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Diego de Almagro Diego de Almagro.JPG
Born c. 1475
Almagro, Crown of Castile
Died July 8, 1538 (aged 62–63)
Cuzco, New Castile, Spanish Empire
Nationality Spaniard
Known for Conquest of Peru; Discovery of Chile

Diego de Almagro, (c. 1475[1] – July 8, 1538), also known as El Adelantado and El Viejo (The Elder), was a Spanish conquistador and a companion and later rival of Francisco Pizarro. He participated in the Spanish conquest of Peru and is credited as the first European discoverer of Chile.

Almagro lost his left eye battling with coastal natives in the New World. In 1525 he joined the Pizarro brothers and Hernándo de Luque at Panama for the conquest of Peru.

First years

Diego de Almagro was born in the Spanish city of Almagro, being the illegitimate son of Juan de Montenegro and Elvira Gutiérrez. Almagro's parents had promised each other to get married, but ended their relationship before fulfilling this promise. By the time of their break up, Elvira was pregnant, leading her family members to conceal her pregnancy until she gave birth to Diego in 1475. To save Elvira's honor, her family kept her infant and took him to the near village of Bolaños de Calatrava, and Diego was later transferred to Aldea del Rey under the tutelage of Sancha López del Peral.

When Almagro turned four, he was left under the tutelage of an uncle named Hernán Gutiérrez. Due to his uncle's mistreatment, Almagro fled his house at the age of 15. Upon reaching his mother, who was now living with her new husband, he informed her of what had occurred with his uncle and his plans to make a life of his own, asking her for bread and some money to live in his misery. His mother, anguished, provided him with what he asked and reputedly told him, "Here, my dear son, do not give me more passion, and leave, and let God help you in your adventure".

Almagro was later found in Seville as the servant of don Luis de Polanco, who was one of that city's mayors. Almagro stabbed another servant during a fight, leaving him seriously injured. He fled, not wanting to be imprisoned, and became a wanderer in Andalucia. Around this time, the news of the discovery of the New World had reached him, and he decided to enroll himself in the armada of Pedrarias Dávila. Upon his arrival in Panama, he would meet and become friends with Francisco Pizarro.

Arrival in America

Almagro arrived in the New World on June 30, 1514, under the expedition that Ferdinand II of Aragon had sent under the guidance of Pedrarias Dávila. The expedition had landed in the city of Santa María la Antigua del Darién, Panama, where many other future conquistadors had already arrived, among them Francisco Pizarro.

There are not many details of Almagro's activities during this period, but it is known that he accompanied various sailors that left the city of Darien between 1514 and 1515, although Almagro eventually returned and settled in Darien and obtained an encomienda which helped him construct a house and make a living from agriculture.

Almagro undertook his first conquest on November 1515, when he left Darien in command of 260 men and founded Villa del Acla, located in the place of the same name, but due to illness he had to leave behind this mission to the licenciate Gaspar de Espinosa.

Espinosa decided to undertake a new expedition, which left in December of the same year with 200 men including Almagro himself and Francisco Pizarro, who for the first time was designated as a captain. During this expedition, which lasted 14 months, Almagro, Pizarro and Hernando de Luque became close friends.

Also during this time Almagro established a friendship with Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who during the time was in charge of Acla, with the intent of making a ship with the materials of the Espinosa expedition and later finish it in the "Great South Sea" as the Pacific Ocean first became known to the Spanish. However, according to current information, there are no indications that Almagro would participate in the expedition of Balboa and probably would eventually return to Darien.

Almagro took part in the incursions, foundations and conquests developed in the Gulf of Panama, participating once again in the expeditions of Espinosa, who was known to travel in the ships of Balboa. Of this expedition it is only known that Almagro served as a witness to the lists of natives which Espinosa ordered to be carried. Almagro would remain in the newly founded city of Panama, helping to populate it. During four years he did not participate in new expeditions, occupying his time in the administration of his belongings and those of Pizarro. During this time Almagro's first son, el "Mozo", was born, whose mother was an indigenous woman named Ana Martínes

Conquest of Peru

By 1524 an association of conquest regarding South America was formalized among Almagro, Pizarro and Luque. By the beginning of August 1524, they had received the requisite permission to discover and conquer lands further south.

Almagro would remain in Panama to recruit men and gather supplies for the expeditions led by Pizarro. After several expeditions to South America, Pizarro secured his stay in Peru and explored the territory held by the Incas. He succeeded in defeating the Incan army under Emperor Atahualpa during the Battle of Cajamarca in 1532. After Peru fell to the Spanish, both Pizarro and Almagro initially worked together in the founding of new cities to consolidate their dominions. As such, Pizarro dispatched Almagro to the Inca Empire's northern city of Quito to claim it as part of their jurisdiction. Their fellow conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar, who had gone forth without Pizarro's approval, had already reached Quito and witnessed the destruction of the city by Inca general Rumiñahui. The Inca warrior had ordered the city to be burned and its gold to be buried at an undisclosed location where the Spanish could never find it. The arrival and intromission of Pedro de Alvarado from Mexico in search of Inca gold further complicated the situation for Almagro and Belalcázar. Alvarado's presence, however, did not last long as he left South America in exchange for monetary compensation from Pizarro. In an attempt to honor Pizarro before leaving, Almagro refounded the native city of Quito as "San Francisco de Quito" in August 1534. Four months later would come the foundation of the Peruvian city of Trujillo, which Almagro named as "Villa Trujillo" in honor of Francisco Pizarro's birthplace, Trujillo in Extremadura, Spain. These events were the height of the Pizarro-Almagro friendship, which historians describe as one of the last events in which their friendship soon faded and entered a period of turmoil for the control of the Incan capital of Cuzco.

Conflict with Pizarro

After splitting the treasure of Inca emperor Atahualpa, both Pizarro and Almagro left towards Cuzco and took the city in 1533. However, Almagro's friendship with Pizarro showed signs of deterioration in 1526 when Pizarro, in the name of the rest of the conquistadors, called forth the "Capitulacion de Toledo" law in which King Charles I of Spain had laid out his authorization for the conquest of Peru and the awards every conquistador would receive from it. Long before, however, each conquistador had promised to equally split the benefits. Pizarro managed to have a larger stake and awards for himself. Despite this, Almagro still obtained an important fortune for his services, and the King awarded him in November 1532 the noble title of "Don" and he was assigned a personal coat of arms.

Although by this time Diego de Almagro had already acquired sufficient wealth in the conquest of Peru and was living a luxurious life in Cuzco, the prospect of conquering the lands further south was very attractive to him. Given that the dispute with Pizarro over Cuzco had kept intensifying, Almagro spent a great deal of time and money equipping a company of 500 men for a new exploration south of Peru.

By 1534 the Spanish crown had determined to split the region in two parallel lines, forming the governorship of "Nueva Castilla" (from the 1° to the 14° latitude, close to Pisco), and that of "Nueva Toledo" (from the 14° to the 25° latitude, in Taltal, Chile), assigning the first to Francisco Pizarro and the second to Diego de Almagro. The crown had previously assigned Almagro the governorship of Cuzco, and as such Almagro was heading there when Charles V divided the territory between Nueva Castilla and Nueva Toledo. This might have been the reason why Almagro did not immediately confront Pizarro for Cuzco, and promptly decided to embark on his new quest for the discovery of the riches of Chile.

Discovery of Chile

The preparations

According to the natives of Peru, who by this time had observed the Spanish lust for gold, the territories of Chile had abundances of gold which would justify any effort. Almagro quickly prepared his expedition with the help of men recruited from Cuzco and Lima within six months. With his personal fortune, he equipped the soldiers that would join him. Arms, tools, gunpowder and other necessary utensils were bought. Almagro was able to put together a force of 500 men, many of which had come with him to Peru. He was also joined by 100 African slaves and some 10,000 yanacona Indians to transport the weapons, clothing, and food. In total, it is estimated that everything cost 1.5 million castilian pesos.[citation needed]

Almagro had also asked for a high-ranking official from the Inca empire to prepare a route along with three of his most trusted Spanish soldiers. For this, the Inca offered the most esteemed religious chief of the empire, Villac-Umu. The Inca, however, had planned for a large force of Spaniards to leave Peru. Once gone, they thought, the Inca armies could easily initiate an armed rebellion and retake Cuzco.

Almagro, who was not yet satisfied to go forward, had ordered Juan de Saavedra to advance with one hundred men that, at a distance of thirty leagues, would establish a small town that would wait for the rest with food and natives that would be captured to serve them.

Following the Inca Trail and crossing the Andes

Almagro left Cuzco on July 3, 1535 with his supporters and stopped at Moina until the 20th of that month. Meanwhile, Francisco Pizarro's brother, Juan Pizarro, had arrested Inca Manco Inca Yupanqui, further complicating Almagro's plans as it heavily increased the dissatisfaction of the Indians submitted to Spanish rule. Not having formally been appointed governor of any territories in the Capitulation of Toledo in 1528, however, forcing him to declare himself adelantado (governor) of Nueva Toledo, or southern Peru and present-day Chile. Some sources suggest Almagro received such a requirement in 1534 by the Spanish king and was officially declared governor of New Toledo.

Once he left Moina, Almagro followed the Inca trail followed by 750 Spaniards deciding to join him in quest for the gold lost in the ransom of Atahualpa, which had mainly benefited the Pizarro brothers and their supporters. After crossing the Bolivian mountain range and traveling past Lake Titicaca, Almagro arrived on the shores of the Desaguadero River and finally set up camp in Tupiza. From there, the expedition stopped at Chicoana and then turned to the southeast to cross the Andes mountains.

The expedition turned out to be a difficult and exhausting endeavor. The hardest phase was the crossing of the Andes cordillera: at almost 4,000 meters of altitude, the cold, hunger and tiredness meant the death of various Spaniards and natives, but mainly slaves who were not accustomed to such rigorous climate. Survivors would later recount that some fellow adventurers would stop and rest, only to die frozen; others, upon taking off their boots, would watch in horror how their toes would be stuck to the boot.

Almagro takes possession of Chile in the valley of Copiapo.

Upon this point, Almagro determined everything was a failure. He ordered a small group to go forward on the way and search for help among the indigenous population. By luck, these men found the Valley of Copiapó, where a Spaniard called Gonzalo Calvo Barrientos, a Spaniard whom Pizarro had expelled from Peru for stealing objects the Inca had offered for his ransom, had already established a friendship with the local natives. There, in the valley of the river Copiapó, Almagro took official possession of Chile and claimed it in the name of King Charles V.

Dismayed in Chile

Almagro promptly initiated the exploration of the new territory starting towards the valley of the Aconcagua River, where he was well received by the natives. However, the intrigues of his interpreter, Felipillo, who had previously helped Pizarro in dealing with Atahualpa, almost thwarted Almagro's efforts. Felipillo had secretly urged the local natives to attack the Spanish but they surprisingly desisted and did not believe the dangers they posed. Almagro then dispatched Gómez de Alvarado along with 100 horsemen and 100 foot to continue the exploration, which ended in the confluence of the Ñuble and Itata rivers where the Battle of Reinohuelén between the Spanish and hostile Mapuche Indians forced them to turn back north.

Almagro's own reconnaissance of the land and the bad news of Gómez de Alvarado's encounter with the fierce Mapuches, along with the bitter cold winter that settled ferociously upon them, only served to confirm that everything had failed. He never found gold or cities that Incan scouts informed him about; only communities of the indigenous population that lived from agriculture and fierce resistance from local tribes. The exploration of the territories of Nueva Toledo, which lasted 2 years, was marked by a complete failure for Almagro. Despite this, at first he thought staying and founding a city would serve well for his honor. The initial optimism that led Almagro to bring his son he had with the indigenous Panamanian Ana Martínez to Chile had faded. Some observers have pointed that out that if it were not for the urging of his explorers to leave, Almagro would probably have stayed permanently in Chile. He was urged, however, to return to Peru and this time take definitive possession of Cuzco so as to consolidate an inheritance for his son. Dismayed, Almagro initiated his plans of return to Peru on September 1536. He never officially founded a city in the territory of what is now present Chile.

The withdrawal of the Spanish from valleys of Chile was violent: Almagro authorized his soldiers to ransack the natives' properties, leaving their soil desolate; there was not one Spaniard that did not enslave a native for his service. The locals were captured, tied and forced to carry the belongings of the conquistadors without compassion.

Return to Peru

After the exhausting crossing of the Atacama desert mainly due to the climatic conditions, Almagro finally reached Cuzco, Peru, in 1537. According to some authors, it was during this time that the burlesque Spanish term "roto" (torn), used by Peruvians to refer to Chileans, was first mentioned given how Almagro's disappointed troops returned to Cuzco with their "torn clothes" due to the extensive and laborious passage on foot by the Atacama desert.

Capture and execution of Diego de Almagro (Engraving, circa 1600).

Upon his return to Peru in 1537, Almagro was bitter and eager to once and for all claim the riches of the city of Cuzco for himself. In the previous year, the Inca Manco had briefly recaptured the royal city and weakened the Spanish hold in the Sacred Valley. Hoping to enlist the help of the Inca, Almagro offered Manco Inca a pardon on behalf of the Spanish government. Manco Inca never officially joined Almagro in his attack on Cuzco. However, most of Hernándo Pizarro's army marched into the Andes in pursuit of Manco Inca, allowing Almagro's men to claim the city for themselves. When Hernando Pizarro and his army returned, Almagro's troops quickly defeated them and took the Pizarro brothers Hernando and Gonzalo captive.

After occupying Cuzco, Almagro confronted an army sent by Francisco Pizarro to liberate his brothers. The army, led by Alonso de Alvarado, was defeated during the Battle of Abancay on July 12, 1537. Later, Gonzalo Pizarro and Alvarado escaped prison. Subsequent negotiations between Francisco Pizarro and Almagro concluded with the liberation of the third brother, Hernando Pizarro, in return for the definitive control and administration of Cuzco for Almagro himself. Francisco Pizarro never had the intention of giving up Cuzco to Almagro, and only wanted to win time for himself to organize an army strong enough to defeat Almagro's troops. During this time Almagro fell ill, and Pizarro and his brothers finally caught the opportunity to defeat him and his followers. The Almagristas were finally defeated in at Las Salinas in April 1538, with Orgóñez being killed on the field of battle. Almagro fled to Cuzco, still in the hands of his loyal supporters, but found only temporary refuge as the forces of the Pizarro brothers entered the city without resistance. Once captured, he was humiliated by Hernando Pizarro and his requests for appeals to the King were ignored. Almagro begged for his life while Hernando responded: -"You're a gentleman with an illustrious name; do not display weakness; it marvels me that a man of your stature fears death so much. Confess, for your death has no remedy"-

Almagro was condemned to death and decapitated while in confinement on July 8, 1538 (other sources suggest he was garrotted, which would have been more likely for a Christian man of fame). His corpse was taken to the public Plaza Mayor of Cuzco and displayed as a sign of defeat and his severed head served as a warning to other would-be rebels. Margarita, his loyal servant and lover, took his body and buried him under the church of la Merced in Cuzco.

El Mozo

Diego de Almagro II (1520–1542), known as El Mozo (The Lad), son of Diego de Almagro I, whose mother was an Indian girl of Panama, became the foil of the conspirators who had put Pizarro to the sword. The marquis was murdered on June 26, 1541; the conspirators promptly proclaimed the lad Almagro Governor of Peru. From various causes, all of the conspirators either died or were killed except for one, who was executed after the lad Almagro gave an order. The lad Almagro fought the desperate battle of Chupas on September 16, 1542, escaped to Cuzco, but was arrested, immediately condemned to death, and executed in the great square of the city.

See also


  1. Celso Gargia, Gaspar de Carvajal, Samuel Fritz, Evamaria Grün. Die Eroberung von Peru: Pizarro und andere Conquistadoren, 1526-1712. – Erdmann: Horst Erdmann Verlag, 1973. - p.96


Other sources of information

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