5 Most Brutal Spanish Conquistadors of the New World
What do you remember about the conquering of the New World? Maybe Christopher Columbus, gold, and Spanish conquistadors come to mind.
Even though the conquistadors have earned fame for their trips and settlements, more about their cruel acts and treatment of the settlers are coming to light. Let’s learn more about the truth behind the stories by looking at the five most brutal Spanish conquistadors.
Hernán Cortés was born in 1485 and traveled to the New World at age 19. He lived in Hispañola for several years and rose to prominence there. He then participated in the expedition of Cuba and actually became the mayor of Santiago, Cuba.
Things took a darker turn in 1518 when Cortés set sail to conquer Mexico against orders from his superior. Once he got to the shore, he burned all but one of the ships to prevent his men from retreating.
His strategy for conquering the indigenous empires was to befriend some groups and turn them against other tribes. Once he defeated the Tlaxacan and Cholula tribes, he set his sights on the Aztec empire. He made his way into the capital and kidnapped the king, Montezuma II. However, he had to fend off Spanish troops that came to punish him for disobeying orders.
Once he and his 500 men fought off the troops, they returned to the Aztec empire. They were dealing with a rebellion of their own. Nevertheless, three years later Cortés came back and decidedly destroyed the Aztec empire.
Cortés was the first and third governor of New Spain and took several other expeditions through Mexico. However, his accomplishments are tarnished by the approximately 100,000 indigenous people that he and his troops murdered. His divisive tactics for conquering the native groups and then killing them have gained him a spot as one of the most brutal Spanish conquistadors.
Francisco Pizarro was born into poverty in 1476. At 34, the tales of gold in the New World sparked his interest, and he accompanied both Alonzo de Ojeda and Vasco Núñez de Balboa on expeditions to different areas of the Americas.
While he at first proved himself to be a great right hand, he then betrayed Balboa and arrested him to help Balboa’s enemy, Pedro Arias de Ávila. Thanks to his double-crossing actions, Pizarro was given riches and stability in Panama and became mayor of a city there.
Over the years, he went on other trips with multiple explorers until in 1528 he got money from the Spanish Emperor Charles V to conquer more of South America. In 1532, he traveled to Peru and began his plan to overthrow the Incan Empire. This process was bloody, and Pizarro and his men killed thousands of Incans. One of the cruelest things he did was kill the emperor immediately after his forced conversion to Catholicism.
Even though Pizarro established the capital of Lima, he faced problems with his rival Spaniards, who eventually stabbed Pizarro to death.
Pedro de Alvarado
Pedro de Alvarado was born in Spain the same year that Hernán Cortés was born. After going to Hispañola in 1510, Alvarado was actually one of the men who attacked Mexico with Cortés.
After Cortés kidnapped the Aztec king, he went to deal with the Spaniards on the coast and left Alvarado in charge of the city Tenochtitlán. However, the angry Aztecs were too much for Alvarado to handle. He tried to keep them at bay by mass-murdering their priests and nobles during an Aztec ritual sacrifice, but he was injured in the process.
Alvarado returned with Cortés later on to capture the city, and he then went on to conquer more of Central America. In Guatemala, he continued his murderous ways and subjected the Mayan population to slavery and torture in search of gold.
His violent ways earned him the post of the governor of Guatemala, and tried to conquer both El Salvador and Peru as well, but was met with Spaniards who were already established there.
Hernando de Soto
Hernando de Soto was another Spanish conquistador that was born in poverty in 1500 and looked at the promise of gold in the New World as his key to a better life.
Just like Pizarro, he proved his worth as a Spanish conquistador on expeditions in Panama, Nicaragua, and Honduras. He actually worked with Pizarro in 1532 as they set out to conquer Peru.
After a successful siege, he settled down in Spain in 1536. It didn’t last long, though. He wanted more gold and riches, so he set off for North America. He reached Florida in 1539 and worked his way across the southern states, promptly becoming the first Spanish conquistador to discover the crucial Mississippi River.
While he discovered a lot of land for Spain, it was at the cost of the indigenous groups’ lives. The native’s primitive weapons were no match for de Soto’s army, and he murdered innumerable people in his search for gold.
Juan Ponce de León
Juan Ponce de León is our oldest Spanish conquistador, born in 1460. He actually had more training than most of the others on this list, as he worked at the court of Aragon.
Still, the call of gold was extremely powerful and called him away on one of Columbus’ expeditions. In the 1500s, he worked on Hispañola and became the governor after containing an uprising—in other words, brutally forcing the natives to do his will.
His cruelty continued in Puerto Rico as he led the expedition to conquer the island in 1508. His murderous ways earned him the role of governor. Once back on Hispañola, he bought dozens of slaves. This act, combined with deadly Spanish diseases, brought about the death of hundreds of native Tainos.
What Do You Think?
History books tend to cover up the more bloody parts of the settling of the New World, focusing mainly on names, dates, and territories. However, most of the Spanish conquistadores had a brutal way of handling the natives and brought about the end of countless tribes.
What else do you know about the Spanish conquistadors? Comment below with any additional facts or questions. We’d love to hear from you!
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