James W. (James William) Buel.

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That great enterprise, most famous of all his ambitions, he
declared he could yet undertake and accompHsh if her
Highness, after the manner of her noble mother, would hear
him for his cause. Nothing in human history has a touch
of greater sublimity than this dying passion of a decrepit
and worn-out man, rising as it were from the couch of his
penury and despair to place himself at the head of an
army of Spanish crusaders to wrest the City of David from
the hated Moslemites.

It is on record that the appeal of Columbus had its due
effect upon the princess and her husband. They gave as-
surances that the cause of the Admiral should receive their
earliest attention, the sincerity of which declaration was
shown in the cordial reception of Don Bartholomew and
the great interest which the communication evidently ex-
cited. But however encouraging the reply of their High-
nesses, he for whom the tidings were intended was never to
know the results of the message which his brother was pre-
pared to bring from the daughter of Isabella. It may well
be believed that the expiring force of his great spirit was
exhausted in the composition of the letter to Juana and her
husband. At all events, after the departure of Bartholo-
mew he sank back upon his couch and never again rallied
to his accustomed animation. He was able between the
first and middle of May to prepare one or possibly two
codicils to his will, in which he made a more particular dis-
position of his property. He divided his possessions as
though all the revenues to which he was entitled would be
paid to his legitimate heirs, and he consequently made pro-
vision not only for his immediate but even remote relatives,
and besides setting aside an annuity for his brothers and


Dofia Beatrix Enriquez, mother of Fernando, he ordered that
certain sums might be used for the benefit of others to whom
he had become indebted, and also for the estabhshing of a
charitable institution in Genoa. Besides these bequests the
Admiral gave small sums to certain companions and serv-
ants whose fidelity had won his trust, among these being
Bartholomew Fiesco, the companion of Diego Mendez in
the perilous canoe voyage from Jamaica to Hispaniola; nor
did he forget Diego Mendez, whom he recommended to
the sovereigns for appointment as governor of some of the
West Indian possessions.

Thus was accomplished the last act in the life of Christo-
pher Columbus. Death was now at his door. But the
Admiral had become so weak through his sufferings that he
hailed him as a welcome guest.

The glories, the pride and the lofty ambitions which
bound him to earth were now dissolving into clouds, be-
hind which were for the moment concealed those greater
and more substantial rewards for which his benignant soul
thirsted. Cruel destiny, unfathomable wrongs, had denied
him a death-bed in a courtly chamber invested with the
luxury which kings infinitely less worthily enjoy, but had
consigned him to a room that bespoke the poor comforts of
a miserable little hotel. No mementos of art, no rich fab-
rics of the weaver's loom, but with bare floors and walls
hung with no other decorations than the chains which had
bound him as the seal of a king's ingratitude ! There on
a bed of pain, forgotten by those whom he had enriched
with a measureless opulence, he lay watching the advanc-
ing shadows that were obscuring the world, and noted the
roseate hues that reveal the approach of eternal day break-
ing beyond. Beside him were sorrowful watchers in the
persons of his two sons, the devoted Fiesco and some
Franciscan fathers, who in fulfillment of his last wishes had


clothed him in the habit of the Third Order of St. F'rancis
and prepared him for the last struggle. His mind con-
tinued clear even to the moment of dissolution. After
exhorting with pious admonitions his sons, he received the
Sacrament of Penance, then requested that the chains
which he had worn as the badge of a nation's shame might
be buried with him. The remembrance of the wrongs he
had suffered, which his shackles recalled, appeared to some-
what revive him, and he talked for a while in great serious-
ness of mind on spiritual matters, indicating that in these
was his sole concern in the last hours of his life. When
again he felt the chilling paralysis of death stealing over
him he asked for the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, and
was able to give all the responses himself ; but his pulse
was feeble and his breath came fitfully. Turning his head
slightly in a last movement towards the Franciscan father,
who stood sorrowfully awaiting the final summons, he
asked in broken speech if it were not Ascension day.
Receiving an affirmative reply, his face appeared to be
illumined with intense satisfaction as he repeated the
words of our expiring Saviour on the cross : In mamistiias^
Doviinc, coDimendo spirit 21m inetnn. " Into Thy hands, O
Lord, I commend my spirit." In this wise, on May 20,
1506, he fell into that sleep which is eternal waking, and his
great soul that had been so violently tempest-tossed in the
turbulencies of a stormy life sailed now across peaceful
waters and entered a harbor where the anchorage is secure
and where faithful service meets a just reward. His age
was about seventy years.

Ferdinand had succeeded in his infamous policy of evad-
ing the claims of one of the most importunate men who
had ever haunted his court in quest of justice and restitution.
The silent form lying in Valadolid could never trouble him
further. The great Admiral was gone from earth to that


higher King who would restore to him not only the ri^-hts
for which he had vainly contended, but grant unto him a
crown as a reward for the incomparably great services he
had rendered to the world. The sovereign might well
assume the virtue of sorrow, particularly when he saw that
the death of Columbus produced a great sensation in the
kingdom, the people at this late hour beginning to appreci-
ate the luster which lie had reflected upon their country.
Preparations were therefore made for an elaborate funeral,
which was celebrated with much pomp in the city where the
Admiral died, and his body was interred with great civic
honors in the parochial church of Santa Maria de la Antigua.
After seven years, or in 15 13, the remains of the discoverer
were transferred to the Carthusian monastery of Las Cuevas,
in Seville, where in the chapel of Santo Christo the body
was for a second time committed to the sepulcher. There
it reposed for twenty-three years. In February, 1526, Don
Diego, the son and successor of the Admiral, died and was
entombed by the side of his father in the monastery. But
ten years afterwards the bodies of both father and son were
exhumed and transferred to Hispaniola, where they were
reinterred in the chapel of the Cathedral at San Domingo.
Here it might well be supposed they would remain forever
in the soil of the beautiful land which he had discovered and
settled, but which had been despoiled by the ruthless hand
of the avaricious Spaniards. In 1795-96 the island of
Hispaniola, however, was ceded by Spain to France, when
it was reckoned as a fitting thing that the remains of the
discoverer of a new world should be again disturbed and
committed to a soil above which the flag of Spain still
floated. A commissioner was, therefore, appointed to
transfer the sacred relics to the Cathedral of Havana in the
island of Cuba, where it was supposed, until within the last
few years, they reposed.


Investigation recently made by a learned German historian
has led to the belief that the relics found reposing in a
square casket in a recess of the Cathedral sanctuary of San
Domingo and conveyed with such military pomp and
religious ceremony to the Cathedral of Havana were not the
bones of Columbus, but were those of some ecclesiastical
dignitary whose remains had been committed to the sacred
crypt in a casket without inscription. The chief grounds
upon which this opinion rests is the statement that Columbus'
bones, after the third exhumation, were placed in a reliquary
on which was stamped his coat of arms, list of his titles,
name, date of birth, death and time of last removal ; whereas,
the chest which contained the mortuary relics that were
transferred to Cuba was without inscription or lettering of
any kind. But this question will in all probability remain
as long in contention as the island which he first sighted,
the place of his nativity and the date of his birth, disputes
which hardly admit of conclusive settlement.

The Spanish government rejects the conclusions of the
German historian referred to, and adheres so strenuously
to the belief that the remains transferred from San Domingo
to Havana were those of the great discoverer, that when Spain
surrendered her sovereignty over Cuba after a war with the
United States in 1898, another removal of the mortuary
relics was made. Spanish sentiment, never mindful of
Spanish injustice, demanded that the remains of Columbus
should rest upon the soil — not such as he consecrated by the
act of discovery — over which the Spanish flag waves. The
government, therefore, after relinquishing Cuba, through
the arbitrament of war, sought and obtained permission
to transfer the precious remains from Havana to the
Cathedral of Seville, which was done in the early part of
1899, 3-"^ the services attending the deposition of the casket
were made especially imposing by the people of the rich old


city from which Columbus equipped his third expedition of

But though we may not positively know where the remains
of the great Admiral repose, his memory is no less effectually
preserved in history as well as by monumental tributes that
proclaim in granite and marble the imperishable glory and
honor in which the world holds his name and deeds.
Already before the death of King Ferdinand that monarch
had honored himself rather than the discoverer of America
by ordering a monument to his memory. This was done
while the remains of Columbus were still sleeping in the
monastery of Las Cuevas. The tomb was said to be worthy
of the great man to whom it was erected. The inscription
already granted as a motto to Columbus by his sovereigns
was repeated in his epitaph :


"^To Castile and Leon Columbus gave a New World."


The life of Columbus may be fittingly concluded with
some account of his descendants, of their success in main-
taining their rights and their vicissitudes of fortune down
to the time when the male line of the Admiral became
extinct. No sooner was his father's body put into the
tomb than the young Don Diego came forward and claimed
under the will all the rights, prerogatives, titles and emolu-
ments which Columbus had enjoyed, and of which in recent
years he had been so unjustly deprived. It was hardly to
be expected, however, that Ferdinand, who had dealt so
unjustly with the father, would be more liberal and just
with the son, and we are not surprised, therefore, to learn
that he began at once to employ the same temporizing and
crafty policy which he had so successfully used with the

It was not long until the King was drawn by the emer-
gencies of his reign into Italy, but not until he had conceded
to Don Diego, first at Villa Franca in June of 1506, and
afterwards at Almazan in August of 1507, what may be
called his commercial and property rights under the testa-
ment of his father. This was. in a word, a grant that the
one-tenth of the revenues derived and derivable from the
Indies and terra firnia discovered by Columbus in the West
should go to his son. But Don Diego, like his father, was
more concerned about his titles, his rank, his honors as
viceroy and governor-general, than he was about his dues

and percentages of gold. The young Admiral accordingly



lost no opportunity of representing his claims to the King,
and finally made bold to ask the sovereign in so many
words whether he would or would not invest him with the
titles which had been granted to his father. The question
being thus explicitly put, the King could no longer tem-
porize and was thus made to express his will. He therefore
refused, and as an excuse for so doing brought forth a prin-
ciple of the Spanish constitution, reaffirmed by an edict of
1480, that henceforth no grant in perpetuity should be
made of any office by the crown which involved the exer-
cise of judicial functions. He claimed that the viceroyalty
of the Indies was of this interdicted kind, and that, there-
fore, though he himself by the stipulations and agreements
of 1492 had given such a title to Columbus, the same was
unconstitutional and invalid.

After the return of the King from Naples, in 1508, Don
Diego again renewed his claim, but this time in another
form. He respectfully petitioned the sovereign for the
privilege of instituting a suit against the crown before the
Council of the Indies, in which his cause, and involvino-
therewith the cause of his father, should be legally heard
and decided. The request was granted and the suit was
accordingly instituted, continuing for more than a year and
resulting in the triumphant establishing of Don Diego's
claims. The crown was fairly beaten, and it only remained
for the young Admiral, under judgment of the court, to
assume the titles and honors of which his father had been
so long deprived.

This trial occupied a great part of the years 1508-9, and
the record, which has been investigated by the historian
Mufloz, is of great value as throwing light upon all the
Columbian controversy. The defense of the crown was
first of all that above stated, namely, that an entailed vice-
royalty granted to Columbus was only for his natural life :


that even this power had been limited by the suspension of
the Admiral from office ; that, moreover, Columbus had not
been, as was claimed, the first discoverer of terra firiiia but
only of the Indian islands ; and that, finally, the crown of
Spain must defend itself and its prerogatives against the
tendency of unconstitutional and dangerous acts as a
measure of self-protection and perpetuity.

All of these questions were ably and impartially consid-
ered before the tribunal, and .though decided in favor of
Don Diego, the nature of the Spanish administration and
the power of the crown were such that the application of
the decision to Diego's rights was for a while impeded.
The young man, however, had by this time secured by
marriage an alliance of the greatest possible advantage to
himself and his posterity. He had won the heart of Dofia
Maria de Toledo, daughter of Fernando de Toledo, who
was grand commander of Leon and a man of great influence
and rank in the kingdom. Greater even than he was his
brother Fadrique de Toledo, better known as the Duke of
Alva, who was not only powerful by his rank and wealth
and talents, but was personally a favorite at court and with
the King himself. Such was the reputation which the
Columbian family, in spite of its foreign origin and the
intrigues and enmities of hostile factions, had attained not
only in Spain, but in all the world, that the two princes of
Toledo, one the father and the other the uncle of Dofia
Maria, assented to the marriage of that noble lady to Don
Diego. Thus was secured an alliance whereby the Colum-
bian line was to be blent with that of the ancient Spanish

In view of this condition and relationship Ferdinand gave
a reluctant and cold assent to the validity of the judicial
decision ; but at the same time he would go no further
than to concede to Don Diego the same dignity and rights


which had been for some years and were now enjoyed by
Ovando, Governor of Hispaniola. This construction cun-
ningly excluded the title of viceroy, and possibly excluded
the extension of the young Admiral's rights to other islands
and to terra firma. Nevertheless, in a general way, it was
agreed that Don Diego should assume the titular dignity of
viceroy and that his noble spouse should be recognized as
Vice-Queen of the Indies.

Such was the termination of the famous controversy.
Up to this date Ferdinand had failed to comply with the
promise which he had made to the dying Isabella, to recall
Ovando. Circumstances now rendered this long-deferred
duty imperative, and in 1509 it was accordingly performed.
The young Admiral prepared for his voyage to the Indies,
gathering around him many noble and courtly people who
were to accompany him to San Domingo and compose his
court. His uncles, Don Bartholomew, and Don Diego,
senior, were of his retinue. By the beginning of summer,
1509, everything was in readiness, and the fleet prepared for
the occasion sailed on the 9th of June from the harbor of
San Lucar. Diego arrived at his destination and assumed
the government of Hispaniola, which he began to admin-
ister with great ceremony and splendor, Ovando was
relieved of his duties and sent home with the returning
fleet; but he went away in wealth and honor, and the
purpose of Isabella to prosecute him for his crime in mur-
dering the innocent people of Xaragua, and in particular
for the execution of Anacaona, perished with her merciful

It was not long after Don Diego had assumed the govern-
ment of his island before the purpose of Ferdinand with
respect to the Indies was clearly manifested. A royal
decree was framed by which the coast of Darien was detached
from all connection with the insular parts and was divided


into two provinces, the governorship of one of which was
assigned to Alonzo dc Ojeda and the other to Diego de
Nicuesa. This act was resented and resisted by the
Governor of the Indies, but all to no purpose. The slow
and toilsome processes of history went on and the wishes
of Diego Columbus were disregarded, for his viccroyalty
was in name rather than in fact.

It was evidently the purpose of the King that the author-
ity of Diego should be restricted to Mispaniola, or at most
to the Indian islands. It was clearly not intended that his
jurisdiction should extend to that terra firi/ia wdiich was a
part, indeed the principal part, as the event was soon to
show, of the new lands discovered by the first Admiral.
This conflict of purpose was from the beginning a source of
embarrassment and distrust between the crown and the
young Governor of the Indies.

Diego, however, entered upon his government with much
spirit and with many magnanimous purposes. Like his
father he was an optimist, and like his father he was destined
to inherit perplexity and disappointment from the age and the
people with whom he had to deal. He soon found that the
malcontent, and jealous and insubordinate dispositions with
which the Admiral had had to contend had been trans-
mitted to himself. First of all a certain Miguel Pasamonte,
who was the royal treasurer of the island, became the head
of an anti-administration party, the motive of which was an
ostentatious devotion to the interests of the Spanish crown.

With this movement Fonseca, head of the Indian Bureau
and now a privy councilor of the King, was in hearty
accord. Not satisfied with having pursued the elder Ad-
miral to his last day he now took up and renewed the war-
fare on the younger. Nevertheless Don Diego for a season
held his own and presently added laurels and palms to his
administration by the peaceable occupation or conquest —



if conquest it might be called which brouglit no shedding of
blood — of Cuba. This event took place in 15 10 and was at
once reported to the King.

Meanwhile the opposition to the government of Don
Diego acquired much strength and many complaints were
sent home to Spain against him. At length, in 15 12, the
King gave attention to these murmurings to the extent of
sending Don Bartholomew to assist the young Admiral in
the duties of his administration. Another circumstance
also induced Ferdinand to show this mark of confidence in
Bartholomew, and that was the recent failure of both the
royal governors in Panama. Ojeda and Nicuesa, with their
governments, went by the board ; and the King was con-
strained, under the circumstances, to recognize the rights
of Don Diego on the mainland of the isthmus.

Ferdinand accordingly directed that Don Bartholomew
should repair to Veragua, and assume the duties of governor
under the more general authority of his nephew. But this
large and promising scheme was destined to come to
naught. Don Bartholomew had already received as his
special patrimony the island of Mona, off the Cuban coast.
But he was now an old man ; the arduous enterprises in
which he had been so long engaged had shattered his con-
stitution. Sickness came on, and in the year 15 14 Don
Bartholomew died, upon which event the island government
of Mona was recovered by the King, who thus again showed
his disposition to limit the Columbian grants to the life or
lives of the present holders.

The death of Don Bartholomew was a serious loss to
Diego, for thereafter his enemies became bold in preferring
such complaints that in 1 5 1 5 he was called to Spain to make
a report of his administration and to vindicate his rule from
the charges brought against him. He there conducted his
defense with the greatest ability and came forth from th?



inquest with a flying banner. It is probable that had Fer-
dinand lived he would henceforth have resolutely supported
the governor and repressed his enemies, but the King him-
self now came swiftly to the closing scene. On the 23d of
January, 15 16, he died, transmitting his crown, as the world
knows well, to his grandson, that Charles V. who was
destined to be for more than a quarter of a century the
most conspicuous figure of the age. Henceforth Don Diego
was thrown into relations with the new sovereign, the vast-
ness of whose inheritance, the complications of whose reign
were so pressing and multifarious as to make it almost im-
practicable for him to give adequate attention to the affairs
of the Indies.

In the meantime a new historical force had become opera-
tive in Hispaniola, which was destined to enter largely into
the general movements of civihzation in the New World and
to cast its shadow, portentous and vast, across the annals
of several centuries. This was the introduction, first into
Hispaniola and afterwards into all the West Indies and
Spanish America, of negro slavery. By the time of which
we speak, namely, about 15 15, the Indian inhabitants of
Hispaniola had been virtually exterminated. A disconso-
late and despairing remnant survived from the horrors of the
war and the repartimiento. But the survivors were weak
and inef^cient even under the lash of the master.

The necessity, or at least the advantage, of slave labor had
increased as the native slaves were decimated and swept
away, and to supply such labor the suggestion of kidnap-
ing and transporting slaves from Africa was heartily re-
ceived and adopted. Some shiploads of Guinea negroes were
brought over, and it was soon found that they were able to
endure the severest trials and cruelties of servitude. The
trade became at once popular, and the great infamy of
modern times was established under the auspices of the


Spanish crown in the new countries which Spanish enter-
prise had revealed and opened for occupation.

It was not long, however, until the system of servile labor
brought a measure of retribution to those by whom it was
instituted. In 1522 a negro revolt broke out in Hispaniola,
and it was accompanied with much violence and destruction
of life and property before it could be suppressed.

Don Diego had now established his family on what
appeared to be an excellent foundation. Five children had
already been born of his union with Dofia Maria de Toledo.
These were two sons, Luis and Christopher, and three
daughters, Maria, Juana and Isabella. The Columbian line
seemed in fairest prospect of perpetuity and honor, but Don
Diego himself was involved in ever-recurring difficulties with
the crown. This is to say that his enemies in Hispaniola
and the enemies of his family in Spain were constantly
active and embroiled him once and again in serious compli-
cations with the young Emperor. To counteract the evil
influence of his enemies Diego was obliged to spend the
last years of his life in Spain, following the court from place

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 30 of 37)