Francisco Pizarro

Dafato Team | May 19, 2022

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Francisco Pizarro González (Trujillo, c. 1475 - Lima, June 26, 1541) was a Spanish leader, conqueror of the Inca Empire and founder of the city of Lima, the capital of Peru.

He was an illegitimate son of a distinguished infantry colonel, Gonzalo Pizarro Rodríguez de Aguilar, known as "el largo," who, following the great Spanish condottiero Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, distinguished himself in military campaigns in Italy and Navarre. His mother, a certain Francisca Gonzales y Mateos, was a woman of humble origins, probably a handmaiden of the colonel's sister, Beatríz Pizarro.

He was born in Trujillo, but the year of his birth is uncertain and his many biographers have proposed conflicting dates, however between 1471 and 1478, although the most likely seems 1475.

Despite being born out of wedlock, Francisco was recognized by his father and was able to take on his father's name, but not because of this he was admitted into the Pizarro family and grew up with his mother and her relatives. His education was very limited and it appears that he could not read or write, although he was able to reproduce his signature, as evidenced by some documents he signed.

We know that because his mother was a farmer, and because he was not formally part of his father's family, he was also a farmer: a pig herder, who fled to the Americas, for fear of the punishment resulting from the loss of a specimen.

We know little about Francisco Pizarro's life prior to his arrival in the Indies in 1502 with the expedition of Nicolás de Ovando, the new governor of the island of Hispaniola, although the sixteenth-century historian López de Gómara speaks of his military experience in Italy, following his father and in the company of his brother Hernando.

The first noteworthy reports have him participating in 1509 in Alonso de Ojeda's ill-fated expedition to Urabá in present-day Colombia. In 1513 he joined Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who, exploring the Isthmus of Panama reached as far as the Pacific coast. Later, when Balboa fell into disgrace with the Spanish authorities, it was Pizarro himself who arranged for his arrest and who, as a reward for his action, was appointed by Governor Pedro Arias Dávila, mayor of Panama City. From 1519 to 1523 he devoted himself to exploiting some "encomiendas" that brought him a small capital, enough to live comfortably, but not adequate to his ambitions. Pizarro used the same methods as Hernán Cortés to conquer the Incas.

In 1522 news reached Panama of the immense fortunes unearthed by Hernán Cortés in his expeditions to Mexico. The fortunate adventure stimulated in Pizarro the desire to match his valiant fellow citizen, and his sights were set on the still unexplored southern territories about whose riches various legends circulated.

Large amounts of capital and government authorization were needed, however, but both were found through an association with other interested parties.These were another adventurer, Diego de Almagro and the cleric Hernando de Luque. Almagro was, like Pizarro, a veteran of the Indies, who had attempted in various ventures in Nicaragua to increase his fortune. He was small in stature, but as courageous as few and accustomed to vicissitudes in uncharted lands. He was outspoken, loyal, and generous and possessed an innate ability to lead and be appreciated by his troops. Luque was only a front man, as the capital he injected into the venture came from a high personage, Judge Gaspar d'Espinosa, who did not want to figure. A fourth partner, even more covert than Espinosa, was, finally, Governor Pedrarias, who demanded a quarter of the possible proceeds to grant the necessary authorization.

The expedition, which set out in 1524, turned out to be a disaster. The coasts of present-day Ecuador were then for a good stretch wild and uninhabited, but the explorers were unaware of this and proceeded on a widespread reconnaissance among hostile jungles and unhealthy swamps, losing many men. When they finally decided to return to Panama, with nothing to show for it, they faced the hostility of the governor who held against them the disappearance of so many soldiers. Only Hernando de Luque's diplomacy enabled them to obtain permission for a further attempt, but Governor Pedrarias demanded to be disbanded from the company in exchange for 1,500 gold pesos and, with that limited sum, thus lost all claim to Peru's future treasure.

The second expedition had, at least at first, no better results than the previous one and endangered the lives of all its members, perpetually struggling with the pitfalls of the jungle and the threat of starvation. Almagro, who returned to Panama to resupply, was arrested by the new governor, Gabriel de los Ríos, who nevertheless sent a vessel to repatriate the survivors.

Pizarro, however, persisted in his attempt and with thirteen fellow soldiers refused to re-embark, declaring himself willing to die on the spot rather than return humiliated. Luque's prayers and Almagro's requests finally obtained permission from the governor to send a small vessel, under the command of the pilot Ruiz, to collect those diehards, under, however, the peremptory condition that all exploration cease within three months.

What was supposed to be a rescue expedition turned out instead to be the real key to the discovery of the kingdom of the Incas. In fact, Ruiz crossed a balsa boat loaded with natives and learned of the existence of a rich city a few leagues to the south. Embarking, Pizarro decided to sail in that direction and actually reached Tumbez, the maritime gateway to the Peruvian empire. When they returned to Panama, the lucky explorers could show, as proof of their tales, some gold jewelry, some elaborate artifacts and some llamas, along with some indigenous youths picked up on the spot.

Their tales spoke of a city made of stone, rich in gold, and an obvious sign of an advanced civilization, but their reputation was now ruined and everyone took them for madmen and invaders, and no one, least of all the governor, considered further expedition.

Stubbornness, however, was the main characteristic of Pizarro and his associates, and, the three of them, however ruined, conceived the daring purpose of asking for help directly from the Crown. With a last effort they managed to scrape together, on loan, the necessary money and Pizarro, on behalf of all, embarked for Spain.

The crude soldier found a favorable environment at court, thanks to the recent successes of Hernán Cortés, and was able to convince the rulers of the possible success of the enterprise he had come to offer to lead. It was, after all, a custom of Spanish policy to encourage all sorts of expeditions as long as their promoters provided the personal financing. The Crown intervened with a small share in expenses, mostly a few horses and a few cannons, and reserved a fifth of any future proceeds. Charges were generously offered, as were future prebends because they could only be exercised and collected after success.

Pizarro thus obtained permission to arm his own expedition by undertaking to recruit, at his own expense, an army of two hundred and fifty men. In return he obtained the position of governor of the future conquered territories, "alguacil mayor" and "adelandado" forgetting to patronize the position of Almagro who was only appointed commander of the fortress of Tumbez.

The relative salaries were, of course, "todos pajados de la renta de la dicha tierra."

In the conditions it was expected that at least one hundred and fifty men would be enlisted, in Spain, and this was no small problem because it required convincing a significant number of future soldiers to go to the New World with the sole hope of a successful outcome of the expedition, since in case of failure they would gain nothing.

Pizarro thought better of returning to his native country to seek followers, but he found only the enthusiastic reception of his brothers. They were Hernando, the only son his father, Colonel Gonzalo, had with his legitimate consort, and two others, also recognized by the prolific parent, but born of different mothers. These were Juan and Gonzalo, both very young, brave but clueless and eager to try their hand at warlike ventures. Completing the family lineup was Martín de Alcantara, a brother of Francisco on his mother's side only.

With his brothers and a few dozen other spirited individuals, Pizarro was far from fulfilling the required conditions, but shrewd and determined as he was he sailed from Spain anyway without submitting to the scrutiny of government officials.

Arriving in the Americas he had to face the wrath of Almagro, who felt defrauded of his rights, but once again Luque's diplomacy was to help him overcome any differences, and finally, in January 1531, a daring brigade moved on to the southern lands.It consisted of just under two hundred men and had only three ships, but it was animated by strong determination.

The conquest of the Incan empire had begun.

Entrance of the Spaniards

The arrival in Tumbez was disappointing. The town had been destroyed and nothing remained of the magnificence the Spaniards had admired during their previous visit. A civil war was going on in the empire between the brothers Atahualpa, champion of Quito, and Huáscar, lord of Cusco, and Pizarro thought to take advantage of this by offering his services to one of the contenders to insert himself in the struggle for supreme power. It was not easy, however, to choose the right party because the news was conflicting, and while waiting to make a decision, the Spaniards welcomed the ambassadorships of both opponents.

The civil war decided for them, because while they were still on the littoral Atahualpa got right with his brother and it was inevitable to confront him. The new ruler held his court in Cajamarca, and the Spaniards had to climb the Andes to get to meet him. Along the way, which took place on steep mountain paths and crossed craggy gorges, they could easily have been overpowered, but evidently this was not the Inca's intention, for they were allowed to continue without difficulty.They came in sight of the city on November 15, 1532, and from the top of the hill overlooking it they had, for the first time, a vision of the immensity of the forces they proposed to face: Atahualpa was waiting for them with an army of more than thirty thousand men waited on the surrounding plain.

The massacre of Cajamarca

Pizarro decided to explore the ruler's intentions and sent an embassy consisting of his brother Hernando and Hernando de Soto. The two distinguished knights returned impressed by the display of strength and discipline of the Peruvian armies, but they also brought news of Atahualpa's imminent arrival, scheduled for the following day, in the city that, in the meantime, the Spaniards were allowed to occupy.

Mindful of Cortés' experiences, the adventurers conceived a daring plan to seize the person of the Inca, knowing that their small numbers would not allow them to engage in a pitched battle. The night passed in preparations and prayers, and the next day everything was ready to welcome the unsuspecting ruler.

Many versions exist about the Spaniards' official and decisive encounter with the Inca.What we do know for sure is that Atahualpa entered the plaza with a reduced retinue composed of unarmed dignitaries. Such was the Inca's confidence in the superiority of his troops, numerically outnumbering his adversary, that he did not expect to be attacked by a dragnet of enemies.His army stationed nearby and alone commanded respect and secured him from any surprise, but the ruler had not reckoned with the audacity of the Spaniards.

The attack was preceded by preliminaries. Dominican Vicente de Valverde came forward alone in the plaza with an indigenous interpreter and demanded to explain to Atahualpa the dictates of the Christian faith. He pompously explained that his overlord, the King of Spain was the rightful owner of those lands, since he was invested by the Supreme Pontiff, and demanded that the ruler of the Inca kingdom recognize himself as his vassal.Atahualpa, between surprised and indignant, asked where these claims came from, and the Dominican showed him the Bible. The Inca took it from his hand and looked at it thoughtfully, then he put it close to his ear and, hearing no sound (the word of God), irritatedly threw it on the ground. The pious cleric devoutly picked it up and began to shout, "It's the Antichrist! It's the Antichrist!".According to some chroniclers present at the event, he incited Pizarro to attack the infidels, in the name of the Faith, according to others he merely reported the details of the incident, however, shortly after his return the Spaniards set off on the attack.Certainly, it is worth noting that Pizarro had no need to be stirred up to take action, since he had been meticulously preparing the assault since the previous evening and had arranged his men accordingly.

The action was so swift and unexpected that the Incas, who were, by the way, unarmed, were unable to offer any resistance and fell, ranks upon ranks, under the deadly blows of the "conquistadores".Atahualpa was personally captured by Pizarro and dragged inside a building, while the carnage continued relentlessly without the Inca army, lacking orders, even hinting to intervene. When dusk fell, the tragedy was complete and thousands of bodies lay in and around the plaza testifying to the harshness of the confrontation.

In analyzing the conflict, despite the enormous difference in numbers, it should not be forgotten that the Incas knew neither iron nor any other weapons other than arrows or maces or slingshots, which were evidently ineffective against the armor and steel swords of the Spaniards, who counted among other things on a few small artillery pieces, strategically located in the plaza, a group of arquebusiers, and above all the ever-present horses.

Atahualpa's imprisonment and death

Atahualpa was for a time very useful to the Spanish cause.

In the hope of saving his life he offered a fabulous ransom, in objects of the precious metal, equal to what could be contained in the room in which he was locked up to the height of a line drawn with his outstretched arm. Some estimate the amount to be over 40 million euros in gold and silver. This is probably a much lower figure than reality, even without considering the artistic value of the pieces. More reliable estimates speak of a volume of about 80 cubic meters of gold alone.

To achieve this Atahualpa had the temples of his kingdom stripped of every valuable object, but nevertheless his jailers, reneging on their word, refused to let him go free and following a summary trial for treason decided to execute him. In fact, they thought he was reorganizing troops to kill all Spaniards.To tell the truth, Pizarro opposed this drastic decision for a time, but finally, urged on by Valverde and the Crown Treasurer, Riquelme, he consented to his execution.

On July 26, 1533, Atahualpa was therefore executed, in tears before his wife and two small children, in the main square of Cajamarca with the instrument of the garrote. He should, according to the death sentence, have been burned at the stake, but the manner of execution was changed following his conversion in extremis and subsequent baptism.

Conquest of Cuzco

The conquest continued with the capture of Cusco, the Inca capital strenuously defended by Quizquiz, the general-in-chief of Atahuallpa's armies, who could not avoid the loss of the city. Crucial in this phase were the defections to the cause of the Incas of a good part of the tribes subject to the lords of Cuzco, who sided with the invader.The Spaniards shrewdly worked to fuel these rivalries and appointed puppet rulers to be directed for their own ends, counting on the loyalty of the people to Inca institutions. Tupac Huallpa was the first of these "collaborators," and upon his death Manco II was elected-a brother of Atahualpa already loyal to Huascar-who, however, would prove to be anything but maneuverable.

Pizarro, meanwhile, now governor of a vast empire, aspired to structure the territories he administered in a form that would lend luster to the important office he held. Cuzco had been the capital of the Incas, a mountain people whose interests were far from the sea. The Spaniards, on the other hand, tied to the mother country and the other colonies, needed access to the ocean that would ensure lasting relations with their other compatriots.It was therefore decided to establish a new capital on the coast, and Pizarro himself devoted himself to its construction. The city, founded on January 15, 1535, was given the name Ciudad de los Reyes; it was later renamed Lima and remained the capital of Peru.The still unexplored territories were later conquered, and Pizarro generously distributed among his fellow soldiers offices and duties, creating a network of loyal collaborators who owed him the wealth they acquired.

Moreover, some issues remained to be settled for the new governor to enjoy in peace the resounding successes he had achieved. Inca Manco II was preparing a revolt, and his former collaborator, Diego de Almagro, was threatening serious claims on his aggrieved rights.

While Pizarro was caught up in the construction of his new capital, he was forced to rush to Cuzco to face dangerous upheavals.

It had happened that, upon Hernando's departure for Spain, the remaining brothers, Juan and Gonzalo, had, on their own initiative, contested Almagro's right to rule the city. Possession of Cuzco, with the charge of "adelantado" was one of the clauses that Luque had included in the agreements that settled the dispute between the two captains.

Pizarro realized he could not renege on his commitments and proposed an alternative design. There were rumors of a kingdom as rich as the Incas in the south called Chile. It was agreed that Almagro would attempt to conquer the country and if the rumors proved accurate he would remain in the new territory. If not, he would return to Peru and take possession of Cuzco.

Having successfully resolved the dangerous conflict, Pizarro finally returned to Lima to resume the development of the city that had become, for him, something of a personal creature, but his idyllic designs were soon to be interrupted.

Manco, who had remained at Cuzco, became the object of petty abuse by the governor's brothers. He had to suffer a series of odious anguish that compromised his image before his subjects, his tormentors even going so far as to undermine his bride. When Hernando Pizarro returned from Spain, being the distinguished and shrewd knight that he was, he immediately put a stop to the initiatives of the two young and reckless brothers, but the measure was now full for the Inca, who harbored only intentions of revenge.

The revolt erupted suddenly and shook the whole of Peru. The first to suffer the hatred of the natives were the isolated Spanish settlers who were slaughtered by the dozens, but soon a multitude in arms appeared in front of Cuzco and Lima.The two cities remained isolated and faced a long and protracted siege. Pizarro da Lima feared for his brothers, whom everyone assumed were dead, and deprived himself of as many troops as he could to try to help them.

The Incas, however, had learned the fighting tactics of the Europeans, and the relief columns were all destroyed. Hundreds of Spaniards perished at the bottom of dark ravines crushed by boulders rolled down from above, unable to take advantage of the terrible weapon of horses that had hitherto made all the difference.

Nonetheless, the Incas were unable to get the better of the two Spanish nuclei locked in siege at Cuzco and Lima. The defense offered by the walls was decisive, allowing a few to oppose many, and, in addition, the overwhelming momentum of the cavalry always played a decisive part, in the numerous sorties that characterized the conflict.

Another decisive factor was the intervention of ethnic groups hostile to the Incas alongside the Spanish. Ancient grudges had not subsided, and many indigenous people helped the Europeans. In effect, the revolt was a confrontation between the Incas on one side and the Spanish and all other indigenous people on the other.

The planting season finally forced the natives to lift the siege to avoid a future starvation season, and Manco had to retreat to the mountains, pursued by the victorious Spaniards.

Near the end of the conflict, another factor had come into play: Almagro had returned from Chile tired and disillusioned at finding nothing but deserted districts and a few hostile natives. Back in Peru, he had learned that Hernando Pizarro, returning from Spain, had brought back the new royal dispositions giving him dominion over lands that lay beyond two hundred and seventy miles from the village of Zamuquella, which was located one degree and twenty first from the equator. It was unclear whether the distance was to be calculated by airline or by following the coast, and on this detail the possession of Cuzco would depend. Almagro concurred in putting the Inca army on the run and then headed decisively for the city he considered rightfully his. The Pizarros tried to prevent his access, but Almagro did not give up and entered Cuzco, capturing his enemies.

This was a bad moment for Francisco Pizarro, who learned from newly liberated Lima that all his family members were hostages of his former comrade-in-arms who had become a sworn enemy.

It was necessary to negotiate, especially since Almagro had defeated an army of Pizarro loyalists who had come to Cuzco in search of the natives and had ended up clashing with the "Chileans," as the veterans of the southern expedition were now called.

A compromise was soon found. Almagro would release Hernando Pizarro upon the latter's oath to return to Spain, while possession of Cuzco would temporarily remain with the "Chileans" pending the Spanish court's better clarification of the scope of its provisions.

Everything seemed resolved, but Hernando's thirst for revenge was to once again shake things up. Having found a compliant priest who freed him from his oath, the governor's brother enlisted an army to proceed against Almagro.

Francisco Pizarro, for his part, preferred to entrench himself in Lima and not deal personally with the enterprise that he saw as fraught with dangerous judicial consequences. Officially, he would have no responsibility in future events, although there were many who believed, even at the time, that he was fully aware of the facts.

Almagro's fate was fulfilled on April 26, 1538, on the plains of Las Salinas, adjacent to Cuzco. His armies were defeated and he himself, taken prisoner, was, shortly thereafter, executed by the cynical Hernando, unmindful of his treatment when the sides were reversed.

This ignominy would cost its perpetrator more than twenty years in prison, but Governor Francisco remained immune from prosecution even though public opinion held him truly responsible.

With Manco exiled to the mountains and Almagro dead and buried, Pizarro, who in the meantime had been named "Marquis of the Conquest," could devote himself to organizing the territories under his jurisdiction, but first he wanted to secure them from the violence of the rebellious natives who were still carrying out bloody raids. At first he tried to come to an agreement with Manco, but any hope of pacification was frustrated by mutual distrust and he then implemented a fierce policy of repression.

The first victim was Cura Ocllo, Manco's bride who, tortured in front of the troop, was finally killed with arrows. Next it was the turn of sixteen indigenous chiefs, captured earlier, to be burned alive as a warning to their compatriots. This action forever branded Pizarro's actions and was disapproved even by the Spanish chroniclers of the time, who stigmatized his stupid and gratuitous ferocity.

The opponent did not seem intimidated, and the governor built a series of fortified strongholds to contain their sorties. Thus arose some of Peru's future cities such as, for example, Arequipa.

Pizarro, at this point, left the continuation of the campaigns to his collaborators and retreated to the new capital of Lima to exercise the prerogatives of governor there. The survivors of Almagro's ranks also converged on this city, and soon a situation of latent friction and conflict arose.

The "Chileans" officially were not prosecuted, but repressive measures were exercised against them that drove them to exasperation. They were gradually deprived of all sources of income and ended up reduced to poverty. Proud and proud, however, they refused to bow down and preferred to live in destitution rather than accept handouts from their leader's executioner.

They did not remain inoperative, however, and forwarded requests for intervention to the Spanish court, which did not remain insensitive to their demands for justice. The Crown, alarmed by those complaints, decided to clarify the situation and sent one of its appointees, Cristóbal Vaca de Castro to restore the rights of those far-flung subjects of his.

The announcement of the arrival of an emissary of royal power aroused understandable enthusiasm among the ranks of the outcasts, but their satisfaction was short-lived because news came that the government appointee had disappeared at sea. Effectively Vaca de Castro had run into a shipwreck, but he had by no means perished and was in fact marching, laboriously, to Lima.

Instead, a rumor ran through the ranks of the exasperated Chileans that he had been had killed by Pizarro and that the same fate was about to befall all his opponents. The Chileans had sold all their possessions, but had kept their swords and now, convinced that their last hour had come, they decided to attack first.

On June 26, 1541, fifteen or sixteen of them made their way to the Marquis' house and broke inside without difficulty. Pizarro who did not expect that attack managed to gain his rooms with the intention of dressing in armor and holding out for help. Accompanying him were his half-brother Martín de Alcantara and two pages, who were joined by Captain Francisco de Chávez who remained to guard the entrance. The latter was famous as a slaughterer of Indians, but in the face of danger he only tried to calm the Chileans without even trying to defend the threshold. He was immediately knocked down with a hit and the assailants burst into the room. Pizarro, Alcantara and the two pages coped as best they could but were pierced by the enemies' blades.

The Marquis did not die on the spot, but had just enough time to make a sign of the cross on the floor and invoke the name of Jesus before expiring.

A mature captain, Juan de Rada, put himself in charge of the insurgents, but as a shrewd and sagacious veteran he understood that a charismatic leader in whom the insurgents recognized themselves was needed. Power was offered to Almagro's son. He was in his early twenties, but his name vouched for him and, amid general acclamations, he was appointed governor by the trembling royal authorities.

A new civil war was about to bloody Peru.

Pizarro's body was lowered into a hastily dug grave; it rests in Lima Cathedral, under the high altar.

By Iñes Huayllas Yupanqui, sister of Atahualpa, he had two children. A son, Gonzalo who lived from 1535 to 1546, and a daughter, Francisca, born in 1534 who would go on to marry her brother Hernando while the latter was still a prisoner in Spain, and who would perpetuate, to some extent, the dynasty until 1756.

By Princess Añas Yupanqui, known as Angelina, he had two sons, Francisco, who was born in 1539 and died in 1557, and Juan, whose birth date is unknown, who died in 1543.

After Pizarro's killing, Cristóbal Vaca de Castro got the rebellion of Almagro's son right and restored legality. Francisco Pizarro's brother Gonzalo, however, rebelled in turn and held power arbitrarily until 1548, when he was defeated and executed.

Manco was killed, treacherously, in 1544, but the Inca rebellion, installed in the kingdom of Vilcabamba, continued, with his sons until 1571, when the last lord of Tahuantinsuyo, Túpac Amaru, was executed by Viceroy Francisco de Toledo.


On the Conquest

General works


  1. Francisco Pizarro
  2. Francisco Pizarro

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