Lope de Aguirre
Lope de Aguirre (8 November 1510 – 27 October 1561) was a Basque Spanish conquistador who was active in South America. Nicknamed El Loco ('the Madman'), he styled himself "Wrath of God, Prince of Freedom, King of Tierra Firme". Aguirre is best known for his final expedition down the Amazon river in search of the mythical golden King El Dorado. In 1561 Aguirre sent a letter which defied the Spanish monarch Philip II by declaring an independent state of Peru. Aguirre's expedition ended with his death, and in the years since then he has been treated by historians as a symbol of cruelty and treachery in the early history of colonial Spanish America, and has become an antihero in literature, cinema and other arts.
Aguirre was born around 1510 in the Araotz Valley (a valley and hamlet belonging to Oñati), close to Arantzazu in the province of Gipuzkoa, in the Basque Country of northern Spain. He was the son of a nobleman, possibly from a family of court clerks. Aguirre was in his twenties and living in Seville when Hernando Pizarro returned from Peru and brought back the treasures of the Incas, inspiring Aguirre to follow in his footsteps.
In the New World
Aguirre probably enlisted in an expedition of 250 men chosen to serve under the command of Rodrigo Duran. He arrived in Peru in 1536 or 1537. Aguirre got work "breaking" stallions in Cuzco, the capital of Nuevo Toledo, and was appointed regidor (alderman) of the city. As a conquistador, however, he soon became infamous for his violence, cruelty, and sedition against the Crown.
In 1544, Aguirre was at the side of Peru's first viceroy, Blasco Núñez Vela, who had arrived from Spain with orders to implement the New Laws, suppress the Encomiendas, and liberate the natives from slavery. Many of the conquistadors refused to implement these laws, which prohibited them from exploiting the Indians. Aguirre, however, took part in the plot with Melchor Verdugo to free the viceroy (who had been imprisoned on the island of San Lorenzo), and thus turned against Gonzalo Pizarro (the leader of the anti-viceroy/New Laws faction). After the failed attempt, they escaped from Lima to Cajamarca, and started to gather men to help the viceroy. In the meantime, thanks to the oidor Alvarez, the viceroy had escaped to Tumbes and gathered a small military force in the belief that all the country would rise up to defend the Crown under the royal flag. The viceroy's resistance to Pizarro and his deputy Francisco de Carvajal, the infamous "el demonio de los Andes" ("demon of the Andes") would last for two years until he was defeated in Añaquito on January 18, 1546.
Aguirre and Melchor Verdugo, a converso Jew, had gone to Nicaragua sailing to Trujillo with 33 men. Verdugo had conferred captain's rank on Rodrigo de Esquivel and Nuño de Guzmán, sergeant major rank on Aguirre and contador status on the cleric Alonso de Henao, who would later participate in the expedition of Pedro de Ursúa to Omagua and El Dorado. However, in 1551, Aguirre returned to Potosí (then still part of Peru and now part of Bolivia). The judge, Francisco de Esquivel, arrested him and charged him with infraction of the laws protecting the Indians. The judge discounted Aguirre's justifications and his claims of belonging to the Spanish gentry and sentenced him to a public flogging. His pride wounded, Aguirre waited for the end of the judge's mandate to avenge his honor. Fearing Aguirre's vengeance, the judge fled, changing his residence constantly.
Aguirre pursued Esquivel to Lima, Quito and then to Cuzco, missing him at all three places. For three years he trailed Esquivel on foot and without shoes, his soldiers following this obstinate pursuit with interest. Aguirre finally found him in Cuzco, taking a nap in the library of his house, and wearing a coat of chain mail he always wore for fear of Aguirre. Aguirre crept up to the sleeping Esquivel and stabbed him twice with a dagger, but when the mail stopped his blows to the former magistrate's body, he stabbed him in the right temple and killed him. Protected by friends who had hidden him, Aguirre fled from Cuzco and took refuge with a relative in Huamanga.
In 1554, needing to put down the rebellion of Hernández Girón, Alonso de Alvarado secured a pardon for everyone who had been affiliated with Aguirre and enlisted in his army. Aguirre fought and was wounded by two musket shots at the battle of Chuquinga against Girón, resulting in an incurable limp that would cause his peers to ostracise him.
Search for El Dorado
Together with his daughter Elvira, Aguirre joined the 1560 expedition of Pedro de Ursúa down the Marañón and Amazon Rivers with 300 Spaniards and hundreds of natives; the actual goal of Ursúa was to send idle veterans from the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire away, to keep them from trouble-making, using the El Dorado myth as a lure. A year later, Aguirre participated in the overthrow and killing of Ursúa and his successor, Fernando de Guzmán, whom he ultimately succeeded. He and his men reached the Atlantic (probably by the Orinoco River), destroying native villages on the way. On March 23, 1561, Aguirre urged 186 officers and soldiers to sign a statement acknowledging him as "Prince of Peru, Tierra Firme and Chile".
In 1561, he seized Isla Margarita and brutally suppressed any opposition to his reign, killing the governor and many innocent people. When he crossed to the mainland in an attempt to take Panama, his open rebellion against the Spanish crown came to an end. He was surrounded at Barquisimeto, Venezuela, where he murdered his own daughter, Elvira, "because someone that I loved so much should not come to be bedded by uncouth people". He also killed several followers who intended to capture him. He was eventually captured and shot to death; his body was beheaded and cut into quarters with pieces being sent to nearby towns as a warning.
Aguirre's ill-fated voyage is the topic of Ramón J. Sender's 1968 Spanish-language novel La aventura equinocial de Lope de Aguirre and of Stephen Minta's 1995 book Aguirre: The Re-Creation of a Sixteenth-Century Journey Across South America, in which Minta retraces the expedition.
Aguirre was also featured in the educational video game The Amazon Trail.
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|Wikisource has the text of a 1905 New International Encyclopedia article about Lope de Aguirre.|