This is my proposal, with the layout of the proposed book tacked on to the end of it. I think the main weakness in this is my tendency to repeat myself, so I would appreciate it if you guys kept that in mid when reading. Thanks and good luck.
I will be writing biographies focusing upon six Spanish conquistadors: Vasco Nunez de Balboa, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, Hernan Cortes, Ponce de Leon, Francisco Pizarro and Hernando de Soto. All of these men were leaders of their respective expeditions except Cabeza de Vaca, who ended up as the leader after the deaths of the majority of his party. Also, all of these men came from the region of Castile in Spain, and were born to relatively noble families. This affected their decision to move to New Spain by giving them a sense of restlessness inherent in both their social conditions and in the cultural conditions of the Castilians.
I will divide this book into eight chapters, beginning with a chapter describing the conditions present in Spain and the reasons why and individual in general would seek his fortune across the Atlantic. I will then continue on to provide six small biographies of each of my chosen conquistadors, with a focus upon their family origins and their life before moving across the Atlantic, in an attempt to discover why they personally sought to improve themselves through such radical means. Finally, I will sum up my argument in a final chapter, tying together the reasons behind the decision of the conquistador to come to New Spain and showing possible implications that this would have upon the future decisions made by the conquistadors in New Spain.
I hope to show several reasons why these conquistadors did move to New Spain, and attempt to prove that any other Spaniard placed in a similar situation would do the same thing. I plan to use the social mobility of 16th century Spain to explain why it was a good idea for these men to seek their fortunes overseas, as they could increase their family’s affluence, since heritage did not play a major part in Spanish society. This society, along with my description of Castilian culture at the time will tie together all of the conquistadors that I will be discussing, and I will use these men as case studies in order to prove my thesis.
This paper will explain to the reader some of the reasons for a Spaniard to cross the Atlantic into an unknown continent, and allow the reader to enter the mind of the conquistador. These men set up the foundations for Imperial Spain as well as hundreds of years of Latin American history. The decisions made by these men set precedents for European colonization from the 16th century until the 18th century and played a large part in the cultural development of the entire colonial Western Hemisphere.
These figures are also extensively studied, even by elementary students, and have never been decisively connected in book form, other than their experience as conquistadors. This book proposes to explore their collective experience before leaving Spain and will seek to determine why they made certain decisions in New Spain, or, especially, in deciding to move to New Spain, as opposed to the current historical writing which simply describes what these men did
It will explore the mentality of these conquistadors in their travels and seek to explain their actions by way of their personal characteristics and backgrounds. It will also be useful in determining a general trend of the backgrounds and behavior of conquistadors.
Conquistadors also tended to have many connections with one another, and in such a network of important figures, it is crucial to understand the relationships between conquistadors. By exploring the common roots of these figures, a better idea of their interaction can be portrayed, and a better understanding of the process of early Spanish colonialism in general. Especially interesting in a comparative study of the conquistadors is the extremely close relationship between Ponce de Leon and Hernando de Soto, in which they shared all expenses and income, a relationship that has been often called brotherly, and is not thoroughly explored in any historical accounts. Also, both of these men participated in Pizarro’s defeat of the Incas, although de Soto was much more involved, rising in the ranks to eventually become Pizarro’s third-in-command.
This paper will be used in conjunction with other histories of Spanish colonialism in order to gain a fuller picture of the experiences of those leading the colonization. It could also be used alongside biographies of explorers to determine the mentality of those who have shared similar experiences. It will be used to determine a common background shared by conquistadors and a set of factors that had caused these men to embark on their journey across the Atlantic, as well as a general set of personalities that were typical among conquistadors, and what factors from the collective youths of the conquistadors led to the creation of this common personality type. This book will simplify the study of important figures in Spanish colonization by tying several key figures together, and will present a new side of colonization, one which has not yet been explored. Previous literature about specific conquistadors may mention several contemporaries, but none has tied them together as deeply as I plan to, and none has explored the roots of these figures as much as I plan to. My book will present a continuous picture of conquistadors and their shared experiences, growing up in 16th century Castile and their shared personality traits. It will provide an answer for those curious about the reasons why a Spaniard would want to risk his life by sailing across the Atlantic into a hostile environment. It could also be used as a tool to study the migration of Spaniards into the colonies, in a sociological aspect, as I will be presenting the various push and pull factors that influenced the decisions of those that chose to move.
I will be researching this paper using mainly primary documents in order to determine the opinions of these men as to their own pasts, and the accounts of others serving with them, especially the account of Bernal Diaz de Castillo. These will be useful in determining the actions of these men while they were in New Spain and the opinions of their men about these conquistadors and their actions. Through firsthand accounts of the actions of these men, especially in details revealed in their personal writings, I will be able to reveal some of the main events of their childhood and show a greater understanding of how their personalities were affected by Castilian culture and by Spanish social mobility.
I will likely be looking into some secondary sources, especially for information about the background of these men, and for information about Spanish society in general at the time of their departure for New Spain. There are many secondary sources available, but if I find the information present in these lacking, I can definitely access Spanish archives that contain documents from the 16th Century, especially because the Spanish tended to be obsessive about documentation, providing plenty of demographic information that will be useful in describing Spanish society at that time.
I will not, however, be researching much into the actions of these conquistadors while they were in New Spain, as it is not particularly relevant towards my thesis. I will, however, touch briefly upon these actions, extremely lightly when compared to previous writings, but still mentioning their future actions. I will use this information in order to present the personalities of the individual conquistadors and show how their collective background shaped their image and their decision-making, but will not dive deeply into the consequences of their decisions except in order to interest the reader.
Chapter 1 – 16th Century Spain and Social Mobility
This will begin with my thesis, “Spanish conquistadors, for the most part, came from a similar background, one which affected them in their decision-making and in the formation of their personalities, a common background that had deep implications into the future development of the Spanish colonies.” I will devote the majority of this chapter towards laying out the background into which I will place the individual conquistadors, describing 16th century Spain with a specific focus upon the region of Castile, where the majority of Spanish emigrants to New Spain came from. I will also attempt to show continuity in the movement of Castilian culture from Spain into the colonies. Castilians tended to be greater risk-takers and had a heavy emphasis upon pastoralism, relying upon Aragon to take care of Spanish trade.
I will use the individual case studies of the conquistadors to show a flow of Castilian culture from Spain into New Spain, and a common set of values and ideals shared by those coming across the Atlantic. This chapter will be dedicated towards proving to the reader the existence of a Castilian culture and its similarity to the culture of Spanish colonizers in New Spain, which will be emphasized in the future case studies.
I expect this to be my longest chapter, as within the chapter I must both present my argument and describe the settings in which future conquistadors were raised. In ending the chapter, I will also present some possible reasons why a man would leave Spain for the colonies although I will not go into specifics about particular conquistadors until I come to their sections. This will be the most important chapter in my book and will also require the most research, although I will be able to rely upon some secondary sources of authors who have completed studies of Spain during this era, especially Elliot’s Imperial Spain. I will close this chapter by re-presenting my argument and by introducing the conquistadors whose individual histories I will be tying together. I will organize my individual histories in order of relevance, first discussing Cortes, then Cabeza de Vaca, followed by Balboa, and then Pizarro, de Soto and Ponce de Leon, all of whom are further connected than their shared past.
Chapter 2 – Hernando Cortes
This chapter will be dedicated to the description of Cortes’s upbringing to set a precedent by which the examples of other case studies will follow. Cortes was born in 1485 in the town of Medellin, in the Castilian portion of Spain. Cortes’s parents were an established family, having had four generations of pure Christian blood, but were not wealthy or influential. This should establish a pattern of conquistadors being born into families who have the ability to become influential, in terms of their heritage, but do not have the means to fully utilize their potential. Cortes fits the model for this archetype and will be useful as a first example because he exemplifies my thesis.
I will also at this point mention the fluidity of Spanish society, in that influence was not necessarily related to ancestry, so that one’s achievements determined one’s position in society, although birthright did play a minor role in one’s placement in society. Therefore, other Spaniards placed in similar positions as these conquistadors would be encouraged to pursue a risky adventure such as a venture into New Spain, with a huge return that would allow them enormous prestige upon their survival and return to Spain. In fact, two of the most popular destinations for young Spaniards were New Spain, and fighting in the service of the Pope in present-day Italy.
This chapter will take up more space than the other case studies, but it is the most important, as Cortes is the most famous of the conquistadors and as I will need to set up precedents for all of my following case studies. Also, there is a plethora of information about Cortes, and so it will be much easier to portray his childhood vividly in the mind of the reader and keep him or her interested as my argument progresses.
Chapter 3 – Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
The second chapter will be about Cabeza de Vaca, since he is not connected to any of the other conquistadors directly. He will also be useful as a second example because he represents an underling of the conquistadors, showing that more than simply the men in charge moved to New Spain for the aforementioned reasons and from the same situations. His inclusion broadens the scope of my thesis to include common soldiers as well as the leaders, and there are several primary accounts of his journey and many secondary sources.
Cabeza de Vaca, in fact, has nobler family ties than any of the other conquistadors that I am presenting, with his grandfather conquering and governing the Canary Islands and his father fulfilling several important roles in the Spanish government as well. This also backs up my assurance of the social instability of Spanish society at that time; a child of such rich heritage could end up serving under a man born of poor but relatively respected roots (in the case of Cortes). It also shows that even with a rich family, the young men felt the need to leave home in order to seek riches and prestige. Even beyond this, Cabeza de Vaca served both his country in New Spain and the Pope in Italy, providing an example for both of the possible destinations for young Castilians in search of a change of scenery. He also represents a different demographic, the older soldier moving to New Spain in order to achieve wealth, instead of the young teenager looking to set a foundation for his future.Cabeza de Vaca represents a perfect example to counter any possible critics accusing my thesis of being too specific because he is so different demographically than my other examples and yet shares the commonality that I am arguing and ended up making the same decision, to move across the Atlantic, as the other examples did.
Chapter 4 – Vasco Nunez de Balboa
Vasco Nunez de Balboa was responsible for the discovery of the Pacific Ocean. Born in the province of Extremadura, in Castile, he was the child of noble parents. Despite this, and the Balboa family’s owning of a castle, Balboa was raised in poverty. This did not prevent him from rising to become a leader of an expedition, and added to the reasons why he would move to New Spain. There is not a lot of information available about Balboa directly, but his family could be researched, as they were relatively influential. Also, researchers have uncovered the name of a master whom Balboa served under (Don Pedro de Portocarrero), which could be used to determine certain events that would have occurred during Balboa’s childhood that may not be directly related to him.
Balboa is also a good fit with these case studies because he had an illustious background, like Cabeza de Vaca, but unlike Cabeza de Vaca, he was a leader in New Spain. He was also an early emigrant from Spain, leaving in 1500, and typifies a poor noble going abroad to earn money and restore his family’s name.
Chapter 5 – Francisco Pizarro
Francisco Pizarro was born as an illegitimate child, seemingly separating him from my other case studies, where I argue that poor noblemen tended to participate in Spanish colonialism, but Pizarro’s father was an officer in the army, and therefore provided his son with the little heritage that was needed to get ahead in Spanish society. Other than this, Pizarro fits the mold that I have created for a conquistador, having grown up in Castile and having left Spain seeking wealth. Beyond my identification of traits that would be typical of a Spaniard emigrating from Spain, Pizarro is different from his compatriots. He was brought up poor, like the other case studies I mention, but his poverty was much more severe than any of the other figures that I mention. Pizarro was illiterate, and working as a pig farmer up until he decided to move to New Spain seeking his fortune and a comfortable life.
This chapter ought to tie into the book well. Each case study that I am presenting differs from the others, and I do not see the extreme poverty of Pizarro as a factor that would disprove my thesis. I also think that Pizarro is an iconic figure in terms of the ideals of the conquistadors, becoming the ruler of Peru after having farmed pigs and without the ability to read or write. The biography of Pizarro will specifically emphasize the social mobility in Spain and the ability of a Spaniard to create his own destiny through becoming a conquistador.
Chapter 6 – Hernando de Soto
Not much is known about the childhood of de Soto; his birthplace is disputed to this day. He did, however, grow up in the region of Castile. He grew up in the same region as Balboa and Pizarro, at a later date (around 1500) and was likely influenced by Balboa’s accomplishments and definitely influenced by Pizarro, as he served under Pizarro in his campaign against the Incas. De Soto did move to New Spain in his teens, typical of the conquistador, and began as a common soldier. He worked his way up through the ranks, eventually becoming Pizarro’s third-in-command, but leaving after he felt slighted at not being named second-in-command after the Incas had been subdued. De Soto also had a significant relationship with Ponce de Leon, with both of them sharing their profits in a unison that was often called brotherly.
The lack of information present about De Soto’s childhood will likely force me to expand this chapter to include the lifestyle of the typical Extremaduran (the province where he was born) in order to gain the best information possible about de Soto. I will likely be presenting information based on the assumption that de Soto grew up in a manner similar to his peers, which may open my thesis up to criticism, but I think that de Soto ought to be included due to his close connections with Pizarro and Ponce de Leon. Also, de Soto is one of the most important conquistadors, so leaving any mention of him out of my book would seem a glaring omission. This will probably be my weakest chapter, in that I will not be able to present this case study in such specifics as my others, but it will allow me to branch out and describe the life of a typical Spaniard in more detail outside of my introduction and conclusion. If necessary, I may be able to include this chapter with my section about Ponce de Leon because of their close relationship, although I would prefer to keep them separate.
Chapter 7 – Ponce de Leon
Although he was extremely close with de Soto, Ponce de Leon was born around 40 years earlier than him. He was, however, born into the same situation as de Soto, and, like de Soto, there is little information about Pizarro’s birth and childhood. We do know that he was born into a noble family, and his birthplace (San Servas, in the Campos region of Spain), but not much else is known. However, it has been discovered that he served Pedro Nunez de Guzman in his campaigns against the Moors, so the expanding of this chapter or its combining with the previous one could be dependent upon the results of a further search through Spanish documents using the name Pedro Nunez de Guzman to approximate some of the events of Ponce’s youth and early adulthood or by searching for records of citizens of San Servas that are dated in a time period that would coincide with Ponce’s early life.
Ponce de Leon is important to this book and ought to be included on more grounds than his relationship with de Soto and his various forays into Florida, however. He also provides, like Cabeza de Vaca, an example of an older conquistador still attempting to make a name for himself and garner influence to be used upon returning to Spain or in governorship of a colony. Also, it is speculated that he accompanied Columbus on his 1493 journey, making him the first conquistador in this study to come to New Spain. Also, he is far too important a figure to leave out when discussing conquistadors and would, like the omission of de Soto, leave a gaping hole in my claim to represent the conquistadors most representative of their demographic. While Cabeza de Vaca may already represent an older conquistador, Ponce was one of the first leaders to arrive in New Spain, and his role as an early figure in Spanish colonialism makes his inclusion crucial to the continuity of this text.
Chapter 8 – Conclusion
I will use this final chapter to sum up and restate my argument to the reader. It should be shorter than the introduction, as it will only be necessary to briefly bring up some of the points that I will have already fully explained, but it should still be significantly large as I would like to provide a decisive ending to my book. It will sum up the common traits shared by these conquistadors and present a closing argument as to why the differences between these figures do not detract from my argument. This may not be necessary, but I would like to attempt to fend off possible critics, instead of allowing them to attack my writing without a chance at defending myself. Although it may end up being a repetition of my introduction, I hope to expand upon the points brought up in my introduction by including my case studies. My conclusion will end up being a sweeping summary of my arguments using the details that I have previously brought up in the individual biographies.