Fray Juan de Torquemada

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the New World missionary and historian. For the ecclesiastical writer and cardinal, see Juan de Torquemada (cardinal). For other people named Torquemada, see Torquemada (disambiguation).
Fray Juan de Torquemada, from Lucas Alamán's Historia de la Republica Mexicana (1860)

Juan de Torquemada (c. 1562 – 1624) was a Franciscan friar, missionary and historian in Spanish colonial Mexico, and is considered the "leading Franciscan chronicler of his generation."[1] He is most famous for his monumental history of the indigenous peoples entitled Los veinte y un libros rituales y Monarquía indiana, commonly known as Monarquía indiana ("Indian Monarchy"), published initially in Spain in 1615 with a license obtained by Torquemada.[2] Monarquia Indiana was the "prime text of Mexican history, and was destined to influence all subsequent chronicles until the twentieth century."[3] The fact that it was republished a century later in 1723, in what has been considered the standard edition, is an indication of its importance.[4] It was used by later historians, the Franciscan Augustin de Vetancurt and most importantly by eighteenth-century Jesuit Francisco Javier Clavijero.


Juan de Torquemada was born at Torquemada, Palencia, sometime between 1557 and 1565, with few firm data on his life, with much coming from his own work.[5] He arrived in New Spain as a child and grew up in Mexico City. He studied philosophy and Nahuatl at the convent Grande de San Francisco in Mexico City, studying under Fray Juan Bautista and Antonio de Valeriano, an indigenous graduate of the colegio who taught him Nahuatl.[6] He was ordained sometime between 1579 and 1583. In 1582 he moved to the convent of Santiago Tlatelolco, and he was made guardian of that convent in 1600. He also took over the administration of the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco.

His extensive travels began perhaps as early as 1581, based on references in his Monarquia Indiana, going to Guatemala and meeting both a natural child of conqueror Pedro de Alvarado and the conqueror Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who died in 1584.[7] Beginning in 1604 he traveled continually on the business of his order, going to Zacatecas, Jalisco, Veracruz, and northern areas where the Tepehuanes lived.[8] He was guardian of the convents of Zacatlán (in the mountains of Puebla) and Tlaxcala. In 1607, during the flood of Mexico City, he was asked by Viceroy Don Juan de Mendoza y Luna, marqués de Montesclaros to reconstruct the calzadas (carriageways) of Chapultepec, Misterios to Tepeyac and San Cristóbal and the dams of Zumpango and Citlaltépetl, although he was not an engineer.

In 1609 he was named chronicler of the Franciscan Order by Fray Bernardo de Salva, Franciscan Comisario General de las Indias and he gathered and reworked existing research materials to write his magnum opus, Monarquia Indiana.[9]

In 1610 Torquemada oversaw construction of the monastery and church of Santiago Tlatelolco. Its interior featured a grandiose altarpiece decorated with paintings by Baltasar de Echave Orio surrounding a hand-carved relief of Santiago,[10] but this was destroyed soon afterwards.

At a meeting of the chapter for the Franciscan province of Santo Evangelio de México held on 8 January 1614, Torquemada was elected provincial superior, a position he held until the election of a new provincial on 14 January 1617. As a result of the foundation of other provinces (an activity in which Torquemada had been involved), by 1606 the Santo Evangelio province principally comprised Mexico City and environs, together with the Custodia of Tampico on the Gulf Coast.[11]

Fray Juan, ostensibly in good health, died suddenly on New Year's Day, 1624, having just finished singing matins with the community of friars at the convent at Tlatelolco. His death was likely due to a heart attack, given that an indigenous witness said he said "Help me, unloose my chest where my heart is."[12] He was buried near the high altar of the church of San Francisco de México in Mexico City at 5 p.m. the same day.[13]


Title page of Monarquía indiana, by Fray Juan de Torquemada

He wrote Vida de fray Sebastian de Aparicio (Tlatelolco, 1600 and Madrid, 1605), a Franciscan lay brother who had gained a reputation of leading an exemplary life and later beatified.[14] He also wrote Opúsculos (written 1622 and published as an appendix in Códice Mendieta by Joaquín García Icazbalceta in 1892), various plays in Nahuatl, and one comedy in Spanish, Latin and Nahuatl, which, unfortunately, has been lost.

His main work (usually referred to by the abbreviated title under the modern Spanish spelling as Monarquía indiana) is Los veintiún libros rituales i monarchia indiana con el origen y guerras de los indios occidentales, de sus poblaciones, descubrimientos, conquista, conversión y otras cosas maravillosas de la misma tierra (The Twenty-one Ritual Books and Indian Monarchy With the Origin and Wars of the West Indians, of Their Populations, Discoveries, Conquest, Conversion and Other Marvelous Things of the Same Land). It was published in 3 volumes at Seville in 1615. The first edition is rare, but the work was reprinted in Madrid in 1723 and again in a facsimile edition by Salvador Chávez Hayhoe in 1943-44. This work, never published in English, was reprinted in 1969 as volumes 41 - 43 of the Biblioteca Porrúa. A full critical edition in six volumes, with a seventh volume containing supplementary essays by various Mexican scholars, was published in Mexico by the Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, UNAM, between 1975 and 1983.[15]

This was the only New Spain chronicle of its time known to contemporaries. Works of Toribio de Benavente Motolinía, Bernardino de Sahagún, Andrés de Olmos, Gerónimo de Mendieta, and others were not available for centuries. Torquemada used these extensively, sometimes without changing the source texts or attribution.[16] With the work of Mendieta, whose Historia eclesiástica indiana had controversial Joachite theological opinions that made his work unpublishable in his lifetime, Torquemada incorporated much without change, revising and excising the suspect sections, likely thereby obtaining the crown's official license to publish.[17] Torquemada also drew on works Spanish works by Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas; Jesuit José de Acosta; Cortés's official biographer Francisco López de Gómara; and Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, who held the post of Major Chronicler of the Indies.[18]

The work is a "remarkably dense text," because of its theological digressions, contradictions, and anachronisms, since Torquemada incorporated material without resolving contradictory and competing points of view from his sources.[19] In addition to the texts written by Spaniards, Torquemada draws on the work of mestizo Tlaxcala patriot Diego Muñoz Camargo, and Texcoco indigenous nobility Fernando Alva Ixtlilxochitl, Juan Bautista Pomar, and Antonio de Pimentel, and the account of the conquest from the Tlatelolco point of view compiled by Bernardino de Sahagún. He incorporates a large quantity of information taken from indigenous pictographs and manuscripts.[20] Torquemada interviewed elderly indigenous people about their ancestors and recorded their oral traditions. The Monarquía indiana is the best work on what was known of the indigenous past at the beginning of the seventeenth century. It is considered an especially important source on the Mexica, Totonac, Pipil and Nicoya cultures.

Torquemada describes the 1576 epidemic in New Spain in the following terms:

In the year 1576 a great mortality and pestilence that lasted for more than a year overcame the Indians. It was so big that it ruined and destroyed almost the entire land. The place we know as New Spain was left almost empty.

He reported that two million, mostly indigenous, people died, according to a survey conducted by Viceroy Don Martín Enríquez de Almanza.[21]


  1. ^ D.A. Brading, The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State 1492-1867, New York: Cambridge University Press 1991, p. 273.
  2. ^ Brading, ibid. p. 277.
  3. ^ D.A. Brading, The First America p. 277.
  4. ^ José Alcina Franch, "Juan de Torquemada, 1564-1624," in Handbook of Middle American Indians, volume 13 in the Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, part 2. Volume editor, Howard F. Cline. Austin: University of Texas Press 1973, p. 260.
  5. ^ José Alcina Franch, ibid., pp. 256-57.
  6. ^ Alcina Franch, ibid. 257.
  7. ^ Alcina Franch ibid. p. 258 citing Monarquia Indiana, vol. 1, 324, 327, 351.
  8. ^ Alcina Franch, ibid. citing Monarquia Indiana.
  9. ^ Alcina Franch, ibid.
  10. ^ Cloister of the Monastery of Santiago Tlatelolco. Retrieved June 27, 2006.
  11. ^ For the dates, see León-Portilla, pp. 42-43; for the structure and founding of Franciscan provinces in Spanish North America, see Habig (map on p. 216)
  12. ^ Alcina Franch, ibid. 259 quoting "Unos anales colonialies, 1948, pp. 182-84.
  13. ^ León-Portilla, p. 47, quoting the Anales coloniales de Tlatelolco
  14. ^ Ronald J. Morgan, Spanish American Saints and the Rhetoric of Identity, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2002, pp. 39-66.
  15. ^ The full text is available in multiple pdf downloads from the IIH website
  16. ^ D.A. Brading, The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State 1492-1867, New York: Cambridge University Press 1991, pp.277-280.
  17. ^ D.A. Brading, ibid. 277.
  18. ^ Brading, The First America ibid., p. 278.
  19. ^ Brading, The First America, pp.281-83.
  20. ^ D.A. Brading, ibid. 281.
  21. ^ Quoted in Rodolfo Acuna-Soto, et al., "Large Epidemics of Hemorrhagic Fevers in Mexico 1545-1815"


  • Boban, Eugène (1891). Documents pour servir à l'histoire du Mexique (in French). Paris. 
  • García Icazbalceta, Joaquín (1853–56). "Torquemada, Juan de". Diccionario universal de historia y geografía (in Spanish). 
  • Habig, Marion (1944). "The Franciscan Provinces of Spanish North America [Continued]". The Americas.  Vol. 1, No. 2
  • León-Portilla, Miguel (1983). "Biografía de Juan de Torquemada". Fray Juan de Torquemada, Monarquía indiana (in Spanish) 7. Mexico City: Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México. 
  • Moreno Toscano, Alejandra (1961). "Vindicación de Torquemada". Historia mexicana (in Spanish). 
  • Enciclopedia de México (1996). "Torquemada, Juan de". (in Spanish) 13. Mexico City. 1-56409-016-7.  Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]