Lope de Aguirre

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Lope de Aguirre
Born(1510-11-08)8 November 1510
Died27 October 1561(1561-10-27) (aged 50)
Barquisimeto, Venezuela
NationalitySpanish, Basque
Other namesThe Wrath of God, The Wanderer, El Tirano, Prince of Liberty, Madman of Onate
Occupation(s)conquistador, rebel
Known for

Lope de Aguirre (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈlope ðe aˈɣire]; 8 November 1510 – 27 October 1561) was a Basque Spanish[1] conquistador who was active in South America. Nicknamed El Loco ("the Madman"), he styled himself "Wrath of God, Prince of Freedom."[2] Aguirre is best known for his final expedition down the Amazon river in search of the mythical golden Kingdom El Dorado and Omagua.

In 1561, Aguirre led a mutiny against the expedition's commander, Pedro de Orsúa, and declared his intent to return to Peru and overthrow Spain's colonial government. He sent a letter that defied the Spanish monarch Philip II by renouncing his Spanish vassalage and declared war upon the Habsburg monarch. 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,[3][4] and has become an antihero in literature, cinema and other arts.[5]

In Spain[edit]

Aguirre was born around 1510 in the Araotz Valley (a valley and hamlet belonging to Oñati), close to Arantzazu in the province of Gipuzkoa or in Aramaio, in the Basque Country of northern Spain.[6] He was the son of a nobleman, possibly from a family of court clerks.[7] 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 early 1530s, Aguirre traveled to the Americas under the sponsorship of Viceroy Antonio Hurtado de Mendoza, arriving in Cartagena.

In the New World[edit]

Aguirre probably enlisted in an expedition of 250 men chosen to serve under the command of Rodrigo Duran.[8] 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.[4] As a conquistador, however, he soon became infamous for his violence, cruelty, and sedition against the Crown.[9]

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.[10][11] 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 18 January 1546.[12][13]

Aguirre and Melchor Verdugo had gone to Nicaragua sailing to Trujillo with 33 men.[14][15] 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,[16] who would later participate in the expedition of Pedro de Ursúa to Omagua and El Dorado.[17][18] 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.[19] 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.[14]

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.[20] 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.[21][22][23] 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 Chuquingua against Girón, resulting in an incurable limp that would cause his peers to ostracise him.[24]

Search for El Dorado[edit]

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;[25] 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. A year later, Aguirre participated in the overthrow and killing of Ursúa and his successor, Fernando de Guzmán, whom he ultimately succeeded.[26][27] He and his men reached the Atlantic (probably by the Orinoco River). On 23 March 1561, Aguirre urged 186 officers and soldiers to sign a statement acknowledging him as "Prince of Peru, Tierra Firme and Chile".[28]

In 1561, he seized Isla Margarita and suppressed any opposition to his reign, killing the governor. 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 killed his daughter, Elvira,[29] "because someone that I loved so much should not come to be bedded by uncouth people". He was eventually captured by royalist forces and shot to death by his own soldier, Custodio Hernandez; his body was beheaded and cut into quarters with pieces being sent to nearby towns as a warning. According to the account of Fray Pedro Simón, the skull of Aguirre remained in the town square of Valencia at least forty years after his demise.[30][31] In a post-mortem trial of residence held in El Tocuyo, Aguirre was found guilty of the crime of Lèse-majesté. In Mérida and El Tocuyo several of his soldiers were brought to trial, found guilty of the crimes committed and sentenced to death by dismemberment.

Popular culture[edit]

Aguirre has been portrayed in film three times: by Klaus Kinski in the allegorical film Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972),[32] by Omero Antonutti in El Dorado (1988), and by Édgar Ramírez in Jungle Cruise (2021).[33]

Aguirre's ill-fated voyage is the topic of Robert Southey's book The Expedition of Orsua; and the Crimes of Aguirre (1821), of Ramón J. Sender's 1968 Spanish-language novel La aventura equinoccial de Lope de Aguirre (ISBN 978-8421818404) and of Stephen Minta's 1995 book Aguirre: The Re-Creation of a Sixteenth-Century Journey Across South America (ISBN 978-0805031041), in which Minta retraces the expedition.


  1. ^ Mari Carmen Ramirez; Tomas Ybarra-Frausto; Hector Olea (24 April 2012). Resisting Categories: Latin American and/or Latino?. Yale University Press. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-300-18715-1.
  2. ^ Charles Nicholl (23 June 1997). The Creature in the Map: A Journey to El Dorado. University of Chicago Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-226-58025-8.
  3. ^ "Lope de Aguirre". (2010). He was subsequently transformed into a symbol of resistance against Spanish rule in Latin America under Simon Bolivar. In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 8 October 2010, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/9899/Lope-de-Aguirre
  4. ^ a b Bart L. Lewis (2003). The Miraculous Lie: Lope de Aguirre and the Search for El Dorado in the Latin American Historical Novel. Lexington Books. pp. 7–8. ISBN 978-0-7391-0787-4.
  5. ^ Thomas Gómez (2009). "Génesis de un antihéroe: Lope de Aguirre entre crónicas, literatura, cine y otras artes". In Guillermo Serés, Mercedes Serna Arnáiz (ed.). Los límites del océano: estudios filológicos de crónica y épica en el nuevo mundo. Centro para la Edición de los Clásicos Españoles. pp. 65–74. ISBN 978-84-936665-2-1.
  6. ^ José Manuel Azcona Pastor (2004). Possible Paradises: Basque Emigration to Latin America. University of Nevada Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-87417-444-1.
  7. ^ Theodoor de Booy (1919). Robertson, James Alexander (ed.). "Lope de Aguirre". The Hispanic American Historical Review. Board of Editors of The Hispanic American Historical Review. 2: 639.
  8. ^ Demetrio Ramos (1958). "Lope de Aguirre en Cartagena de Indias y su primera rebelión" (PDF). Revista de Indias. 18: 519.
  9. ^ Hugo R. Cortés; Eduardo Godoy; Mariela Insúa Cereceda (2008). Rebeldes y aventureros: del Viejo al Nuevo Mundo. Iberoamericana Editorial. p. 84. ISBN 978-84-8489-390-5.
  10. ^ Sherwin K. Bryant (2014). Rivers of Gold, Lives of Bondage: Governing Through Slavery in Colonial Quito. UNC Press Books. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-4696-0772-6.
  11. ^ Lesley Byrd Simpson (1982). The Encomienda in New Spain: The Beginning of Spanish Mexico. University of California Press. pp. 132–133. ISBN 978-0-520-04630-6.
  12. ^ Indalecio Liévano Aguirre (5 August 2015). Los grandes conflictos sociales y económicos de nuestra historia: Tomo I. Tercer Mundo Editores. p. 44. ISBN 978-1-5078-2237-1.
  13. ^ Kenneth J. Andrien (2001). Andean Worlds: Indigenous History, Culture, and Consciousness Under Spanish Rule, 1532-1825. University of New Mexico Press. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-8263-2358-3.
  14. ^ a b Gabriel Sánchez Sorondo (1 January 2010). Historia oculta de la conquista de América. Ediciones Nowtilus S.L. p. 120. ISBN 978-84-9763-601-8.
  15. ^ Miguel Otero Silva; Efraín Subero (1 January 1985). Casas muertas: Lope de Aguirre, príncipe de la libertad. Fundacion Biblioteca Ayacuch. p. 128. ISBN 978-84-660-0130-4.
  16. ^ James Lockhart (18 December 2013). The Men of Cajamarca: A Social and Biographical Study of the First Conquerors of Peru. University of Texas Press. p. 332. ISBN 978-0-292-76117-9.
  17. ^ Bart L. Lewis (2003). The Miraculous Lie: Lope de Aguirre and the Search for El Dorado in the Latin American Historical Novel. Lexington Books. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-7391-0787-4.
  18. ^ Works Issued by the Hakluyt Society. The Society. 1861. p. 35.
  19. ^ Elsa Eufemann-Barria (16 October 2014). Orellana, Ursúa y Lope de Aguirre: Sus hazañas novelescas por el río Amazonas (siglo XVI). p. 192. ISBN 978-84-940067-1-5.
  20. ^ L.E. Elliot (January 1922). "Lope de Aguirre, The Traitor: A Tragedy of Exploration in the Americas". The Pan-American Magazine. Vol. XXXIV (1 ed.). Pan_American Magazine. p. 10.
  21. ^ Evan Connell (1 July 2015). Aztec Treasure House. Counterpoint LLC. p. 202. ISBN 978-1-61902-691-9.
  22. ^ Robert Silverberg (1996). The Golden Dream: Seekers of El Dorado. Ohio University Press. p. 209. ISBN 9780821411704.
  23. ^ Miguel Navarro Viola (1865). Revista de Buenos Aires: Historia Americana, literatura, derecho y veriedades. Mayo. p. 554.
  24. ^ Americas (English Ed.). Organization of American States. 1963. p. 31.
  25. ^ Beatriz Pastor; Sergio Callau (1 January 2011). Lope de Aguirre y la rebelión de los marañones. Parkstone International. pp. 1524–1525. ISBN 978-84-9740-535-5.
  26. ^ William A. Douglass; Jon Bilbao (2005). Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World. University of Nevada Press. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-87417-625-4.
  27. ^ Elena Mampel González; Neus Escandell Tur (1 January 1981). Lope de Aguirre: Crónicas, 1559-1561. Edicions Universitat Barcelona. p. 132. ISBN 978-84-85411-51-1.
  28. ^ Gabriel Sánchez Sorondo (1 January 2010). Historia oculta de la conquista de América. Ediciones Nowtilus S.L. p. 124. ISBN 978-84-9763-601-8.
  29. ^ Elena Mampel González; Neus Escandell Tur (1 January 1981). Lope de Aguirre: Crónicas, 1559-1561. Edicions Universitat Barcelona. p. 273. ISBN 978-84-85411-51-1.
  30. ^ Lewis 2003, p. 18
  31. ^ Roberto Gonzalez Echevarría (13 September 1996). The Cambridge History of Latin American Literature. Cambridge University Press. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-521-34069-4.
  32. ^ Aguirre, the Wrath of God at AllMovie
  33. ^ "Festival de Cannes: El Dorado". festival-cannes.com. Archived from the original on 3 October 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2012.


  • Galster, Ingrid (1996). Aguirre oder Die Willkür der Nachwelt. Die Rebellion des baskischen Konquistadors Lope de Aguirre in Historiographie und Geschichtsfiktion (1561–1992). Frankfurt am Main: Vervuert Verlag, ISBN 3-89354-075-X
  • Galster, Ingrid (2011). Aguirre o La posteridad arbitraria. La rebelión del conquistador vasco Lope de Aguirre en historiografía y ficción histórica (1561-1992). Bogotá: Ed. Universidad del Rosario and Ed. Universidad Javeriana, ISBN 978-958-738-204-4 (also available as eBook).
  • Martinez Tolentino, Jaime (2016). Dos cronicas desconocidas de Lope de Aguirre. Madrid: Editorial Fundamentos, 2012. ISBN 978-8424512613.

External links[edit]