Gateway to the Classics: A Child's History of Spain by John Bonner
A Child's History of Spain by  John Bonner

The Conquest of Peru

A.D. 1532-1538

When the Spaniards marched down the winding path which led from the dark forest of the mountain to the plain below, they saw on the slope opposite them a green meadow flecked with white dots as thick as snow-flakes. These were the tents of the Peruvian army, and Pizarro knew that he was face to face with the foe. He marched bravely on, nevertheless, and entered the town of Caxamalca, which was empty of people. This was on November 15th, 1532.

Hernando Pizarro, at the bead of a few horsemen, rode to the Inca's camp, and said that his brother had come to teach the Peruvians the true faith.

For some time Atahualpa answered not a word. But at length he observed:

"Tell your captain I will see him to-morrow."

At daylight on that morrow, Pizarro filled the buildings on each side of the great square of Caxamalca with his cavalry and his infantry, to whom he gave secret orders. Mass was said, and the troops led by the priests sang the hymn, "Rise, O Lord, and judge thine own cause." Atahualpa did not leave his camp till the afternoon, and then advanced with a strong body of well-armed troops, intending to encamp outside of the city for the night; but Pizarro pressing him, and saying that everything had been prepared for his entertainment, he changed his mind, and entered the town with unarmed attendants only.

In the great square he found no one but a priest, who began explaining to him the doctrines of the Christian religion, and advised him to be baptized, and to acknowledge that he held his kingdom as a vassal of Charles, King of Spain. With that he handed him a Catholic breviary. The Inca's eyes flashed as he replied:

"I will be no man's vassal. I am greater than any prince on earth. As for the pope of whom you speak, he must be crazy to talk of giving away countries which do not belong to him. I will not change my faith. My God lives in the heavens, and looks down upon his children." And he threw the breviary to the ground.

At this Pizarro waved a white scarf, the signal gun boomed, the cavalry charged out of their hiding-place; the infantry dashed forward, the cannon opened fire, and in a few moments the unarmed Peruvians were overwhelmed by the furious onset of the Spaniards. Atahualpa would have fallen had not Pizarro rescued him. He was secured and carried off a prisoner ender guard; but in the half-hour which the fight lasted many thousand, some say ten thousand, of his followers were slain, and the rest, seized by a panic, fled in every direction.

Pizarro had followed the example of Cortez. He had made himself master of the person of the king he intended to overthrow. What to do with him was now the question.

After an imprisonment of a day or two, Atahualpa learned that what the Spaniards wanted was gold. He told Pizarro that if he would set him free he would cover the floor of the room in which they stood with gold, and would pile up the gold as high as a man could reach. The room was twenty feet long by seventeen feet wide, and by standing on tiptoe, Atahualpa could reach up nine feet. Pizarro agreed. Messengers were despatched to every town in Peru requiring them to send their gold and silver to Caxamalca, and in a few days it began to arrive in considerable amounts. At the end of a few weeks, though the room was not filled nine feet high, enough gold was collected in it to be worth fifteen and a half million dollars in our money.

The soldiers began to clamor for a division. They feasted their greedy eyes on more gold than any one of them had ever seen before in all his life. They said that such a vast treasure would tempt the Peruvians to attack them for its recovery, and they were only a few hundred against countless thousands. Pizarro agreed, and the treasure was divided. By a solemn paper—which he signed with a cross, for he could neither read nor write—he admitted that Atahualpa had paid his ransom, and was entitled to his freedom. But he said that for reasons of state he would keep him prisoner a little longer.

Then arose stories of risings among the Peruvians to rescue their Inca, and to punish his captors. These rumors frightened the Spaniards, who wanted to get out of the country with their booty, and disquieted Pizarro. He gave ear to persons who told him that the captive Inca was at the bottom of the plots. And he brooded over the idea until one day he seized the Inca, and put him in irons.

A regular trial was held. Atahualpa was accused of having murdered his brother—which he had not done; of having wasted the substance of the kingdom—which meant that he had let the Spaniards seize the gold; that he worshipped idols, and had several wives—which were customs of his country. A few witnesses were heard; and without delay or debate the Inca was sentenced to be burned to death that night in the square of Caxamalca.

Two hours after sunset, on August 29th, 1533, the troops assembled by torchlight. Atahualpa was led out chained hand and foot, was bound to the stake, and fagots were heaped up round him. A friar named Valverde, who had signed a paper approving the sentence condemning him to death, tried to convert him at the last, and when every other argument had failed, offered to commute his sentence to death by the garote, if he would be baptized. Atahualpa consented; the iron ring was fastened round his throat, and he was strangled—his last words to Pizarro being, "What have I done to meet such a fate from you who have had nothing but kindness at my hands?"

The gallant De Soto was absent when the execution took place. When he returned he did not mince his words. To Pizarro he said:

"You have done basely. The Inca was slandered. He was not plotting against us. For the crime you have committed God will call you to answer."

At the death of the Inca the kingdom of Peru went to pieces, and Pizarro marched to the capital, Cuzco, without resistance, and it and all the other cities of Peru yielded to the Spaniards. The conquest of Peru was complete, and the future capital, Lima, was founded.

But the conquerors who had been so cruel and rapacious in their treatment of the Peruvians, now quarrelled among themselves. Pizarro's old partner, Almagro, who had never quite forgotten Pizarro's neglect of his claims in his bargain with King Charles, was in Peru at the head of a force of his own, and when Pizarro settled down at Lima he made his headquarters at Cuzco, and claimed to rule from thence. Two of the Pizarro brothers falling into his hands, he thrust them into prison.

Francisco Pizarro got them out by making a new treaty of friendship with Almagro—they were always making treaties with each other and breaking them—and then, when he had organized an army, he marched it against Almagro, under Hernando Pizarro. There was a battle fought under the walls of Cuzco on April 26th, 1538, and Almagro was beaten. His conqueror locked him up, and one morning dark-faced men crept stealthily into his cell, fastened the iron collar round his neck, and garoted him. He had been tried and sentenced, and did not know it. So passed away the second of the three partners—the priest, Luque, having died in his bed some time before.

Hernando Pizarro, who put Amalgro to death, returned to Spain, laden with gold; was seized by order of Bishop Fonseca, and was locked up for twenty years in a dungeon. He was forgotten, in fact. When he got out he was a bent, lame, white-haired old man without money or friends. Yet I read that he lived to the age of a hundred.

His brother, the conqueror, who was now known as the Marquis, was sitting in the dining-room of his house at Lima with friends round him, when a party of Alrnagro's old followers entered the house with drawn swords. He had not time to fasten his cuirass, but, wrapping his cloak round his left arm, laid about him with his right, like a warrior at bay:

"What! ho! traitors! have you come to murder me in my own house?"

And he ran the nearest of his foes through the body. But, in the next moment, a sword thrust pierced his neck, he staggered, and a dozen weapons were plunged into him as he fell. So that was an end of the last of the three partners.

Another brother, Gonzalo, was beheaded. For many years Peru was a scene of endless conflict between the conquerors; and it must be said that they were as cruel to each other as they had been to the Peruvians. Of this sickening strife you would not care to hear anything in this Child's History of Spain. But I must say a word before we leave the subject of an old soldier whose name was Carbajal.

He was one of the greatest fighters of the day, a skilled soldier, and one who boasted that he never spared a fallen foe. At the end of a long career of warfare he was taken prisoner and sentenced to die. He was then eighty-four years old. He was carried to the place of execution in a basket drawn by two mules, and, as the old soldier was stout, it was necessary to use force to squeeze his body into the basket, "The old baby," said he, "does not fit in the cradle." On his way to his death he sang and whistled. The words of his song were from an old Spanish ballad:

The wind blows the hairs off my head,


Two by two it blows them away,


 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: Pizarro  |  Next: Philip the Second
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.