman’s Emigrants and Society (Berkely: University of California Press,1989) discusses the patterns of emigration from Extremadura and the reasons why it produced so many conquistadors (Pizarro, Almagro, Alvarado, Cortes, etc.)

[8] Rolando Mellafe, Diego de Almagro, I. El descubrimiento de Peru (Santiago: Instituto Pedadgogico, 1954), p. 23. Mellafe provides the only detailed available account of Almagro’s early years readily available. His work is a doctoral dissertation included with another paper dealing with Almagro’s experiences in Chile. The two comprise the only study focused on Almagro.

[9] In Spanish literature, the character of the picaro comes to mind. Like Huck Finn, Tom Jones, or Augie March in English and American literature, the picaro is always trying to become rich and famous, to live life to the fullest—ideally by manipulating the rich and powerful. Inevitably, his fortunes rise and fall with comical results.

[10] See Ruth Pike’s Aristocrats and Traders: Sevillian Society in the Sixteenth Century (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972) for a detailed analysis of Sevillian life.

[11] Mellafe, p. 24.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Stern’s “Paradigms of Conquest” describes several imagined utopias such as “wealth, social precedence, and Christian conversion” (7). Other scholarship, like Karen Spalding, dismiss such fantastical phrasing when they describe the Spanish as “essentially pirates: organized gangs of men who . . .robbed and plundered in search of the precious metals that were in short supply in the rapidly expanding European economy.” The Spanish didn’t think in terms of “complicated” paradigms of utopia; they wanted “wealth—wealth that could be traded for rank and position” (Spalding, 109). Likewise, Lockhart asserts that the Spanish were not romantic adventurers (“Trunk Lines”, 92). In general, secondary sources either treat the Spanish as dreamers—Elliot, for example, speaks of them as full of airy notions of gallantry inspired by books like Amadis of Gual (58)—or mauraders.

[14] Sometimes his name is written in its full form: Pedro Arias Da Avila.

[15] Spalding, pp. 110-3.

[16] Mellafe, p. 29.

[17] Nor could it have endeared Almagro to the governor who suspected Balboa of intending to establish his own territory on the west coast. The tensions between the two eventually climaxed in Balboa’s arrest and beheading.

[18] James Lockhart, The Men of Cajamarca (Austin: University of Texas-Austin, 1972), p. 144.

[19] Ibid. p. 70.

[20] Pedro Pizarro, Relation of the Discovery and Conquest of the Kingdoms of Peru, Trans. Phillip Ainsworth Means (New York: The Cortes Society, 1921), p. 134.

[21] Pedro de Cieza de Leon, The Discovery and the Conquest of Peru, Trans. Alexandra Parma Cook and Noble David Cook (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998), p. 42. Though this seems a bit questionable—Lockhart in Men of Cajamarca points out that Pizarro had been friendly with Balboa (as had Almagro) and this cost him many of the best opportunities to conquer places, like Nicaragua. It is for this reason that he was fifty years old before he was given a license of any significance (142-3).

[22] Mellafe, p. 37.

[23] Cieza described Almagro as being “prodded” into involving himself in the expedition (22). This would be typical of Cieza’s narrative which tends to depict Almagro as continuously helping Pizarro out only to be double-crossed by him in repayment. The influence of Cieza’s depiction on Lockhart is clear enough. The real question is how much weight should it be given? As a source I tend to give his versions a great deal of trust. Cieza arrived in the area after the events had transpired and, I think, this gives him enough perspective to see that both Pizarro and Almagro were undermining one another. At the same time, he is too far removed to really understand or convey the revulsion Almagro’s actions caused men like Pedro Pizarro.

[24] Pedro Pizarro describes Almagro as receiving the post of “second-leader” (135). This is typical of Pizarro who tends to down-play Almagro’s contributions—although not to the degree that Francisco Pizarro and his secretary, Pedro Sancho, do in their report to the king.

[25] Cieza, p. 44. Though this probably true, one should guard against literary tropes like no one thought they could do it—but they did!

[26] Mellafe, p. 39.

[27] Ibid`.

[28] Cieza de Leon, p. 68.

[29] How bad this injury was is unclear. In some sources Almagro is referred to as “one-eyed” (Zárate, 129).

[30] Mellafe, p. 52.

[31] Ruling over mangroves became a way both Almagrist and Pizzarists contemptuously described the role the other deserved.

[32] Cieza de Leon, p. 72.

[33] Ibid. p. 85.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid. One of the friends who intervened, Nicolás de Ribera, is the source Cieza cites as having related the story to him.

[36] Mellafe spends a great deal of time proving that Luque was simply not as involved in the partnership as has been portrayed—in fact, the documents that contain his name, may be fake. Luque was never as full a partner as the other two and, as time went on, his involvement diminished further.

[37] Cieza de Leon (130) describes Almagro as having taken the lead in arguing in favor of Pizarro. Theoretically, Almagro said that, “since [Pizarro] had possessed the fortitude to have spent more than four years among the mangroves and rivers of the coast, suffering such hunger and hardship never heard or seen by men before, he should board a ship and go to Spain himself . . .because it would be different from negotiating through an envoy, who after all was a third person.” According to Cieza, this “vehemence” on Almagro’s part led the partners to conclude that Pizarro should attempt to procure the governorship of the new territory for himself and the post of adelantado for Almagro. He may have done this—or it may be an Almagrist source Cieza is relying on whose goal is to make Almagro look loyal to and supportive of his partner. Really, though, what other choice was there? If not Pizarro, the noble with family connections, then who? Almagro? A man without family, friends, or connections at court? There can have been very little doubt as to who would be sent back.

[38] Again, Cieza provides an image that paints Almagro as some quasi-saint in his willingness to help the interests of his partner: “Almagro was very tenacious, as those who were acquainted with him know. He was crippled and could not walk, but he went around the city carried in a chair on the shoulders of slaves, seeking money from among his friends” (133).

[39] Adelantado is a title with medieval origins dating to the period of the Reconquest. The position of adelantado was similar to that of governor, but with an emphasis on the military aspect. Had the positions been divided between the two men, as Almagro desired, he would have focused on military operations while Pizarro focused on governing.

[40] Cieza, p. 136.

[41] Spalding, p. 116.

[42] Cieza, p. 146. Pedro Pizarro reports Pizarro’s explanation as a fact. He observes that the Council of Indies had cited as precedent for their determination the fact that, when a joint governorship had been allowed in Santa Marta, the two men had ultimately killed each other (141).

[43] Pizarro, p. 144.

[44] Specifically Lockhart, pp. 157-65.

[45] Pedro Pizarro provided the anecdote and further affirms that Almagro only renewed his alliance with the brothers out of fear that they were going to ally with Hernando de Soto and leave him out in the cold. His agreement to renew relations was done “with reservations and evil designs, as always thereafter appeared” (147).

[46] Mellafe, pp. 46-7. Pedro Pizarro has an alternative explanation: “Almagro remained in Panama when the Marquis came to conquer this land, and he had not wished to come until he had news of the greatness of it” (213).

[47] Cieza de Leon, p. 148.

[48] This is Cieza’s version, and it sounds very reasonable in light of the fact that it was Almagro and Pizarro’s policy to have the latter lead expeditions while the former outfitted expeditions (219). Pizarro, however, claims that Almagro had simply “not wished to come until he had news of the greatness of [Pizarro’s achievements]” (213).

[49] Cieza includes these details (220-3). He does not imply that they are true and he comments that Pérez made his statements in an attempt to gain Pizarro’s favor. That said, this is one of the least flattering stories he tells of Almagro. The fact that Pedro Pizarro does not see fit to mention it—let alone emphasize it—leads me to question whether this really is an instance of Almagro plotting against his partner.

[50] Pedro Sancho, one of Pizarro’s secretaries, is the writer of a letter sent by Pizarro to the king describing the events following the capture of Atahualpa. The account describes Atahualpa’s capture, execution, and the march to Cuzco. Almagro is only mentioned in passing and only as a passive recipient of Pizarro’s orders.

[51] By the end of his life—five years later, Almagro was suffering from a debilitating case of syphilis. Whether this was the early stages of the disease or something else entirely is unclear. It is interesting, however, to consider how the weakness caused by the illness affected the loyalty of Almagro’s supporters. With Almagro dead, these men would need new alliances were they to receive any rewards. Pérez may have hoped to trade one benefactor for another at this crucial moment.

[52] Hemminng, pp. 28-30.

[53] The Spanish—regardless of what they may have told the king—probably didn’t just come out and tell the Incas that they were now subjects of the Spanish crown. The process was a much more complicated one of playing rival factions off against one another, establishing a colonial infrastructure under Inca puppet rulers, and placing Spaniards in positions very similar to those once occupied by Inca elites.

[54] Stern, “The Rise and Fall of Indian-White Alliances,” p. 466.

[55] Spalding, p. 116.

[56] These kurakas are the “cacique”—princes—of the chronicles. Thus, when in Pedro Pizarro’s account, it is implied that the “Spaniards were to have each one his cacique,” it is describing this process of pairing Spaniards with local officials (213).

[57] Cieza de Leon, p. 233. Much of Cieza’s writings contains a strong religious element. In his mind the Spanish are guilty of the sin of “greed—which is what subjects the Spanish nation to great evil” (342). As a consequence, much of his—and other writer’s—accounts emphasize the Spanish letting their greed get the better of them.

[58] Ibid. p. 239. Zárate makes a similar argument (128).

[59] Pizarro reports that Almagro was perfectly content with splitting up the ransom between Francisco Pizarro and himself, leaving only a pittance for others, but “in this the Marquis [Pizarro] was always most Christianly, for [he did not allow] anyone to be robbed of what he merited” (215). Cieza has a different take: Almagro argued that the treasure should be divided according to the “quality of each person. To this Pizarro replied, faithful to his companions, that not everyone was to have [a share]; rather, it should be in keeping with how much they had done” (239) .

[60] Pedro Sancho (ostensibly transcribing the words of Pizarro) argues that the Spanish feared rebellion. Pedro Pizarro depicts Almagro and the royal representatives who had accompanied him from Panama as pressuring Pizarro into this. Knowing that Pizarro “was very zealous in the service of His Majesty,” they argued that Atahualpa should be executed so as to ensure that the Crown did not lose the lands. Pedro Pizarro emphasizes the conflict in Pizarro’s heart over whether to serve the king or murder a man. In the end, Pizarro chooses to serve (what he has been misled to believe are) the interests of his king and “weep[ing] with sorrow” sentences Atahualpa to death (215-9). Zárate points to the deceptions of Felipe, an interpreter, as well as “Almagro’s men” and their desire to stop the flow of ransom (134).

[61] Cieza avoids judgment by including both sides (256).

[62] Zárate also indicates that Pizarro and Almagro agreed to kill Atahualpa jointly (129).

[63] Cieza de Leon, p. 251. Mena did return to Spain and, based on the chronology of his trip and other information, Raúl Porras Barrenechea believes him to be the anonymous writer of one of the many early accounts of the conquest. Unfortunately for the purposes of this paper, Mena’s account deals only with the journey to Cajamarca and the capture of the Inca—Almagro is not mentioned in any significant way.

[64] Spalding, p. 117.

[65] Cieza de Leon, p. 266. Cieza’s depictions of Spanish-Inca interactions are especially interesting in that they tend to side with natives—or at least express sympathy. Cieza was admirerer of Batolomé de las Casas. In his will he directed that his manuscripts relating to the condition of the natives be sent to the friar.

[66] Lockhart, Men of Cajamarca, p. 195.

[67] Pizarro, p. 236. It is important to remember, as Lockart observes, that Pizarro is often difficult to believe in matters concerning enemies of his relatives.

[68] Pedro Sancho, p. 74. Being, at it is, a report to the court meant to portray Pizarro in a good light, this account does not directly name Soto and certainly does not make a major issue of him defyin Pizarro.

[69] Spalding, p. 117.

[70] Hemming, p. 131.

<[71] James Lockhart, Spanish Peru, p. 14.

[72] Recinos, p. 145. A large portion of his men were, like himself, natives of Extremadura. For that matter so were Pizarro and Almagro. Ida Altaman’s book Emigrants and Society: Extemadura and America in the Sixteenth Century (Berkely: University of California Press, 1989) studies the patterns of and reasons for the high proporation of conquistadors from this region.

[73] Hemming, pp. 161-2.

[74] Sancho, p.144. This is, in fact, where Sancho’s narrative of events ends.

[75] Cieza de Leon, p. 342.

[76] Recinos, p. 150.

[77] Ibid. p 346.

[78] Ibid. pp. 348-9.

[79] This said, on returning to Guatemala, Alvarado sent letters to the King describing these events in terms very unfavorable to Almagro—he described Almagro’s attempts to lure away his men as “treacherous” and made the “supplication that the government of [the Quito region] not be given to Almagro” (Kelly, 256-60).

[80] The Discovery and Conquest of Peru, [Zárate], pp. 150-1.

[81] Cieza de Leon, p. 354.

[82] Ibid. p. 354.

[83] Pizarro, p. 290.

[84] Ibid. p. 296. The word , at least in the Means edition, is deleted; Hemming provides the expletive (179).

[85] Cieza de Leon, pp. 357-8.

[86] Pizarro, pp. 290-1.

[87] Lockhart, Spanish Peru, p. 16.

[88] Cieza de Leon, p. 368.

[89] Both Cieza (368) and Pizarro (293) explain Almagro’s decision as being influenced heavily by others. That’s probably true enough, but it would be wrong to entirely discount Almagro from the process. In the end, the decision was his own.

[90] Cieza de Leon, p. 368. By “Almagros” Cieza is referring to Almagro and his young son, around whom Almagrist partisans centered a later revolt in 1541.

[91] Cieza de Leon, pp. 370-1. Pizarro, p. 293.

[92] Pizarro, p. 293.

[93] As the name suggests, Gomez was one of Alvarado’s men; he accompanied Almagro to Chile. In sources like Zárate he comes across as very eager for Almagro to make claims on the southern portions of Peru (165).

[94] Pizarro, p. 270. Almagro’s treachery is not mentioned in Cieza. I include it, but with reservations since the possibility exists that Pizarro is merely being slanderous or relating rumors that were circulating. Hemming points to others sources that mention such a murder (176, 570).

[95] Hemming, p. 181.

[96] Hemming, p. 177.

[97] Cieza de Leon, p. 384. While the translation described the men as “soldiers,” Lockhart goes to special pains to argue that the Spaniards neither described nor considered themselves soldiers in the sense we would today. As this argument seems valid to me, I have, at the risk of repetition, used “men” or “followers” throughout this paper.

[98] Villalobos, p. 130.

[99] Zaráte put the size of the expedition at “upwards of fifteen hundred” (153) departing with Almagro from Cuzco; he places the number of Spanish at 575 by the time all the auxiliary forces have met up. Almagro commanded over 500 men, but this sizeable group left in smaller parties over the course of several months. It was not until additional reinforcements arrived—25 with Ogóñez, 100 with Juan de Herrada, 100 with Juan de Saavedra, and 50 with Noguerol de Ulloa—that Almagro’s position became stronger

[100] Cieza de Leon, pp. 429-30. Yanacona were a special class of native servants.

[101] The fact that the claimant was “legitimate”—according to Cieza de Leon—is nice, but probably unimportant in Almagro’s decision-making process.

[102] Villalobos, p. 145.

[103] Pizarro makes the interesting claim that Almagro’s men “besought him to settle a town” in Chile, but that Almagro rejected this on the grounds that he did not want to divide his forces (350).

[104] After his initial attempt, Manco was placed in temporary captivity. During this time, Almagrists claim that he was subjected to harsh treatment. They claim that men like Pedro Pizarro went so far as to urinate on the emperor (Hemming, 184-5). True or not, such accusations reveal the partisan tit-for-tat of Peruvian chronicles.

[105] Pizarro, p. 345.

[106] Pizarro, pp. 349-50.

[107] Pizarro argues that Hernando’s decision not to attack then and there we a result of his belief that Almagro would honor his agreements with Francisco Pizarro (350). This is, of course, ridiculous—especially when considered in light of Zaráte’s anecdote about the Saavedra bribery. Hernando had no reason to trust Almagro and the fact that Saavedra felt the confidence to turn him down speaks to Hernando’s weak position.

[108] Pizarro, p. 356.

[109] Zaráte, p. 177.

[110] Pizarro, pp. 367-8.

[111] Pizarro, p. 366.

[112] Pizarro can only claim that “they say” Almagro did this (371). Zaráte, no friend of Almagro—but, again, even less a friend to Gonzalo Pizarro—makes no mention of it.

[113] Pizarro claims that Francisco Pizarro warned his brother not to attack Almagro and that, if he did, Pizarro “would no longer have him for a brother, for the Marquis Don Francisco Pizarro was a man who kept his word faithfully” (373). As usual, this smacks of hagiography by a relative, but the real reasons—if Pizarro was even aware of Gonzalo’s presence—are interesting. Almagro was the head figure of the resistance, but there were other figures below him—like Orgóñez and Gomez de Alvarado—who were equally hostile, but with whom Pizarro had no connections he could work to achieve peace. At this stage, a dead Almagro might not have been in the Pizarro’s interests.

[114] Pizarro, pp. 372-3.

[115] Zaráte, p. 180.

[116] Most of the following account of the Battle of Las Salinas is based on Paul Stewart’s article “The Battle of Las Salinas, Peru, and Its Historians.” Professor Stewart bases his article not only on chronicler accounts, but also on the testimony given at the trials in Spain that looked into the battle and its aftermath.

[117] As the CDC describes it, “Signs and symptoms of the late stage of syphilis include difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, and dementia. This damage may be serious enough to cause death.”

[118] It is interesting to consider what would have happened had Almagro died. The degree to which disloyalty was still an option at this point implies that many could still imagine a place for themselves in a regime controlled by the Pizarros despite their hostile actions. If Almagro had died, the men below him would have lost any connection to appointments. They needed for him receive royal confirmation of his claim to Cuzco so that he could distribute land and money to them—at this stage in the conquest royal opinions still mattered. Later, in the 1550s, conquerors would try to reject royal declarations, but at this point royal sanction was still crucial in one’s claims on power.

[119] Stewart, p. 429.

[120] Vega, p. 859.

[121] Pizarro, p. 384.

[122] Stewart, p. 432.

[123] Elliot, p. 52.

[124] Lockhart, Men of Cajamarca, p. 116.

[125] Lockhart, “Trunk Lines,” p. 94.

[126] In a sense, it’s also displayed in the partisanship of the source material.