1538: Diego de Almagro, explorer of Chile

Add comment July 8th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1538, Spanish conquistador Diego de Almagro was executed* at Cuzco by his vengeful rivals, the Pizarro brothers.

Conquistadoring with the rapacious Pizarros was a good way to get rich, get dead, or possibly both.

Almagro, a soldier, got to the New World in 1514 and soon fell in with alpha male Pizarro Francisco.** He’d become an adjunct to the latter’s conquest of the Incan Empire in the 1520s and 1530s; sent to capture the Incan city of Quito, Almagro found it razed by its defenders, and he sycophantically re-founded it as San Francisco de Quito.†

Things weren’t buddy-buddy for long.

The Iberian mothership divided Spain’s putative New World possessions north and south, putting Almagro in command of the southern cone. Great news … now all he had to do was actually take control of it.

Personally financing an expedition on the expectation of fabulous riches to be seized, Almagro instead foundered in Chile’s northern valleys in a frustrating environment of natives equally hostile and impecunious. After a couple years, he gave up and returned to Peru, angrier and poorer for his trouble — and there found that he could exploit the Spanish preoccupation with intransigent Incan chief Manco Inca to nick the capital city of Cuzco for himself.

Almagro actually had the lesser Pizarros — Gonzalo and Hernando — prisoner for a while, but he bartered them away to Francisco for a hill of beans (that is, a promise not to attack), and the Pizarros took their city back by routing Almagro at the Battle of Las Salinas.

The sentence of death against as august a personage as the appointed ruler of Nueva Toledo shocked many, and it was carried out against Almagro’s own entreaties for an appeal to the crown.


Detail view of a print of Almagro’s capture and execution. (Click for the full image.)

Francisco Pizarro would redeem his want of clemency towards his former partner in his own blood: in 1541, Almagro’s son, Diego de Almagro II or el Mozo, murdered Pizarro in an attempted coup d’etat. (Almagro the Younger, too, would be executed for his trouble.)

Although he was an important conquistador who spent most of his time at points further north, Almagro is best remembered today not in Peru but in Chile — for his abortive and disappointing expedition made him that land’s first European “discoverer”.

* Either beheaded or garroted.

** Almagro also rubbed shoulders with Vasco Nunez de Balboa.

† He pulled a similar trick with Trujillo, naming it after Francisco Pizarro’s birthplace.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Chile,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Garrote,History,Nobility,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Peru,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Spain,Strangled

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1548: Gonzalo Pizarro and Francisco de Carvajal

2 comments April 10th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1548, the Spanish crown cemented its authority over the territory of the former Incan Empire by beheading its rebellious conquistador authorities.

Gonzalo Pizarro (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) had served in the force that late elder half-brother Francisco used to destroy the Incas. The poor bloke was always second banana in the conquistador game; when he wasn’t being one-upped by his flesh and blood, he was bailing on the expedition that “discovered” and navigated the Amazon River. (Francisco de Orellana earned those honors instead.)

No, Gonzalo had a more prosaic specialty: killing.

While big bro went off to pacify more territory, Gonzalo along with siblings Hernando and Juan, the Baldwin brothers of New World conquest, chilled in the former Incan capital Cusco and sparked a rebellion in the 1530’s with their iron-fisted rule.

Appointed Governor of Quito in 1541 — he forced the appointment with some exemplary hangings — Gonzalo was just the sort to get a burr in his saddle when the Emperor Charles V promulgated the New Laws requiring slightly less crappy treatment of the natives.

And that was a low bar to clear indeed.

Although the following passage is not particular to Gonzalo Pizarro, gadfly monk Bartolome de las Casas described (perhaps exaggeratedly, but still) the previous Spanish depredations in “Perusia”:

[T]he Spaniards, without the least provocation on their part, as soon as they entred [sic] upon these Territories, did burn at the Stake their most Potent Caciq Ataliba, Prince of the whole Country, after they had extorted from him above Two Millions of Gold, and possessed themselves of his Province, without the least Opposition … As also some few days after, the Ruler of the Province of Quitonia, who was burnt, without any Cause given, or Crime laid to his Charge … and in like manner, burnt the Feet of Alvidis, the greatest of all the Quitonian Lords, and rackt him with other Torments to Extract from him a discovery of Ataliba’s Treasure, whereof as appear’d after, he was totally ignorant …

[T]hese Eyes of mine the Spaniards for no other reason, but only to gratifie their bloody mindedness, cut off the Hands, Noses, and Ears, both of Indians and Indianesses, and that in so many places and parts, that it would be too prolix and tedious to relate them. Nay, I have seen the Spaniards let loose their Dogs upon the Indians to bait and tear them in pieces, and such a Number of Villages burnt by them as cannot well be discover’d: Farther this is a certain Truth, that they snatched Babes from the Mothers Embraces, and taking hold of their Arms threw them away as far as they would from them: (a pretty kind of barr-tossing Recreation.) They committed many other Cruelties, which shook me with Terror at the very sight of them, and would take up too much time in the Relation …

More urgent than “recreation,” Pizarro (and many of the New World’s new landholding elite) were miffed that meddlesome European bleeding hearts types were going to cut into their profit margins.

Pizarro revolted, enlisting the brilliant officer Francisco de Carvajal, a longtime fixture of the Old World battlefield. Now an octogenarian, he had lost neither vigor in command, nor cruelty in conquest. (He played bad cop to Gonzalo’s good cop.) The two killed the guy sent to impose the emperor’s decree.

This uprising forced the next Spanish viceroy to repeal the hated New Laws in order to win political support against Pizarro and Carvajal — a happy outcome for Pizarro’s base, but not for the conquistador himself.

Pedro de la Gasca’s adroit diplomacy caused the entire rebel force to desert before the fight at the “Battle” of Jaquijahuana in Sacsayhuaman.

The two principals were quickly arraigned. Carvajal, at his age, could be wry about being singled out for punishment: “very merciful is the Lord President; for, if the victory had been ours, there would have fallen on this spot nine hundred men.”

Carvajal was hanged and Pizarro beheaded, both of them winding up on pikestaffs at the gates of the city Francisco Pizarro had founded — Lima.

Their partnership — and the arc of Spanish exploits in the New World — is covered in this Google Books freebie.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Infamous,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Peru,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

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