Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Statue of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo at the Ozama Fortress courtyard in Santo Domingo Colonial City, Dominican Republic.

Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés (August 1478 – 1557), commonly known as Oviedo, was a Spanish colonialist, historian and writer. Oviedo participated in the Spanish colonization of the Caribbean, and his chronicle Historia general de las Indias forms one of the few primary sources about it. Portions of the text were widely read in the 16th century in Spanish, English and French editions, and introduced Europeans to the hammock, the pineapple, and tobacco as well as creating influential representations of the colonised peoples of the region.

Early life[edit]

Oviedo was born in Madrid of an Asturian lineage and educated in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella.[1] He was a page to their son, the Infante John, Prince of Asturias, from about the age of fourteen until the Prince's death in 1497, and then Oviedo went to Italy for three years before returning to Spain as a bureacrat to the emerging Castilian imperial project.[1] Oviedo married first Margarite de Vergara, who died in childbirth, and then Isabel de Aguilar. Isabel and their multiple children later died within several years of joining Oviedo in America.[1]


In 1514 Oviedo was appointed supervisor of gold smeltings at Santo Domingo, and on his return to Spain in 1523 was appointed historiographer of the Indies. He paid five more visits to America before his death, in Valladolid in 1557.[2] At one point he was placed in charge of the Fortaleza Ozama, the famous fort in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where there is a large statue of him, a gift to that country from a King of Spain.

Title page of Libro de [...] Don Claribalte, (Valencia, 1519)


Oviedo's first literary work was a chivalric romance entitled, Libro del muy esforzado e invencible caballero Don Claribalte (Book of the very striving and invincible knight Don Claribalte). It was published in 1519 in Valencia by Juan Viñao, one of the prominent printers of that time. In the foreword, dedicated to Ferdinand of Aragón, Duke of Calabria (not to be confused with the King Ferdinand II of Aragon), Oviedo relates that the work had been conceived and written while he was in Santo Domingo. Therefore, it seems that this was the first literary work created in the New World.[3]

Oviedo later wrote two extensive works of permanent value, which for the most part were not published until three centuries after his death: La historia general y natural de las Indias and Las Quinquagenas de la nobleza de España. The Quinquagenas is a collection of quaint, moralizing anecdotes in which Oviedo indulges in much lively gossip concerning eminent contemporaries. It was first published at Madrid in 1880, edited by Vicente de la Fuente.[2]

General History of the Indes[edit]

Oviedo first published a smaller work, La Natural hystoria de las Indias, which was published at his expense on 15 February 1526 in Toledo.[4] This is often described as the Sumario.[1] An Italian translation of this appeared in Venice in 1534, with French editions from 1545 and English ones from 1555, although there was no second Spanish edition until 1749.[4] This 108 page work contained only a few illustrations, although it did include one of a hammock.[4] In 1535 the first part of the longer and more fully illustrated Historia general de las Indias was printed in Seville, and Oviedo had outlined two subsequent parts.[5] He continued to work in both Santo Domingo and Spain on subsequent parts and to revise the first part until his death in 1557.[5] The manuscript was kept in the Monserrate monastery for many years and then the Royal Academy of History. Surviving portions were used in the preparation of an edition published by J.A. de los Rios in 1851-185 [5]. Although some portions were known to be missing by 1780, further large portions of the manuscript which were present then are no longer in Madrid. The Huntington Library Quarterly has described the circumstances of the disposal as 'unknown'.[5] Some were sold, by a London bookseller, Maggs to Henry E. Huntington in 1926 and are now held in the Huntington Library. [6] A transcription of part of the manuscript was made in Seville by Andres Gasco before 1566 and two of the three volumes of this transcription are held in the library of the Royal Palace of Madrid.[5]

The Historia, though written in a diffuse style, furnishes a mass of information collected at first hand. Las Casas, the fellow contemporary chronicler of the Spanish colonization of the Caribbean, denounced Oviedo as "one of the greatest tyrants, thieves, and destroyers of the Indies, whose Historia contains almost as many lies as pages".[7] The incomplete Seville edition was widely read in the English and French versions published by Eden and Poleur, respectively, in 1555 and 1556.[2]

1557 cover of La historia general y natural de las Indias

It is through the Historia that Europeans came to learn about the hammock, the pineapple, and tobacco, among other things used by the Native Americans that he encountered. The first illustration of a pineapple is credited to him. Shortly after Columbus was in Hispaniola, Oviedo visited there and saw the natives using green wooden stakes lashed to a frame over a smouldering fire for cooking. The Taino word for this device was "barbacoa". There were other changes to the word including the French "Boucane".[citation needed]

MS page from Oviedo's La Natural hystoria de las Indias. Written before 1535, this MS page is the earliest known representation of a pineapple.[8] The original is in the Huntington Library.


  1. ^ a b c d Myers, Kathleen Ann (2007). Fernández de Oviedo's chronicle of America : a new history for a New World. Scott, Nina M. (1st ed.). Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-79502-0. OCLC 608836622.
  2. ^ a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Oviedo y Valdés, Gonzalo Fernandez de". Encyclopædia Britannica. 20 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 391.
  3. ^ Agustín G. de Amezúa. Introduction to the facsimile reprint of Libro de Claribalte by the Spanish Royal Academy, Madrid, 1956
  4. ^ a b c Stoudemire, Sterling A. (1969). De La Natural Hystoria De Las Indias. University of North Caroline.
  5. ^ a b c d e Carrillo, Jesús (2002). "The "Historia General y Natural de las Indias" by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo". Huntington Library Quarterly. 65 (3/4): 321–344. ISSN 0018-7895. JSTOR 3817978.
  6. ^ Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, Gonzalo (1539). Natural y General Hystoria de las Indias. Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery.
  7. ^ Liévano, 2002: 84
  8. ^ Beauman, Fran. (2005-12-27). The pineapple : king of fruits. London. ISBN 0-7011-7699-7. OCLC 61440838.


  • Liévano Aguirre, Indalecio. 2002. Los grandes conflictos sociales y económicos de nuestra historia. Volumes 3–4. Bogotá: Intermedio.

External links[edit]