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Old 02-22-2023, 04:53 PM   #31 (permalink)
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Yeah I think you can blame Columbus considering he was dragged back to Spain in chains cause even the Spanish were appalled by his brutality. He even actively prevented conversion of the indigenous people to Christianity since that would mean they couldn't be enslaved.
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Old 02-22-2023, 06:40 PM   #32 (permalink)
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Spain: A Union of Equals under Their Catholic Majesties

No, I am not jumping ahead. I have no intention of telling you here how it came about that the king and queen of Spain ended up being the ones who financed the Columbus voyage, that will come later. All I want to do here is see how things stood in Spain, and how and why he was able to go to the Spanish court and get the help he needed. And as always, for that, we need to go back in time a little and check out the situation in Spain and how it came to be where it was by the time of Columbus. And one thing I find amazing, which I certainly did not know, is that for over 700, nearly in fact 800 years, Spain and Portugal - known then as the Iberian Peninsula, or Hispania - were under Muslim control, part of what was called the Umayyad Caliphate, which at its height stretched from Syria in the Middle East to Egypt in North Africa, and covered over four million square miles, making it one of the largest empires in history. Interestingly, and perhaps at odds with current Islamic countries, both Christians and Jews were not only allowed practice their own religion in the Caliphate, but could also hold government positions.

Without getting too much though into the history, in 718 or 722 the Christian States began to invade, ostensibly to take back land they had lost to the Muslims, in what became known as the Reconquista, or reconquest, a period of wars that would last for over six centuries, and which would culminate, in one of those little quirks of history, in the very year Columbus would discover (yes, yes!) America, as Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille took the last remaining kingdom in the Caliphate, Granada. In truth though the Caliphate had been smashed two hundred years earlier, with the major battles of Cordoba (1256) and Seville (1248) bringing all but Granada under the control of the Catholic monarchs. Bad news for the Jews, incidentally, who, having lived in relative peace under the Caliphate were expelled under the Alhambra Decree in 1492 unless they converted, and Muslims were equally treated, though the latter were then expelled anyway a century later. This draconian law was not revoked until the nineteenth century, and symbolically so another century later, in 1968.


As can be seen from the map above, Spain in the Middle Ages was made up mostly of three major kingdoms, these being primarily Aragon and Castille, with Leon, Navarra and Galacia, and as Castille in time absorbed Leon, Cordoba, Navarra and Seville, as well as the other smaller kingdoms they became known as the Crown of Castille. When Ferdinand married Isabella their union signified the joining of the two main kingdoms into one, which became espana, modern Spain. Rather than being known as king and queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella were given by the Pope the title of “The Catholic Monarchs” in 1494, though they had married in 1469.


King Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452 - 1516)

Although born a prince of the blood, the second son of King John of Castille, Ferdinand was not the heir to the throne until the mysterious death - some say poisoning at the hands of his stepmother - of his elder brother Charles. A child prodigy, he was nevertheless respectful of the lower classes, ensuring he would, when he took the Crown of Castille, be loved by them, and when his mother died in only his sixteenth year he conducted the arrangements for her funeral (his father being away at battle) and then joined King John, a seasoned campaigner by seventeen. It’s easy to take written accounts of the man as fawning, exaggerated or even politically motivated, but certain attributes seem to be common to all the ones I’ve read: smiling eyes, kindness, gentle handling of the poor, pious, moderate, humble, thoughtful - these are all mentioned in about seven different sketches of him by various authors, so there must be some truth in them. Few if any have a bad word to say about him.

His marriage in 1460 to Isabella of Castille was not smiled upon: her half-brother, Henry IV of Castille, had wished Ferdinand to marry instead the daughter of the Duke of Burgundy, Mary, and was so angry at the match that he disinherited Isabella in favour of his daughter Joanna. Once Henry died, Isabella turned the tables on her niece and took the throne of Castille for herself. Seems Ferdinand was a bit miffed at this, possibly (though I’m just guessing here) because he expected to be crowned king, and was only referred to as Isabella’s “legitimate husband” (there’s damning with faint praise if ever I heard it). So he returned hotfoot to Segovia, where his wife had set up court, and they had a right old ding-dong, thrashing it out just in time to face a challenge from Joanna’s hubby, Alfonso V, king of Portugal, who wanted the throne for his wife and himself. Isabella thus claimed Portugal as hers, and war were declared.

Ferdinand of course brought Aragon in on her side, but her own people were divided, some of them rooting for the woman they believed to be the true heir to the throne, Queen Joanna of Portugal. France got involved - not surprisingly, on the side of Portugal, as Ferdinand had been in the middle of battling their forces when the news of Isabella’s coronation had reached him - while various other Spanish states, such as Navarre, Granada and Galicia, had enough troubles of their own with civil wars and said “you’re all right, mate: you just continue on without us.” The war raged on for four years, but in the end Ferdinand and Isabella were victorious, and in 1481, with the death of his father and his ascension to the throne of Aragon, Ferdinand merged his kingdom with that of Isabella, and Castille and Aragon became the foundation of what is today modern Spain.

So with the final annexation of Granada in 1492, it would seem Ferdinand and Isabella were powerful enough, jointly as rulers of the new Spain, to have considered gaining new territory, which may be (we will see) why they were prepared to back Columbus. Even so, you would imagine after such a costly war with the French and Portuguese, that they might not have been so quick to pony up the readies. However, I have read in passing that there was some form of financial trickery/compulsion used which ended up leaving Ferdinand’s accountant personally responsible for shouldering much of the burden of the loan the Crown gave to Columbus. If so, then it was a pretty clever masterstroke.


Queen Isabella I of Castile (1451 - 1504)

The other half of the power double in Spain was of course Queen Isabella, monarch of Castile, but as already mentioned she was only third in line to the throne, her half-brother Henry being the heir when their father, John II, died, and she and her brother Alfonso being basically kicked to the curb, left to all but starve in a castle until summoned to court by the King of Portugal, who made sure they were looked after and educated. Alfonso died in 1458, leaving Isabella next in line to the throne. With a civil war going on in Castile, Henry tried to marry his sister off to various princes and nobles in order to secure alliances, but none succeeded. One such suitor, Charles of Berry, actually died on the way to meet his proposed new bride, who had prayed to God not to let the marriage take place. Guess God was quicker in those days!

In the end, the marriage between her and the man she had been originally betrothed to, and who would become King of Aragon, took place with quite a dash of romance. Isabella, fearing she would be prevented by her brother marrying Ferdinand, legged it from the palace while he met her disguised as a servant. The two eloped, basically, and were married in 1469. Ah, bless. They would soon become the two most powerful forces in the country, their twin kingdoms uniting to create modern Spain. Isabella was crowned Queen of Castile on the death of her brother five years later, but was immediately challenged by King Afonso V of Portugal, who believed Henry’s daughter, Joanna, was the rightful heir, and they went back and forth till eventually Castile were able to claim the victory, and Isabella’s reign was ratified.

She proved to be a more than competent ruler. In a time when England had yet to see its first (official) queen, and most of Europe was ruled by men, she grasped the political and economic realities with the acumen of any man, and better than most. She re-established justice and law and order throughout Castile, sorted out the finances and grew to be a well-liked monarch
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Old 02-22-2023, 06:52 PM   #33 (permalink)
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Queen Isabella I of Castile (1451 - 1504)
I had no idea she was so hot. The chins, the hairline, the lazy eye. Yum.
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Old 02-22-2023, 06:54 PM   #34 (permalink)
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At any rate, we will find out, as it is now time to return to the man about whom this whole article is being written.

Oh, you were wondering when we’d get back to him, were you? Well, had to set the scene, and now that we’ve done that, back we go.

And I mean back.


Christopher Columbus (1451 - 1506)

Though little is really known of Columbus’s birth or even his early life, most seem to agree that he came from Genoa, one of the states of what would become Italy, and his father, Domenico, looks to have married into money, as he was a mere wool weaver who also ran a cheese shop on the side, whereas his wife, Susanna Fontanarossa (sounds like an Italian sports car!) was the daughter of a wealthy real estate developer in Corsica. Christopher was the first son of Domenico and Susanna, and three more would arrive along with the last, a daughter. One of his brothers, Bartolomeo, would go on to be a map-maker, and Christopher himself would study at the University of Pavia, though at age fourteen he would leave - whether this means he dropped out, graduated or was expelled we have no idea due to the scarcity, almost non-existence of records of his early life, but there is no mention made later of any disgrace, so it may reasonably be assumed, I would think, that he either completed his studies or that the call of the sea proved too strong for him to remain in education. What exactly contributed to his interest in the life of a mariner I have no clue; there was no history of either naval service or exploration or even trade on his father’s side, and his mother came from a line of realtors, so it’s doubtful there was any wanderlust in the Fontanarossas either.

It could of course have been the simple desire to see beyond his own country that drew Columbus to the sea. In a time where the only way to see other lands was to take passage on a ship, it’s possible he just decided he wanted to see more of the world. Perhaps his studies (geography and navigation were among the subjects he took at the university, perhaps underlining how common it might be for young men to become sailors) gave him the spur; perhaps learning about other countries, and also how to handle and navigate a ship, might have instilled in him a desire to put that knowledge into practice and make a name for himself. It’s probably likely - almost certain, one would assume, at that age - that he started as a cabin boy on some ship and, literally, learned the ropes, until he was able to captain his own ship. And then of course there were always wars, and wars need ships and ships need captains. Columbus was involved in the war between Genoa and Venice from 1461- 1463, and commanded a fleet of galleys near Cyprus.

"In 1477," he says, in one of his letters, "in the month of February, I sailed more than a hundred leagues beyond Tile." By this he means Thule, or Iceland. "Of this island the southern part is seventy-three degrees from the equator, not sixty-three degrees, as some geographers pretend."

But here he was wrong. The Southern part of Iceland is in the
latitude of sixty-three and a half degrees.

"The English, chiefly those of Bristol, carry their merchandise, to this island, which is as large as England. When I was there the sea was not frozen, but the tides there are so strong that they rise and fall twenty-six cubits."

It could also have had to do with the attack on Constantinople, which changed Europe fundamentally.

The Fall of Constantinople (1453)

Constantinople, now called Istanbul, was one of the great cities and centres of power of the medieval world. The hub of the mighty Byzantine Empire, and named after the first Roman emperor to legalise christianity, Constantine the Great, the city had stood for over a thousand years, and despite two attacks and sieges by Arabs, in 674 and 717, and Christian Crusaders in 1204, it was still standing by Columbus’s time. However, successive attacks by Latins, Bulgarians, Serbs and Ottoman Turks had reduced and weakened the city, and the arrival of the Black Death in 1346 did not help matters, wiping out nearly half of the city’s population, and leaving it ripe, once Europe had recovered from the Plague, for conquest. By 1450, the once-great city had shrunk to a few walled villages, the Byzantine Empire was on its last legs, and Constantinople was really nothing more than a shaky house of cards, just waiting for one push to bring it all down.

The ones to provide that push were the Turks of the Ottoman Empire.

Their new young ruler, Mehmed II, knew the history of his people and he wanted Constantinople back. He of course knew too how weak the ancient centre of the Byzantine Empire had become, and was eager to prove himself. He built a second fortress on the Bosphorus Strait, to complement the one built there decades ago by his great-grandfather, and effectively blocking off any potential aid which might come from Greece, where the brothers of Constantine XI, now ruling in what was left of Constantinople, held sway. Constantine turned to western Europe for help, but apart from there being bad feeling between him and the Pope, most of the European powers had just ended major wars, such as the Hundred Years War between France and England and the Reconquista, which had taken up most of Spain’s military and financial resources, so in effect Constantinople met the threat of the Turks without allies.

And they needed them. A force of about 7,000 defended the city, with the Turks mustering up to ten times that many, according to various estimates. Even the lower estimate though reckons their strength to have been 50,000, so at least seven to one. Plus they had cannon, about 70 of them, while the garrison had only a few old outdated and pretty low-powered pieces of artillery. The Ottomans had massive cannon which, though slow to reload - three hours - and unreliable were nevertheless devastating, and no doubt struck fear into the defenders when they saw them being hauled towards the city.

In the end, the Siege of Constantinople lasted 53 days, the city finally falling on May 29 1453, as the power of the Ottoman Empire was turned against Christendom. I suppose in twenty-first century terms the Fall of Constantinople might be equated, in terms of shock and disbelief, to the attack on the Twin Towers. It was a black day for Christianity, and though they hoped one day the city would be recovered it never was, as Istanbul, as it became known, is now the capital of Turkey, a Muslim nation.

What has all this to do with Christopher Columbus, I hear you ask? Well to be honest, I don’t know, but I imagine it must have had some effect upon his desire to explore and also to find new territories for the Spanish Crown in the face of the growing Muslim threat from the east. At any rate, we pick up the story of Columbus as he reaches his thirties, and marries Philippa de Perestrello, the daughter of another mariner, an ex-Portuguese governor, in 1477. It was from Lisbon that he began trying to solicit interest in his plan to reach Japan (known in Marco Polo’s famous travel book as Cipango) which he believed to be the closest point to Europe, and as he was in Portugal it only made sense to hit up the Portuguese King, John II, who had already authorised the voyage of Bartholomew Diaz to Africa, where the navigator had discovered the Cape of Good Hope.

At this time, it was still believed the only way to get to the East Indies was to sail east, down along the African coast, while Columbus’s idea was that if you sailed west, and the world was round, as most believed it was (though it had yet to be conclusively proven beyond doubt shut up Flat Earthers nobody cares) then the Indies could be reached that way, which would be a much shorter and quicker route. Mostly though, what he was offering was trade advantages. Spices, silks, carpets, drugs were all imported from India, and very popular. If they could be transported faster and more conveniently by his proposed route, the monarch who cornered that enterprise would stand to become rich as, well, a king, but a very rich king. Perhaps several. Not to mention the prestige that would accrue to him.

However now we come to the crux of the matter. Columbus explained his vision to King Alphonso V, but he rather inconveniently died in 1481 and passed the throne to his son, John II, who nodded and smiled as Columbus explained his plan, then went and gave it to another mariner to try out, before he shelled out the readies. Sadly for this sailor, and the king, but not for Columbus, the big girl’s blouse got scared of an iddy-biddy massive storm and fucked off back home. John hadn’t let on about his “test run”, but when the fleet came back into Lisbon harbour trailing a brown streak in the sea, he knew which was the wind blew (well he would, wouldn’t he, being a sailor and all?) and told John exactly where he could stuff it, and in high dudgeon (no point being in low dudgeon; might as well not be in any dudgeon at all if you’re not going to be in high) he sodded off to Spain, where history was about to be made, leaving John II of Portugal most likely slapping his forehead and muttering “Fuck.”

So, although he hadn’t actually asked the Duke of Milan for help, being an Italian that was technically Italy and now Portugal down.
Third time’s the charm.
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Old 02-22-2023, 06:59 PM   #35 (permalink)
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Yeah I think you can blame Columbus considering he was dragged back to Spain in chains cause even the Spanish were appalled by his brutality. He even actively prevented conversion of the indigenous people to Christianity since that would mean they couldn't be enslaved.
Well yeah probably, but I just can't see say Francis Drake or some German explorer or some French guy going "oh let's live in peace." I'm not saying Columbus wasn't a cunt, just that they were all cunts back then and no matter who "discovered" America, it wasn't going to end well. Remember Leif Ericsson and his war with the natives?
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I had no idea she was so hot. The chins, the hairline, the lazy eye. Yum.
I know. What a beauty. And look who she was married to. Looks like he should be sitting at a special table with a bib, being fed soft gruel or something doesn't he? Classic Spanish beauty, huh?
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Old 02-22-2023, 07:07 PM   #36 (permalink)
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I know. What a beauty. And look who she was married to. Looks like he should be sitting at a special table with a bib, being fed soft gruel or something doesn't he? Classic Spanish beauty, huh?
I was thinking, if dumpsters existed in the fifteenth century, that's where he woke up every morning. He has that beer for breakfast look.
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Old 02-22-2023, 11:21 PM   #37 (permalink)
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Well yeah probably, but I just can't see say Francis Drake or some German explorer or some French guy going "oh let's live in peace." I'm not saying Columbus wasn't a cunt, just that they were all cunts back then and no matter who "discovered" America, it wasn't going to end well. Remember Leif Ericsson and his war with the natives?


I know. What a beauty. And look who she was married to. Looks like he should be sitting at a special table with a bib, being fed soft gruel or something doesn't he? Classic Spanish beauty, huh?
Sure but "people were just like that back then" is a lazy copout. Not everyone was like that. People recognized how ****ed up it was.

Now, I don't chalk this up to Chris being a once in a generation bad dude, I chalk this up to the economic incentives that drive all ****heads with enough startup cash they can scrape together without already being rich enough to luxuriate in pre-existing opulence without getting on their alpha grindset.

They're not peasants working the land but they also have aristocrats lording over them to aspire to and so they do the worst things to attain that next level of wealth so they can have that opulence and this is what our version of Jeff Bezos is, or Cecil Rhodes who was a whatever son of a modestly wealthy family who had to use that modest wealth to found South Africa and become literally the worst dude.
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There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting factories and power-stations; I hope that, encouraged now as ‘patriotism’, may remain a habit! But it won’t do any good, if it is not universal.
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Old 02-23-2023, 05:19 AM   #38 (permalink)
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I'm not saying "people were like that back then". I'm saying people are STILL like that. I'm not for a moment excusing his behaviour, as I think I said. I'm just saying we're not in a situation here where, another guy on board the SM finding America wouldn't have done the same. The idea across Europe was, and to some extent still is, though not as upfront, that the white European was the apex and all other civilisations were inferior. You seem to keep thinking I'm giving him a pass and shrugging and saying it wasn't his fault, he was a man of his time. I'm not: I'm saying no matter who "discovered" America for Europe, the same thing would have happened.

Basically, tl;dr: fuck Columbus but anyone in his time and we would have been saying fuck that guy.

I've explained it now and I'm not going to engage in any more argument about it with you, as you seem to want to have a debate that doesn't exist.
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Old 03-26-2023, 07:23 PM   #39 (permalink)
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Spanish Gold: Their Catholic Majesties Bankroll the Voyage

It seems pretty incredible to me that at this point Columbus is believed to have been about fifty years of age. Remember, this was the fifteenth century, when human life expectancy was much lower than it is today. Columbus would have been considered well past middle age and perhaps heading into old age, and for a man of such “advanced years” to undertake a grand enterprise like this must have added to the doubts of those who believed it pure folly. He also had a son by now, Diego, and with the passing of his wife had taken a mistress in Castile, Beatriz Enriquez de Arana, who would give him a second son, Fernando. Columbus first gained the attention and interest of two dukes, the Duke of Medina Celi and the Duke of Medina Sidonia, with the former so enthused that he was ready to provide a small fleet for the Genoan, but had second thoughts at the last minute, believing the project required royal backing.

And so he introduced Columbus to Ferdinand and Isabella, and the proposal was made. Since Constantinople had fallen, the usual access route to the Indies, the famous Silk Road, had been closed, making travel east even more difficult and more dangerous. Columbus told the two Spanish monarchs (it’s not recorded if Isabella was present when he had his first audience with her husband, but she was brought in later) that it was his hope to convert the “Indians” to Christianity, and that the proceeds of trade which would result from the discovery, and conquest of the New World would enable Ferdinand and Isabella to mount a campaign to take back Jerusalem from the Muslims. For two such deeply Catholic monarchs - so much so that they had, as mentioned, been titled as such by the Pope - such an opportunity was not to be missed.

The monarchs convened a council, this perhaps showing how both were prepared to listen to others and let them make the arguments and ask the questions about which they themselves knew little or nothing; Ferdinand has already been noted as having been a pious and humble man, and while Isabella certainly had a firebrand streak, both monarchs knew that there were those in Spain who were better placed to make a judgement on this man’s proposal. Much was discussed, including religious scripture, the actual distance to the West Indies - which it turned out Columbus had very much underestimated - and of course the cost and its potential return to the Crown. In the end, no decision was reached, but Columbus was kept at the Spanish court, mostly, presumably, to prevent him offering the idea to other kings. He did receive an invitation to return to Portugal and again make his proposal to King John, though it doesn’t say whether or not he accepted, and I think not; he sent Bartholomew to England to talk to King Henry VII, but a run-in with pirates delayed his brother’s arrival on England’s shores by a year, only arriving in 1491.

In January of the next year, which would be forever remembered in history - incorrectly - as the year America was discovered - Columbus tired of waiting around for an answer that seemed no closer in coming, and headed off to see if the King of France might be interested. On the way towards the seaport of Palos, he and his son stopped at the convent of St. Mary of Ribada, where the abbot, Juan Perez de Marchena, begged him to try once more with the Spanish monarchs before petitioning the French one. He had in fact been Isabella’s confessor, and so was well in with her, and when he convinced Columbus to send a messenger, the queen received him favourably and told him Columbus should return to the court for an audience.

He arrived with, it would seem, the stars aligning for him, as Spain had finally taken back Granada and thus pushed the last Muslims out of their land, destroying the last remnants of the Umayyad Caliphate, so one obstacle which had been presented to him previously was removed. However he ran into problems with the new Archbishop of Granada, who thought it scandalous that Columbus should demand one-tenth of all the revenues from the voyage. Isabella’s confessor, Luis de St. Angel, could see how things were going and at this impasse realised Columbus was again frogbound, and anxious that Spain not lose the glory of supporting this voyage he interceded. Isabella listened to his counsel and agreed. Thunderbirds were, so to speak, go.

What I find a little odd about this is that Ferdinand was the original of the two monarchs Columbus approached, and Isabella was apparently not there, but then she seems to have completely taken over the negotiations, her husband not even at court when she made her decision. I mean, sure, later he would have looked back and said “Good call, babe”, but would he not have been a little ticked off to have had such a huge decision made by his wife without consulting him? Guess he was busy somewhere, though it doesn’t say where.

The problem was, though, there was no cash. Spain had, as I’ve said already once or twice, just come out of a costly war to take back its lands from the Muslims, and the cupboard was bare. Isabella apparently pledged her own jewels as collateral, making the voyage really more under her patronage than that of Ferdinand, and also giving her a larger role in the administration of the New World, which would be considered really more Castilian than Spanish. The funds were actually advanced though by the confessor, St. Angel, from the ecclesiastical revenues.
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Old 03-26-2023, 07:54 PM   #40 (permalink)
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First Voyage

Columbus had of course no problem securing crew for the three caravels (old sailing ships) he had been granted for the voyage. Every able-bodied man was ready and eager to face the unknown, sail into uncharted seas and brave the monsters of the deep, spend years away from their families in search of a land which might not even exist, and if it did, might very well be hostile. The prospect of dying at sea filled the sailors with… well, you know where I’m going with this, don’t you? There was in fact fierce resistance to and reluctance for the voyage, and it was only through the efforts of his main supporters and friends, the Pinzon brothers, respected sailors and merchants who announced they would personally travel on the voyage, that doubts were removed.

The three ships are known to history as having been the Santa Maria, Columbus’s flagship and the largest of the three, the Nina and the Pinta. It seems the Santa Maria was originally called Gallego, but Columbus had its name changed (thought that was something superstitious sailors avoided, believing it was bad luck?) and the entire crew of 120 men set sail on the morning of August 3, Columbus marking the beginning of the great voyage in his log:

"Friday, August 3, 1492. Set sail from the bar of Saltes at 8 o'clock, and proceeded with a strong breeze till sunset sixty miles, or fifteen leagues south, afterward southwest and south by west, which is in the direction of the Canaries."

As an aside, this really was the answer to the sixty-four thousand dollar question, as it seems that is the equivalent in today’s money as to how much the Crown shelled out for the enterprise. First port of call was to be the Canaries, and as it happened they had to pull in here anyway as the rudder of the Nina broke, believed to be sabotage by its owners, from whom it was taken by the Crown as a fine, or possibly the sailors themselves, afraid of the voyage. Either way, it was repaired and the small fleet set out again on September 6 for a six-week voyage west. On September 16 they arrived in what would become known as the Sargasso Sea, where large clumps of green seaweed floated, Now that they were out in the unknown, Columbus worried about mutiny if his crew were to discover how far from home they actually were, and so he fudged the figures, writing one distance travelled in the log, another, the true one in his personal journal. So he would write in his journal, “Travelled fifty-five leagues, wrote only forty-eight.” A dangerous game to play, if his crew should discover he was lying to them.

He may have been made Admiral of the Oceans by Isabella, but while he had travelled widely Columbus’s blunders were many. He notes that they must be near land on September 20, as he spots a whale and considers they always stay near the coast, which is of course about as far from the truth as you can get. Two days later the trade winds, which had continued to push them west, changed, overtaken by a headwind which helped slow them down, his crew fearing perhaps they would sail off the edge of the world, or at least never see home again, having been blown so far from Spain. However, proving that it was not only the Admiral who could make a knob of himself, Martin Pinzon, in charge of the Pinta, shouted out on September 25 that he had spotted land, and headed towards it, only to find it was in fact a bank of fog.

Nevertheless, increasing flocks of seabirds showed them they were in fact coming closer to land, though Columbus believed this to be the coast of Asia, or the islands around it, when in fact it was the Bahamas. On October 10 the event which has been called in history the mutiny on board Columbus’s ship took place, but according to his own journal it was never anything close. Sure, the men were scared and fed-up, not having sighted land despite their captain’s constant assurances, but he doesn’t seem to have had any real fear that there would be any sort of mutiny. He writes:

"The seamen complained of the length of the voyage. They did not wish to go any farther. The Admiral did his best to renew their courage, and reminded them of the profits which would come to them. He added, boldly, that no
complaints would change his purpose, that he had set out to go to the Indies, and that with the Lord's assistance he should keep on until he came there."


The very next day, they sighted land. Again, from his journal:


"Oct. 11, course to west and southwest. Heavier sea than they had known, pardelas and a green branch near the caravel of the Admiral. From the Pinta they see a branch of a tree, a stake and a smaller stake, which they draw in, and which appears to have been cut with iron, and a piece of cane. Besides these, there is a land shrub and a little bit of board. The crew of the Nina saw other signs of land and a branch covered with thorns and flowers. With these tokens every-one breathes again and is delighted. They sail twenty-seven leagues on this course.

The Admiral orders that they shall resume a westerly course at sunset. They make twelve miles each hour; up till two hours after midnight they made ninety miles. The Pinta, the best sailer of the three, was ahead. She makes signals, already agreed upon, that she has discovered land. A sailor named Rodrigo de Triana was the first to see this land. For the Admiral being on the castle of the poop of the ship at ten at night really saw a light, but it was so shut in by darkness that he did not like to say that it was a sign of land. Still he called up Pedro Gutierrez, the king's chamberlain, and said to him that there seemed to be a light, and asked him to look. He did so and saw it. He said the same to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, who had been sent by the king and queen as inspector in the fleet, but he saw nothing, being indeed in a place where he could see nothing.

After the Admiral spoke of it, the light was seen once or twice. It was like a wax candle, raised and lowered, which would appear to few to be a sign of land. But the Admiral was certain that it was a sign of land. Therefore when they said the 'Salve,' which all the sailors are used to say and sing in their fashion, the Admiral ordered them to look out well from the forecastle, and he would give at once a silk jacket to the man who first saw land, besides the other rewards which the sovereigns had ordered, which were 10,000 maravedis, to be paid as an annuity forever to the man who saw it first. At two hours after midnight land appeared, from which they were about two leagues off.


It was in fact an island, and it wasn’t long before they caught sight of people, natives, the first to encounter Europeans, or at least, Europeans who were about to enslave, annihilate or forcibly convert them. Although land was sighted on October 11, they did not reach it till the next day, therefore the actual discovery day is taken as being October 12, 1492. After Columbus, the two Pinzons and a landing party (sorry) had taken possession of the new land - which he called San Salvador, and by which name it is still known today - for Ferdinand and Isabella, the rest of the story is best described by the Admiral himself.

"So that they may feel great friendship for us, and because I knew that they were a people who would be better delivered and converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force, I gave to someof them red caps and glass bells which they put round their necks, and many other things of little value, in which they took much pleasure, and they remained so friendly to us that it was wonderful. Afterwards they came swimming to the ship's boats where we were. And they brought us parrots and cotton-thread in skeins, and javelins and many other things. And they bartered them with us for other things, which we gave them, such as little glass beads and little bells. In short, they took everything, and gave of what they had with good will. But it seemed to me that they were a people very destitute of everything.

They all went as naked as their mothers bore them, and the women as well, although I only saw one who was really young. And all the men I saw were young, for I saw none more than thirty years of age; very well made, with very handsome persons, and very good faces; their hair thick like the hairs of horses' tails, and cut short. They bring their hair above their eyebrows, except a little behind, which they wear long, and never cut. Some of them paint themselves blackish (and they are of the color of the inhabitants of the Canaries, neither black nor white), and some paint themselves white, and some red, and some with whatever they can get. And some of them paint their faces, and some all their bodies, and some only the eyes, and some only the nose.

They do not bear arms nor do they know them, for I showed them swords and they took them by the edge, and they cut themselves through ignorance. They have no iron at all; their javelins are rods without iron, and some of them have a fish's tooth at the end, and some of them other things. They are all of good stature, and good graceful appearance, well made. I saw some who had scars of wounds in their bodies, and I made signs to them (to ask) what that was, and they showed me how people came there from other islands which lay around, and tried to take them captive and they defended themselves. And I believed, and I (still) believe, that they came there from the mainland to take them for captives.

They would be good servants, and of good disposition, for I see that they repeat very quickly everything which is said to them. And I believe that they could easily be made Christians, for it seems to me that they have no belief. I, if it please our Lord, will take six of them to your Highnesses at the time of my departure, so that they may learn to talk. No wild creature of any sort have I seen, except parrots, in this island."


All these are the words of the Admiral, says Las Casas. The journal of the next day is in these words:

Saturday, October 13. "As soon as the day broke, many of these men came to the beach, all young, as I have said, and all of good stature, a very handsome race. Their hair is not woolly, but straight and coarse, like horse hair, and all with much wider foreheads and heads than any other people I have seen up to this time. And their eyes are very fine and not small, and they are not black at all, but of the color of the Canary Islanders. And nothing else could be expected, since it is on one line of latitude with the Island of Ferro, in the Canaries.

They came to the ship with almadias,(*) which are made of the trunk of a tree, like a long boat, and all of one piece—and made in a very wonderful manner in the fashion of the country—and large enough for some of them to hold forty or forty-five men. And others are smaller, down to such as hold one man alone. They row with a shovel like a baker's, and it goes wonderfully well. And if it overturns, immediately they all go to swimming and they right it, and bale it with calabashes which they carry.


(*) Arabic word for raft or float; here it means canoes.

They brought skeins of spun cotton, and parrots, and javelins, and other little things which it would be wearisome to write down, and they gave everything for whatever was given to them. And I strove attentively to learn whether there were gold. And I saw that some of them had a little piece of gold hung in a hole which they have in their noses. And by signs I was able to understand that going to the south, or going round the island to the southward, there was a king there who had great vessels of it, and had very much of it. I tried to persuade them to go there; and afterward I saw that they did not understand about going.

I determined to wait till the next afternoon, and then to start for the southwest, for many of them told me that there was land to the south and southwest and northwest, and that those from the northwest came often to fight with them, and so to go on to the southwest to seek gold and precious stones.

This island is very large and very flat and with very green trees, and many waters, and a very large lake in the midst, without any mountain. And all of it is green, so that it is a pleasure to see it. And these people are so gentle, and desirous to have our articles and thinking that nothing can be given them unless they give something and do not keep it back. They take what they can, and at once jump (into the water) and swim (away). But all that they have they give for whatever is given them. For they barter even for pieces of porringus, and of broken glass cups, so that I saw sixteen skeins of cotton given for three Portuguese centis, that is a blanca of Castile, and there was more than twenty-five pounds of spun cotton in them. This I shall forbid, and not let anyone take (it); but I shall have it all taken for your Highnesses, if there is any quantity of it.

It grows here in this island, but for a short time I could not believe it at all. And there is found here also the gold which they wear hanging to their noses; but so as not to lose time I mean to go to see whether I can reach the island of Cipango. Now as it was night they all went ashore with their almadias."


Sunday, October 14. "At daybreak I had the ship's boat and the boats of the caravels made ready, and I sailed along the island, toward the north-northeast, to see the other port, * * * * what there was (there), and also to see the towns, and I soon saw two or three, and the people, who all were coming to the shore, calling us and giving thanks to God. Some brought us water, others things to eat. Others, when they saw that I did not care to go ashore, threw themselves into the sea and came swimming, and we understood that they asked us if we had come from heaven. And an old man came into the boat, and others called all (the rest) men and women, with a loud voice: 'Come and see the men who have come from heaven; bring them food and drink.'

"There came many of them and many women, each one with something, giving thanks to God, casting themselves on the ground, and raising their heads toward heaven. And afterwards they called us with shouts to come ashore. But I feared (to do so), for I saw a great reef of rocks which encircles all that island. And in it there is bottom and harbor for as many ships as there are in all Christendom, and its entrance very narrow. It is true that there are some shallows inside this ring, but the sea is no rougher than in a well.

And I was moved to see all this, this morning, so that I might be able to give an account of it all to your Highnesses, and also (to find out) where I might make a fortress. And I saw a piece of land formed like an island, although it is not one, in which there were six houses, which could be cut off in two days so as to become an island; although I do not see that it is necessary, as this people is very ignorant of arms, as your Highnesses will see from seven whom I had taken, to carry them off to learn our speech and to bring them back again. But your Highnesses, when you direct, can take them all to Castile, or keep them captives in this same island, for with fifty men you can keep them all subjected, and make them do whatever you like.

And close to the said islet are groves of trees, the most beautiful I have seen, and as green and full of leaves as those of Castile in the months of April and May, and much water. I looked at all that harbor and then I returned to the ship and set sail, and I saw so many islands that I could not decide to which I should go first. And those men whom I had taken said to me by signs that there were so very many that they were without number, and they repeated by name more than a hundred. At last I set sail for the largest one, and there I determined to go. And so I am doing, and it will be five leagues from the island of San Salvador, and farther from some of the rest, nearer to others. They all are very flat, without mountains and very fertile, and all inhabited. And they make war upon each other although they are very simple, and (they are) very beautifully formed."


It’s rather amusing that he seems to have wanted to protect these people, but would end up being the agency of their doom. Of course, one of the first things Columbus wanted to do, once they had landed and spoken with the natives (presumably after a fashion, since it’s certain neither could speak the other’s language) was to find gold. After all, Ferdinand and Isabella would be delighted with the new territories, but first and foremost they would want gold. And as he had noticed the “savages” wearing gold, Columbus knew it was available. He didn’t manage to find any though, and continued his exploration of the islands, making friends, it would seem, with just about all the natives, who were entranced by these strange foreign men, and may very well have taken them to be gods.
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