Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/79

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the hands of dominant tribes for seven centuries. Immense quantities of treasure steadily poured henceforth into Spain; and America assumed an entirely new aspect for the nations of Western Europe. Almost from the first Spain perceived that other European powers would dispute with her, and perhaps one day wrest from her, the possession of the rich New World which accident had given to her. The conquest of Mexico nearly corresponded with the opening of a period of hostility between Spain and France, which lasted, though with considerable intermissions, from 1521 to 1556. Cortes, who entered Mexico in the former year, despatched at the end of 1522 two vessels to Spain laden with Mexican treasure; Giovanni da Verrazzano, a Florentine in the French service, captured these near the Azores, and about the same time took a large vessel homeward bound from Española, laden with treasure, pearls, sugar, and hides. Enriched by these prizes, he gave large complimentary presents to the French King and High Admiral; and general amazement was felt at the wealth which was pouring into Spain from its transatlantic possessions. "The Emperor," Francis exclaimed, "can carry on the war against me by means of the riches he draws from the West Indies alone!" Of the immense inheritance obtained by Spain in America the only parts actually reduced to possession by the Spanish monarch were the four great Antilles, and those portions of the continent which had been settled by the Nahuatlaca. Southward, the shores from Yucatan as far as the Plate River had been explored by Spain and Portugal; and all that seemed to remain to the future adventurer was the North American shore from the Mexican Gulf to Newfoundland. Jocosely refusing to acknowledge the claim of the peninsular powers to make a bipartite division of the sphere between them until they should "produce the will of Adam, constituting them his universal heirs," Francis commissioned the successful Florentine captain to reconnoitre the whole shore from Florida to Newfoundland. This being done, he intimated to Europe that he claimed it, by right of discovery, as the share of France in the great American heritage. He called it New France,—a term familiar in French ears since the beginning of the thirteenth century as the title of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, and now less inappropriately applied by transfer to the New World.

The commission thus entrusted to and accomplished by Verrazzano was masked under the pretence of seeking a North-west passage to the Far East. But its real object was to lay a foundation for the claim of France to the whole of America north of Mexico, put forward in the belief, which ultimately proved well warranted, that this tract would, like Mexico, prove rich in the precious metals. Having completed the voyage by which his name is chiefly remembered, Verrazzano resumed the profitable practice of plundering the Spanish homeward-bound ships, and took some prizes between Spain and the Canaries. On his return he