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She Who Died
God has been served to carry from this world she who died.
—Doña Ynés Noguerol de Ulloa
* * *
As darkness fell on Valladolid on the penultimate day of March 1557, a man sat alone in an oppressive cell of the royal jail. Francisco Noguerol de Ulloa had just given a thorough deposition to the Licentiate San-tander, the court reporter of the Council of the Indies. He had been charged with bigamy and illegal shipment of treasure from Peru by a woman he had believed dead and by an ambitious agent of the king. In his solitude Francisco must have wondered how a once powerful encomendero and a prominent citizen of Arequipa could have fallen into such disgrace. He who fought numerous battles defending royal interests in Peru and whose body was forever marked with painful mementos of his loyalty—how did he incur His Majesty's wrath? It was on King Philip IPs order that he had been imprisoned. And neither his status nor his pleas caused the court to relent and allow him house arrest. Noguerol's thoughts might have shifted to his youth, his life in the Indies, but most of all he must have cursed the letters his sisters had written to him eleven years earlier, letters that were, in part, the cause of his present downfall.
Doña Ynés and doña Francisca, nuns in the Benedictine convent of San Pedro de las Duenas, had corresponded occasionally with their brother who resided in Peru. But the mail was slow and undependable. This time they wrote to tell Francisco that his wife, doña Beatriz de Villasur, had died, and to reprimand him for neglecting his own family. They desired, above all else, his return.
"Very magnificent señor. We, all your brothers and sisters, are at your service. We are very surprised at the little concern and account that you have shown us, and especially my senora our mother, to whom you should come. None of all her children come to see her, to provide her with a pleasant old age and end. Although letters will hurt you, and we do not know what this one will do, let it be done. We all know that you do not plan to come, and that you are rich, as all those who come from there say you are.
"It was because of doña Beatriz de Villasur, and certainly to you there was more than enough reason, but now there can be no excuse, because God has been served to carry from this world she who died of dolor de costado [chest pains] after seven days. And thus it is by the love of God. You should pay attention to the advanced age of our mother, and to how much she has always loved you. Come to give her a pleasant old age, for there is not another thing in this life that she more desires. The sehora doña Francisca and I are well, although you should already know in how much need we live, because my senora has much work with having so many children with whom to fulfill her obligation.... There is not enough space to take care of those we have at present, but it is necessary to make the most of what one has, and thus we all hope for your arrival as our salvation, as the solution to all. I pray to Our Lord that he puts the thought in your mind, and that you will do it, that you will put it into effect. In the meantime, whatever gift or alms that you send to us would be a very great gift, and we would have an even greater obligation than we now have to supplicate Our Lord to bring you well before our eyes.
"My señora is very old and ill. For the love of God come to see her before God carries her away, because you know that she does not want or desire anything more in this life than to see you, whose very magnificent person may God guard. From this house of San Pedro de las Duenas on the seventh day of June of the year of Our Lord 1546. I kiss your hands. Your servant and sister, doña Ynés Noguerol de Ulloa."
Doña Francisca's letter was equally to the point, although somewhat shorter than that of her sister. "Very magnificent señor. I do not know where to begin to scold you for the great inconsideration in not coming to see my señora and give her a pleasant old age, because you now have the possibility of doing it.
"According to all here who tell us of you, you did not return because of doña Beatriz de Villasur, and now she is dead. Although that has given us little contentment, it has removed this embarrassment. For the love of God, come, and give us this pleasure. All of us have no other worldly father to have been favored with except you. We will not cease to pray to God until He grants our wish. I pray to His Divine Majesty to put this thought into your mind, and that we will see this much desired day.
"My señora is already very old and desires greatly to see you before she dies. For the love of God, give her this contentment, because when God wills nothing stands in the way. May Our Lord guard and prosper your very magnificent person, and bring you to this land, for our rest and the solution to the needs that we suffer from. From this Monastery of San Pedro de las Dueñas, the seventh of June of 1546. Your servant, who kisses your very magnificent hands, doña Francisca Noguerol."
These crucial missives had reached Francisco during a bloody upheaval in Peru, a civil war between the rebel forces of Gonzalo Pizarro and the Crown. The wounds that Noguerol had sustained then were still aching; they had never quite healed. Noguerol had spent more than twenty years in the Indies, living a turbulent existence he relished at first; and yes, his sisters were right, he had become rich and the name Noguerol de Ulloa was well known in Peru. Perhaps as Francisco tried to ignore the clamor from the adjacent cells, noise that aggravated his chronic headache, he pondered his past.
AGI, Justicia 1076. The two letters from Noguerol's sisters are included in the court documents found in ibid. The handwriting of the originals is almost impossible to decipher, not a problem of paleography, but simply a matter of terrible penmanship. The scribes prepared certified copies of the two letters, but the originals were displayed to key witnesses to verify they had actually been written by the nuns. Dolor de costado, an imprecise term used by physicians in early modern Spain that could refer to a variety of ailments afflicting the chest. It may have been tuberculosis, pneumonic plague, pneumonia, or any of a number of other infections. Both letters are in AGI, Justicia 1076. Many of the papers of San Pedro de las Dueñas are now available to researchers. Several documents refer to Francisco Noguerol's sisters. See José María Fernández Catón, Catálogo del archivo del monasterio de San Pedro de las Dueñas (León: Centro de Estudios e Investigacion San Isidoro, 1977), pp. 7–14. The modern restoration of the convent is probably far removed from what it would have looked like in the middle of the sixteenth century, during the tenure of doña Francisca and doña Ynés. AGI, Justicia 1076. The conventual life was all too common for Spanish young ladies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With the attraction of military service in Spain's far-flung empire, along with the allure of the Indies, there were simply too few eligible bachelors. Further, many parents could not afford a suitable dowry to secure a good marriage for their daughters. Life in the convent provided the alternative. Of Castile's population of some 6.5 million in 1591, the Church consumed about 1.1 percent of the total, with 20,369 nuns, a similar number of monks, and just over 33,000 secular clergymen, J. H. Elliot, The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 183.AGI, Justicia 1076.CHAPTER 2
Hardship and Risk
You ... have served His Majesty in these parts at your cost with your horses and arms with much hardship and risk.... And you are a caballero.—Francisco Pizarro
* * *
Tales filtering into Spain in the late 1520s about Francisco Pizarro's discovery of fabulously wealthy lands had created ripples of excitement. Francisco Noguerol de Ulloa had many occasions to hear the most recent news from the Indies. The young man had served Charles V as a palace guard in the company of don Alvaro de Luna in the strategically important fortress at Fuenterrabía. For a while he had been in the retinue of the Count of Benavente. Later, Noguerol had entered the service of the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who had invested in some of the ventures in the exploration of the New World. Francisco had stayed in the duke's "house and service" for two years, and he embarked for Peru while still in his employ.
Francisco Noguerol had various positions available to him in Spain, partly because of his family connections. But such posts did not provide the independence and opportunities he dreamed about. Following his father's death, Francisco had been living under the domination of his mother, doña Costanza de Espinosa, a woman he loved, but the young man's devotion and obedience also bred resentment of doña Costanza's uncompromising hand. Francisco was dissatisfied, and life in the New World had become alluring, especially as the opportunity arose to travel to Peru in the service of the Duke of Medina Sidonia. In the Indies young Spaniards of moderately affluent families could, if they were persistent, talented, and fortunate acquire wealth, power, and prestige. Furthermore, in the Indies a man could escape the constraints of an unwanted marriage. Doña Costanza had forced Francisco, threatening to curse him unless he agreed, to marry doña Beatriz de Villasur, but she could not stop her son from abandoning his bride and setting out for a world that promised riches as well as freedom.
Noguerol embarked for the New World sometime in 1534. The voyage from Seville to Panama, a passage of several months, had seemed endless to Francisco, who suffered from seasickness. But he had forgotten the discomfort after he disembarked in the bustling port of Nombre de Dios. The rugged terrain, the wild tropical rainforest of the isthmus, were unlike anything he had ever seen in Spain. As Noguerol trudged across the narrow strip of land to the Pacific harbor of Panama in the company of other travelers, some of whom had probably participated in the conquest of the Antilles and Mesoamerica, his excitement must have grown. Rumors took on realistic proportions in Panama City, buzzing with fresh details of Pizarro's progress to the south.
Early association with an explorer was important when the booty was divided. Francisco Noguerol de Ulloa was not among the lucky soldiers attached to Francisco Pizarro in the first stages of the conquest of Peru who had benefited from the enormous treasure that had been collected as ransom for Atahualpa, the captured ruler of Tawantinsuyu, the Inca empire. But the vivid descriptions of the marvelous hoard of precious metals surely conjured up images of similar fortune to come.
The captive Inca, in a desperate effort to satisfy the Spaniards' greed, had ordered large quantities of silver and gold to be brought to the north Peruvian highland city of Cajamarca, hoping to win back his freedom. The expertly crafted objects had filled two rooms. After they had been recorded, the irreplaceable articles were melted down and the ingots officially marked. A fabulous distribution of riches had followed: everyone from the king of Spain down to the lowest foot soldier had received a share. Meanwhile, the Inca had continued a prisoner. Many Spaniards, apprehensive about setting the powerful chief at liberty, had argued that he should be put to death. Francisco Pizarro at first had protected the captive but later backed down, persuaded by the group that advocated execution of the ruler. On 26 July 1533, the Inca Atahualpa was garroted, only shortly after he had converted to Christianity.
By the time Noguerol had reached his final destination, sometime in 1535, Pizarro's early followers had already plucked the bulk of the rewards, along with the Indian grants at San Miguel de Piura, Cajamarca, Jauja, then Cuzco. Furthermore, festering animosity between the chief leaders of the venture, Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro, was corroding unity among the Europeans.
The partners, along with the priest Hernando de Luque, had begun preparations in 1524 for exploration of the region south of Panama, and later they signed a formal agreement of cooperation. Francisco Pizarro had returned to Spain to herald the promising territories and to recruit fresh soldiers. He had secured for himself the title of governor and captain-general of Peru, leaving Diego de Almagro the insignificant post of commander of Tumbez, while Luque was named bishop of the city. Almagro, incensed, had sent complaints to Spain and had remained a partner only because he was promised the governorship of lands to the south of Pizarro's domain. In 1535 Almagro, while acting governor in Cuzco, had learned that the emperor had confirmed Pizarro's control over the north and had authorized his jurisdiction of the south. It seemed that the Inca capital fell within Almagro's sphere, but no one was yet certain of the boundaries. The uneasy partners had signed a truce in Cuzco in June of 1535, and Almagro at once began preparations for a large expedition to explore his southern domain, rumored to abound with flourishing cities. Pizarro, hoping for respite from a pestering rival, liberally contributed to the effort. Francisco Noguerol and dozens of other recent arrivals in Peru, as well as veterans disappointed with their share in the spoils, flocked to Almagro's banner.
Diego de Almagro had become friendly with the Inca Manco Capac and before leaving Cuzco asked him advice. The Andean chieftain readily obliged and even promised to send his brother, Paullo Tupac, and the high priest, Villac Umu, along with Indian porters, to accompany the explorers. It served Manco Capac's purposes to aid Diego de Almagro and ensure his long absence from the Inca capital.
Diego de Almagro with about fifty Spaniards set out from Cuzco on 3 July 1535. The contingent joined in Paria an advance party of one hundred men led by Captain Juan de Saavedra, and together they marched on to Lake Poopó. The soldiers reached Tupiza in October of that year. There the Europeans were met by a group of friendly Indians who offered them gifts from Chilean chieftains: two large gold nuggets, one weighing fourteen pounds, the other eleven. These overwhelming presents stimulated the Spaniards' appetites, as they had visions of a Chile as rich as Peru had been. Thus encouraged, the conquistadores-pushed southward, ruthlessly looting Indian settlements along the way to replenish food as they searched for treasure.
In Chicoana, Francisco Noguerol de Ulloa, who had brought fresh supplies and fifty more Spaniards from the north, joined the expedition. The group also included several thousand Indian porters and warriors sent by Manco Capac. Francisco, though a comparative newcomer, was not entirely inexperienced in the art of war. After all, while he had been stationed at Fuenterrabia he did engage in "battles and skirmishes and attacks alike" not only there, but "in other forces that at the time they offered." Diego de Almagro trusted Noguerol's capabilities enough to rely on him to lead the reinforcement.
The Spaniards and their Indian retinue reached the snow-covered pass of San Francisco at the end of March of 1536. As the soldiers and native porters plodded through the icy and windy mountain pass, many succumbed in the freezing temperatures. Reports on the number of Indians who perished vary widely, from 2,000 to 10,000, and approximately 170 horses froze. Francisco Noguerol, cold and worn though he was, survived the treacherous passage. He was young and strong, and perhaps images of gleaming gold and silver helped to warm his shivering body.
The expedition reached Copiapó, and by mid-1536 it arrived at the Maule River, where the dwindling and tired group was attacked by the Araucanian Indians. The native warriors fought with fierce determination and killed many of the would-be conquerors. Diego de Almagro and his men finally had to admit the futility of the venture. They found neither wealthy cities nor the gold they searched for, and they began to suspect that the two huge nuggets presented them in Tupiza were enticements that had led them into a dangerous trap. Exhausted and without any treasures to compensate for the hardships, the disappointed soldiers decided to return to Cuzco. Almagro, hoping for a less perilous route, chose to follow the coast, through the Atacama desert. He ordered that an advance company of eighty men, led by Francisco Noguerol de Ulloa, embark ahead in order to shield the progress of the rest of the troop from Indian ambush. A few days later squads of six to eight men, about one day apart in order to assure adequate water from the sparse and deficient desert springs along the trail, forged ahead toward Atacama, where all were reunited. After an odyssey of almost two years, the failed and decimated expedition reached Cuzco in early 1537. Francisco Noguerol was among the fortunate survivors.
Excerpted from Good Faith and Truthful Ignorance by Alexandra Parma Cook, Noble David Cook. Copyright © 1991 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Posted September 26, 2000
A must read for history and legal buffs. The tale of a successful conquistador who may lose everything because of bigamy. The court case which unfolds transcends both sides of the Spanish Empire and will keep you from ever putting the book down.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.