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The diplomatic history of America : its first chapter 1452-1493-1494 online

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the accession of Alexander VI. to the
Papal chair ; the Spaniards, particularly,
who are his countrymen, are proud
of it.

" Spain is a land fertile in illustrious
men. Under the shield of her august
sovereigns, she pursues the course of her
destinies. The aid of God has never
been wanting to her. Christ, likewise,

of America 5 3

has placed under her sway the Fortunate
Islands [Canary], the fertility of which
is known and appreciated."

Now comes the passage which affords
greater interest to Americanists, and
refers more direcftly to the subjeft of the
present disquisition :

"And Christ has lately revealed other
unknown islands in the Indies, which
may be considered among the most
precious things on earth, and it is hoped
that they will soon be converted to the
Christian Religion."

After this brief allusion to the memor
able discovery of the New World,
Ferdinand and Isabella lay at the feet of
His Holiness all they possess on earth
and on the seas ; not only their king
doms, treasures, fleet and armies, but
also their sons and royal persons, which
they beg of him to employ for the full
maintenance and exaltation of the Apos
tolic See, and to promote all the wishes
of His Holiness. Of all the favours
which Heaven has lavished on them,

54 The Diplomatic History

there is none which they prize so highly
as that of announcing to the universe
that the princes of Spain are his most
devoted children. At the same time
theybeghim to turn his attention towards
the reform of the Church.

Finally, the reverend orator, addressing
himself directly to Alexander VI., ends
with the following peroration : " Roman
calf, supreme pontiff, at whose feet to
day and for ever the Spanish lion humbles
himself, let all thy acts be inspired by
the little infant Jesus, our Lord, so that
thou mayest acquire at the same time
temporal as well as spiritual glory with
the aid of Him who is blessed throughout
all ages." 61

of America 55



THE discontent of the King of Portugal
was, naturally, very great. Modern
historians dwell with complacency on the
state of his mind, and of his efforts to
vindicate the rights of the Crown.

Joao II. is represented as having pre
pared a fleet, under the pretence of an
expedition to Africa, but in reality in
tended to seize upon the countries recently
discovered by Columbus. 62 That to
lull suspicion, Ruy de Sande had been
sent as ambassador to the Spanish Court 63
for the apparent purpose of procuring
certain articles from Spain for this
African expedition, whilst his real object
consisted in proposing a settlement of
the present difficulties by establishing a

56 The Diplomatic History

Line of Demarcation between their do
minions. This line, it seems, was to be
latitudinal, instead of longitudinal, con
trary to the line which the Pope had
fixed, and to be traced on the parallel of
the Canaries, reserving the north of that
line to the Spaniards, and the south to
the Portuguese.

Then, as regards Spain, Ferdinand of
Aragon, anticipating the real designs of
Joao II. , not less wily than himself, is
said to have dispatched Lope de Herrera
to Lisbon, furnished with double instruc
tions, and with two letters of widely
opposite tenor, which he was to use
according to circumstances. Thereupon
a keen diplomatic game ensued between
the two sovereigns ; the King of Portu
gal going so far as to bribe the counsellors
of Ferdinand and Isabella^ But Ferdi
nand s objeft was attained, as he only
wished to gain time for the departure of
Columbus on his second voyage. In
the meanwhile Joao II., having found
that the King of Aragon was foiling

of America 57

him, sent an embassy to the Pope to
implore redress, etc., etc.

These details rest exclusively on the
statements of two historians, Zurita and
Herrera, the latter simply copying or
paraphrasing the former, and both writ
ing at least eighty years after the events.
Their accounts, thus far, have not been
corroborated by documentary proofs,
either in Spain or Portugal, notwith
standing arduous researches instituted in
the archives of those countries, and that
at a time 64 when they had not suffered
from the depredations committed during
the Napoleonic war.

Let us add that Joao II. was not the
crafty and unscrupulous king which
schemes of that character would make
him to be. On the contrary, he was
frank and chivalrous to such a degree
as to be called by Isabella herself " the
Perfeft Prince." Ferdinand, on the
other hand, was an astute politician ;
and his historian, Geronimo de Zurita,
has been justly accused of subser-

58 The Diplomatic History

viency. Throughout the volume of his
Annals devoted to Ferdinand, can be
detected an intention to extol the supe
rior genius and diplomacy of that king.
Zurita s account of the transactions may
well have been influenced therefore by
such a feeling.

The only positive information is to be
derived from Ruy de Pina, as he was
one of the Portuguese ambassadors and
an historian of high character. A few
additional details can also be found in
authentic documents of the time. The
facls are these :

About y a month after the interview
with Columbus, the festival of Easter
being over, JoSo II. held a council of
ministers at Torres Vedras, in which it was
decided to equip openly a large fleet to
vindicate the rights of Portugal over the
newly-found countries. The ships were
at once made ready, and placed under
the command of Francisco de Almeida.

A fortnight afterwards Ferdinand and
Isabella were informed by the Duke of

I of America 59

Medina-Sidonia of the fitting out of the
Portuguese fleet, and of its real object.
They immediately dispatched to Lisbon 65
a gentleman of their household, Lope
de Herrera, with a letter addressed to
Joa"o II., asking for an explanation,
requesting him to send ambassadors to
them and to postpone all action until
his envoys had been shown Spain s
reasons and rights in the matter of those
transatlantic discoveries. They expressed
the wish that he would meanwhile issue
a proclamation forbidding his subjects
to visit the regions now belonging to
the Crown of Castile, by virtue of the
discoveries accomplished by Christopher
Columbus. 66 The King of Portugal
replied that his desire was that each
should have what belonged to him
(" que cada uno tenga lo que le per-
tenece ").

Accordingly, he appointed two am
bassadors, Dr. Pero Diis or Diaz, and
Ruy de Pina, and promised not to send
the fleet to sea until they had arrived in

60 The Diplomatic History

Barcelona ; Zurita says not before sixty
days had elapsed.

On the 2nd of May the Catholic
Sovereigns thanked the Duke of Medina-
Sidonia for his information, accepted his
offer of all the caravels in his dominions
to check the projedt of the King of Por
tugal, and requested that they might be
kept in readiness in case of emergency.

Less than a month afterwards Their
Majesties were informed that the Portu
guese fleet had sailed out. Columbus
received the same information, ap
parently from a different source. It was
erroneous, but instructions were sent to
Bishop Fonseca to cause the armaments
of Portugal to be watched, and should a
fleet really be fitted out, to have one
twice as strong prepared in Seville to
accompany Columbus on his second

In course of the following month,
Columbus wrote to Ferdinand and Isa
bella that a Portuguese caravel had
a6tually sailed from Madeira on a voyage

of America 61

of discovery. The ambassadors of Joao
II., having been interrogated on the sub
ject, replied that it was contrary to the
orders of the King, who, upon hearing
of the departure of that caravel, had
sent at once three caravels to overtake
her. Their Majesties were of opinion,
nevertheless, that this was a blind, and
that Joao II. in reality intended to make
discoveries in the regions visited by
Columbus. The Portuguese ambas
sadors, although dispatched in June, did
not reach the Spanish Court until
August I5, 67 having come by sea all the
way, it seems, from Lisbon to Barcelona.
The negotiations commenced on the
1 8th, and soon assumed a technical cha-
rafter, if we may judge from the request
which Cardinal de Mendoza sent to the
celebrated cosmographer, Jaime Ferrer,
to come at once to the Court with his
mappamundi and scientific instruments. 68
Their Majesties at the same time wrote
a letter to Columbus, urging him to
forward to them the degrees [of latitude

62 The Diplomatic History

and longitude] 69 of the islands and
countries which he had discovered, and
the [number of] degrees he had travelled
over in his voyage. But Columbus, who
was not disposed to make known those
scientific as well as practical details, did
not comply with that just and indis
pensable request.

Ferdinand and Isabella soon became
convinced that the Portuguese envoys
were not sufficiently informed on the
subject, or, to use Their Majesties own
expression, " they had come without
having first been made aware of what
belonged to Spain." 70 Meanwhile,
Ferdinand and Isabella were planning
the extension of the Bull of May 4 for
reasons of a very serviceable character,
which they stated to Columbus, as
follows :

" Since the conferences held with the
Portuguese ambassadors, some say that
between the cape called of Good Hope
by the Portuguese, which is on [sic
pro beyond] the route they now follow

of America 63

to reach the Gold Mine and Guinea
southward, and the line which you say
should have been in the Papal Bull,
there may be islands and main lands,
which, on account of their position
under the sun, are believed to be of
great advantage and richer than all the
others. And as we are aware that you
know more than anyone else on the
subject, we request you to send us at
once your opinion regarding the same,
because if it seems to you that this
matter is as it is thought to be, the Bull
should be amended." n

The reply which Columbus sent to
his sovereigns unfortunately has not
reached us. 72 But we may fairly assume
that he approved of the suggestion to
have the Bull modified in the sense pro
posed. Judging from the allusion to
the line which, according to his notions,
should have been traced in the Bull of
May 4, we must believe that he re
gretted to see it fixed so far to the
westward, and disapproved consequently

64 The Diplomatic History

even of the margin of 100 leagues granted
to Portugal by the Pope.

The probability is that Ferdinand and
Isabella immediately forwarded to Rome
a request to have the Bull of May 4 so
amended as to include in the donation
made to Spain, lands and islands situate
more to the eastward.

Alexander VI. granted their request
by a fourth Bull, dated September 25,
1493, which is known at present only
by a Spanish translation made August 30,
1554, by one Gracian, doubtless Diego
Gracian de Aldrete, then secretary of
Philip II. for foreign languages. 73 That
translation bears the title of " Exten
sion de la concesion y donacion Apos-
tolica de las Indias," 74 and was preserved
in the registers at Simancas, among
the papers of the Patronato Real. The
time when the translation was made
leads us to believe that the original Latin
text must have really been in the State
archives ; for in the middle of the six
teenth century there was no reason for

of America 65

committing a forgery of that character.
But the archivists failed to find it for us
at Simancas or at Seville. What is worse,
there are no traces of that important
Bull, so far as known, either in the
Vatican or Lateran, notwithstanding ar
duous researches undertaken at the time
of the Quatercentenary, and since, at our

This is so much the more to be re
gretted as the preamble and subscription
would have enabled us to ascertain the
intrinsic character of the Bull. Nor
should we forget that under the pon
tificate of Alexander VI. the fabrication
of false apostolical letters, even by
bishops, was a common thing 75 and that
these forgeries were put in circulation
without the least scruple. Withal, we
feel constrained to believe that this
Bull has really existed in an authentic
form. Its importance is great indeed,
as there is no longer in its articles
question of the Line of Demarcation, and
the Pope abrogates therein, tacitly, the

66 The Diplomatic History

rights reserved to Portugal by the old
apostolical letters. Thus, the field of
maritime discoveries is extended in favour
of Spain as far as the regions in the East,
including India. 76 The terms and mo
tives of this new extension deserve to
be stated literally. Addressing himself
to the Catholic Sovereigns, Alexander VI.

" But as it may happen that your
deputies, captains or vassals may, in
navigating westwards or southwards, sail
in the direction of the East, reach the
same, and discover there islands and main
lands belonging to India. . . . We am
plify the donation and extend it with
all its clauses to all the islands and main
lands whatever, discovered or to be dis
covered, which in sailing westwards or
southwards are or appear in the western,
or southern, or eastern parts, and in
those of India." 77 -

Portugal therefore possessed hence
forth only the route to the East Indies
by the Cape of Good Hope which Bar-

of America 67

tholomew Dias had discovered in 1487.
And if the belief, then universal, had
been true, that the Atlantic Ocean bathed
the Asiatic regions in the west, and
if Columbus in his subsequent voyages
had landed after September, 1493, in the
islands of the Indian Seas, or even on the
east coast of Africa, Spain would have
been the absolute rightful sovereign of all
those countries, the Bulls issued in favour
of Portugal by Nicholas V. and Sixtus IV.
to the contrary notwithstanding.

There is a clause showing, above all
others, how erroneous is the idea gener
ally entertained that it was in the mind
of Alexander VI. to protect the rights
which Portugal held from previous popes.

In the Bull of May 4, His Holiness
declared that the donation made to Spain
should be deemed valid, in spite of all
other apostolic constitutions and ordin
ances and all things of an opposite
character (" non obstantibus constitu-
tionibus et ordinationibus apostolicis
csterisque contrariis quibuscumque ").

68 The Diplomatic History

These words, strong as they certainly
are, were not sufficiently forcible, it
seems; for in the Bull of September 25,
the declaration is in these terms : "Not
withstanding all apostolical constitutions
and ordinances, and whatever donations,
concessions, powers and assignments made
by us or by our predecessors to any Kings,
Princes, Infants, or other persons, orders
or military bodies whatever, and for any
cause whatsoever, be it even for reasons
of religious faith or reverence."

It is by this Bull, and not that of
Leo X., granted to Portugal, Novem
ber 3, 1514, that the Line of Demarca
tion may be said to have been virtually
superseded, and the validity of the rights
of discovery and conquest established.
For the sentence in the Bull of Leo X.,
granting to Portugal " all past and future
conquests and discoveries not only from
Cape Bojador to the [country of the]
Indians but every where else, even in
parts then unknown," is not more com
prehensive than the phrase in the Bull of


of America 69

Alexander VI. of September 25, 1493,
granting to Spain " all islands and main
lands whatever discovered or to be dis
covered in the West, in the South and in
the East."

At all events this is certainly the in
terpretation which in Spain was given
to that clause, even after the signing of
the Treaty of Tordesillas. Thus, in the
opinion drafted by Jaime Ferrer for Fer
dinand and Isabella, February 28, 1495,
he says that his understanding of the
treaty is that everything in the East
shall belong to Spain, if her ships first
go there : " Y la otra parte por Occi-
dente fasta tornar por Oriente la vuelta
del sinu arabico, sera de los Reyes
nuestros, si sus navios primero alia nave-

70 The Diplomatic History



WE do not know whether the Portu
guese ambassadors, or even Joao II., was
made aware of this fresh concession on
the part of Alexander VI. If he was,
and if, as Zurita says, he had caused
efforts to be made at Rome to obtain a
right to maritime conquests in the west
of the Atlantic Ocean, the disappoint
ment must have been very great.

As Ferdinand and Isabella had anti
cipated, the Portuguese ambassadors soon
set out from Barcelona for home, to
consult with the King of Portugal ; but
it is not known whether they were
prompted by this new aspecl of the case,
of which they may still have been ignorant.

of America 71

A couple of months afterwards, the
Catholic Sovereigns, without waiting for
the return to Spain of Dias and Pina,
sent to Lisbon an embassy of their own,
composed of Garcia de Carvajal 78 and
Pedro de Ayala, who, two years later,
whilst Spanish ambassador in England,
had intercourse with John Cabot, and
kept Their Majesties informed of his
projects, as well as of his transatlantic
discoveries under the flag of Henry VII.

Zurita relates that the embassy left
Barcelona on November 2, 1493, being
preceded by a gentleman of the royal
household, called Garcia de Herrera, to
prepare Joao II. to receive the Spanish
envoys. He also says that a few days
after their arrival the parties settled
among themselves the demarcation :
" tomo entre ellos el asiento de la de-
rnarcacion." If so, we should not place
faith in the anecdote first related by
Garcia de Resende, 79 that after the am
bassadors had delivered their credentials
and were retiring from his presence, the

72 The Diplomatic History

king looked at them contemptuously,
and said : "This embassy from our cousin
wants both head and feet," alluding to
Carvajal, who was, in his opinion, of
weak intellect, and to Ayala, who was
lame of one leg.

Be that as it may, more than four
months elapsed before a&ual steps were
taken by the King of Portugal to bring
about a final settlement, as it was not
until the 8th of March, 1494, that he
appointed commissioners to repair to
Barcelona and negotiate the treaty with
Ferdinand and Isabella.

The Portuguese embassy this time was
composed of Ruy de Sousa, his son
Joao de Sousa, and Arias de Almadana,
with Estevao Vaz for secretary. They
were empowered to divide with Spain
in a precise manner the sea contain
ing the islands discovered and to be dis
covered ("que la mar en que las dichas
islas estan y fueren halladas, se parta y
marque entre nosotros en alguna buena,
cierta y limitada manera.") 80

of America 73

The Portuguese ambassadors, it seems,
carried out the negotiations direct with
Ferdinand and Isabella at Medina del
Campo. And it was only when the
parties had come to terms that deputies
were appointed to act on behalf of Spain.
On June 5, the Catholic Sovereigns exe
cuted the necessary powers appointing to
that office Henrique Henriquez, Gutierre
de Cardenas, and Dr. Rodrigo Maldonado
de Talavera, who had been one of the
experts selected by Queen Isabella to
examine the projects of Columbus in


As regards what followed, we possess
no information whatever, beyond the fact
that two days only after the required
powers had been given by Ferdinand and
Isabella to their deputies, a meeting was
held at Tordesillas, a town of old Castile
not far from Valladolid, and the treaty
signed immediately, on the jth of June,


74 The Diplomatic History



IT is generally believed that by the Bull
of Demarcation, Alexander VI. divided
the terrestrial globe in two parts, and
gave, in solido, one to Spain and the other
to Portugal ; excepting, however, what
then belonged already to the princes of
Christendom. 82

It does not seem that the terms of the
Bull of May 4, or any other, involved
such an absolute meaning. We think
that the donation : " Omnes insulas et
terras firmas inventas et inveniendas, de-
teftas et detegendas," must be under
stood to apply only to the islands and
main lands which Spain and Portugal had
discovered, and those which one or the
other of these two nations should discover
in future.

of America 75

In the Bulls of May, 1493, mention is
made only of the West, North- West and
South-West. But it was already known
that the earth was a sphere ; and it was
sufficient to look at one of the geo
graphical globes which, since the time of
the Arabs could be easily obtained almost
everywhere in Europe, to become con
vinced that the Spanish navigators would
not fail, some day or other, to reach the
eastern regions which ancient Bulls
seemed to have granted to Portugal.
This was so much the more certain that
all the globes, mappamundi and plani
spheres of the time, ignoring, of course,
the existence of the American continent,
represented the Atlantic Ocean as bath
ing the shores of Europe and those of
Asia. Nay, it was that cartographic repre
sentation which, as is well known, sug
gested to Toscanelli and to Christopher
Columbus the idea of reaching by a west
ern route Cathay and the islands of India.

We must assume that the scientists of
the Holy See were not long in seeing the

76 The Diplomatic History

consequences of the Bulls inter ccetera
from that point of view. A ready means
to avoid complications would have been
to state, however erroneous the compu
tation might have proved to be, where
the East commenced ; and since they had
thought of a line of demarcation as the
initial point, to continue it to the other
hemisphere. That notion, however, in
volved consequences which the Church
was not yet disposed to accept; for it
would have been an official recognition
of the existence of the antipodes. The
probability therefore is that the partition
was based upon a plane chart, regardless
of the sphericity of the earth. 83

On the other hand, when we weigh
the terms of all the Bulls of concession,
we find that although the substratum, so
to speak, is the universal sovereignty
assumed by the Holy See, yet the portion
of that sovereignty transferred either to
Spain or Portugal by the apostolic letters
is made practically subservient to the
right of discovery. 84 This, of course,

of America 77

left to the contracting parties sufficient
authority to dispose, independently of all
interference on the part of the Pope, of
the lands and islands already discovered.
It must also be inferred that Spain and
Portugal considered themselves as at
liberty to enlarge or to contrail their
sphere of aftion, with each other s con
sent, in anticipation of any discovery
which one or the other might make in the
future. True it is that they intended to
beg the Pope to confirm by special Bulls
all arrangements to that effecft ; but it
seems to us to have been chiefly to guard
against the intrusion of other Christian
princes. Be that as it may, it was on
this basis that the Treaty of Tordesillas
w# made.

.xjn the preamble of that treaty, the
contracting parties simply agree to enter
into an agreement for the sake of peace
and concord, and without any reference
whatever to existing rights, or to papal
Bulls granted at any time. Nor is there
any mention of the demarcation line pre-

78 The Diplomatic History

viously fixed by Alexander VI., and still
less, of course, of an extension westwards
of the same./ Spain and Portugal stipu
late, as if it were the first time that the
question of limits had ever been mooted,
in this wise :

" That in the Ocean sea there shall be
drawn and marked a band or line, straight
from Pole to Pole, from the Arctic Pole
to the Antarctic Pole, that is, from North
to South ; which band or line and mark
shall have to be and is [hereby] estab
lished straightly, as aforesaid, at [a dis
tance of] three hundred and seventy
leagues west from the Cape Verde
Islands, by [means of geometrical] de
grees or otherwise, as best or more
promptly can be done, but so as not to
[cover] more [space]." 85

It was further agreed that within ten
months, one or two caravels, with pilots,
astronomers and mariners on board, should
be sent by Spain and by Portugal to meet
at the Grand Canary, and proceed thence
due west to the agreed distance of three

of America 79

hundred and seventy leagues from the
Cape Verde Islands, and mark there the
limit in degrees, or in leagues, as should
be found more convenient, commencing

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Online LibraryHenry HarrisseThe diplomatic history of America : its first chapter 1452-1493-1494 → online text (page 3 of 11)