Spanish conquest of Yucatán
The Spanish conquest of Yucatán was the campaign undertaken by the Spanish conquistadores against the Late Postclassic Maya states and polities, particularly in the northern and central Yucatán Peninsula but also involving the Maya polities of the Guatemalan highlands region. This episode in the conquest and colonization of the Americas began in the early 16th century, but was a more difficult and lengthier exercise in subjugation than the equivalent campaigns against the Aztec and the Inca empires. It would take some 170 years and the help of the Xiu Maya before the last recognized Maya stronghold fell, that of the Itza capital of Nojpetén on Lake Petén Itzá, in 1697. Following the great revolt of the seven Mayan provinces to the east, the authorisation of the Indian auxiliaries to enslave any Mayan rebels they managed to catch helped quell the resistance. Except for the Petén region and the Guatemalan highlands, Spanish control over Yucatán itself was effectively in place by 1547 even though as late as 1550, there were only some 1,550 Spanish in all of the colonial provinces.
Unlike the campaigns against the Aztec and Inca states, the Maya had no single political center whose overthrow would hasten the end of collective resistance by the indigenous peoples. Instead, the Maya were organized into a number of independent states, which the conquistador forces needed to subdue almost one by one, and many of these fiercely resisted the Spanish incursions.[nb 1]
Particularly in the early stages, a prime motivating factor for the conquistadores was their interest in seizing great quantities of precious metals, such as gold and silver. Since the Maya lands were poor in these resources, they held comparatively little initial interest for the Spanish, who were attracted instead to central Mexico and Peru by promising reports of the greater rewards on offer there. However, with the prospects of new land grants and the acquisition of labour forces, it was not long until Spanish intentions turned to the Maya region, with the first concerted efforts to establish a presence commencing from the 1520s.
After Spanish dominion over the region was finally established, the Maya peoples themselves remained restive against Spanish rule, both under the colonial phase of New Spain and then under the newly independent Mexican state. Maya discontent in Yucatán would later erupt into open revolt in the mid 19th century, in the Caste War of Yucatán. The major portion of this conflict lasted over fifty years, during which much of the southeastern portion of the Peninsula was an effectively independent Maya state, Chan Santa Cruz. Complete suppression of the revolt was difficult to obtain, and skirmishes continued up into the 1930s (Rugeley 1996).
- 1 First encounters (1511)
- 2 Early expeditions (1517–19)
- 3 Franisco de Montejo 1527–28
- 4 Second attempted conquest (1531–35)
- 5 Final conquests (1540–46)
- 6 Petén Basin
- 6.1 Early 17th century
- 6.2 Late 17th century
- 7 Notes
- 8 Citations
- 9 References
First encounters (1511)
The first known Spanish landing[nb 2] on the Yucatán Peninsula was a product of misfortune, when in 1511 a small vessel bound for the island of Santo Domingo from Darién, Panama ran aground on some shoals in the Caribbean Sea, south of the island of Jamaica.[nb 3] The ship's complement of fifteen men and two women set off in the ship's boat in an attempt to reach Cuba or one of the other colonies. However, the prevailing currents forced them westwards until, after approximately two weeks of drifting, they reached the eastern shoreline of the Peninsula, possibly in present-day Belize.[nb 4] Captured by the local Maya, they were divided up among several of the chieftains[nb 5] as slaves, and a number were sacrificed. Over the succeeding years their numbers dwindled further as others were lost to disease or exhaustion, until only two were left– Gerónimo de Aguilar who had escaped his former captor and found refuge with another Maya ruler, and Gonzalo Guerrero who had won some prestige among the Maya for his bravery and had now the standing of a ranking warrior and noble. These two would later have notable, but very different, roles to play in future conflicts between the Spanish and the Mesoamerican peoples– Aguilar would become Cortés's translator and advisor, with Guerrero instead electing to remain with the Maya and served as a tactician and warrior fighting with them against the Spanish.
Early expeditions (1517–19)
In 1517, Francisco Hernández de Córdoba set sail from Cuba with a small expedition, with the dual intention of exploration and of rounding up slaves. The experienced Antón de Alaminos served as pilot; he had previously served as pilot under Christopher Columbus on his final voyage. Also among the approximately 100-strong expedition members was Bernal Díaz del Castillo. The expedition sailed west from Cuba for three weeks, and weathered a two-day storm a week before sighting the coast of the northeastern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula.
The Spaniards were surprised to see stone cities along the coast of Yucatán. Córdoba landed at three towns; some greeted the Spanish with friendship and offered to trade goods with them (the Spaniards acquired a few pieces of gold ornaments this way), but always as prelude to an ambush. The mauling at Cape Cotoche climaxed when the explorers landed at "the Coast of the Disastrous Battle." To Córboda and his men, it was an ambush with some 80 Spaniards being wounded by the first volley of stones, arrows, and darts. The Spanish soon learned that the Mayan arrows, while not attaining any distinct force behind them, tended to shatter on impact leading to a slow and painful death. Despite these shortcomings, the failed attempts to gather water and repair the casks that were issued ultimately caused Córdoba to distribute his remaining sailors and abandon his smallest ship, a brigantine paid for on credit. The expedition returned to Cuba to report on the discovery of this new land.
Diego Velázquez, the governor of Cuba, ordered an expedition sent out with four ships supplied with crossbows, muskets, salt pork, and cassava bread for some 240 men[nb 6] led by his nephew, Juan de Grijalva. The Grijalva expedition had similar, mixed experiences with the native Maya and seemed genuinely anxious to fulfil Velázquez' order to explore rather than settle. He repeatedly refused the gratification of vengeance as they sailed along the coasts of Yucatán for months. Except for a few cannon shots, the desire to exchange beads and Spanish wine for food and other necessities were left in readiness. He was disappointed at gathering very little gold, but came back to Cuba with a tale that a rich empire was further to the west.
This prompted the Hernán Cortés expedition in 1519. Cortés spent some time at the island of Cozumel, tried with mixed results to convert the locals to Christianity, and heard stories of other bearded white men living in the area. He sent messengers to these reported castilianos, who turned out to be the survivors of the 1511 shipwreck, Aguilar and Guerrero. Aguilar petitioned his Maya chieftain to be allowed leave to join with his former countrymen, and he was released and made his way to Cortés' ships. According to Bernal Díaz, Aguilar said that before coming he had unsuccessfully attempted to convince Guerrero to leave as well. Guerrero declined on the basis that he was by now well-assimilated with the Maya culture, had a Maya wife and three children, and he was looked upon as a figure of rank within the Maya settlement of Chetumal where he lived.[nb 7]
Aguilar, now quite fluent in Yucatec Maya as well as some other indigenous languages, would prove to be a valuable asset for Cortés as a translator, a skill of particular significance to the later conquest of the Aztec Triple Alliance which would be the end result of Cortés' expedition.[nb 8]
Although Guerrero's later fate is uncertain, it appears that for some years he continued to fight alongside the Maya forces against Spanish incursions, providing military counsel and encouraging resistance; he quite possibly was killed in a later battle.
Franisco de Montejo 1527–28
The richer lands of Mexico engaged the main attention of the Conquistadors for some years, then in 1526 Francisco de Montejo (a veteran of the Grijalva and Cortés expeditions) successfully petitioned the King of Spain for the right to conquer Yucatán. On December 8 of that year he was issued with the hereditary military title of adelantado and permission to colonise the Yucatán Peninsula. In 1527 he left Spain with 400 men in four ships, with horses, small arms, cannon and provisions. He set sail for Santo Domingo, where more supplies and horses were collected, allowing Montejo to increase his cavalry to fifty. One of the ships was left at Santo Domingo as a supply ship to provide later support; the other ships set sail and reached Cozumel, an island off the east coast of Yucatán, in the second half of September 1527. Montejo was received in peace by the lord of Cozumel, Aj Naum Pat, but the ships only stopped briefly before making for the Yucatán coast. The expedition made landfall somewhere near Xelha in the Maya province of Ekab, in what is now Mexico's Quintana Roo state.
Montejo garrisoned Xelha with 40 soldiers under the command of his second-in-command, Alonso d'Avila, and posted 20 more at nearby Pole. Xelha was renamed Salamanca de Xelha and became the first Spanish settlement in the peninsula. The provisions were soon exhausted and additional food was requisitioned from the local Maya villagers; this too was soon consumed. Many local Maya fled into the forest and Spanish raiding parties scoured the surrounding area for food, finding little. With discontent growing among his men, Montejo took the drastic step of burning his ships; this strengthened the resolve of his troops, who gradually acclimatised to the harsh conditions of Yucatán. Montejo was able to get more food from the still-friendly Aj Nuam Pat, when the latter made a visit to the mainland. Montejo took 125 men and set out on an expedition to explore the north-eastern portion of the Yucatán peninsula. His expedition passed through the towns of Xamanha, Mochis and Belma, none of which survives today.[nb 9] At Belma, Montejo gathered the leaders of the nearby Maya towns and instructed them to swear loyalty to the Spanish Crown. After this, Montejo led his men to Conil, a town in Ekab that was described as having 5,000 houses, where the Spanish party halted for two months.
In the spring of 1528, Montejo left Conil for the city of Chauaca, which was abandoned by its Maya inhabitants under cover of darkness. The following morning the inhabitants attacked the Spanish party but were defeated. The Spanish then continued to Ake, some 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) north of Tizimín, where they engaged in a major battle against the Maya, which left more than 1,200 Maya dead. After this Spanish victory, the neighbouring Maya leaders all surrendered. Montejo's party then continued to Sisia and Loche before heading back to Xelha. Montejo arrived at Xelha with only 60 of his party, and found that only 12 of his 40-strong garrison survived, while the entire Pole garrison had been slaughtered.
The support ship eventually arrived from Santo Domingo, and Montejo used it to sail south along the coast, while he sent D'Avila via land. Montejo discovered the thriving port city of Chaktumal (modern Chetumal). At Chaktumal, Montejo learnt that shipwrecked Spanish sailor Gonzalo de Guerrero was in the region, and Montejo sent messages to him, inviting him to return to join the his compatriots, but Guerrero declined.
The Maya at Chaktumal fed false information to the Spanish, and Montejo was unable to find d'Avila and link up with him. D'Avila returned overland to Xelha, and transferred the fledgling Spanish colony to nearby Xamanha. After waiting for d'Avila without result, Montejo sailed south as far as the Ulúa River in Honduras before turning around and heading back up the coast to finally meet up with his lieutenant at Xamanha. Late in 1528, Montejo left d'Avila to oversee Xamanha and sailed north to loop around the Yucatán Peninsula and head for the Spanish colony of New Spain in central Mexico.
Second attempted conquest (1531–35)
Montejo returned in 1531 with a force that allied with the Maya port city of Campeche. While he set up a fortress at Campeche, he sent his son Francisco Montejo the Younger inland with an army. The leaders of some Maya states pledged that they would be his allies. He continued on to Chichen Itza, which he declared his Royal capital of Spanish Yucatán, but after a few months the locals rose up against him, the Spaniards were constantly attacked, and the Spanish force fled to Honduras. It was rumored that Gonzalo Guerrero, a Spaniard shipwrecked in 1511 who chose to stay in Yucatán, was among those directing Maya resistance to the Spanish crown. Meanwhile the elder Montejo was frequently besieged in his fort in Campeche, and many of his soldiers were tired of a long fight with little to show for it, and stated that they wished to find easier conquests elsewhere. In 1535, Montejo withdrew his forces to Veracruz, leaving the Yucatán once again completely in the control of the Maya.
Final conquests (1540–46)
Montejo the Elder, who was now in his late 60s, turned his royal rights in Yucatán over to his son, Francisco Montejo the Younger. The younger Montejo invaded Yucatán with a large force in 1540. In 1542, he set up his capital in the Maya city of T'ho, which he renamed Mérida. The lord of the Tutal Xiu of Maní converted to Christianity. The Xiu dominated most of Western Yucatán and became valuable allies of the Spanish, greatly assisting in the conquest of the rest of the peninsula. A number of Maya states at first pledged loyalty to Spain, but revolted after feeling the heavy hand of Spanish rule. Fighting and revolts continued for years. When the Spanish and Xiu defeated an army of the combined forces of the states of Eastern Yucatán in 1546, the conquest was officially complete; however, periodic revolts, which would be violently put down by Spanish troops and Indian auxiliaries, continued throughout the Spanish colonial era.
The Petén Basin covers an area that is now part of Guatemala; in colonial times it originally fell under the jurisdiction of the Governor of Yucatán, before being transferred to the jurisdiction of the Audiencia Real of Guatemala in 1703. The Itza kingdom centred upon Lake Petén Itzá had been visited by Hernán Cortés on his march to Honduras in 1525.
Although there is insufficient data to accurately estimate population sizes at the time of contact with the Spanish, early Spanish reports suggest that sizeable Maya populations existed in Petén, particularly around the central lakes and along the rivers. Before their defeat in 1697 the Itza controlled or influenced much of Petén and parts of Belize. The Itza were warlike, and their martial prowess impressed both neighbouring Maya kingdoms and their Spanish enemies. Their capital was Nojpetén, an island city upon Lake Petén Itzá; it has developed into the modern town of Flores, which is the capital of the Petén department of Guatemala. The Itza spoke a variety of Yucatecan Maya. The Kowoj were the second in importance, and they were hostile towards their Itza neighbours. The Kowoj were located to the east of the Itza, around the eastern lakes: Lake Salpetén, Lake Macanché, Lake Yaxhá and Lake Sacnab. The Yalain appear to have been one of the three dominant polities in Postclassic central Petén, alongside the Itza and the Kowoj. The Yalain territory had its maximum extension from the east shore of Lake Petén Itzá eastwards to Tipuj in Belize. In the 17th century the Yalain capital was located at the site of that name on the north shore of Lake Macanché. At the time of Spanish contact the Yalain were allied with the Itza, an alliance cemented by intermarriage between the elites of both groups. Other groups are less well known, and their precise territorial extent and political makeup remains obscure; among them were the Chinamita, the Kejache, the Icaiche, the Lakandon Ch'ol, the Mopan, the Manche Ch'ol and the Yalain.
Early 17th century
Following Cortés' visit, no Spanish attempted to visit the warlike Itza inhabitants of Nojpetén for almost a hundred years. In 1618 two Franciscan friars set out from Mérida on a mission to attempt the peaceful conversion of the still pagan Itza in central Petén. Bartolomé de Fuensalida and Juan de Orbita were accompanied by some Christianised Maya. After an arduous six-month journey the travellers were well received at Nojpetén by the current Kan Ek'. They stayed for some days in an attempt to evangelise the Itza, but the Aj Kan Ek' refused to renounce his Maya religion, although he showed interest in the masses held by the Catholic missionaries. Attempts to convert the Itza failed, and the friars left Nojpetén on friendly terms with Kan Ek'. The friars returned in October 1619, and again Kan Ek' welcomed them in a friendly manner, but this time the Maya priesthood were hostile and jealous and the missionaries were expelled without food or water, but survived the journey back to Mérida.
In March 1622, governor of Yucatán Diego de Cardenas ordered captain Francisco de Mirones Lezcano to launch an assault upon the Itza; he set out from Yucatán with 20 Spanish soldiers and 80 Mayas from Yucatán. His expedition was later joined by Franciscan friar Diego Delgado. In May the expedition advanced to Sakalum, southwest of Bacalar, where there was a lengthy delay while they waited for reinforcements. En route to Nojpetén, Delgado believed that the soldiers' treatment of the Maya was excessively cruel, and he left the expedition to make his own way to Nojpetén with eighty Christianised Maya from Tipuj in Belize. In the meantime the Itza had learnt of the approaching military expedition and had become hardened against further Spanish missionary attempts. When Mirones learnt of Delgado's departure, he sent 13 soldiers to persuade him to return or continue as his escort should he refuse. The soldiers caught up with him just before Tipuj, but he was determined to reach Nojpetén. From Tipuj, Delgado sent a messenger to Kan Ek', asking permission to travel to Nojpetén; the Itza king replied with a promise of safe passage for the missionary and his companions. The party was initially received in peace at the Itza capital, but as soon as the Spanish soldiers let their guard down, the Itza seized and bound the new arrivals. The soldiers were sacrificed to the Maya gods. After the sacrifice of the Spanish soldiers, the Itza took Delgado, cut his heart out and dismembered him; they displayed his head on a stake with the others. The fate of the leader of Delgado's Maya companions was no better. With no word from Delgado's escort, Mirones sent two Spanish soldiers with a Maya scout to learn their fate. When they arrived upon the shore of Lake Petén Itzá, the Itza took them across to their island capital and imprisoned them. Bernardino Ek, the scout, escaped and returned to Mirones with the news. Soon afterwards, on 27 January 1624, an Itza war party led by AjK'in P'ol caught Mirones and his soldiers off guard and unarmed in the church at Sakalum and slaughtered them. Spanish reinforcements arrived too late. A number of local Maya men and women had also been killed, and the attackers had burned the town.
Following these massacres, Spanish garrisons were stationed in several towns in southern Yucatán, and rewards were offered for the whereabouts of AjK'in P'ol. The Maya governor of Oxkutzcab, Fernando Kamal, set out with 150 Maya archers to track the warleader down; they succeeded in capturing the Itza captain and his followers, together with silverware from the looted Sakalum church and items belonging to Mirones. The prisoners were taken back to the Spanish captain Antonio Méndez de Canzo, interrogated under torture, tried, and condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered. They were decapitated, and the heads were displayed in the plazas of towns throughout the colonial Partido de la Sierra in what is now Mexico's Yucatán state. These events ended all Spanish attempts to contact the Itza until 1695. In the 1640s internal strife in Spain distracted the government from attempts to conquer unknown lands; the Spanish Crown lacked the time, money or interest in such colonial adventures for the next four decades.
Late 17th century
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In 1692 Basque nobleman Martín de Ursúa y Arizmendi proposed to the Spanish king the construction of a road from Mérida southwards to link with the Guatemalan colony, in the process "reducing" any independent native populations into colonial congregaciones; this was part of a greater plan to subjugate the Lakandon and Manche Ch'ol of southern Petén and the upper reaches of the Usumacinta River. The original plan was for the province of Yucatán to build the northern section and for Guatemala to build the southern portion, with both meeting somewhere in Ch'ol territory; the plan was later modified to pass further east, through the kingdom of the Itza.
The governor of Yucatán, Martín de Ursúa y Arizmendi, began to build the road from Campeche south towards Petén. At the beginning of March 1695, captain Alonso García de Paredes led a group of 50 Spanish soldiers, accompanied by native guides, muleteers and labourers. The expedition advanced south into Kejache territory, which began at Chunpich, about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) north of the modern border between Mexico and Guatemala. He rounded up some natives to be moved into colonial settlements, but met with armed Kejache resistance. García decided to retreat around the middle of April.
In March 1695, captain Juan Díaz de Velasco set out from Cahabón in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, with 70 Spanish soldiers, accompanied by a large number of Maya archers from Verapaz, and native muleteers; he was accompanied by four Dominican friars. The Spanish pressed ahead to Lake Petén Itzá and engaged in a series of fierce skirmishes with Itza hunting parties. At the lakeshore, within sight of Nojpetén, the Spanish encountered such a large force of Itzas that they retreated south, back to their main camp. Interrogation of an Itza prisoner revealed that the Itza kingdom was in a state of high alert to repel the Spanish; the expedition almost immediately withdrew back to Cahabón.
In mid-May 1695 García again marched southwards from Campeche, with 115 Spanish soldiers and 150 Maya musketeers, plus Maya labourers and muleteers; the final tally was more than 400 people, which was regarded as a considerable army in the impoverished Yucatán province. Ursúa also ordered two companies of Maya musketeers from Tek'ax and Oxk'utzkab' to join the expedition at B'olonch'en Kawich, some 60 kilometres (37 mi) southeast of the city of Campeche. At the end of May three friars were assigned to join the Spanish force, accompanied by a lay brother. A second group of Franciscans would continue onwards independently to Nojpetén to make contact with the Itzas; it was led by friar Andrés de Avendaño, who was accompanied by another friar and a lay brother. García ordered the construction of a fort at Chuntuki, some 25 leagues (approximately 65 miles or 105 km) north of Lake Petén Itzá, which would serve as the main military base for the Camino Real ("Royal Road") project.
The Sajkab'chen company of native musketeers pushed ahead with the road builders from Tzuktzok' to the first Kejache town at Chunpich, which the Kejache had fled. The company's officers sent for reinforcements from García at Tzuktok' but before any could arrive some 25 Kejache returned to Chunpich with baskets to collect their abandoned food. The nervous Sajkab'chen sentries feared that the residents were returning en masse and discharged their muskets at them, with both groups then retreating. The musketeer company then arrived to reinforce their sentries and charged into battle against approaching Kejache archers. Several musketeers were injured in the ensuing skirmish and, the Kejache retreated along a forest path without injury. The Sajkab'chen company followed the path and found two more deserted settlements with large amounts of abandoned food. They seized the food and retreated back along the path.
Around 3 August García moved his entire army forward to Chunpich, and by October Spanish soldiers had established themselves near the source of the San Pedro River. By November Tzuktok' was garrisoned with 86 soldiers and more at Chuntuki. In December 1695 the main force was reinforced with 150 Spanish and pardo soldiers and 100 Maya soldiers, together with labourers and muleteers.
Avendaño's expedition, June 1695
In May 1695 Antonio de Silva had appointed two groups of Franciscans to head for Petén; the first group was to join up with García's military expedition. The second group was to head for Lake Petén Itza independently. This second group was headed by friar Andrés de Avendaño. Avendaño was accompanied by another friar, a lay brother, and six Christian Maya. This latter group left Mérida on 2 June 1695. Avendaño continued south along the course of the new road, finding increasing evidence of Spanish military activity. The Franciscans overtook García at B'uk'te, about 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) before Tzuktok'. On 3 August García advanced to Chunpich but tried to persuade Avendaño to stay behind to minister to the prisoners from B'uk'te. Avendaño instead split his group and left in secret with just four Christian Maya companions, seeking the Chunpich Kejache that had attacked one of García's advance companies and had now retreated into the forest. He was unable to find the Kejache but did manage to get information regarding a path that led southwards to the Itza kingdom. Avendaño returned to Tzuktok' and reconsidered his plans; the Franciscans were short of supplies, and the forcefully congregated Maya that they were charged with converting were disappearing back into the forest daily. Antonio de Silva ordered Avendaño to return to Mérida, and he arrived there on 17 September 1695. Meanwhile the other group of Franciscans, led by Juan de San Buenaventura Chávez, continued following the roadbuilders into Kejache territory, through IxB'am, B'atkab' and Chuntuki (modern Chuntunqui near Carmelita, Petén).
Juan de San Buenaventura's small group of Franciscans arrived in Chuntuki on 30 August 1695, and found that the army had opened the road southwards for another seventeen leagues (approximately 44.2 miles or 71.1 km), almost half way to Lake Petén Itzá, but returned to Chuntuki due to the seasonal rains. San Buenaventura was accompanied by two friars and a lay brother. With Avendaño's return to Mérida, provincial superior Antonio de Silva despatched two additional friars to join San Buenaventura's group. One of these was to convert the Kejache in Tzuktok', and the other was to do the same at Chuntuki. On 24 October San Buenaventura wrote to the provincial superior reporting that the warlike Kejache were now pacified and that they had told him that the Itza were ready to receive the Spanish in friendship. On that day 62 Kejache men had voluntarily come to Chuntuki from Pak'ek'em, where another 300 Kejache resided. In early November 1695, friar Tomás de Alcoser and brother Lucas de San Francisco were sent to establish a mission at Pak'ek'em, where they were well received by the cacique and his pagan priest. Pak'ek'em was sufficiently far from the new Spanish road that it was free from military interference, and the friars oversaw the building of a church in what was the largest mission town in Kejache territory. A second church was built at B'atkab' to attend to over 100 K'ejache refugees who had been gathered there under the stewardship of a Spanish friar; a further church was established at Tzuktok', overseen by another friar.
Avendaño's expedition, December 1695 – January 1696
Franciscan Andrés de Avendaño left Mérida on 13 December 1695, and arrived in Nojpetén around 14 January 1696. He was accompanied by three friars and a lay brother. From Chuntuki they followed an Indian trail that led them past the source of the San Pedro River and across steep karst hills to a watering hole by some ruins. From there they followed the small Acté River to a Chak'an Itza town called Saklemakal. They arrived at the western end of Lake Petén Itzá to an enthusiastic welcome by the local Itza. The following day, the current Aj Kan Ek' travelled across the lake with eighty canoes to greet the visitors at the Chak'an Itza port town of Nich, on the west shore of Lake Petén Itza. The Franciscans returned to Nojpetén with Kan Ek' and baptised over 300 Itza children over the following four days. Avendaño tried to convince Kan Ek' to convert to Christianity and surrender to the Spanish crown, without success. The king of the Itza, cited Itza prophecy and said the time was not yet right.
On 19 January AjKowoj, the king of the Kowoj, arrived at Nojpetén and spoke with Avendaño, arguing against the acceptance of Christianity and Spanish rule. The discussions between Avendaño, Kan Ek' and AjKowoj exposed deep divisions among the Itza. Kan Ek' learnt of a plot by the Kowoj and their allies to ambush and kill the Franciscans, and the Itza king advised them to return to Mérida via Tipuj. The Spanish friars became lost and suffered great hardships, including the death of one of Avendaño's companions, but after a month wandering in the forest found their way back to Chuntuki and from there made their way back to Mérida.
Battle at Ch'ich', 2 February 1696
By mid-January captain García de Paredes had arrived at the advance portion of the Camino Real at Chuntuki. By now he only had 90 soldiers plus labourers and porters. Captain Pedro de Zubiaur, García’s senior officer, arrived at Lake Petén Itza with 60 musketeers, two Franciscans, and allied Yucatec Maya warriors. They were also accompanied by about 40 Maya porters. They were approached by about 300 canoes carrying approximately 2,000 Itza warriors. The warriors began to mingle freely with the Spanish party and a scuffle then broke out; a dozen of the Spanish party were forced into canoes, and three of the Spanish party were killed. At this point the Spanish soldiers opened fire with their muskets, and the Itza retreated across the lake with their prisoners, who included the two Franciscans. The Spanish party retreated from the lake shore and regrouped on open ground where they were surrounded by thousands of Itza warriors. Zubiaur ordered his men to fire a volley that killed between 30 and 40 Itzas. Realising that they were hopelessly outnumbered, the Spanish retreated towards Chuntuki, abandoning their captured companions to their fate.
Martín de Ursúa was now convinced that that Kan Ek' would not surrender peacefully, and he began to organise an all-out assault on Nojpetén. Work on the road was redoubled and about a month after the battle at Ch'ich' the Spanish arrived at the lakeshore, now supported by artillery. Again a large number of canoes gathered, and the nervous Spanish soldiers opened fire with cannons and muskets; no casualties were reported among the Itza, who retreated and raised a white flag from a safe distance.
Expedition from Verapaz, February – March 1696
Oidor Bartolomé de Amésqueta led the next Guatemalan expedition against the Itza. He marched his men from Cahabón to Mopán, arriving on 25 February 1696. On 7 March, Captain Díaz de Velasco led a party ahead to the lake; he was accompanied by two Dominican friars and by AjK'ixaw, an Itza nobleman who had been taken prisoner on Díaz's previous expedition. When they drew close to the shore of Lake Petén Itzá, AjK'ixaw was sent ahead as an emissary to Nojpetén. Díaz's party was lured into an Itza trap and the expedition members were killed to a man. The two friars were captured and sacrificed. The Itza killed a total of 87 expedition members, including 50 soldiers, two Dominicans and about 35 Maya helpers.
Amésqueta left Mopán three days after Díaz and followed Díaz’s trail to the lakeshore. He arrived with the lake over a week later with 36 men. As they scouted along the south shore near Nojpetén they were shadowed by about 30 Itza canoes and more Itzas approached by land but kept a safe distance. Amésqueta was extremely suspicious of the small canoes being offered by the Itza to transport his party across to Nojpetén; as nightfall approached Amésqueta retreated from the lakeshore and his men took up positions on a small hill nearby. In the early hours of the morning he ordered a retreat by moonlight. At San Pedro Martír he received news of an Itza embassy to Mérida in December 1695, and an apparent formal surrender of the Itza to Spanish authority. Unable to reconcile the news with the loss of his men, and with appalling conditions in San Pedro Mártir, Amésqueta abandoned his unfinished fort and retreated to Guatemala.
Assault on Nojpetén
The Itzas' continued resistance had become a major embarrassment for the Spanish colonial authorities, and soldiers were despatched from Campeche to take Nojpetén once and for all. Martín de Urzúa y Arizmendi arrived on the western shore of lake Petén Itzá with his soldiers on 26 February 1697, and once there built the heavily-armed galeota attack boat. The galeota carried 114 men and at least five artillery pieces. The piragua longboat used to cross the San Pedro River was also transported to the lake to be used in the attack on the Itza capital.
On 10 March a number of Itza and Yalain emissaries arrived at Ch'ich' to negotiate with Ursúa. Kan Ek' then sent a canoe with a white flag raised bearing emissaries, who offered peaceful surrender. Ursúa received the embassy in peace and invited Kan Ek' to visit his encampment three days later. On the appointed day Kan Ek' failed to arrive; instead Maya warriors amassed both along the shore and in canoes upon the lake.
A waterbourne assault was launched upon Kan Ek's capital on the morning of 13 March. Ursúa boarded the galeota with 108 soldiers, two secular priests, five personal servants, the baptised Itza emissary AjChan and his brother-in-law and an Itza prisoner from Nojpetén. The attack boat was rowed east towards the Itza capital; half way across the lake it encountered a large fleet of canoes spread in an arc across the approach to Nojpetén – Ursúa simply gave the order to row through them. A large quantity of defenders had gathered along the shore of Nojpetén and on the roofs of the city. Itza archers began to shoot at the invaders from the canoes. Ursúa ordered his men not to return fire but arrows wounded a number of his soldiers; one of the wounded soldiers discharged his musket and at that point the officers lost control of their men. The defending Itza soon fled from the withering Spanish gunfire.
The city fell after a brief but bloody battle in which many Itza warriors died; the Spanish suffered only minor casualties. The Spanish bombardment caused heavy loss of life on the island; the surviving Itza abandoned their capital and swam across to the mainland with many dying in the water. After the battle the surviving defenders melted away into the forests, leaving the Spanish to occupy an abandoned Maya town. Martín de Ursúa planted his standard upon the highest point of the island and renamed Nojpetén as Nuestra Señora de los Remedios y San Pablo, Laguna del Itza ("Our Lady of Remedy and Saint Paul, Lake of the Itza"). The Itza nobility fled, dispersing to Maya settlements throughout Petén; in response the Spanish scoured the region with search parties. Kan Ek' was soon captured with help from the Yalain Maya ruler Chamach Xulu; The Kowoj king (Aj Kowoj) was also soon captured, together with other Maya nobles and their families. With the defeat of the Itza, the last independent and unconquered native kingdom in the Americas fell to the European colonisers.
- At the time of Spanish arrival, many of the Maya states of northern and western Yucatán were ruled by prestigious dynasties, such as the Cocom and Xiu. Their control had been established in the wake of the 15th-century breakup of the Mayapan polity, which had previously exerted extensive control over much of the region. Once the Spanish succeeded in gaining an alliance of sorts with the ruling Xiu family at Maní, a number of other states followed suit in acquiescing to Spanish rule, which greatly assisted the Spanish cause. Other competing Maya families and states continued with their resistance, however. See The Spanish Conquest of Yucatán (1526–46) (1999), Coe (1987), and also later in this text.
- The account of the shipwreck and subsequent events follows that in Bernal Díaz's Verdadera Historia de la Conquista de Nueva España ( The Conquest of New Spain ), pp.59–66. Other 16th-century chroniclers differ in many of the details given by Díaz, such as the number aboard, how many survived to reach the shore, and their ultimate fate. Compare works by Cervantes, Gómara, and Martyr. However, all agree that ultimately two survived.
- The shoals are named as Los Alacranes ("the scorpions") by Bernal Díaz and Cervantes de Salazar, with Cervantes also calling them Las Viboras ("the vipers"). See Ch. XXII of Crónica de la Nueva España, and also The Valdivia Shipwreck (1511), which follows Cervantes.
- The landing place is around the "Rio Hondo" or possibly Cozumel or a little further to the south. See The Valdivia Shipwreck (1511) (1999).
- Bernal Díaz uses the term Cacique, a word deriving from Caribbean languages such as Taíno and used by the Spanish generally for tribal chieftains; he also gives the word Calachiones as the local title. See The Conquest of New Spain, p.65.
- The numbers for Grijalva's expedition are as given by Bernal Díaz, who participated in the voyage. See Díaz del Castillo (1963, p.27).
- Guerrero is reported by Bernal Díaz to have responded, "Brother Aguilar, I am married and have three children, and they look on me as a Cacique here, and a captain in time of war....But my face is tattooed and my ears are pierced. What would the Spaniards say if they saw me like this? And look how handsome these children of mine are!" (p.60). However, other 16th-century sources say that Aguilar did not actually talk to Guerrero in person, but merely sent him a message (Gómara's version) or was unable to communicate with him at all (Cortés, de Landa), since if Guerrero was indeed near Chetumal that was some 400km from Cozumel. The quote attributed to Guerrero may well be a dramatic invention of Díaz. See discussion in Romero (1992, pp.7—10).
- Later in the voyage a young woman, La Malinche, would be given to Cortés as a slave by the Chontal Maya inhabitants of the Tabasco coast. La Malinche spoke Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs and a regional lingua franca, as well as Chontal Maya, which was also understood by Aguilar. Cortés used those two to communicate with the central Mexican peoples and the Aztec court. See The Conquest of New Spain, pp.85–87.
- Belma has been tentatively identified with the modern settlement and Maya archaeological site of El Meco.
- Athena Review 1999a.
- Chamberlain 1948.
- Clendinnen 1987, 2003, p. 17.
- Clendinnen 1987, 2003, pp. 4-5.
- Clendinnen 1987, 2003, pp. 5.
- Clendinnen 1987, 2003, pp. 6.
- Clendinnen 1987, 2003, p. 11.
- Clendinnen 1987, 2003, p. 12.
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- ITMB 2000.
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- Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 768. Clendinnen 1987, 2003, p. 21.
- Clendinnen 1987, 2003, p. 23. Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 768.
- Fialko Coxemans 2003, pp. 72–73.
- Jones 2000, p. 358.
- Jones 2000, p. 351.
- Jones 2000, p. 353.
- Jones 2000, p. 352.
- Rice and Rice 2009, p. 10.
Rice 2009, p. 17.
- Cecil et al 1999, p. 788.
- Rice 2009, p. 17.
Feldman 2000, p. xxi.
- Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 774.
Jones 1998, p. 46.
Chuchiak IV 2005, p. 131.
- Jones 1998, pp. 42, 47.
- Chuchiak IV 2005, p. 132.
- Means 1917, p. 79.
- Means 1917, p. 80.
- Means 1917, p. 81.
- Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 774.
Means 1917, p. 81.
- Means 1917, p. 81.
Jones 1998, pp. 47–48.
- Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 774.
Jones 1998, p. 48.
- Jones 1998, p. 48.
- Jones 1998, pp. 48–49.
- Feldman 2000, p. 151.
- Jones 1998, pp. 111, 132–133, 145.
- Jones 1998, pp. 129–130.
- Jones 1998, pp. 130–131.
- Jones 1998, p. 131.
- Jones 1998, pp. 132, 134.
Means 1917, p. 97.
- Jones 1998, pp. 135-136, 139-140.
- Jones 1998, p. 141.
- Jones 1998, p. 140.
- Jones 1998, p. 142.
- Jones 1998, p. 143.
- Jones 1998, pp. 130, 144.
- Jones 1998, pp. 148–149.
- Jones 1998, p. 147.
- Jones 1998, p. 154.
Means 1917, pp. 117–118.
- Jones 1998, p. 154.
- Jones 1998, p. 163.
- Jones 1998, p. 162.
- Jones 1998, pp. 148, 150.
- Jones 1998, pp. 130, 151–152.
- Jones 1998, p. 152.
- Jones 1998, pp. 150, 154.
- Jones 1998, pp. 154–155.
- Jones 1998, p. 155.
- Jones 1998, p. 156.
- Jones 1998, pp. 148, 157.
Quezada 2011, p. 23.
- Jones 1998, p. 157.
- Jones 1998, p. 148.
- Jones 1998, p. 158.
- Jones 1998, pp. 158–159.
- Jones 1998, pp. 159–160.
- Jones 1998, p. 160.
- Jones 1998, pp. 160–161.
- Jones 1998, p. 187.
- Jones 1998, p. 189.
- Jones 1998, pp. 189–190.
Means 1917, p. 128.
- Jones 1998, p. 190.
- Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 775.
Jones 1998, p. 192.
- Jones 1998, p. 205.
- Jones 1998, p. 207.
- Jones 1998, pp. 209–210.
- Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 775.
Jones 1998, pp. 214–215.
- Vayhinger-Scheer 2006, 2011, p. 383.
- Sharer and Traxler 2006, pp. 775–776.
Jones 1998, pp. 218–219.
- Jones 1998, pp. 189, 226.
- Jones 1998, p. 226.
- Jones 1998, p. 227.
Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 776.
- Jones 1998, p. 227.
- Jones 1998, p. 228.
Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 776.
- Jones 1998, p. 228.
- Jones 1998, p. 229.
- Jones 1998, pp. 232–233.
- Jones 1998, p. 233.
- Jones 1998, pp. 233–234.
- Jones 1998, p. 479n59.
- Jones 1998, p. 234-235.
- Jones 1998, pp. 237–238.
- Jones 1998, pp. 238–239.
- Jones 1998, p. 240.
- Jones 1998, pp. 241–242.
- Jones 2000, p. 362.
- Jones 2009, p. 59.
Jones 1998, pp. 253, 265–266.
- Jones 1998, pp. 268–269.
- Jones 1998, pp. 252, 268.
- Jones 1998, pp. 269–270.
- Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 777.
Jones 1998, p. 295.
- Jones 1998, p. 297.
- Jones 1998, pp. 298–299.
- Jones 2009, p. 59.
- Sharer and Traxler 2006, pp. 777–778.
- Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 778.
Jones 2009, p. 59.
- Jones 1998, p. 295.
- Jones 1998, p. 306.
- Jones 1998, p. xix.
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