Letters of Cortes to Emperor Charles V - Vol 1/Appendix 2 of the First Letter

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This "making a requirement" was at once a naive and arrogant formality by which the Spaniards sought to give legal sanction to their high-handed invasion and claims on the Indians' submission. By a bull dated May 4, 1493, Alexander VI. gave in donation to the Spanish sovereigns all lands which might be discovered in the new world, defined by a line drawn one hundred leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands. A convention was afterwards signed between Spain and Portugal at Tordesillas, removing the line seventy leagues further westward.

Martin V. had made a similar grant to the Portuguese in the East Indies in 1420, which was afterwards confirmed by Nicholas V. and Calixtus III. Orozco y Berra observes that, whatever may be thought to-day of such a concession, it is certain that it gave an undoubted right to the sovereigns thus favoured, which nobody, whether nation, king, or philosopher, disputed at that time. Pope Alexander's bull had the condition attached, that the natives of the countries discovered should be Christianised.

Such, therefore, was the high authority on which the "requirement" was based. The form of this document was invented, and drawn up, by Dr. Palacios Rubios, a jurisconsul, and member of the Royal Council, for the use of Pedrarias de Avila, coming afterwards to serve in the other colonies.

The requirement began thus: "On the part of the King Fernando, and of the Queen Doña Juana, his daughter, Queen of Castile, Leon, etc., rulers of the barbarous natives: we their servants notify and make it known, to you, as best we can, that the living and eternal God, our Lord, created the heavens and the earth, and a man and a woman, of whom you, and we, and all men in the world are descendants, as well as all who shall come after us. However, because of the multitude of generations issuing from these, in the five thousand years since the creation of the world, it was necessary that some should go one way, and some another, and that they should be divided into many kingdoms and provinces, as they could not maintain themselves in one. God, our Lord gave the charge of all these poeple to one called St. Peter, that he should be lord and superior over all men in the world, and that all should obey him, and that he should be the head of all the human race, and should love all men of whatsoever land, religion, and belief; and He gave him the world for his kingdom ordering his seat to be placed in Rome, as the place best suited for ruling the world; but he was permitted also to establish his seat in any other part of the world, and to judge and govern all peoples, Christians, Moors, Jews, Gentiles, and of whatsoever other sect or creed they might be" etc. (Orozco y Berra, vol. iv., p. 86.).

The provisions of the bull giving the dominion over America to the Spanish sovereigns then followed.

The notary or clerk who accompanied the expedition read this unique document, indifferent to the fact that the Indians could not comprehend a word, even were they near enough to hear, and sometimes the reading would take place with no Indians at all present. All scruples were satisfied by this formality, and, if submission did not follow, the commander dealt with the natives as with obdurate rebels against the royal authority.

The way for the conquest was already prepared, and the Aztec historians, as well as the earliest Spanish authorities, record that, for a number of years, the belief that the hour of the Empire's dissolution was at hand had been steadily gaining ground, promoted by several events which were regarded as supernatural warnings of the approaching downfall. The lake of Texcoco had in 1510 risen suddenly, and inundated the city, without any visible cause or accompanying earthquake or tempest; one of the towers of the great teocalli was destroyed in 1511 by a mysterious conflagration, which resisted all efforts to extinguish it; comets, strange lights in the skies, accompanied by shooting stars, and weird noises, were all interpreted by the astrologers as portents of gloomy presage. The miraculous resurrection, three days after her death of Montezuma's sister, the Princess Papantzin who brought him a prophetic warning from her tomb, is reported at length by Clavigero (vol. i., p. 289). Legal proofs of this event, which occurred in 1509, were afterwards forwarded to the Spanish court. The princess is said to have lived many years, and to have been the first person to receive Christian baptism which she did in Tlatelolco, in 1524, being henceforth known as Doña Ana Papantzin, Her life became a model of Christian virtue. Whatever may have been the exact nature of this occurrence, the reported miracle doubtless rests upon some fact which was interpreted by the Mexicans as supernatural.