Pedro de Mendoza

Eyridiki Sellou | Jan 26, 2024

Table of Content


Pedro de Mendoza or Pedro de Mendoza y Luján (Guadix, Granada, ca. 1499-Atlantic Ocean near the Canary Islands, June 23, 1537) was a military man of noble family, knight of Alcántara since 1524, admiral and Spanish conquistador, appointed by Emperor Charles V as the first adelantado of the Río de la Plata and as governor of Nueva Andalucía, whose territory comprised from the parallel 25°31' 26" S -southern limit of the Governorate of Nueva Toledo, which was granted to Diego de Almagro- to the north, to the parallel 35°S -northern limit of the Governorate of Nueva León, which was granted to Simón de Alcazaba y Sotomayor- to the south.

Once in South America and arrived at the western bank of the Solís, de la Plata or Paraná River, without complying with the formalities that would imply the "foundation" of a city, he established a fort that is considered the first Rio Plata-Paraguayan city -although Caboto had done the same upstream almost ten years earlier in Sancti Spiritus, another settlement that had a brief life- approximately in the same location where Juan de Garay would later, in 1580, found the "City of Trinidad", which is why it was traditionally known as Buenos Aires, another settlement that had a brief life - approximately in the same location where Juan de Garay would later, in 1580, found the "City of the Trinity", which is why it was traditionally known as Buenos Aires. This original settlement established on February 3, 1536 would run into vital inconveniences from the beginning and would eventually die out within five years.

Family background and early years

Pedro de Mendoza was born around 1499 in the city of Guadix, in the Kingdom of Granada, one of the four Andalusian kingdoms that formed part of the then Crown of Castile, within the powerful House of Mendoza, being son of Fernando de Mendoza of Guadix (d. November 1533), who belonged to the Castilian aristocracy dedicated to commerce and who settled in Guadix after its reconquest by the Christians in 1489, and his wife Constanza de Luján (Madrid, ca. 1479-ca. 1533), whose parents were Diego Luján de Villanuño (d. 1484), commander of the Order of Santiago and alderman of Madrid, and his spouse Catalina de Lodeña y Solís (d. June 2, 1490).

His paternal grandparents were Juan Hurtado de Mendoza y Figueroa, I lord of Colmenar, El Cardoso and El Vado and II lord of Fresno de Torote, and his third wife Elvira Carrillo whose ancestry is unknown. Therefore the great-uncle was Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, I duke of Infantado and II marquis of Santillana, and the paternal great-grandparents were the first marquis Íñigo López de Mendoza, who was also I count of Real de Manzanares and I lord of Fresno de Torote, and his wife Catalina Suárez de Figueroa.

In the service of the Royal Court

Pedro de Mendoza entered the royal service at a very young age at the court of King Charles I of Spain. As a page, he accompanied the sovereign on his trip to England in 1522. In 1524 he received the title of knight of the Order of Alcántara and later, under the influence of his father - the knight Fernando de Mendoza of Guadix - he changed to the Order of Santiago. He later fought in the Italian war against the French, in which he participated in the Sack of Rome in 1527.

In the latter year he participated in the war between the troops of King Charles of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor against the Papal States under the command of Pope Clement VII. The war included the sacking of Rome from which he personally benefited.

In 1533, thanks to the good offices of his relative María de Mendoza - wife of the influential Francisco de los Cobos y Molina - he began the steps that would later make him the conqueror of El Plata.

Capitulation of Toledo

The securing and conquest of Paraguay and the surrounding areas of the Río de la Plata, which were of enormous commercial and strategic importance, had yet to be completed, and the monarch Charles I could find neither financing nor men willing to take on the dangerous and uncertain undertaking.

The main reason for sending troops to that part of South America was to protect the pretensions of the Spanish crown against the advances of the Portuguese. In addition, at that time there was a legend promoted by the most naive and ambitious conquerors, which mentioned fabulous riches in the area, which boosted the adventurous spirit of some Europeans.

The Spanish crown could not waste time, because since the arrival in Brazil in 1500 of Pedro Álvares Cabral, Portugal threatened to expand south to the Río de la Plata and beyond, competing with the Spanish for these valuable territories.

It was under these circumstances that Mendoza proposed to King Charles I, in 1534, to take charge with his own patrimony of designing and leading an expedition to the South Atlantic that would affirm Spain's sovereignty over those regions. On May 21, 1534, by means of the Capitulación de Toledo, King Charles appointed Mendoza as adelantado or military commander of the area to be conquered, with the power to found fortresses and towns. The position had multiple attractions: it was hereditary, it combined the functions of governor, military chief and magistrate, it offered great economic possibilities (so that the adelantado, who had to pay for their own expeditions, used it to try to recover the invested capital), driven by the references of the Indians, that in the interior of the continent there were great riches in gold, silver and precious stones, namely the Potosi and other areas of the Andean foothills. What the adventurers did not know was that these areas were already under attack by other adventurers advancing from Peru. The agreement had no territorial limits. In fact, the larger the area conquered, the larger the territory governed by the adelantado in question, which encouraged the Spanish geographical advance in the face of Portuguese ambitions in some of the competing areas.

Mendoza goes to sea

The Capitulations of Toledo granted Don Pedro de Mendoza the title of adelantado, governor and captain general of the territories to be conquered between latitudes 25°S and 36°S in South America.

On August 24, 1535 Mendoza sailed from the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda in command of his expedition, composed of between 11 and 14 ships (according to different sources) and approximately 3,000 men. The emperor had also given Mendoza 3,000 ducats and another important advance in cash that the conquistador was to take to the Río de la Plata.

But the task that was demanded in return was not easy: to transport to destination, in the lapse of two years, a thousand settlers, a hundred horses, to found three forts and to build a royal road from the Río de la Plata to the Pacific Ocean. Obviously, the Spanish court was unaware of the dimensions of the terrain to be conquered and the enormous difficulties posed by the Andes Mountains, which stood in the way of the proposed route. The achievement of the latter task was only reached in the 20th century.

Mendoza formed his expedition in a rational and careful manner: he took with him eight priests, a doctor and a surgeon. However, he did not take any lawyers with him. His appointment as adelantado enabled him to keep half of the treasures he seized from the aborigines and 90% of the ransoms of the prisoners, which, added to his power as judge and court of appeals, gave him almost discretionary power. He was accompanied by his brother Diego de Mendoza, his relatives Gonzalo de Mendoza, Francisco de Mendoza, Jorge de Mendoza, who according to Schmidl remained in the Canary Islands because of love problems, and the brother of Saint Teresa of Jesus, Rodrigo de Cepeda y Ahumada.

The storm

Pedro de Mendoza's fleet was dispersed by a terrible storm off the coast of Brazil. After the storm, the commander managed to reunite his ships and disembarked on the Brazilian coast, where he fell seriously ill. He had to hand over command to his lieutenant Juan Osorio, who soon proved to be responsible for treason and embezzlement. Mendoza had him executed and, somewhat recovered from his illness, he decided to embark again and continue sailing south.

Other versions say that one of the reasons for Mendoza's enterprise in America was that his delicate state of health could improve there, since his ailments were due to the fact that he had contracted syphilis in Rome, and that there he could find his cure. In fact, the adelantado remained almost the entire trip in his bed until he died.

In the Río de la Plata

Pedro de Mendoza's expedition entered the Río de la Plata in mid-January 1536 and disembarked on San Gabriel Island, in front of the current city of Colonia del Sacramento. On the 22nd of that same month, the soldiers and expedition members swore loyalty and obedience to the adelantado, who began to exercise his position as governor on that day.

After recognizing both coasts of the rioplatense estuary, Mendoza decided to settle on the right bank, in a place where he found sources of drinking water and a relatively repaired coast.

Emergence of the city and the relationship with the aborigines

On February 2 or 3, 1536 -in Argentina the latter date is officially taken as true- Pedro de Mendoza established a port defended by a fort on the southern bank of the Río de la Plata, which he called Santa María del Buen Aire, nicknamed after the Virgin of the sailors of the island of Sardinia. In this place he settled with his expeditionaries. As soon as they settled, the Spaniards discovered a large host of the original settlers, the Querandíes, of at least 3,000 men, with whom they exchanged gifts for food.

But soon after arriving, serious problems began. The abuse of the treatment itself and the mistreatment of some Spaniards to the Indians caused them to stop feeding the camp. "These carendies brought to our real and shared with us their miseries of fish and meat for 14 days without missing more than one in which they did not come", after which Pedro de Mendoza sent messengers who overreached themselves according to Ulrico Schmidl and were mistreated by the Querandíes.

The lack of food forced the adelantado to send garrisons in all directions to look for food to alleviate the famine, but those contingents were ignored and harassed by different indigenous nations. Eager to put an end to the problem, Don Pedro sent a force centered on the corps of 300 German lansquenettes, commanded by his brother Diego de Mendoza to attack the Querandíes. Both sides clashed in the so-called "Combate de Corpus Christi", perhaps on June 15, 1536, near the Rocha Lagoon and the site of the present-day Esteban Echeverría district of the province of Buenos Aires. In the confrontation the Indians killed about thirty-five Europeans, while these, according to Ullrico Schmidl, exterminated "about a thousand" warriors, a figure that is considered doubtful, among other things because they did not take any prisoners. Temporarily the Spaniards tried to operate the nets and fisheries of the Americans.

But shortly after this aggression, the Querandíes grouped with four other nations, the Chaná-timbú, the Guaraníes and the Charrúas, and began to harass the town by besieging it by land. Disease and violence were surpassed by starvation as the cause of death among the conquistadors. At the end of June, the Indians gathered a large army of 23,000 spears, according to the expedition's biographer Ulrico Schmidl, including Querandíes, Barenis or Guaraníes, Zechuruas or Charrúas and Zechanáis or Chanás-Diembús or Timbús. After burning the smaller boats and setting fire to the roofs of some houses, they retreated before the fire of the artillery ships and were satisfied with besieging the square.

Aboriginal attack, escape to Buena Esperanza and repopulation

Finally, in December 1536, the Querandíes finally managed to breach the town's defenses, penetrate it and set it on fire, causing its total destruction.

Pedro de Mendoza and some Spaniards managed to escape the slaughter that followed, and had to head north to take refuge in an area of the current Argentine province of Santa Fe, in the land of Timbúes, possibly a few leagues south of where a fort was founded years earlier by Sebastian Gaboto called Sancti Spiritus and refounded by Juan de Ayolas as Corpus Christi, at the confluence with the Carcarañá River, perhaps in the town and fort of Buena Esperanza: the expeditionary Ulrico Schmidl speaks of 84 leagues of navigation (or about 468 km, which would put us further north, in the area of the current city of Santa Fe).

From there, Mendoza sent a small party under the command of his lieutenant Juan de Ayolas to the north, reconnoitering the banks of the river. Ayolas, harassed by plagues, hunger and the continuous attacks of the Indians, could not do much with the entrusted task and hardly returned to the Timbú settlement.

Mendoza, disheartened by the bad news of his trusted man, and feeling ill and discouraged, delegated the command of the fort to Francisco Ruiz Galán until Ayolas returned and decided to embark for Spain on April 22, 1537.

Death at sea

Already very ill (possibly syphilis), the adelantado Pedro de Mendoza died at sea during his return voyage to Spain, in the Atlantic Ocean near the Canary Islands, on June 23, 1537. His body would be thrown into the sea.

Buenos Aires was rebuilt after Mendoza sailed to Spain, but was finally depopulated and burned, deciding to transfer its 350 inhabitants towards the end of June 1541 to the city of Asunción, where the conquistador Domingo Martínez de Irala had been elected governor general.

Ayolas, already in command of Sancti Spiritu, organized and commanded new expeditions that explored the upper courses of the Paraná, Paraguay and Pilcomayo rivers, reaching the heart of Paraguay.

The death of Diego de Mendoza at the hands of the Indians left a widow, Francisca de Villafañe, and three orphans.

His relative Gonzalo de Mendoza, born in Baeza, survived the destruction of Buenos Aires and the escape to Sancti Spiritu. He was captain and lieutenant to Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and Domingo Martínez de Irala, exploring Brazil and Paraguay. Gonzalo is mentioned innumerable times in Cabeza de Vaca's books, and died in the city of Asunción in 1558.

Francisco de Mendoza (Castrojeriz, 1515) lived after the disaster of Buenos Aires in Paraguay, where he became an opponent of Governor Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.

The failure of Mendoza's attempt delayed for more than 44 years the effective control of the Río de la Plata by the Spanish crown. The second foundation of Buenos Aires by Juan de Garay had to wait until 1580.


  1. Pedro de Mendoza
  2. Pedro de Mendoza
  3. La acefalia ocurrió porque el gobernador Juan de Ayolas nunca ejercería su cargo, siendo solo nominal.[1]​
  4. En el testamento de Pedro Hurtado de Mendoza, señor de Tamajón y adelantado de Cazorla —que era el hermano menor de Juan Hurtado, del primer duque del Infantado y del Gran Cardenal— trata a Fernando de Mendoza el de Guadix como sobrino.[5]​
  5. Hay que tener en cuenta que según figura en la probanza de Pedro de Mendoza como caballero de la Orden de Alcántara,[8]​ su abuelo era Pedro González de Mendoza [o bien Pedro de Mendoza y Luna] (f. e/ 1467 y 1477), III señor de Castrillo de Villavega, Guardo y Tordehumos[9]​ —quien fuera el tercer hijo del citado primer duque— y que se había casado hacia 1465 con Mencía de la Vega Sandoval (f. e/ septiembre y diciembre de 1514) pero con ella ni ninguna otra tuvo descendencia documentada[10]​ y esta al poco tiempo de enviudar se volvió a casar en 1479 con Bernardino de Quiñones, II conde de Luna, pero al ser anulado se enlazó nuevamente con Juan Hurtado de Mendoza y Tovar —hijo del cardenal Pedro González de Mendoza[11]​ que era a su vez el hermano del primer duque— pero también sería anulado y por último, se casó por cuarta vez con el príncipe Fernando de Granada, hijo del penúltimo sultán granadino Muley Hacén y de su esposa conversa Isabel de Solís renombrada como Zoraida. Mencía que no tuvo descendencia con ninguno de sus cuatro maridos que fue lo que causó las dos anulaciones eclesiásticas citadas, con lo que le correspondió de su primer marido cuando otorgó testamento[12]​ el 21 de agosto de 1514, en él dejó como mayorazgo de las villas de Castrillo de Villavega, Guardo, Tordehumos y otros lugares a su sobrino político Diego Hurtado de Mendoza de la Vega y Luna, III duque del Infantado, por lo que en la actualidad se descarta esta ascendencia, sumado a inexactitudes en dicha probanza.[13]​
  6. a b Juan de Ayolas funda el fuerte de Corpus Christi en 1536, em espanhol, acesso em 23 de setembro de 2017.
  7. ^ Del Carril, Bonifacio (1954). Los Mendoza: los Mendoza en España y en América en el siglo XV y en la primera mitad del siglo XVI, comprobaciones sobre la genealogía de don Pedro de Mendoza, fundador de Buenos Aires. Emecé, pp. 97-106.
  8. ^ "Pedro de Mendoza", Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008
  9. ^ a b c John A. Crow, Conquest of the River Plate. The Epic of Latin America, quarta edizione, New York, University of California, 1992, p. 129-30

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