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Christopher Columbus and How He Received and Imparted the Spirit of Discovery By Justin Winsor Characters: 55407

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Columbus's obscure record, 1473-1487.

It is a rather striking fact, as Harrisse puts it, that we cannot place with an exact date any event in Columbus's life from August 7, 1473, when a document shows him to have been in Savona, Italy, till he received at Cordoba, Spain, from the treasurer of the Catholic sovereigns, his first gratuity on May 5, 1487, as is shown by the entry in the books, "given this day 3,000 maravedis," about $18, "to Cristobal Colomo, a stranger." The events of this period of about fourteen years were those which made possible his later career. The incidents connected with this time have become the shuttle-cocks which have been driven backward and forward in their chronological bearings, by all who have undertaken to study the details of this part of Columbus's life. It is nearly as true now as it was when Prescott wrote, that "the discrepancies among the earliest authorities are such as to render hopeless any attempt to settle with precision the chronology of Columbus's movements previous to his first voyage."

His motives for leaving Portugal.

Chief sources of our knowledge.

The motives which induced him to abandon Portugal, where he had married, and where he had apparently found not a little to reconcile him to his exile, are not obscure ones as detailed in the ordinary accounts of his life. All these narratives are in the main based, first, on the Historie (1571); secondly, on the great historical work of Joam de Barros, pertaining to the discoveries of the Portuguese in the East Indies, first published in 1552, and still holding probably the loftiest position in the historical literature of that country; and, finally, on the lives of Jo?o II., then monarch of Portugal, by Ruy de Pina and by Vasconcellos. The latter borrowing in the main from the former, was exclusively used by Irving. Las Casas apparently depended on Barros as well as on the Historie. It is necessary to reconcile their statements, as well as it can be done, to get even an inductive view of the events concerned.

The treatment of the subject by Irving would make it certain that it was a new confidence in the ability to make long voyages, inspired by the improvements of the astrolabe as directed by Behaim, that first gave Columbus the assurance to ask for royal patronage of the maritime scheme which had been developing in his mind.

Columbus and Behaim.

Just what constituted the acquaintance of Columbus with Behaim is not clearly established. Herrera speaks of them as friends. Humboldt thinks some intimacy between them may have existed, but finds no decisive proof of it. Behaim had spent much of his life in Lisbon and in the Azores, and there are some striking correspondences in their careers, if we accept the usual accounts. They were born and died in the same year. Each lived for a while on an Atlantic island, the Nuremberger at Fayal, and the Genoese at Porto Santo; and each married the daughter of the governor of his respective island. They pursued their nautical studies at the same time in Lisbon, and the same physicians who reported to the Portuguese king upon Columbus's scheme of westward sailing were engaged with Behaim in perfecting the sea astrolabe.

Columbus and the king of Portugal.

The account of the audience with the king which we find in the Historie is to the effect that Columbus finally succeeded in inducing Jo?o to believe in the practicability of a western passage to Asia; but that the monarch could not be brought to assent to all the titular and pecuniary rewards which Columbus contended for as emoluments of success, and that a commission, to whom the monarch referred the project, pronounced the views of Columbus simply chimerical. Barros represents that the advances of Columbus were altogether too arrogant and fantastic ever to have gained the consideration of the king, who easily disposed of the Genoese's pretentious importunities by throwing the burden of denial upon a commission. This body consisted of the two physicians of the royal household, already mentioned, Roderigo and Josef, to whom was added Cazadilla, the Bishop of Ceuta.

Vasconcellos's addition to this story, which he derived almost entirely from Ruy de Pina, Resende, and Barros, is that there was subsequently another reference to a royal council, in which the subject was discussed in arguments, of which that historian preserves some reports. This discussion went farther than was perhaps intended, since Cazadilla proceeded to discourage all attempts at exploration even by the African route, as imperiling the safety of the state, because of the money which was required; and because it kept at too great a distance for an emergency a considerable force in ships and men. In fact the drift of the debate seems to have ignored the main projects as of little moment and as too visionary, and the energy of the hour was centered in a rallying speech made by the Count of Villa Real, who endeavored to save the interests of African exploration. The count's speech quite accomplished its purpose, if we can trust the reports, since it reassured the rather drooping energies of the king, and induced some active measures to reach the extremity of Africa.

Diaz's African voyage, 1486.

Passes the Cape.


[Sketched from the original MS. in the British Museum.]

In August, 1486, Bartholomew Diaz, the most eminent of a line of Portuguese navigators, had departed on the African route, with two consorts. As he neared the latitude of the looked-for Cape, he was driven south, and forced away from the land, by a storm. When he was enabled to return on his track he struck the coast, really to the eastward of the true cape, though he did not at the time know it. This was in May, 1487. His crew being unwilling to proceed farther, he finally turned westerly, and in due time discovered what he had done. The first passage of the Cape was thus made while sailing west, just as, possibly, the mariners of the Indian seas may have done. In December he was back in Lisbon with the exhilarating news, and it was probably conveyed to Columbus, who was then in Spain, by his brother Bartholomew, the companion of Diaz in this eventful voyage, as Las Casas discovered by an entry made by Bartholomew himself in a copy of D'Ailly's Imago Mundi. Thirty years before, as we have seen, Fra Mauro had prefigured the Cape in his map, but it was now to be put on the charts as a geographical discovery; and by 1490, or thereabouts, succeeding Portuguese navigators had pushed up the west coast of Africa to a point shown in a map preserved in the British Museum, but not far enough to connect with what was supposed with some certainty to be the limit reached during the voyages of the Arabian navigators, while sailing south from the Red Sea. There was apparently not a clear conception in the minds of the Portuguese, at this time, just how far from the Cape the entrance of the Arabian waters really was. It is possible that intelligence may have thus early come from the Indian Ocean, by way of the Mediterranean, that the Oriental sailors knew of the great African cape by approaching it from the east.

Portuguese missionaries to Egypt.

Such knowledge, if held to be visionary, was, however, established with some certainty in men's minds before Da Gama actually effected the passage of the Cape. This confirmation had doubtless come through some missionaries of the Portuguese king, who in 1490 sent such a positive message from Cairo.

But while the new exertions along the African coast, thus inadvertently instigated by Columbus, were making, what was becoming of his own westward scheme?

The Portuguese send out an expedition to forestall Columbus.

The story goes that it was by the advice of Cazadilla that the Portuguese king lent himself to an unworthy device. This was a project to test the views of Columbus, and profit by them without paying him his price. An outline of his intended voyage had been secured from him in the investigation already mentioned. A caravel, under pretense of a voyage to the Cape de Verde Islands, was now dispatched to search for the Cipango of Marco Polo, in the position which Columbus had given it in his chart. The mercenary craft started out, and buffeted with head seas and angry winds long enough to emasculate what little courage the crew possessed. Without the prop of conviction they deserted their purpose and returned. Once in port, they began to berate the Genoese for his foolhardy scheme. In this way they sought to vindicate their own timidity. This disclosed to Columbus the trick which had been played upon him. Such is the story as the Historie tells it, and which has been adopted by Herrera and others.

* * *

Columbus leaves Portugal, 1484.

At this point there is too much uncertainty respecting the movements of Columbus for even his credulous biographers to fill out the tale. It seems to be agreed that in the latter part of 1484 he left Portugal with a secrecy which was supposed to be necessary to escape the vigilance of the government spies. There is beside some reason for believing that it was also well for him to shun arrest for debts, which had been incurred in the distractions of his affairs.

Supposed visit of Columbus to Genoa.

There is no other authority than Ramusio for believing with Mu?oz that Columbus had already laid his project before the government of Genoa by letter, and that he now went to re?nforce it in person. That power was sorely pressed with misfortunes at this time, and is said to have declined to entertain his proposals. It may be the applicant was dismissed contemptuously, as is sometimes said. It is not, however, as Harrisse has pointed out, till we come down to Cassoni, in his Annals of Genoa, published in 1708, that we find a single Genoese authority crediting the story of this visit to Genoa. Harrisse, with his skeptical tendency, does not believe the statement.

Supposed visit to Venice.

Eagerness to fill the gaps in his itinerary has sometimes induced the supposition that Columbus made an equally unsuccessful offer to Venice; but the statement is not found except in modern writers, with no other citations to sustain it than the recollections of some one who had seen at some time in the archives a memorial to this effect made by Columbus. Some writers make him at this time also visit his father and provide for his comfort,-a belief not altogether consonant with the supposition of Columbus's escape from Portugal as a debtor.

The death of his wife.

Shown to be uncertain.

Irving and the biographers in general find in the death of Columbus's wife a severing of the ties which bound him to Portugal; but if there is any truth in the tumultuous letter which Columbus wrote to Do?a Juana de la Torre in 1500, he left behind him in Portugal, when he fled into Spain, a wife and children. If there is the necessary veracity in the Historie, this wife had died before he abandoned the country. That he had other children at this time than Diego is only known through this sad, ejaculatory epistle. If he left a wife in Portugal, as his own words aver, Harrisse seems justified in saying that he deserted her, and in the same letter Columbus himself says that he never saw her again.

Convent of Rabida.

Ever since a physician of Palos, Garcia Fernandez, gave his testimony in the lawsuit through which, after Columbus's death, his son defended his titles against the Crown, the picturesque story of the convent of Rabida, and the appearance at its gate of a forlorn traveler accompanied by a little boy, and the supplication for bread and water for the child, has stood in the lives of Columbus as the opening scene of his career in Spain.

This Franciscan convent, dedicated to Santa Maria de Rabida, stood on a height within sight of the sea, very near the town of Palos, and after having fallen into a ruin it was restored by the Duke of Montpensier in 1855. A recent traveler has found this restoration "modernized, whitewashed, and forlorn," while the refurnishing of the interior is described as "paltry and vulgar," even in the cell of its friar, where the visitor now finds a portrait of Columbus and pictures of scenes in his career.


[As given by Roselly de Lorgues.]

Friar Marchena.

This friar, Juan Perez de Marchena, was at the time of the supposed visit of Columbus the prior of the convent, and being casually attracted by the scene at the gate, where the porter was refreshing the vagrant travelers, and by the foreign accent of the stranger, he entered into talk with the elder of them and learned his name. Columbus also told him that he was bound to Huelva to find the home of one Muliar, a Spaniard who had married the youngest sister of his wife. The story goes further that the friar was not uninformed in the cosmographical lore of the time, had not been unobservant of the maritime intelligence which had naturally been rife in the neighboring seaport of Palos, and had kept watch of the recent progress in geographical science. He was accordingly able to appreciate the interest which Columbus manifested in such subjects, as he unfolded his own notions of still greater discoveries which might be made at the west. Keeping the wanderer and his little child a few days, Marchena invited to the convent, to join with them in discussion, the most learned man whom the neighborhood afforded, the physician of Palos,-the very one from whose testimony our information comes. Their talks were not without re?nforcements from the experiences of some of the mariners of that seaport, particularly one Pedro de Velasco, who told of manifestation of land which he had himself seen, without absolute contact, thirty years before, when his ship had been blown a long distance to the northwest of Ireland.

Columbus goes to Cordoba.

The friendship formed in the convent kept Columbus there amid congenial sympathizers, and it was not till some time in the winter of 1485-86, and when he heard that the Spanish sovereigns were at Cordoba, gathering a force to attack the Moors in Granada, that, leaving behind his boy to be instructed in the convent, Columbus started for that city. He went not without confidence and elation, as he bore a letter of credentials which the friar had given him to a friend, Fernando de Talavera, the prior of the monastery of Prado, and confessor of Queen Isabella.

Doubts about the visits to Rabida.

This story has almost always been placed in the opening of the career of Columbus in Spain. It has often in sympathizing hands pointed a moral in contrasting the abject condition of those days with the proud expectancy under which, some years later, he sailed out of the neighboring harbor of Palos, within eyeshot of the monks of Rabida. Irving, however, as he analyzed the reports of the famous trial already referred to, was quite sure that the events of two visits to Rabida had been unwittingly run into one in testimony given after so long an interval of years. It does indeed seem that we must either apply this evidence of 1513 and 1515 to a later visit, or else we must determine that there was great similarity in some of the incidents of the two visits.

The date of 1491, to which Harrisse pushes the incidents forward, depends in part on the evidence of one Rodriguez Cobezudo that in 1513 it was about twenty-two years since he had lent a mule to Juan Perez de Marchena, when he went to Santa Fé from Rabida to interpose for Columbus. The testimony of Garcia Fernandez is that this visit of Marchena took place after Columbus had once been rebuffed at court, and the words of the witness indicate that it was on that visit when Juan Perez asked Columbus who he was and whence he came; showing, perhaps, that it was the first time Perez had seen Columbus. Accordingly this, as well as the mule story, points to 1491. But that the circumstances of the visit which Garcia Fernandez recounts may have belonged to an earlier visit, in part confounded after fifteen years with a later one, may yet be not beyond a possibility. It is to be remembered that the Historie speaks of two visits, one later than that of 1484. It is not easy to see that all the testimony which Harrisse introduced to make the visit of 1491 the first and only visit of Columbus to the convent is sufficient to do more than render the case probable.

1486. Enters the service of Spain.

We determine the exact date of the entering of Columbus into the service of Spain to be January 20, 1486, from a record of his in his journal on shipboard under January 14, 1493, where he says that on the 20th of the same month he would have been in their Highnesses' service just seven years. We find almost as a matter of course other statements of his which give somewhat different dates by deduction. Two statements of Columbus agreeing would be a little suspicious. Certain payments on the part of the Crowns of Castile and Aragon do not seem to have begun, however, till the next year, or at least we have no earlier record of such than one on May 5, 1487, and from that date on they were made at not great intervals, till an interruption came, as will be later shown.

Changes his name to Colon.

In Spain the Christoforo Colombo of Genoa chose to call himself Cristoval Colon, and the Historie tells us that he sought merely to make his descendants distinct of name from their remote kin. He argued that the Roman name was Colonus, which readily was transformed to a Spanish equivalent. Inasmuch as the Duke of Medina-Celi, who kept Columbus in his house for two years during the early years of his Spanish residence, calls him Colomo in 1493, and Oviedo calls him Colom, it is a question if he chose the form of Colon before he became famous by his voyage.

The Genoese in Spain.

The Genoese had been for a long period a privileged people in Spain, dating such acceptance back to the time of St. Ferdinand. Navarrete has instanced numerous confirmations of these early favors by successive monarchs down to the time of Columbus. But neither this prestige of his birthright nor the letter of Friar Perez had been sufficient to secure in the busy camp at Cordoba any recognition of this otherwise unheralded and humble suitor. The power of the sovereigns was overtaxed already in the engrossing preparations which the Court and army were making for a vigorous campaign against the Moors. The exigencies of the war carried the sovereigns, sometimes together and at other times apart, from point to point. Siege after siege was conducted, and Talavera, whose devotion had been counted upon by Columbus, had too much to occupy his attention, to give ear to propositions which at best he deemed chimerical.

Columbus in Cordoba.

We know in a vague way that while the Court was thus withdrawn from Cordoba the disheartened wanderer remained in that city, supporting himself, according to Bernaldez, in drafting charts and in selling printed books, which Harrisse suspects may have been publications, such as were then current, containing calendars and astronomical predictions, like the Lunarios of Granollach and Andrès de Li.

Makes acquaintances.

It was probably at this time, too, that he made the acquaintance of Alonso de Quintanilla, the comptroller of the finances of Castile. He attained some terms of friendship with Antonio Geraldini, the papal nuncio, and his brother, Alexander Geraldini, the tutor of the royal children. It is claimed that all these friends became interested in his projects, and were advocates of them.

Writes out the proofs of a western land.

We are told by Las Casas that Columbus at one time gathered and placed in order all the varied manifestations, as he conceived them, of some such transatlantic region as his theory demanded; and it seems probable that this task was done during a period of weary waiting in Cordoba. We know nothing, however, of the manuscript except as Las Casas and the Historie have used its material, and through them some of the details have been gleaned in the preceding chapter.


These accessions of friends, aided doubtless by some such systemization of the knowledge to be brought to the question as this lost manuscript implies, opened the way to an acquaintance with Pedro Gonzales de Mendoza, Archbishop of Toledo and Grand Cardinal of Spain. This prelate, from the confidence which the sovereigns placed in him, was known in Martyr's phrase as "the third king of Spain," and it could but be seen by Columbus that his sympathies were essential to the success of plans so far reaching as his own. The cardinal was gracious in his intercourse, and by no means inaccessible to such a suitor as Columbus; but he was educated in the exclusive spirit of the prevailing theology, and he had a keen scent for anything that might be supposed heterodox. It proved necessary for the thought of a spherical earth to rest some time in his mind, till his ruminations could bring him to a perception of the truths of science.

Gets the ear of Ferdinand for Columbus.

According to the reports which Oviedo gives us, the seed which Columbus sowed, in his various talks with the cardinal, in due time germinated, and the constant mentor of the sovereigns was at last brought to prepare the way, so that Columbus could have a royal audience. Thus it was that Columbus finally got the ear of Ferdinand, at Salamanca, whither the monarchs had come for a winter's sojourn after the turmoils of a summer's campaign against the Moors.

Characters of the sovereigns of Spain.

We cannot proceed farther in this narrative without understanding, in the light of all the early and late evidence which we have, what kind of beings these sovereigns of Aragon and Castile were, with whom Columbus was to have so much intercourse in the years to come. Ferdinand and Isabella, the wearers of the crowns of Aragon and Castile, were linked in common interests, and their joint reign had augured a powerful, because united, Spain. The student of their characters, as he works among the documents of the time, cannot avoid the recognition of qualities little calculated to satisfy demands for nobleness and devotion which the world has learned to associate with royal obligations. It may be possibly too much to say that habitually, but not too much to assert that often, these Spanish monarchs were more ready at perfidy and deceit than even an allowance for the teachings of their time would permit. Often the student will find himself forced to grant that the queen was more culpable in these respects than the king. An anxious inquirer into the queen's ways is not quite sure that she was able to distinguish between her own interests and those of God. The documentary researches of Bergenroth have decidedly lowered her in the judgments of those who have studied that investigator's results. We need to plead the times for her, and we need to push the plea very far.


"Perhaps," says Helps, speaking of Isabella, "there is hardly any great personage whose name and authority are found in connection with so much that is strikingly evil, all of it done, or rather assented to, upon the highest and purest motives." To palliate on such grounds is to believe in the irresponsibility of motives, which should transcend times and occasions.

She is not, however, without loyal adulators of her own time and race.

We read in Oviedo of her splendid soul. Peter Martyr found commendations of ordinary humanity not enough for her. Those nearest her person spoke as admiringly. It is the fortune, however, of a historical student, who lies beyond the influence of personal favor, to read in archives her most secret professions, and to gauge the innermost wishes of a soul which was carefully posed before her contemporaries. It is mirrored to-day in a thousand revealing lenses that were not to be seen by her contemporaries. Irving and Prescott simply fall into the adulation of her servitors, and make her confessors responsible for her acquiescence in the expulsion of the Jews and in the horrors of the Inquisition.


The king, perhaps, was good enough for a king as such personages went in the fifteenth century; but his smiles and remorseless coldness were mixed as few could mix them, even in those days. If the Pope regarded him from Italy, that Holy Father called him pious. The modern student finds him a bigot. His subjects thought him great and glorious, but they did not see his dispatches, nor know his sometimes baleful domination in his cabinet. The French would not trust him. The English watched his ambition. The Moors knew him as their conqueror. The Jews fled before his evil eye. The miserable saw him in his inquisitors. All this pleased the Pope, and the papal will made him in preferred phrase His Most Catholic Majesty,-a phrase that rings in diplomatic formalities to-day.

Every purpose upon which he had set his heart was apt to blind him to aught else, and at times very conveniently so. We may allow that it is precisely this single mind which makes a conspicuous name in history; but conspicuousness and justness do not always march with a locked step.

He had, of course, virtues that shone when the sun shone. He could be equable. He knew how to work steadily, to eat moderately, and to dress simply. He was enterprising in his actions, as the Moors and heretics found out. He did not extort money; he only extorted agonized confessions. He said masses, and prayed equally well for God's benediction on evil as on good things. He made promises, and then got the papal dispensation to break them. He juggled in state policy as his mind changed, and he worked his craft very readily. Machiavelli would have liked this in him, and indeed he was a good scholar of an existing school, which counted the act of outwitting better than the arts of honesty; and perhaps the world is not loftier in the purposes of statecraft to-day. He got people to admire him, but few to love him.

Columbus's views considered by Talavera and others.

At Salamanca.

The result of an audience with the king was that the projects of Columbus were committed to Talavera, to be laid by him before such a body of wise men as the prior could gather in council. Las Casas says that the consideration of the plans was entrusted to "certain persons of the Court," and he enumerates Cardinal Mendoza, Diego de Deza, Alonso de Cardenas, and Juan Cabrero, the royal chamberlain. The meeting was seemingly held in the winter of 1486-87. The Catholic writers accuse Irving, and apparently with right, of an unwarranted assumption of the importance of what he calls the Council at Salamanca, and they find he has no authority for it, except a writer one hundred and twenty years after the event, who mentions the matter but incidentally. This source was Remesal's Historia de Chyapa (Madrid, 1619), an account of one of the Mexican provinces. There seems no reason to suppose that at best it was anything more than some informal conference of Talavera with a few councilors, and in no way associated with the prestige of the university at Salamanca. The registers of the university, which begin back of the assigned date for such Council, have been examined in vain for any reference to it.


[Espa?a, p. 132.]


The "Junta of Salamanca" has passed into history as a convocation of considerable extent and importance, and a representation of it is made to adorn on

e of the bas-reliefs of the Admiral's monument at Genoa. We have, however, absolutely no documentary records of it. Of whatever moment it may have been, if the problem as Columbus would have presented it had been discussed, the reports, if preserved, could have thrown much light upon the relations which the cosmographical views of its principal character bore to the opinions then prevailing in learned circles of Spain. We know what the Historie, Bernaldez, and Las Casas tell us of Columbus's advocacy, but we must regret the loss of his own language and his own way of explaining himself to these learned men. Such a paper would serve a purpose of showing how, in this period of courageous and ardent insistence on a physical truth, he stood manfully for the light that was in him; and it would afford a needed foil to those pitiful aberrations of intellect which, in the years following, took possession of him, and which were so constantly reiterated with painful and maundering wailing.

Find favor with Deza.

Discarding, then, the array of argument which Irving borrows from Remesal, and barely associating a little conference, in which Columbus is a central figure, with that St. Stephen's convent whose wondrous petrifactions of creamy and reticulated stone still hold the admiring traveler, we must accept nothing more about its meetings than the scant testimony which has come down to us. It is pleasant to think how it was here that the active interest which Diego de Deza, a Dominican friar, finally took in the cause of Columbus may have had its beginning; but the extent of our positive knowledge regarding the meeting is the deposition of Rodriguez de Maldonado, who simply says that several learned men and mariners, hearing the arguments of Columbus, decided they could not be true, or at least a majority so decided, and that this testimony against Columbus had no effect to convince him of his errors. This is all that the "Junta of Salamanca" meant. A minority of unknown size favored the advocate.

* * *

1487. The Court at Cordoba.

Malaga surrenders, 1487.

When the spring of 1487 came, and the court departed to Cordoba, and began to make preparations for the campaign against Malaga, there was no hope that the considerations which had begun in the learned sessions at Salamanca would be followed up. Columbus seems to have journeyed after the Court in its migrations: sometimes lured by pittances doled out to him by the royal treasurer; sometimes getting pecuniary assistance from his new friend, Diego de Deza; selling now and then a map that he had made, it may be; and accepting hospitality where he could get it, from such as Alonso de Quintanilla. In these wandering days, he was for a while, at least, in attendance on the Court, then surrounded with military parade, before the Moorish stronghold at Malaga. The town surrendered on August 18, 1487, and the Court then returned to Cordoba.

SPAIN, 1482.

[From the Ptolemy of 1482.]

1487. Intimacy of Columbus with Beatrix Enriquez.

Ferdinand Columbus born, 1488.

It was in the autumn of 1487, at Cordoba, that Columbus fell into such an intimacy as spousehood only can sanction with a person of good condition as to birth, but poor in the world's goods. Whether this relation had the sanction of the Church or not has been a subject of much inquiry and opinion. The class of French writers, who are aiming to secure the canonization of Columbus, have found it essential to clear the moral character of Columbus from every taint, and they confidently assert, and doubtless think they show, that nothing but conjugal right is manifest in this connection,-a question which the Church will in due time have to decide, if it ever brings itself to the recognition of the saintly character of the great discoverer. Even the ardent supporters of the cause of beatification are forced to admit that there is no record of such a marriage. No contemporary recognition of such a relation is evinced by any family ceremonies of baptism or the like, and there is no mention of a wife in all the transactions of the crowning endeavors of his life. As viceroy, at a later day, he constantly appears with no attendant vice-queen. She is absolutely out of sight until Columbus makes a significant reference to her in his last will, when he recommends this Beatrix Enriquez to his lawful son Diego; saying that she is a person to whom the testator had been under great obligations, and that his conscience is burdened respecting her, for a reason which he does not then think fitting to explain. This testamentary behest and acknowledgment, in connection with other manifestations, and the absence of proof to the contrary, has caused the belief to be general among his biographers, early and late, that the fruit of this intimacy, Ferdinand Columbus, was an illegitimate offspring. He was born, as near as can be made out, on the 15th of August, 1488. The mother very likely received for a while some consolation from her lover, but Columbus did not apparently carry her to Seville, when he went there himself; and the support which he gave her was not altogether regularly afforded, and was never of the quality which he asked Diego to grant to her when he died. She unquestionably survived the making of Diego's will in 1523, and then she fades into oblivion. Her son, Ferdinand, if he is the author of the Historie, makes no mention of a marriage to his mother, though he is careful to record the one which was indisputably legal, and whose fruit was Diego, the Admiral's successor. The lawful son was directed by Columbus, when starting on his third voyage, to pay to Beatrix ten thousand maravedis a year; but he seems to have neglected to do so for the last three or four years of her life. Diego finally ordered these arrears to be paid to her heirs. Las Casas distinctly speaks of Ferdinand as a natural son, and Las Casas had the best of opportunities for knowing whereof he wrote.

* * *

Columbus sends his brother to England.

Relations of England to the views of Columbus.

While all this suspense and amorous intrigue were perplexing the ardent theorist, he is supposed to have dispatched his brother Bartholomew to England to disclose his projects to Henry VII. Hakluyt, in his Westerne Planting, tells us that it "made much for the title of the kings of England" to the New World that Henry VII. gave a ready acceptance to the theory of Columbus as set forth somewhat tardily by his brother Bartholomew, when escaping from the detention of the pirates, he was at last able, on February 13, 1488, to offer in England his sea-card, embodying Christopher's theories, for the royal consideration.

The Cabots in England.

William Castell, in his Short Discovery of America, says that Henry VII. "unhappily refused to be at any charge in the discovery, supposing the learned Columbus to build castles in the air." It is a common story that Henry finally brought himself to accede to the importunities of Bartholomew, but only at a late day, and after Christopher had effected his conquest of the Spanish Court. Columbus himself is credited with saying that Henry actually wrote him a letter of acceptance. This epistle was very likely a fruition of the new impulses to oceanic discovery which the presence, a little later, of the Venetian Cabots, was making current among the English sailors; for John Cabot and his sons, one of whom, Sebastian, being at that time a youth of sixteen or seventeen, had, according to the best testimony, established a home in Bristol, not far from 1490.

If the report of the Spanish envoy in England to his sovereigns is correct as to dates, it was near this time that the Bristol merchants were renewing their quests oceanward for the islands of Brazil and the Seven Cities. We have seen that these islands with others had for some time appeared on the conjectural charts of the Atlantic, and very likely they had appeared on the sea-card shown by Bartholomew Columbus to Henry VII. These efforts may perhaps have been in a measure instigated by that fact. At all events, any hazards of further western exploration could be met with greater heart if such stations of progress could be found in mid ocean. Of the report of all this which Bartholomew may have made to his brother we know absolutely nothing, and he seems not to have returned to Spain till after a sojourn in France which ended in 1494.

Columbus invited back to Portugal.

It was believed by Irving that Columbus, having opened a correspondence with the Portuguese king respecting a return to the service of that country, had received from that monarch an epistle, dated March 20, 1488, in which he was permitted to come back, with the offer of protection against any suit of civil or criminal nature, and that this had been declined. We are left to conjecture of what suits of either kind he could have been apprehensive.

Humboldt commends the sagacity of Navarrete in discerning that it was not so much the persuasion of Diego de Deza which kept Columbus at this time from accepting such royal offers, as the illicit connection which he had formed in Cordoba with Do?a Beatrix Enriquez, who before the summer was over had given birth to a son.

On the other hand, that the permission was not neglected seems proved by a memorandum made by Columbus's own hand in a copy of Pierre d'Ailly's Imago Mundi, preserved in the Biblioteca Colombina at Seville, where, under date of December, 1488, "at Lisbon," he speaks of the return of Diaz from his voyage to the Cape of Good Hope. This proof is indeed subject to the qualification that Las Casas has considered the handwriting of the note to be that of Bartholomew Columbus, but Harrisse has no question of its identity with the chirography of Columbus. This last critic ventures the conjecture that it was in some way to settle the estate of his wife that Columbus at this time visited Portugal.

Spanish subsidies withheld.

Columbus had ceased to receive the Spanish subsidies in June, 1488, or at least we know no record of any later largess. Ferdinand was born to him in August. It was very likely subsequent to this last event that Columbus crossed the Spanish frontier into Portugal, if Harrisse's view of his crossing at all be accepted. His stay was without doubt a short one, and from 1489 to 1492 there is every indication that he never left the Spanish kingdom.

Duke of Medina-Celi harbors Columbus.

We know on the testimony of a letter of Luis de la Cerda, the Duke of Medina-Celi, given in Navarrete, that for two years after the arrival of Columbus from Portugal he had been a guest under the duke's roof in Cogulludo, and it seems to Harrisse probable that this gracious help on the part of the duke was bestowed after the return to Spain. All that we know with certainty of its date is that it occurred before the first voyage, the duke himself mentioning it in a letter of March 19, 1493.

1489. Columbus ordered to Cordoba.

It was not till May, 1489, when the court was again at Cordoba, according to Diego Ortiz de Zu?iga, in his work on Seville, that the sovereigns were gracious enough to order Columbus to appear there, when they furnished him lodgings. They also, perhaps, at the same time, issued a general order, dated at Cordoba May 12, in which all cities and towns were directed to furnish suitable accommodations to Columbus and his attendants, inasmuch as he was journeying in the royal service.

Columbus at the siege of Baza.

Friars from the Holy Sepulchre.

The year 1489 was a hazardous but fruitful one. The sovereigns were pushing vigorously their conquest of the Moor. Isabella herself attended the army, and may have appeared in the beleaguering lines about Baza, in one of those suits of armor which are still shown to travelers. Zu?iga says that Columbus arrayed himself among the combatants, and was doubtless acquainted with the mission of two friars who had been guardians of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. These priests arrived during the siege, bringing a message from the Grand Soldan of Egypt, in which that potentate threatened to destroy all Christians within his grasp, unless the war against Granada should be stopped. The point of driving the Moors from Spain was too nearly reached for such a threat to be effective, and Isabella decreed the annual payment of a thousand ducats to support the faithful custodians of the Sepulchre, and sent a veil embroidered with her own hand to decorate the shrine. Irving traces to this circumstance the impulse, which Columbus frequently in later days showed, to devote the anticipated wealth of the Indies to a crusade in Palestine, to recover and protect the Holy Sepulchre.

Boabdil surrenders, December 22, 1489.

Columbus's views again considered.

The campaign closed with the surrender on December 22 of the fortress of Baza, when Spain received from Muley Boabdil, the elder of the rival Moorish kings, all the territory which he claimed to have in his power. In February, 1490, Ferdinand and Isabella entered Seville in triumph, and a season of hilarity and splendor followed, signalized in the spring by the celebration with great jubilation of the marriage of the Princess Isabella with Don Alonzo, the heir to the crown of Portugal. These engrossing scenes were little suited to give Columbus a chance to press his projects on the Court. He soon found nothing could be done to get the farther attention of the monarchs till some respites occurred in the preparations for their final campaign against the younger Moorish king. It was at this time, as Irving and others have conjectured, that the consideration of the project of a western passage, which had been dropped when events moved the Court from Salamanca, was again taken up by such investigators as Talavera had summoned, and again the result was an adverse decision. This determination was communicated by Talavera himself to the sovereign, and it was accompanied by the opinion that it did not become great princes to engage in such chimerical undertakings.

Deza impressed.


It is supposed, however, that the decision was not reached without some reservation in the minds of certain of the reviewers, and that especially this was the case with Diego de Deza, who showed that the stress of the arguments advanced by Columbus had not been without result. This friar was tutor to Prince Juan, and it was not difficult for him to modify the emphatic denial of the judges. It was the pride of those who later erected the tombstone of Deza, in the cathedral at Seville, to inscribe upon it that he was the generous and faithful patron of Columbus. A temporizing policy was, therefore, adopted by the monarchs, and Columbus was informed that for the present the perils and expenses of the war called for an undivided attention, and that further consideration of his project must be deferred till the war was over. It was at Cordoba that this decision reached Columbus.

Columbus goes to Seville; but is repelled.

In his eagerness of hope he suspected that the judgment had received some adverse color in passing through Talavera's mind, and so he hastened to Seville, but only to meet the same chilling repulse from the monarchs themselves. With dashed expectations he left the city, feeling that the instrumentality of Talavera, as Peter Martyr tells us, had turned the sovereigns against him.


[From Parcerisa and Quadrado's Espa?a.]


[From Parcerisa and Quadrado's Espa?a.]

Seeks the grandees of Spain.

Medina-Sidonia and Medina-Celi.

Columbus now sought to engage the attention of some of the powerful grandees of Spain, who, though subjects, were almost autocratic in their own regions, serving the Crown not so much as vassals as sympathetic helpers in its wars. They were depended upon to recruit the armies from their own trains and dependents; money came from their chests, provisions from their estates, and ships from their own marine; their landed patrimonies, indeed, covered long stretches of the coast, whose harbors sheltered their considerable navies. Such were the dukes of Medina-Sidonia and Medina-Celi. Columbus found in them, however, the same wariness which he had experienced at the greater court. There was a willingness to listen; they found some lures in the great hopes of Eastern wealth which animated Columbus, but in the end there was the same disappointment. One of them, the Duke of Medina-Celi, at last adroitly parried the importunities of Columbus, by averring that the project deserved the royal patronage rather than his meaner aid. He, however, told the suitor, if a farther application should be made to the Crown at some more opportune moment, he would labor with the queen in its behalf. The duke kept his word, and we get much of what we know of his interest in Columbus from the information given by one of the duke's household to Las Casas. This differs so far as to make the duke, perhaps as Harrisse thinks in the spring of 1491, actually fit out some caravels for the use of Columbus; but when seeking a royal license, he was informed that the queen had determined to embark in the enterprise herself. Such a decision seems to carry this part of the story, at least, forward to a time when Columbus was summoned from Rabida.

Columbus at Rabida.

A consultation which now took place at the convent of Rabida affords particulars which the historians have found difficulty, as already stated, in keeping distinct from those of an earlier visit, if there was such. Columbus, according to the usual story, visited the convent apparently in October or November, 1491, with the purpose of reclaiming his son Diego, and taking him to Cordoba, where he might be left with Ferdinand in the charge of the latter's mother. Columbus himself intended to pass to France, to see if a letter, which had been received from the king of France, might possibly open the way to the fulfillment of his great hopes. It is represented that it was this expressed intention of abandoning Spain which aroused the patriotism of Marchena, who undertook to prevent the sacrifice.

Marchena encourages him.

Talks with Pinzon.

We derive what we know of his method of prevention from the testimony of Garcia Fernandez, the physician of Palos, who has been cited in respect to the alleged earlier visit. This witness says that he was summoned to Rabida to confer with Columbus. It is also made a part of the story that the head of a family of famous navigators in Palos, Martin Alonso Pinzon, was likewise drawn into the little company assembled by the friar to consider the new situation. Pinzon readily gave his adherence to the views of Columbus. It is claimed, however, that the presence of Pinzon is disproved by documents showing him to have been in Rome at this time.

Cousin's alleged voyage, 1488,

and Pinzon's supposed connection with it.

An alleged voyage of Jean Cousin, in 1488, two years and more before this, from Dieppe to the coast of Brazil, is here brought in by certain French writers, like Estancelin and Gaffarel, as throwing some light on the intercourse of Columbus and Pinzon, later if not now. It must be acknowledged that few other than French writers have credited the voyage at all. Major, who gave the story careful examination, utterly discredits it. It is a part of the story that one Pinzon, a Castilian, accompanied Cousin as a pilot, and this man is identified by these French writers as the navigator who is now represented as yielding a ready credence to the views of Columbus, and for the reason that he knew more than he openly professed. They find in the later intercourse of Columbus and this Pinzon certain evidence of the estimation in which Columbus seemed to hold the practiced judgment, if not the knowledge, of Pinzon. This they think conspicuous in the yielding which Columbus made to Pinzon's opinion during Columbus's first voyage, in changing his course to the southwest, which is taken to have been due to a knowledge of Pinzon's former experience in passing those seas in 1488. They trace to it the confidence of Pinzon in separating from the Admiral on the coast of Cuba, and in his seeking to anticipate Columbus by an earlier arrival at Palos, on the return, as the reader will later learn. Thus it is ingeniously claimed that the pilot of Cousin and colleague of Columbus were one and the same person. It has hardly convinced other students than the French. When the Pinzon of the "Pinta" at a later day was striving to discredit the leadership of Columbus, in the famous suit of the Admiral's heirs, he could hardly, for any reason which the French writers aver, have neglected so important a piece of evidence as the fact of the Cousin voyage and his connection with it, if there had been any truth in it.

Pinzon aids Columbus,

So we must be content, it is pretty clear, in charging Pinzon's conversion to the views of Columbus at Rabida upon the efficacy of Columbus's arguments. This success of Columbus brought some substantial fruit in the promise which Pinzon now made to bear the expenses of a renewed suit to Ferdinand and Isabella.

and Rodriguez goes to Santa Fé, with a letter to the queen.

Marchena follows.

The queen invites Columbus once more.

A conclusion to the deliberation of this little circle in the convent was soon reached. Columbus threw his cause into the hands of his friends, and agreed to rest quietly in the convent while they pressed his claims. Perez wrote a letter of supplication to the Queen, and it was dispatched by a respectable navigator of the neighborhood, Sebastian Rodriguez. He found the Queen in the city of Santa Fé, which had grown up in the military surroundings before the city of Granada, whose siege the Spanish armies were then pressing. The epistle was opportune, for it re?nforced one which she had already received from the Duke of Medina-Celi, who had been faithful to his promise to Columbus, and who, judging from a letter which he wrote at a later day, March 19, 1493, took to himself not a little credit that he had thus been instrumental, as he thought, in preventing Columbus throwing himself into the service of France. The result was that the pilot took back to Rabida an intimation to Marchena that his presence would be welcome at Santa Fé. So mounting his mule, after midnight, fourteen days after Rodriguez had departed, the friar followed the pilot's tracks, which took him through some of the regions already conquered from the Moors, and, reaching the Court, presented himself before the Queen. Perez is said to have found a seconder in Luis de Santangel, a fiscal officer of Aragon, and in the Marchioness of Moya, one of the ladies of the household. The friar is thought to have urged his petition so strongly that the Queen, who had all along been more open to the representations of Columbus than Ferdinand had been, finally determined to listen once more to the Genoese's appeals.

Columbus reaches Santa Fé, December, 1491.

Quintanilla and Mendoza.

Learning of the poor plight of Columbus, she ordered a gratuity to be sent to him, to restore his wardrobe and to furnish himself with the conveniences of the journey. Perez, having borne back the happy news, again returned to the Court, with Columbus under his protection. Thus once more buoyed in hope, and suitably arrayed for appearing at Court, Columbus, on his mule, early in December, 1491, rode into the camp at Santa Fé, where he was received and provided with lodgings by the accountant-general. This officer was one whom he had occasion happily to remember, Alonso de Quintanilla, through whose offices it was, in the end, that the Grand Cardinal of Spain, Mendoza, was at this time brought into sympathy with the Genoese aspirant.

Boabdil the younger submits.

The Moorish wars end.

Military events were still too imposing, however, for any immediate attention to his projects, and he looked on with admiration and a reserved expectancy, while the grand parade of the final submission of Boabdil the younger, the last of the Moorish kings, took place, and a long procession of the magnificence of Spain moved forward from the beleaguering camp to receive the keys of the Alhambra. Wars succeeding wars for nearly eight centuries had now come to an end. The Christian banner of Spain floated over the Moorish palace. The kingdom was alive in all its provinces. Congratulation and jubilation, with glitter and vauntings, pervaded the air.

Talavera and Columbus.

Few observed the humble Genoese who stood waiting the sovereigns' pleasure during all this tumult of joy; but he was not forgotten. They remembered, as he did, the promise given him at Seville. The war was over, and the time was come. Talavera had by this time gone so far towards an appreciation of Columbus's views that Peter Martyr tells him, at a later day, that the project would not have succeeded without him. He was directed to confer with the expectant dreamer, and Cardinal Mendoza became prominent in the negotiations.

Columbus's position was thus changed. He had been a suitor. He was now sought. He had been persuaded from his purposed visit to France, in order that he might by his plans rehabilitate Spain with a new glory, complemental to her martial pride. This view as presented by Perez to Isabella had been accepted, and Columbus was summoned to present his case.

The mistake of Columbus.

Here, when he seemed at last to be on the verge of success, the poor man, unused to good fortune, and mistaking its token, repeated the mistake which had driven him an outcast from Portugal. His arrogant spirit led him to magnify his importance before he had proved it; and he failed in the modesty which marks a conquering spirit.

True science places no gratulations higher than those of its own conscience. Copernicus was at this moment delving into the secrets of nature like a nobleman of the universe. So he stands for all time in lofty contrast to the plebeian nature and sordid cravings of his contemporary.

His pretensions.

When, at the very outset of the negotiations, Talavera found this uplifted suitor making demands that belonged rather to proved success than to a contingent one, there was little prospect of accommodation, unless one side or the other should abandon its position. If Columbus's own words count for anything, he was conscious of being a laughing-stock, while he was making claims for office and emoluments that would mortgage the power of a kingdom. A dramatic instinct has in many minds saved Columbus from the critical estimate of such presumption. Irving and the French canonizers dwell on what strikes them as constancy of purpose and loftiness of spirit. They marvel that poverty, neglect, ridicule, contumely, and disappointment had not dwarfed his spirit. This is the vulgar liking for the hero who is without heroism, and the martyr who makes a trade of it. The honest historian has another purpose. He tries to gauge pretense by wisdom. Columbus was indeed to succeed; but his success was an error in geography, and a failure in policy and in morals. The Crown was yet to succumb; but its submission was to entail miseries upon Columbus and his line, and a reproach upon Spain. The outcome to Columbus and to Spain is the direst comment of all.

Columbus would not abate one jot of his pretensions, and an end was put to the negotiations. Making up his mind to carry his suit to France, he left Cordoba on his mule, in the beginning of February, 1492.

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