History 8a–questions | History homework help

Discussion Question(This post must be at least 200 words.)

What do you think of the tone of “Orders Given to the Twelve”? What was the tone? Do you think it is appropriate for the kind of document it is, given when it was written, and why it was written? Why or why not? How does that contrast to the tone in the second document (The Holy Men Respond…)? 

Lecture, Week 4


Here is an excerpt from a historian (Camille Townsend) who talks about some of the myths surrounding Cortes’s arrival in Mexico (keep an eye out for what I put in bold):

“In 1552, Francisco López De Gómara, who had been chaplain and secretary to Hernando Cortes while he lived out his old age in Spain, published an account of the conquest of Mexico. López de Gómara himself had never been to the New World, but he could envision it nonetheless. “Many [Indians] came to gape at the strange men, now so famous, and at their attire, arms and horses, and they said, ‘These men are gods!’ “ The chaplain was one of the first to claim in print that the Mexicans had believed the conquistadors to be divine. Among the welter of statements made in the Old World about inhabitants of the New, this one found particular resonance. It was repeated with enthusiasm, and soon a specific version gained credence: the Mexicans had apparently believed in a god named Quetzal­coatl, who long ago had disappeared in the east, promising to return from that direction on a certain date. In an extraordinary coincidence, Cortes appeared off the coast in that very year and was mistaken for Quetzalcoatl by the devout Indians.” 

Of course, Townsend continues by saying that no educated person really believes this story. In fact, it was largely fabricated by a chaplain who had never been to the Americas, but rather was taking care of Cortes in Spain during his last years.

Much has been made about the role of the church during the early years of the conquest, and I think that much of what has been written in recent years has been fair, even if they have been criticizing the church for many years. The truth is, the Catholic church (or its representatives back in the colonial period in Latin America) were quite rough on the indigenous people throughout Latin America, calling it a “spiritual conquest.” 

You will also remember from last week’s lecture, when we talked about the ways in which encomiendas were being used, and how Antonio de Montesinos basically called out all of the encomenderos and called them bad Christians for not preaching to them while they were essentially enslaving indigenous folks on the land that the Spanish crown granted them. 

I bring up this point because it is often forgotten that the military conquest and the “spiritual conquest” of Latin America go hand in hand. 
A few years ago, Pope Francis admitted as much (not quite), when he apologized for all of the things that the Catholic Church and its representatives did to the indigenous people in Latin America during the so-called conquest. Here is a brief link (45 seconds)

I mention this because over the years, there has been much debate about the role that the Catholic Church played in the conquest, and Pope Francis’s apology makes it clear that at least to some extent, that even the church itself recognizes that they did some really bad things, even if they do not make any admissions as to how bad those things were.

(As an aside: I have been trying to find a copy of this movie online, La Otra Conquista, but it’s in Spanish, and I can only find it without subtitles, which might be a challenge for some of you. Therefore, if anyone can find a place online where it is available with English subtitles (for free?) let me know! It is a really good and important movie!)

A STUDENT FOUND IT! The link is below, but here is what you HAVE TO DO to get it in English:

1) Click on CC at the bottom of the movie screen

2) Click on the gear (“settings”) right next to the CC, and CHOOSE ENGLISH! That should do it! Click below and do that, and look forward to some really interesting stuff!

La Otra Conquista Pelicula Film 1999

But the wrongdoings of the church are deeper and more complex than simply saying “Bad Christians!” over and over again. The movie delves into how complex that the conquest really is, but the stuff that you see there reaches way beyond that, for generations.

For instance, as the church became established during the colonial period, there was a big difference between the upper levels (the authority) of the Catholic Church in Latin America and the parish priests who worked more directly in the indigenous communities. Indeed, it was most often these “regular clergy” who advocated for the indigenous community most fiercely! This is something that we will discover as this course progresses, since the Catholic Church will become a big part of colonial politics throughout Latin America.

Still, in the early years of the conquest, the role of the church, or the role of the missionaries who arrived with (or shortly after) the conquistadors was one of brutal subjugation– beatings, torture, and killings were not unusual during this early period. Such brutality, it is noted, is also happening in the midst of a serious decline in the indigenous population, either through “old world diseases” or through the subjugation involved in labor and the tribute system:

“For all he purported good intentions of Cortes and the early friars to avoid demographic catastrophe like that which had plagued the Caribbean islands [disease (smallpox) decimated the indigenous population in the Caribbean in the early years of the conquest], the early decades of Spanish colonization in the Americas proved to be one of history’s greatest holocausts. In central Mexico, according to one estimate, the indigenous population declined by about 85% in the century after military conquest.” 

The indigenous population was declining fast, both during and especially after the military conquest. However, it is important to recognize that the period of military conquest was also religious, in that part of the charge of the conquistadors was to convert the indians to Christianity. This is evidenced by the Requerimiento that soldiers were required to read before attacking a particular indigenous group or village. Supposedly, the reading of this announcement gave the Indians a “way out” of being conquered, as you will see in the document printed in English in its entirety (I have some parts in bold, but read the whole thing!) Here is the text of the Requerimiento (sorry– no tl;dr):

(Document written in 1510 by jurist (Links to an external site.) Palacios Rubios (Links to an external site.), of the Council of Castile (Links to an external site.)):

“On the part of the King, Don Fernando, and of Doña Juana, his daughter, Queen of Castille and León, subduers of the barbarous nations, we their servants notify and make known to you, as best we can, that the Lord our God, Living and Eternal, created the Heaven and the Earth, and one man and one woman, of whom you and we, all the men of the world at the time, were and are descendants, and all those who came after and before us. But, on account of the multitude which has sprung from this man and woman in the five thousand years since the world was created, it was necessary that some men should go one way and some another, and that they should be divided into many kingdoms and provinces, for in one alone they could not be sustained.

Of all these nations God our Lord gave charge to one man, called St. Peter (Links to an external site.), that he should be Lord and Superior of all the men in the world, that all should obey him, and that he should be the head of the whole human race, wherever men should live, and under whatever law, sect, or belief they should be; and he gave him the world for his kingdom and jurisdiction.

And he commanded him to place his seat in Rome (Links to an external site.), as the spot most fitting to rule the world from; but also he permitted him to have his seat in any other part of the world, and to judge and govern all Christians, Moors (Links to an external site.), Jews (Links to an external site.), Gentiles (Links to an external site.), and all other sects. This man was called Pope (Links to an external site.), as if to say, Admirable Great Father and Governor of men. The men who lived in that time obeyed that St. Peter, and took him for Lord, King, and Superior of the universe; so also they have regarded the others who after him have been elected to the pontificate, and so has it been continued even till now, and will continue till the end of the world.

One of these Pontiffs, who succeeded that St. Peter as Lord of the world, in the dignity and seat which I have before mentioned, made donation of these isles and Tierra-firme to the aforesaid King and Queen and to their successors, our lords, with all that there are in these territories, as is contained in certain writings which passed upon the subject as aforesaid, which you can see if you wish.

So their Highnesses are kings and lords of these islands and land of Tierra-firme by virtue of this donation: and some islands, and indeed almost all those to whom this has been notified, have received and served their Highnesses, as lords and kings, in the way that subjects ought to do, with good will, without any resistance, immediately, without delay, when they were informed of the aforesaid facts. And also they received and obeyed the priests whom their Highnesses sent to preach to them and to teach them our Holy Faith; and all these, of their own free will, without any reward or condition, have become Christians, and are so, and their Highnesses have joyfully and benignantly received them, and also have commanded them to be treated as their subjects and vassals; and you too are held and obliged to do the same. Wherefore, as best we can, we ask and require you that you consider what we have said to you, and that you take the time that shall be necessary to understand and deliberate upon it, and that you acknowledge the Church as the Ruler and Superior of the whole world, and the high priest called Pope, and in his name the King and Queen Doña Juana our lords, in his place, as superiors and lords and kings of these islands and this Tierra-firme by virtue of the said donation, and that you consent and give place that these religious fathers should declare and preach to you the aforesaid.

If you do so, you will do well, and that which you are obliged to do to their Highnesses, and we in their name shall receive you in all love and charity, and shall leave you, your wives, and your children, and your lands, free without servitude, that you may do with them and with yourselves freely that which you like and think best, and they shall not compel you to turn Christians, unless you yourselves, when informed of the truth, should wish to be converted to our Holy Catholic Faith, as almost all the inhabitants of the rest of the islands have done. And, besides this, their Highnesses award you many privileges and exemptions and will grant you many benefits.

But, if you do not do this, and maliciously make delay in it, I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their Highnesses; we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their Highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us. And that we have said this to you and made this Requisition, we request the notary here present to give us his testimony in writing, and we ask the rest who are present that they should be witnesses of this Requisition.”

Yes, I know, it was long. But see how far they go into justifying why they are doing this? All about God and stuff? I mean, that is a lot of detail to go into when telling people you want to conquer them, right? 

Just to be clear, soldiers were required to read this before they attacked and assumedly took over a village/town/city. Of course, how they read it is up for debate. For instance, one would think that as a conquistador (someone who is out for gold and glory), peace might be the last thing they wanted. So perhaps they whispered it from miles away? Perhaps they recited it to one another the night before an attack? It could be any of these things, really, and it could be none. However, what we know from the outcomes of battles and the many different ways in which indigenous groups throughout Latin America were attacked, it is difficult to take Spanish accounts of the conquest (especially the accounts where they speak more charitably about themselves) at face value.

Nor can we say that the Catholic Church, especially as colonial society settled in the 16th and 17th centuries, was a bastion of honor and valor. It was during these centuries in Europe that the Reformation was happening, which was basically the beginning of the protestant churches (Anglican, Lutheran, etc.). These churches formed because they looked at the Catholic Church and they saw corruption and immorality everywhere, even at the highest levels!

In fact, in Latin America, the Catholic Church was interested in not only converting as many people as possible, but also in gaining as much land as possible. By some estimates, by the 19th century, the Catholic Church owned nearly 50% of land throughout Latin America. (Of course, later, the independent nations in Latin America would reverse much of this, but that is a discussion for another course.)

The reason I bring up the greed of the church, and their role in the often violent subjugation of native folks is to drive the point home: we cannot think of the Catholic Church (particularly in colonial Latin America) as anything other than a political entity. This is not to attack the Christian belief system, but rather to acknowledge that the Catholic Church, particularly during this period in history, was much more interested in surviving as a political body, rather than a religious one. And this interest, in many ways, helped the church grow during the 18th and 19th centuries, but also led to its demise (as a political entity) in the late 19th century after Independence (we will see in the coming weeks the growth and expansion of the church as the center of colonial society throughout much of Latin America).

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