Francisco Pizarro


Francisco Pizarro González (Trujillo, about 1475 – Lima, June 26, 1541) was a Spanish leader, conqueror of the Inca Empire and founder of the city of Lima, the capital of Peru.

He was the illegitimate son of a distinguished infantry colonel, Gonzalo Pizarro Rodríguez de Aguilar, known as “el largo” who, in the retinue of the great Spanish leader Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, distinguished himself in the military campaigns in Italy and Navarre. His mother, Francisca Gonzales y Mateos, was a woman of humble origins, probably a maid of the colonel”s sister, Beatríz Pizarro.

Although he was born out of wedlock, Francisco was recognized by his father and was able to take on his father”s name, but he was not admitted into the Pizarro family and grew up with his mother and her relatives. His education was very limited and it seems that he could not read and write, although he was able to reproduce his signature, as evidenced by some documents he signed.

We know that since his mother was a peasant, and since he was not formally part of his father”s family, he was a peasant too: a pig herder, who fled to the Americas, for fear of punishment resulting from the loss of a specimen.

The first news worthy of note see him participate, in 1509, to the unfortunate expedition of Alonso de Ojeda towards Urabá in the present Colombia. In 1513 it is aggregated to Vasco Núñez de Balboa that, exploring the isthmus of Panama arrived until the coasts of the Pacific. Later, when Balboa fell into disgrace with the Spanish authorities, it was Pizarro who provided for his arrest and that, as a reward for his action, was appointed by Governor Pedro Arias Dávila, mayor of the city of Panama. From 1519 to 1523 he devoted himself to the exploitation of some “encomiendas” that brought him a small capital, enough to live comfortably, but not adequate to his ambitions. Pizarro used the same methods as Hernán Cortés to conquer the Incas.

However, large amounts of capital and government authorization were needed, but both were found through an association with other interested parties, who were another adventurer, Diego de Almagro and the ecclesiastic Hernando de Luque. Almagro was, like Pizarro, a veteran of the Indies, who had tried, in various enterprises in Nicaragua, to increase his fortune. He was small in stature, but as brave as few and accustomed to the vicissitudes of uncharted lands. He was frank, loyal and generous and possessed an innate ability to command and be appreciated by his troops. Luque was only a front man, since the capital he put into the enterprise came from a high personage, the judge Gaspar d”Espinosa, who did not want to appear. A fourth partner, even more hidden than Espinosa, was, finally, Governor Pedrarias, who demanded a quarter of the possible proceeds to grant the necessary authorization.

The expedition, which started in 1524, turned out to be a real disaster. The coasts of today”s Ecuador were then for a good part wild and uninhabited, but the explorers were not aware of this and proceeded to a thorough reconnaissance among hostile jungles and unhealthy swamps, losing many men. When they finally decided to return to Panama, with nothing to do, they had to face the hostility of the governor who blamed them for the disappearance of so many soldiers. Only Luque”s diplomacy allowed to obtain the authorization for a further attempt, but Pedrarias demanded to be released from the company in exchange for 1,500 gold pesos and, with that limited sum, lost any right on the future treasure of Peru.

The second expedition did not have, at least at the beginning, better results than the previous one and endangered the lives of all its members, constantly struggling with the pitfalls of the jungle and the threat of starvation. Almagro, returned to Panama to resupply, was arrested by the new governor, Gabriel de los Rios, who however sent a vessel to repatriate the survivors.

What was supposed to be a rescue expedition turned out to be the real key to the discovery of the Incas” kingdom. In fact, Ruiz crossed a balsa boat full of natives and learned of the existence of a rich city a few leagues to the south. Embarking Pizarro, he decided to sail in that direction and actually reached Tumbez, the maritime gateway to the Peruvian empire. When they returned to Panama, the fortunate explorers were able to show, as proof of their tales, some gold jewelry, some elaborate artifacts and some llamas, along with some young natives collected on the spot.

Their stories spoke of a city in stone, rich in gold and clear sign of a civilization advanced, but their fame was now ruined and everyone took them for crazy and invaded and no one, much less the governor, took into consideration the possibility of proceeding to a further expedition.

However, obstinacy was the main characteristic of Pizarro and his partners, and the three, although ruined, conceived the bold idea of asking for help directly from the Crown. With a last effort, they managed to raise the necessary money and Pizarro, on behalf of everyone, embarked for Spain.

The rough soldier found a favorable environment at Court, thanks to the recent successes of Hernán Cortés and managed to convince the rulers of the possible success of the enterprise that he had come to offer to lead. It was, after all, a custom in Spanish politics to encourage any kind of expedition as long as its promoters personally financed it. The Crown intervened with a reduced participation in the expenses, mostly a few horses and a few cannons and reserved a fifth of any future income. The charges were offered with generosity, as well as future prebends because they could be exercised and collected only after success.

Pizarro obtained the authorization to arm his own expedition committing himself to recruit, at his own expense, an army of two hundred and fifty men. In exchange he obtained the position of governor of the future conquered territories, of “alguacil mayor” and “adelandado” forgetting to patronize the position of Almagro that was named only commander of the fortress of Tumbez.

In the conditions it was foreseen that at least one hundred and fifty men would be enlisted in Spain and this was not a small problem because it was necessary to convince an important number of future soldiers to go to the New World with the sole hope of a good outcome of the expedition, because in case of failure they would not have earned anything.

Pizarro decided to go back to his native country to look for followers, but he found only the enthusiastic welcome of his brothers. They were Hernando, the only son his father, Colonel Gonzalo, had with his legitimate wife, and two others, also recognized by the prolific parent, but born of different mothers. They were Juan and Gonzalo, both very young, brave, but unprepared and eager to engage in warlike enterprises. Martín de Alcantara, Francisco”s brother on his mother”s side, completed the family line-up.

With his brothers and a few dozen others, Pizarro was far from fulfilling the conditions required, but as cunning and determined as he was, he set sail from Spain anyway, without submitting to the control of government officials.

When he arrived in the Americas, he had to face the wrath of Almagro, who felt defrauded of his rights, but once again Luque”s diplomacy had to help him to overcome every divergence and finally, in January 1531, a daring brigade moved towards the lands of the South; it was composed of just under two hundred men and had only three ships, but it was animated by a strong determination.

The arrival in Tumbez was disappointing. The town had been destroyed and nothing remained of the magnificence that the Spaniards had admired during their previous visit. In the empire there was a civil war going on between the brothers Atahualpa, champion of Quito, and Huáscar, lord of Cusco, and Pizarro thought to take advantage of it by offering his services to one of the contenders to enter the struggle for supreme power. It was not easy, however, to choose the right party because the news were conflicting and, while waiting to make a decision, the Spanish welcomed the ambassadorships of both opponents.

The Cajamarca massacre

Pizarro decided to explore the sovereign”s intentions and sent an embassy composed of his brother Hernando and Hernando de Soto. The two distinguished knights returned impressed by the demonstration of strength and discipline of the Peruvian armies, but they also brought news of Atahualpa”s imminent arrival, scheduled for the next day, in the city that, in the meantime, the Spaniards were authorized to occupy.

There are many versions of the official and decisive meeting of the Spaniards with the Inca. What we know for sure is that Atahualpa entered the square with a reduced retinue of unarmed dignitaries. The Inca was so confident in the superiority of his troops, numerically outnumbering the opponent, that he did not expect to be attacked by a squad of enemies. His army was stationed nearby and alone commanded respect and guaranteed him from any surprise, but the king had not reckoned with the audacity of the Spanish.

In the hope of saving his life he offered a fabulous ransom, in objects of the precious metal, equal to what could be contained in the room in which he was locked up to the height of a line drawn with his outstretched arm. According to some the estimate of the amount is equal to over 40 million euros in gold and silver. It is a figure probably much lower than the reality, even without considering the artistic value of the pieces. More reliable estimates speak of a volume of around 80 cubic meters only of gold.

While Pizarro was caught up in the construction of his new capital, he was forced to rush to Cuzco to face dangerous upheavals.

It had happened that, at the departure of Hernando for Spain, the remaining brothers, Juan and Gonzalo, had on their own initiative, contested Almagro”s right to govern the city. The possession of Cuzco, with the position of “adelantado” was one of the clauses that Luque had inserted in the agreements that had resolved the dispute between the two captains.

Having successfully resolved the dangerous conflict, Pizarro finally returned to Lima to resume the development of the city that had become, for him, a sort of personal creature, but his idyllic designs were soon to be interrupted.

A compromise was soon found. Almagro would release Hernando Pizarro, upon the latter”s oath to return to Spain, while possession of Cuzco would temporarily remain with the “Chileans” while waiting for the Spanish court to better clarify the scope of its provisions.

Everything seemed resolved, but Hernando”s thirst for vengeance was to once again disrupt things. Having found a compliant priest, who freed him from his oath, the governor”s brother enlisted an army to proceed against Almagro.

The first victim was Cura Ocllo, the bride of Manco, who, tortured in front of the troop, was finally killed with an arrow. Then it was the turn of sixteen indigenous chiefs, previously captured, to be burned alive as a warning to their compatriots. This action marked forever the work of Pizarro and was also disapproved by the Spanish chroniclers of the time that stigmatized the stupid and gratuitous ferocity.

The adversary did not seem to be intimidated and the governor built a series of fortified strongholds to contain his sorties. Thus some of the future cities of Peru arose as, for example, Arequipa.

The “Chileans” were not officially prosecuted, but they were subjected to repressive measures that brought them to exasperation. They were progressively deprived of all sources of income and were reduced to poverty. Proud and proud, however, they refused to bow down and preferred to live in poverty rather than accept the alms of their leader”s executioner.

However, they did not remain inactive and forwarded requests for intervention to the Spanish court, which did not remain insensitive to their requests for justice. The Crown, alarmed by those complaints, decided to clarify the situation and sent a person in charge, Cristóbal Vaca de Castro, to restore the rights of those distant subjects.

The announcement of the arrival of an emissary of royal power aroused understandable enthusiasm in the ranks of the outcasts, but their satisfaction was short-lived because news arrived that the government official had disappeared at sea. Vaca de Castro had actually been shipwrecked, but he had not perished and was marching, with great difficulty, towards Lima.

A mature captain, Juan de Rada, led the rebels, but as a shrewd and sagacious veteran he understood that a charismatic leader was needed in whom the insurgents could recognize themselves. Power was offered to Almagro”s son. He was little more than twenty years old, but his name was a guarantee for him and, among general acclamations, he was appointed governor by the trembling royal authorities.

Pizarro”s body was lowered into a hastily dug grave; it rests in the Cathedral of Lima, under the high altar.

By Iñes Huayllas Yupanqui, Atahualpa”s sister, he had two children. A son, Gonzalo who lived from 1535 to 1546, and a daughter, Francisca, born in 1534 who would go on to marry her brother Hernando when he was still a prisoner in Spain, and who would perpetuate, in some way, the dynasty until 1756.

About the Conquest


  1. Francisco Pizarro
  2. Francisco Pizarro
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