Teil 7


Columbus’ death 1506 • Francis Drake plunders Santo Domingo • Hernando Colón (1488 – 1539) • Don Luís Colón (1522 – 1572) • In the hands of the Society of Jesus • The publication of the vera relatione 1571 • closing words (postscript)


Columbus’ death

After the death of Queen Isabella (1504), King Ferdinand of Aragon’s crown officials took over the organisation of the Spanish colonies overseas. Christopher Columbus, seriously ill, undertook an arduous trip from Seville to the court in Valladolid. Having arrived there, Ferdinand of Aragon offered to exchange his hereditary privileges in overseas domains for a large piece of land in Castile.

Kolumbus’ Tod, Gemälde Rodriguez Losada,
Kloster von La Rábida
But Columbus rejected the offer, and died on the 20thst of May 1506 in the city of Valladolid. In the coming period, Ferdinand of Aragon prevented Columbus’ planned marriage between Diego Colón and the daughter of the Duke of Medina Sidonia – and instead arranged a marriage with his own cousin, Doña Maria de Toledo y Rojas from the house of Alba. Diego Colón reigned in the years of 1509–1515, and from 1520–1523 in Santo Domingo as a viceroy. After his death in 1526, the Council of the Indies (Consejo de Indias) in Seville curtailed the rights of the Colón family to the titles of Duke of Veragua (Panama) and Jamaica


Francis Drake plunders Santo Doming

Columbus’ death and funeral are almost as mysterious as his birth and origin. Although the day of his death is known (20. May 1506), his mortal remains have been missing through to the present day. María de Toledo y Rojas arranged with the consent of Charles V for his relics to be transferred to Santo Domingo, thereby fulfilling the last will of her deceased husband Diego Colón. In Santo Domingo, they were buried in the Choir of the Cathedral - in a family crypt, lovingly equipped by Columbus’ grandson Luís Colón.

In the year 1564 the English privateer Francis Drake took the town of Santo Domingo. He set up his base in the Alcazar de Colón, the former seat of government of the family of Colón, and plundered the Cathedral. Two monks, who resisted, were killed. Francis Drake had orders to confiscate all forms of insignia of the Spanish Empire. According to an authentic document, Queen Elizabeth I of England intended in this way to humiliate her adversary Philipp II (Friar Keeler 1981, S. 244ff.).


Elisabeth I. von England im Alter von 30 Jahren

Philipp II. von Spanien, Detail aus „la Gloria“ von Tizian

Angriff von Francis Drake auf Santo Domingo, handcolorierter Kupferstich von B. Boazio 1589
Therefore the question arises: Could the vanished and still missing relics of Columbus have been carried off at that early stag to England? This hypothesis must be considered seriously – at least, it can’t be excluded as a possible explanation for the disappearance of Columbus’ mortal remains. As a consequence, it would make more sense to search for traces in the old archives and stores of Windsor Castle than to invest in expensive DNA analysis. This is especially so, because in the 19th century intensive research work had already been undertaken to find the mortal remains of the discoverer – in those days, Columbus was a candidate for canonization, and therefore his mortal remains would have become precious relics (e.g. Cocchia 1877). But the relics in spe could not be found – they were verifiable neither in Santo Domingo nor in Cuba, nor could they be found in the Spanish city of Seville.


Hernando Colón (1488—1539)

Hernando resulted from the connection of Columbus with the Córdobesin Beatrice de Henríquez de Harana. As page for the heir to the throne Juan, he enjoyed a humanistic upbringing and education in the Castilian court. But the prince, on whom all hopes for the new empire were pinned, died unexpectedly in 1497. The royal official Ferdinand of Aragon took over the affairs of state and Hernando had to leave the Castilian court immediately. His father, Christopher Columbus, took the 14-year-old on his last expedition. The journey (1502- 1504) was full of deprivations and Hernando Colón, who became his most loyal companion, later penned an extensive chronicle of the life and actions of his father, including biographical background on the legendary journey. But these records have always been considered questionable. In his chronicle, Hernando attacked well-known chroniclers- he accused them of concealing the truth or of spinning the truth to favour the government; the accusations were not only directed against the Spanish, but also largely against Italian historiography.
Hernando refuted the „twelve lies“of the Genoese bishop Giustiniani; the latter had based his presentation of the brothers Columbus on an internal commentary by the Genoese financier and city chronologist Antonio Gallo (see: Noble versus plebeian ancestry). Even today it goes against historiography to grapple with his statements: Hernando’s illegitimate birth, alleged inferiority complex and corruption are criticised. More recent investigations show the younger Columbus son as a humanistic educated, internationally known scholar and book collector, who in his time enjoyed the highest prestige.


Tomb slab of Prince Juan
of Castille, D. Fancelli, in
the Church of Santo Tomas, Avila

After the death of Columbus in 1506, Hernando Colón travelled to England and the Netherlands. From there he twice crossed central Europe to Italy (1520–22 und 1531). In the centres of the printing press north and south of the Alps during the Reformation, he acquired a large number of books, and in Seville he set up an extensive library of over 15,000 works. As his last will indicates, it was his greatest wish to make the collection public to all scholars in the world after his death. Hernando championed his nephew Don Luís Colón, the oldest son of his half brother Diego Colón. For this principal heir, he demanded before court adherence to the royal contract of Santa Fé (1492) and initiated a process against the Crown.
In 1539 Hernando died a suspicious death: according to a report to the then 17-year-old Luís Colón in Santo Domingo he knew the day of his death 50 days in advance.

Casas de Colón, Extract city view Seville, A. Brambilla, 1585

Hernando Colón, anonymous, Colombina, Seville

In 1539 Hernando died a suspicious death: according to a report to the then 17-year-old Luís Colón in Santo Domingo he knew the day of his death 50 days in advance..


Don Luís Colón (1522—1572)

Don Luís Colón inherited from his uncle Hernando Colón the large book collection and the „Casas de Colón,“ outside the Puerta de Goles to Seville (see fig. above Casas de Colón). As the principal heir of Columbus and future viceroy, Luís grew up in Alcazar de Colón in Santo Domingo. His mother, Maria de Toledo from the House of Alba, saw to it that her children made marriages benefiting their rank. Her oldest son Luís she married to a woman from the lineage of the Mosqueras of Granada.
After the death of his mother, Luís left his wife and travelled to Castile, where in Valladolid he again took up the processes against the Crown. The circumstances were by no means favourable. After the abdication of Charles V (1556), Luís was given no more leeway. His reward at least, was to pave the road for the publication of the chronicle of his uncle about the life of Columbus. This reward, in light of the thereupon following events, cannot be highly enough credited to him, who began as the anti-hero of the Columbus historiography.

Alcazar de Colón, Santo Domingo

Luís Colón was arrested in 1558 in Spanish Valladolid for suspected polygamy. He had previously applied in Rome for the annulment of his marriage with Maria de Mosquera. But in the Vatican the following events precipitated: two (Reform-) Popes died, each after a short time in office and the successor, Pope Paul IV., from the Neapolitan lineage was not at all responsive to Luís’ request. With the censorship of books, the erstwhile nuncio and high inquisitor threatened the inheritance of Columbus’s grandson in Spain. The Counter Reformation claimed its victims not the least from among the wealthy and potentially powerful. Since the papal bull licet ab initio (1542), arrests made on suspicion were possible. Private individuals could be arrested based on rumours or denunciations and could be detained without burden of proof


In the hands of the Society of Jesus

Luís Colón was delivered to the royal prison of Simancas a few months after his arrest in Valladolid in 1558. The jailer was Juan Mosquera de Molinas, a relative of his wife and abbot of the first order of Jesuits. According to an internal report of the Society of Jesus, Luís’ arrival in the prison elicited tremendous furore. It was recorded that the detained admiral was one of the most licentious men in the world, whom one accused of great monstrosity. He at first behaved very abrasively toward the Society of Jesus and even denied confession.

Francisco de Borja, Grandson of Pope Alexander VI. and Ferdinand of Aragon, visited Luís Colón in his cell and was later canonised.

Finally, the Jesuit general commissioner Francisco de Borja sought him out in his cell and converted him through intense discussions. Luís had now shown the requisite piety and promised the general commissioner to found a Jesuit college oversees and to bequeath the inheritance of his uncle to the Society of Jesus. On the same day, the secretary of the Jesuit community imparted to Rome that the Order was now in possession of one of the most famous libraries in the world with close to 14,000 books!

In der Folge schmolz die Sammlung von Renaissance-Büchern auf einen Bruchteil ihres ursprünglichen Umfangs: Von den auf 15'300 geschätzten Büchern Hernando Colóns sind heute in Sevilla gerade noch 5000 vorhanden. Die „Schenkung“ des Luís erfolgte im selben Jahr wie die Veröffentlichung des „Index Librorum Prohibitorum“ (1559), des ersten Index verbotener Bücher von Papst Paul IV. Nichts spricht dagegen, dass die Jesuiten einen Teil der wertvollen Renaissance-Bibliothek in der Folge nach Rom weiterleiteten: Die Jesuiten waren an einer Vormachtsstellung in der Lateinamerika-Mission interessiert und Hernando Colón hatte die meisten seiner Werke während der Reformationszeit gekauft

Subsequently, the collection of Renaissance books shrank to a fraction of its original size: Of the estimated 15,300 books of Hernando Colóns only 5000 remain in Seville today. Luís „gift“ occurred in the same year as the publication of the „Index Librorum Prohibitorum“ (1559), the first index of prohibited books issued by Pope Paul IV. Nothing contradicts the probability that the Jesuits sent a portion of the valuable Renaissance library to Rome: The Jesuits were interested in pre-eminence in the Latin American mission and Hernando Colón purchased most his works during the Reformation.

Index Librorum Prohibitorum of Pope Paul IV.


Publication of the „true report“ 1571

After Luís bequeathed the inheritance of his uncle Hernando to the Society of Jesus, his hopes for release from prison were not fulfilled. He was transferred to a cell in Seville. Luís now tried to pass on the last remaining thread of his large inheritance, the still unpublished manuscript of his uncle Hernando Colón. In the year 1560 three men from Italy arrived, to whom Luís entrusted the manuscript along with 2600 ducats: Baliano di Fornari, a Genoese nobleman, Próspero Publicola, the later Cardinal of Santa Cruz, and the Spanish author, publisher and translator Alfonso Ulloa. The three travelled from Seville to Venice, where Alfonso Ulloa translated the manuscript into Italian (publications in Spanish and Italian were planned). But in 1568 the translator Ulloa landed in prison. He began to write despairing letters to the Spanish King Philipp II, and among other things stressed that his illnesses kept him from his work and that he would not survive the next winter in his cold cell in Venice. But Phillipp II had no reason to lobby for an underling: He bore the stain of the pro-French espionage (Ulloa had already been sentenced to death for it once). Ulloa completed the translation but died shortly thereafter in 1570 in prison. The original manuscript in the Spanish language has since disappeared. This is unfortunate and it is surprising that it has never been searched for.
From a coincidentally discovered correspondence (1570) between the Duke of Alba Fernando Álvarez de Toledo and Peter Ernst of Mansfelt there arise interesting things, namely that Alfonso Ulloa had simultaneously been working, in the prison in Venice, on a critical commentary about the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands. The Duke of Alba wrote that he would have Ulloa interrogated in his Venetian cell and confiscate all of his books (todos libros) (see the Correspondence of the Duke of Alba with Peter Ernst of Mansfield, Morel-Fatio 1913). In the same year, 1570, Ulloa died in his cell. In connection with the printing of a small book (librillo) the Duke then referred to the above mentioned Cardinal of Santa Cruz (Próspero Publicola) and emphasised that Alfonso Ulloa found himself in his service as secretary. In 1571 Hernandos „true report“ was edited in small format (librillo) – a few weeks before Venice joined the holy league of Philipp II and lost its independence. Not much is known about the Cardinal– except that he had been nuncio in the Austrian and French court, before he made a steep career under the council pope Pius IV (1559—65). If it had not been possible for the Duke of Alba to confiscate the manuscript in time and if it had arrived in the hands of the Cardinal, then it might have been in Rome today.

Frontispiece and introduction to Hernando Colón’s Chronicle, Venice 1571 (Facsimile 1992)

Hernando’s chronicle was finally printed in 1571 as a „history“ by Franceschi Sanese (Venice). The introduction was written by a certain Guiseppe Moleto (1531—1588), an astronomer from southern Italy and private tutor of the Prince Guglielmo Gonzagas III of Mantua (1538—1587). Mantua was at the time cultivating a relationship with the Genoese noble family Fieschi and to the dukedom Montferrat; the latter was earned from Margherita Paläologa (1510—1566) in her marriage to the Prince of Mantua. According to her coat of arms she was an impoverished descendent of the Kings of Jerusalem (Re de Gerusaleme) as well as of the Imperatori d’ Oriente, the Greek dynasty of the Palaeogene. From the Montferrat also stemmed a certain Baldassare Colombo, who travelled in1572 to Spain in order to initiate a process regarding the succession of Columbus (he claimed to be related to the explorer). Guglielmo Gonzaga III of Mantua verifiably supported him in this mission.



Christopher Columbus had good reasons to hold back his past. Since the accusation of high treason and his removal from power (1500) he remainded silent about his activities as a former corsair and his involvements to the wars of succession against Aragon. After his death, it became even more difficult to clear up his original career. Although Hernandos chronicle – containing statements going back to Columbus himself – could have been printed under the title “Historie” as a small-format translation (1571), the original manuscript is lost to the present day; 1571 Spanish officials confiscated even Las Casas’ voluminous Historia de las Indias, an account, which would have confirmed Hernandos point of view.
Fact is: Christopher Columbus, his brothers, his father, his uncle and very likely also his ancesters were members of the Medieval dynasty of Anjou, a royal house, which had shaped Europe culturally and politically for centuries. During the attempt to defy the kingdom of Aragon militarily, this dynasty died out with its last exponent René of Anjou in 1480. Christopher Columbus and his brothers were deprived of their livelihoods. After several new orientations ending up with an inevitably growing autonomy Columbus was obliged to subordinate himself to his former enemy Ferdinand of Aragon after Queen Isabella’s death (1504). The mistrust endured with Ferdinand of Aragon as much as with Christopher Columbus.
In contrast to the pragmatic king, the Genoese sailor tried to find a way out of the war economy and the political chaos of his epoque with the help of medieval utopia. Columbus interpreted his discovery prophetically, and he was successful in substantiating his enterprise in a religious-ideological way: The euphoric description of the easily converted Indios, mixed with a certain mistrust of his Spanish subordinates didn’t fail to have an impact on his contemporaries. And after his death, his descriptions even seemed to be useful for the interests of the Anti-Hapsburg powers. The brutality of the Spaniards, impressively shown by Bartolomé de las Casa, the Advocate of the Indios, furnished the up-and-coming naval powers England and the Netherlands the (moral) justification to intervene in the overseas possessions. There is a historical arc respecting this point of view between the dynasty of the middle ages and the rising sea powers of the modern era. The Power Vacuum, left by Columbus’ heirs because of Luís Colóns long lasting captivity skilfully taken advantage of by the enemies of Hapsburg. In 1586 Francis Drake occupied the city of Santo Domingo and in the 17th century the English pirate Henry Morgan established in Jamaica, an island which was a dukedom of the family Colón. From here he regularly attacked the Spanish silver fleet, coming back from South America.
The idea of a paradisal original state, where the Indios as the “noble savage” were protagonists, served mainly for the European’s own edification – the Indios were excluded from the theological, philosophical and juridical discussions right from the beginning. Columbus’ original “merit” is therefore the creation of a new utopian projections, which served in later centuries as a safety ventil for intolerable living conditions, and which inspired the imaginations of all those who intended to emigrate.
With regard to Bartolomé de Las Casas, one has to be aware today, that those images of him had been created under certain circumstances and intentions, strongly connected to the first decades of the 16th century. The way the monk reduces everything to black and white reflects the political state of Europe in early modern times, which was deeply split by religious questions. The original intention of Las Casas, to do away with the suffering of the Indios through radical laws and drastic measures in order to make true Christians out of them, faded away and degenerated into a instrument of propaganda against the Hapsburg empire. The radical political statements of our own days – particularly those concerned with colonialism - have little to do with the motivations of radical political statements in the past, and therefore should be looked at entirely independently.