James W. (James William) Buel.

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but the Bishop of Ceuta opposed, in the most violent
manner, every theory that Columbus had advanced, and
every conclusion that he had reached, and emphasized his
objections by declaring that Portugal's treasury was in no
condition for testing the wild vagaries of an enthusiast
while Moorish infidels were threatening the nation.

The harsh language of the Bishop inflamed Pedro de
Meneses, Count of Villareal, who was also Knight of the
Order of Christ, who, having the liberty of the assembly, re-
plied in a spirited manner to the Bishop's bigoted reflec-
tions, among other things saying : " Would it not perhaps
be to refuse God, to reject this offer ? " and closing with these
Impressive words : "Soldier as I am, but influenced thereto


by a voice from heaven urging me on, I dare to foretell to
the sovereign who would attempt this enterprise a happy
success, which will produce a greater power and a vaster
glory in the future than were ever obtained by the most
celebrated heroes or the most fortunate monarchs." This
speech was cheered in a manner indicative of its effect upon
the assembly, but the Bishop, to counteract its effect, ex-
pressed himself as unfavorable to Columbus for the carrying
into execution of the undertaking, and thus he obtained a
rejection of the conditions.

King John, though probably indisposed, for personal
reasons, as already intimated, to entertain the proposals of
Columbus, was nevertheless deeply affected by the strong
arguments which he had heard advanced before the Junta,
and being covetous of new empires, called his counselors
about him for advice as to how he might take advantage of
the theories and information which Columbus had ex-
pounded, in the verity of which he implicitly believed. It
is astonishing, and in no degree complimentary to human
justice, and least to a church bishop and King's confessor,
that at this council the Bishop of Ceuta should be chief
adviser, and that his recommendations should be as un-
worthy as his opposition to Columbus was unjust ; through
the advisings of this prelate King John sent a messenger to
Columbus inviting him to reappear before the commission,
which had not yet been discharged, and to present the
fullest details of his project, together with all charts that
he had prepared illustrative of his theory, and such informa-
tion as he was able to give, alleging as a motive for this re-
quest a desire of the commission to reopen the examination
of his application and the evidences of its feasibility.

Believing in the honesty of the King and his counselors,
and greatly encouraged by this mark of interest, which to
his roseate imagination foreshadowed an acceptance of the


conditions named in his application, Columbus made a
prompt response to the invitation and supplied the charts
and information desired.

Having obtained possession of the maps, papers and
evidences supporting the theory upon which Columbus
based his ambitions, by the further advice of the bishop
King John secretly prepared a vessel, and placing it under
the command of his most experienced pilot, who was
equipped with the information thus perfidiously secured,
dispatched it, ostensibly upon a voyage of discovery down
the coast of Africa, upon a westward expedition in quest of
the kingdom of Cipango, and in pursuance of all the plans
submitted by Columbus. The bishop had recommended
this graceless act with the venal intent of enabling the King
to enrich himself without incurring any pecuniary obliga-
tions to Columbus, whom he would rob under the highway-
man's excuse that conditions made it impolitic to grant his

The ship which the King had thus provided proceeded first
to Cape de Verde islands, whence, after revictualing, the
voyage into the great unknown was begun. For a few days
fair progress was made, but as the distance increased alarm
grew, and when directly a terrible storm assailed the vessel,
fear turned to panic, and above the rusji of winds, rattle of
lines, and dash of sea, there rose in terrified imaginings, mad
cries of distraction and prayers of despair. In every cloud
there lurked a demon, every billow was the lair of monster
infernal, while on the winds rode, like charge of cavalry,
hosts of specters diabolic, a marshaling of hellish powers
that held mastery over the boundary of ocean waters, and
resented with destruction invasion of that haunted realm.
With one accord, master and crew turned about their vessel
with only a faint hope encouraging them, and returned to
the Portuguese port whence they had sailed.


Very soon after the cowardly voyagers regained the shore
and made report of their failure to King John, to protect
themselves from well-merited ridicule the officers and
sailors began traducing Columbus as the author of a scheme
most absurd, and which they had been so foolhardy as to
so demonstrate.

News of this swaggering and contumely was not long in
reaching the ears of Columbus, who now for the first time
learned of the King's perfidy. With scorn and anger at the
shameless conduct of both King and commission, Columbus
resolved to quit a country in which venality seemed to pre-
dominate as the cap-sheaf of all the national vices. But
King John did not accept the report of the voyagers as
conclusive evidence of the claim that Columbus was a crazy
adventurer. So far from entertaining such an opinion, he
regarded the negative result as due to cowardice rather
than as affording a proof that the plans of Columbus were
no more than the conception of a dreamer. Indeed, the
longer he contemplated the possibilities and probabilities of
such a discovery as might be made by a voyage westward,
the more inclined did the King become to lend substantial
aid to the enterprise, and to make atonement for the per-
fidious act which he had committed through advice of
his confessor. Resolved at last what he should do. King
John sent a letter of apology to Columbus, in which he
also pledged the resources of his treasury in support of the
enterprise. But in a spirit of lofty indignation, Columbus
peremptorily and haughtily refused all overtures and con-
tinued his preparations for a final removal from Lisbon,
whose court he publicly denounced for its despicable
treachery. The King, learning of his intentions, designed
to restrain and compel him to the undertaking, but this
conspiracy reaching the ears of Columbus he quietly disposed
of the small property which he held in the city and took


secret passage, with his son Diego, in a vessel bound for

It was in the latter part of 1484, as all authorities agree,
that Columbus took his departure from Portugal, and it
was probably towards the middle of that year when he ar-
rived at Savone, where his father had taken up his residence
some considerable time before. By some of his biogra-
phers, notably De Lorgues, it is declared, that on this visit
to his native country Columbus made one more appeal to
the Senate of Genoa for assistance, but with no better
success, and possibly with less encouragement, than at-
tended his first application. But doubt as to this act is
substantially based upon the character of Columbus, who,
being imperious and still impressed with a belief in his in-
spiration, as already explained, could not easily forget the
indifference of the Senate to his original proposals ; besides,
just before quitting Lisbon he had sent his brother, Bar-
tholomew, to England to lay before Henry VIL plans and
purposes of his proposed expedition and to solicit the aid of
that monarch, upon terms which had been offered to John II.
Hence circumstances point to the conclusion that his object
in repairing to Italy was two-fold, viz. : to visit his father,
who was now greatly aged, and to seek there a temporary
asylum from the designs of Portugal's King. And this
belief is increased by the fact that his stay in Savone was
certainly not less and probably more than one year, at the
end of which time he turned his eyes towards the Christian
monarchies, among whom he confidently believed he would,
through God's help, find a patron who would give him all
necessary aid to demonstrate the beneficent problem which
he had proposed.


What prompted Columbus to proceed to Spain at the
conclusion of his visit to Savone only Providence can an-
swer. He had no friends in that country, so far as history
acquaints us, if we except a young married sister of his
wife, living at Huelva, and if he went there in furtherance
of his ambitions, his hopes must have been poorly sup-
ported, for in no other nation were the conditions appar-
ently so unfavorable to the accomplishment of his ends.
For years a fierce war had been carried on in a vain effort
to expel the Moors, who held the fairest portions of Spain
despite the thunderbolts of Europe to drive them back into
Africa. But the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile had been
united by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella, in which
consolidation of Christian interests the country was hope-
fully anticipating a victory that would destroy the last
vestige of Islamism in Spain. But the treasuries of Aragon,
Castile and Leon were nearly exhausted, while the two
armies were upon the point of engaging in a decisive bat-
tle before the splendid-crowned capital of Granada, into
which the Moors had been driven as their last resort.

Columbus, after arriving at Palos, with his son Diego,
being poor in purse and ill-prepared to procure better en-
tertainment, repaired to a convent dedicated to the Order
of St. Francis, and called, in honor of the Virgin, Santa
Maria de la Rabida, which stood on a high hill overlooking
the sea, somewhat more than a mile from Palos. Over
this convent there presided the good bishop Juan Perez de


Marcheiia, who had been counselor and confessor of Queen
Isabella, and who was also a man much esteemed for his
great learning, as well as for his exceeding urbanity and
gentleness of heart, which greatly endeared him to the
Queen. He was both a cosmographer and an astronomer,
who preferred the solitude and holy communion of the
convent to the glittering pomp and obsequious homage
of servile parasites that characterized life about the royal
court. In the company of such a man Columbus found
congenial companionship as well as a warm welcome, for
the good bishop lent an eager ear to explanations of his
theories and an unfolding of his plans, pregnant as they
were with mighty possibilities for the advancement of both
Church and State.

In all the long discussions between Columbus and the
prior of La Rabida there was unanimity of opinion respect-
ing the shape of the earth, and the probability of reaching
countries of the far east by sailing westward ; but the means
for demonstrating this belief doubtless became a subject
of dispute. That the Spanish sovereigns w^ould extend
the necessary aid was problematic, considering the con-
dition of the country at that time, when the energies
and hopes of both Ferdinand and Isabella were di-
rected in channels leading away from all commercial enter-

In the Middle Ages next to sovereign power was feudal
wealth and influence, and everywhere in Spain picturesque
sites were adorned with castles defended by moats, and
walls, and brazen gates, the homes of rich barons, noble
dukes and successful robbers. These lordly representatives
of feudal timocracy kept bands of armed servitors to pro-
tect them from invaders of their own kind, and even main-
tained fleets for carrying products to other ports, and some-
times to engage in adventures for spoliation on the high


seas. Among the most celebrated of these lords, at the
time of Columbus' visit to Spain, was the Duke of Medina
Sidonia, who was one of the most illustrious nobles of
Europe. His castle was as well fortified and as impregna-
ble as Gibraltar ; his wealth was equal to that of a kingdom,
and the splendor of his court and equipage rivaled that of
Caesar. So enormous were his riches that more than once
was his King a borrower from his bounty, and a hundred
war vessels, manned by his vassals, was his contribution to
Ferdinand in his war against the Moors. To this great
duke did La Rabida's prior refer his guest in a letter of
warm commendation, and with this influential introduction
Columbus made a journey to the battlemented castle, full
of hope, perhaps joyfully sanguine of the result. But dis-
appointment followed his every footstep, to confront him in
the splendid halls of the rich and powerful lord. At first,
excited by the boldness of his visitor's proposals, and cap-
tivated by the eloquence and force of his reasoning, which
seemed to force conviction upon his willing ears, the duke
was prompted to extend the aid desired, until reflecting
that his sovereigns might object to such an enterprise being
undertaken as a private project, he finally dismissed the
subject from his mind, leaving Columbus no other resource
than to return to the cloisters, where alone he had found
encouragement and help.

By the solicitation of the generous prelate Columbus was
afterwards induced to make his proposals to the Duke of
Medina Cell, who was also a rich and powerful noble, some-
what famed for hospitality, but his appeals met with such
decided refusal that, mortified by rejections of his requests,
and completely discouraged by his unfavorable reception at
the hands of those who were most able to help him, Co-
lumbus resolved to quit Spain and repair to the Court of
France, the throne of which was then occupied by Anne,


wife of Peter II., who ruled as regent of Charles VIII. dur-
ing his minority.

France appeared to Columbus as presenting an inviting
field for the advancement of his mighty enterprise. Under
Louis XI. she had made marvelous advances, for he had
crushed out feudalism and substituted autocracy for an-
archy ; at the same time, while centralizing his govern-
ment, he gave every possible encouragement to com-
merce and industry. Besides this directive spirit of higher
civilization Louis bestowed great favors upon the uni-
versities, and had enlarged the borders of France to almost
their present dimensions, and on his deathbed, in 1483,
begged that the policy of his administration be continued
by his successor.

Charles VIII. was only thirteen years of age when his
father died, and was poorly fitted both by youth and
training to assume the duties of an active ruler ; so that
Anne, his aunt, Duchess of Bourbon and sister of Louis
XL, was declared regent, and for nine years acted, by the
King's last instructions, as guardian of Charles. So pru-
dently did she manage the government that she destroyed
the last vestige of feudalism, asserted the power of France
against Brittany, practically placed Henry of Richmond on
the throne of England, and by other brilliant successes
received the title *' Madame la Grande." Her army was the
largest in Europe, her treasure the richest, and her ambition
for the glory of her country the greatest ; the circum-
stances and conditions, therefore, seemed to particularly
favor Columbus in France, and his resolution to appeal to
that court was for a while so firmly fixed that all the per-
suasive powers of Father Juan's eloquence were scarcely
sufificient to divert him from this purpose.

Several years had passed between the time that Columbus
first appeared before the hospitable door of the La Rabida


Convent, and when he returned dejected, careworn and
covered with the dust of travel from his unsuccessful visit
to the Duke of Medina Ceh ; but he was not discouraged,
for there was still in him a feeling of inspiration which
urged him on like a good angel guardian, by reminders of
how others had suffered before gaining the great end of
their beneficent missions.

Scarcely was his hunger satisfied at the generous board of
the convent when Columbus unfolded his plans to the bishop
of presenting his proposals to the French Court, and
recited his reasons for expecting a favorable response. To
these Father Juan opposed all his influence, and eloquently
pleaded with his guest to reserve his intent until other
chances for giving the glory of his discoveries to Spain
were tried. Thus persuading Columbus to remain for a
while at the convent, Father Juan summoned a learned
physician of Palos, named Garcia Hernandez, who promptly
responded and added his inducements and encouragements
to those of the Franciscan Father. Several other influential
persons of Palos directly appeared at the convent and joined
their efforts with those of Hernandez and the prelate in
devising means for gaining the attention of the Spanish
sovereigns and securing their assistance in promoting the
project of Columbus.

The result of the long and frequent consultations at the
Convent of La Rabida was not without substantial, though
not immediate, benefits. When the time for his departure
from the monastery was at hand Columbus received from
Father Juan a sum of money and a cordial letter of earnest
recommendation addressed to the Prior of Prado, Ferdinand
de Talavera, who was then confessor to Ferdinand and Isa-
bella, whose mediation it was believed would give him a
favorable reception at court. Not being in a condition to
properly provide for his son, Columbus left Diego in charge


of the charitable Franciscans, who generously clothed, fed
and educated him for a number of years.

Columbus set out hopefully for Cordova, and arriving at
the court confidently presented his letter, but instead of
meeting a cordial reception the prior haughtily, even dis-
dainfully, scrutinized him, nor would even give ear to his

At the time of Columbus' visit to Cordova the Moors,
who once held dominion over the entire Iberian peninsula,
had now been driven by the victorious Spanish to make
their refuge in Granada, about the borders of which an
exultant army was eagerly pressing. The city of Cordova
was therefore the center of military activity ; trumpets filled
the air with their blaring notes, companies of cavaliers rode
through the streets full armored, and all the chivalry of
Spain was in uniform.

It may with justice be admitted that destiny looked with
favor on Columbus in recommending him to such a person-
age as the Queen of Castile. Isabella was now in the prime
of womanhood, being in her thirty-fifth year. As a woman
she was beautiful, the effect of which was increased by a
dignity and grace that became her as a sovereign. Her
temper was amiable, her judgment prudent, and as a wife
she subordinated her royal prerogatives to love and duty,
for her affection for Ferdinand was sincere. Though her
rights as Queen of Castile and Leon were unabridged by
marriage, she nevertheless diligently sought to assimilate
her will and purpose with that of her husband, though she
could not fail to perceive that of the united kingdom she
was at once the light and glory.

Not less than the King was Isabella concerned in the

nation's ambition to expel both Moors and Jews from

Spain ; and her enthusiasm in this effort prompted her to

spend much of her time in the Spanish camps, inspiring her



soldiers to deeds of valor. In summer the court was held
at Cordova, but in winter the King and Queen repaired to
their palace at Salamanca, at which palace Columbus was
first able, after a delay of many months, to meet any of
the dignitaries of the royal household. His first acquaint-
ance of advantage was with Alonzo Ouintanilla, comptroller
of the treasury of Castile, who gave a patient audience to
Columbus, and who became a valuable convert to his views.
Through the comptroller Columbus was introduced to
Antonio Geraldini, ambassador of the Pope, and to Alex-
ander, his brother, instructor to the princes and princesses,
both of whom became deeply impressed with his theories,
and lent him their heartiest encouragements.

Though Columbus had made progress in the diffusion of
his plans, and won over to his project the sympathies of many
distinguished persons in Spain, whose influence with the
sovereigns was pronounced, opportunity for presenting
his application to either the King or Queen was still want-
ing. In the meantime the money charitably given by
Father Juan was expended, and pressing want gave him no
other alternative than a return to his profession of cartog-
rapher for a living. In the year which had now elapsed in
persistent effort to gain the attention of the court the mind
of Columbus was diverted by a love episode, which proved
that amid all his deep concerns his heart was not so ab-
sorbed with ambitions for glory but that it was still suscep-
tible to the influence of a woman's eyes and blandishments.
In Cordova there were many beautiful senoritas ; in fact,
the city was famed for the comeliness of its ladies ; fair
graces that wore the smiles of Venus, the form of Diana,
and the ravishments of Helen. To one of these, Dofia
Beatriz Enriqucz, Columbus surrendered, and lived with
her for many years, but whether this union was consecrated
by hymeneal bonds is a question which historians have


vainly debated : but true it is, that wlieii, in 1487, this lady
bore him a son, Columbus not only acknowledged its pater-
nity, but had the child christened Fernando and bestowed
upon him ever afterwards the same marks of legitimacy
that he did upon his other son, Diego. Indeed, Fernando
filled a larger part of his father's life than did Diego, as he
was intrusted with the most important concerns and be-
came his father's biographer, transmitting to all ages the
story of Columbus, his defeats and triumphs, and at the last
hour was by his bedside to receive his blessing and to
close his eyes for that final rest which he had won by the
most distinguished services, but which had been least re-

After years of waiting, years of disappointment, years of
alternating encouragements and humiliations, it fell to the
good fortune of Columbus at last to meet, through the
courtesy of Ouintanilla, the great Archbishop of Toledo,
Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza, whose influence at the Spanish
court was ascendant, in so much that he was principal
counselor of the King and Queen in all matters concerning
either peace or war. In some respects he resembled the
most distinguished of French cardinals, Richelieu, for he
was at once soldier and statesman, and, being dignified with
age, his manners were also chivalrous and captivating. The
first audience which Columbus had with this great ecclesi-
astic was not entirely satisfactory, as a proposal of his
scheme brought upon Columbus the archbishop's suspicion
that the theories submitted contravened the doctrines of the
Church, and that an assertion of the earth's sphericity was
rank heresy. But he was not so bigoted as to be wholly
obdurate, or impervious to reason, and before the eloquence
of Columbus, pleading his ambition to spread the gospel
of Christ among heathens of unknown lands, he was com-
pelled to manifest the greatest interest. We may well im-


agine the zeal of the adventurer in this, one of the many
supreme hours in his career. He must have appeared to
the sedate cardinal as one inspired, whose intelligence could
not fail to apprehend the cogency of the argument, and the
sincerity of the advocate. Glimpses also of the magnificent
prospect held forth and lighted by the torch of Columbus'
imagination were caught by the venerable Mendoza, and he
yielded to the appeal in so far as to promise that he would
procure for Columbus a hearing before the Queen.

In fulfillment of his agreement the archbishop did in-
troduce Columbus at court, but instead of meeting Isabella
he was ushered into the presence of Ferdinand, whose cold,
cynical nature was not improved by lack of decision, and
an illiberality that bordered on pehuriousness. It must
also be remembered that an audience with majesty is an or-
deal through which one may pass only by an exhibition of
mingled courage and humility вАФ the courtliness of a knight
combined with the awe of a peasant. But notwithstanding
these disquieting conditions, which might render the most
resolute nervous and misgiving, Columbus, as if encouraged
by some occult power, in proof of his claim to have been sent
of Heaven to perform a wondrous work, poured into the
King's ears matchless arguments in support of his theory,
and pictured in words of extraordinary zeal and confidence

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 37)