Adventures and Conquests of Pizarro - George Towle

The Death of Pizarro

After Gonzalo's departure, Pizarro remained at Lima, happy in the midst of his young family, busy building up his colonies, and having no longer any reason to fear that his rule would be again attacked by the Inca and his now scattered and overawed troops. His security seemed to be complete: no cloud dimmed the horizon of his power and glory.

But he was, quite unconsciously, really in the greatest danger; and suddenly, almost without warning, this peril was to burst upon him, and overwhelm him.

The young son of Almagro, Diego, was living in Lima, in a large house on the same square where stood Pizarro's palace. He was left in absolute freedom, to go and come as he pleased; and he indulged in a great deal of luxury and display.

Besides Diego himself, there were numerous old friends and adherents of Almagro in Lima, and in the settlements along the neighboring seacoast. Many of the veterans who had followed the old cavalier to the south still survived; and, while they revered his memory, they devotedly attached themselves to the fortunes of his young and handsome son. Almagro had made his son the heir to his claim upon Cuzco, and upon an equal share of the conquest of Peru.

All the while that Pizarro was absorbed in the settlements, these friends of Almagro, who one and all detested Pizarro, were engaged in conspiring against him. Diego's house became their common rendezvous, and almost every night a large company of cavaliers met there to plot against the governor. They could not forgive the execution of Almagro, and they were determined to avenge it at the risk of their lives.

Every now and then Pizarro received hints of these secret meetings, and was warned by his friends of the bitter feeling shared by all of Almagro's party; but he recklessly made light of these alarms, and declared that his enemies were too weak and scattered to be feared.

"Oh, poor wretches!" he would say with a pitying smile; "they have had bad luck enough: we will let them alone."

He neither took any precautions against their hostility, nor did he attempt to win their friendship. He simply treated them with contempt, and went his way, and attended to his affairs, as if they were not in existence.

Among Pizarro's favorites was a man named Picado, his secretary,—a very necessary officer indeed, as Pizarro could neither read nor write. This Picado was a very arrogant, pompous, strutting fellow, who put on a great many airs, and made a great display in his dress. He was especially hateful to Almagro's party, because he never lost an opportunity to ridicule and insult them. He used to go by Diego's house in a very ostentatious way, and display placards in his gaudy hat, with some contemptuous epithet for them. He domineered over them every day, believing himself to be safe under the cover of Pizarro's power, and sure that the "men of Chili," as Almagro's men were called, would not dare to resent his indignities.

Picado's daily insults, however, drove the hostile cavaliers to desperation. Hating Pizarro, they could not bear the insolence of his puppet. They only became more firmly resolved than ever to put an end to Pizarro's rule.

One night, twenty of Almagro's most daring and devoted followers met at Diego's house. They gathered around a long table, at the head of which the young, frank, rosy face of Diego appeared. By his side sat a very dark and fierce-looking cavalier, with long raven locks streaked with gray, a heavy mustache, and large glittering black eyes, named Juan de Rada. A dim lamp cast a feeble light through the apartment. The conspirators were one and all closely muffled in their capacious cloaks.

They talked long, in low and earnest tones; Rada speaking the most often and the most vehemently. Diego scarcely spoke a word, but listened intently to all that was said. Rada proposed a project which startled his companions. He urged it with fierce words and violent gestures; and finally the rest assented to it. There was one among them, however, who in his heart revolted from it, and who secretly resolved that it should not be executed.

Rada's plan was to waylay Pizarro on the following Sunday as he was returning to his palace from mass at the cathedral; to strike him down, and assassinate him in the street.

This decided upon, the conspirators separated, to meet again on Sunday morning at Diego's house.

The cavalier who was secretly resolved to balk the conspirators had no sooner parted from the rest than he hastened to a priest, to whom he was in the habit of confessing.

To the priest he disclosed the whole conspiracy. The holy man was startled, and at once hastened to Pizarro's palace. There he met the secretary Picado, and informed him of the danger that threatened his master. Picado carried the story, in great alarm, to Pizarro. What was his amazement when Pizarro broke into a loud laugh!

"Oh, rest easy, Picado!" he cried. "Don't you see that this is a very cunning trick of the priest? All he wants is to be made a bishop!"

Pizarro deemed it prudent, however, to apprise the judge of what he had heard, and to abstain from going to the cathedral on the appointed Sunday morning. The judge, after inquiring into the matter, came to the conclusion that there was no such conspiracy as had been reported; and, repairing to Pizarro, he said,—

"Fear nothing, marquis. No harm shall come to you while I hold the rod of justice in my hands."

On Sunday the conspirators met early at Diego Almagro's house. They were one and all armed to the teeth, and their faces betrayed a dark and stern resolution. Rada went from one to the other to see if each one was prepared for his part, and animated their purpose by his vehement words.

Diego's house stood, it chanced, next door to the cathedral; so that the conspirators, by peeping cautiously through the windows, might easily see the people going in and out of the sacred edifice. With bated breath they watched the cathedral door, and scanned each figure, as, dressed in Sabbath finery, the worshippers assembled. It was a lovely morning in the latter part of June, and all Lima seemed to have turned out to the morning mass. Spanish cavaliers came sauntering along in groups in their silken or woolen capes and plumed hats, stopped a moment to chat in the doorway, and then entered. Little knots of dark-eyed, black-haired Peruvian women, decked out with gaudy ornaments of gold, silver, and gems, and with gowns striped or checked with all the colors of the rainbow, made their way leisurely to the Christian church, whose creed, after the example of their Spanish husbands or masters, they had not unwillingly embraced.

But, as the conspirators peered anxiously from behind the curtains, they saw no signs of Pizarro. In vain they looked for his dazzling retinue, or tried to recognize his tall figure among the corners. He did not appear.

"Perhaps, after all," whispered Rada hoarsely, "we have failed to espy him as he went in. He will doubtless issue forth when mass is over."

There was an interval of breathless suspense. The minutes seemed hours, as the "men of Chili," their hands grasping their swords, remained huddled near the window. At last the congregation issued forth again. They came out slowly as they had gone in; but it was not long before the cathedral was deserted. A few stragglers alone lingered about the door, or stopped on the great square for a pleasant chat.

Rada, deadly pale, turned and gazed at his confederates. Had Pizarro been warned of their plot? If so, they were ruined. There was not a moment to be lost. They must decide at once either to make a desperate venture, or to fly for their lives. Several of the cavaliers urged the latter course.

"Perhaps," they said, "Pizarro is still ignorant of our attempt. But he will soon hear of it. Let us make our escape from Lima while we can."

Rada drew himself up, and glared fiercely upon those who thus proposed flight.

"No!" he cried. "It is too late to draw back. We must go on to the end. Let us at once, without an instant's delay, go and attack the tyrant in his palace."

Then, drawing his sword, and striding rapidly to the door, he added,—

"Follow me! We will issue into the street, declare aloud our intention, and call upon the people to come to our aid."

With this he threw open the door, and rushed out. The others followed their daring leader with one accord.

"Death to the tyrant! long live the king!" cried Rada as he appeared on the square. A few stragglers stopped, open-mouthed with amazement. In another moment a small crowd had collected; and several cavaliers drew their swords, and, repeating Rada's cry, joined the group of conspirators. Pizarro's palace stood just across the square, and thither the party hastily bent their steps. It is said, that, as they were going, one of the conspirators came to a puddle of water, and stepped around it. Rada perceived this, and exclaimed,—

"What! are you afraid of wetting your feet? You are about to wade up to your knees in blood!"

It took but a minute or two for the conspirators to reach the gate of Pizarro's lordly dwelling. This gate was a very high and heavy one, built for defense as well as for convenience. It conducted into a spacious courtyard, and this led to still another courtyard within. Had the gate been shut, it is probable that the plot would have failed. But Pizarro did not seriously suspect anything; and the great gate, as usual, was wide open.

Rada, sword in hand, boldly entered, followed by the rest. He passed quickly through the first courtyard, and made his way without resistance into the second. The conspirators were now terribly excited, and kept shouting as loud as they could, "Death to the tyrant!"

Some of Pizarro's attendants, lounging in the inner courtyard, became terror-stricken. Rada struck one of them with his sword, and he fell howling with pain upon the pavement. Another, as soon as he had gathered his senses, rushed wildly into the palace, crying out,—

"Help, help! Almagro's men are coming to murder the marquis!"

The servant ran upstairs, burst open the doors, and without ceremony plunged into the apartment where his master was.

Pizarro was seated at table, quietly dining with a few of his friends. There were Alcantara his half-brother, Velasquez the judge, the bishop, and his secretary Picado. Dinner was just finished, and the party were lingering over the fruit and wine. The terrified cry of the servant, and the fierce shouting in the courtyard, roused them from their placid enjoyment. One of the guests hastened down the stairway, but almost immediately returned, saying that the palace was indeed attacked by traitors.

At this the judge and one or two others ran out into a corridor in the rear, and let themselves down into the garden. The judge, as he clambered over, held the rod of justice, which he had with him, in his mouth: so it was true that harm only came to Pizarro when the judge no longer "held the rod of justice in his hands."

Meanwhile the fearless Pizarro did not for a moment think of flight. Rising leisurely from the table, with set teeth, and an unmoved countenance which did not even grow pale, he summoned Chaves, one of his chamberlains, and ordered him to close and bar the door of the ante-chamber which led into the corridor that the conspirators were now approaching.

"I only wish," said he quietly, "to hold the miscreants off until Alcantara and I can buckle on our armor."

Passing across the room, he took his armor from the wall, and began to incase himself in it. Alcantara with firm hand helped him, and then put his own armor on.

Unhappily Chaves neglected to obey his master's command. Instead of closing and securing the ante-chamber door, his curiosity got the better of him, and he held it ajar so as to observe the conspirators as they mounted the staircase. Seeing this with a glance of his quick eye, Rada rushed forward, closely followed by his confederates, and burst the door open.

At this moment, Alcantara, issuing from the dining-room, saw that the conspirators had forced their way into the ante-chamber. Calling hoarsely to several cavaliers and pages who were nearby, he threw himself upon Rada: the rest joined arms, and a terrible and desperate combat ensued. In a moment two or three men lay stretched on the floor. But Alcantara, wounded by half a dozen sword-thrusts, continued to struggle fiercely.

Pizarro, meanwhile, was standing in the dining, room, in vain trying to fasten on his armor. At last he angrily threw down his cuirass, and winding one arm in the folds of his cloak, so as to use it as a kind of shield, with the other he drew his sword, and boldly advanced upon his assailants.



Before they knew of his presence, Pizarro was dealing terrific blows, with quick and heavy hand, on every side of him. He fought with the strength and ferocity of a tiger: it seemed as if, old as he was, all the iron strength of his youth had been restored to him. One after another the conspirators fell, stricken to the earth by his overwhelming blows.

"What, vile traitors!" he cried in a stentorian voice, "do you come to murder me in my own house?"

For a moment his assailants seemed cowed and stunned by his impetuous attack. But now the brave Alcantara lay writhing and dying on the blood-stained floor. Pizarro's other defenders had also fallen, mortally wounded. He alone maintained himself against the murderers.

Rada, impatient to see his foe still struggling, cried out,—

"Let's have done with this! Death to the tyrant!"

At the same time, seizing one of his comrades, he hurled him bodily upon Pizarro, who seized the man by the throat, and ran him through the heart with his sword. But, as he did this, Rada quickly advanced, and plunged his dagger deep in Pizarro's throat. In an instant four or five swords were buried in the hero's body; and, crying out Jesu!" Pizarro fell headlong upon the floor.

Gasping for breath, while the blood spurted from his mouth and wounds, he lifted himself upon one elbow, and his fast-glazing eyes glared around him. Then leaning over, and dipping his finger in a pool of his blood, he with difficulty drew a cross on the floor. He bent down, and pressed his lips upon the sacred symbol. One of the conspirators now dealt him a final blow with his sword.

Pizarro sank back: a slight shudder ran through his frame, and he ceased to breathe.

Rada and his followers, waving their blood-streaked swords, ran out into the street, and scattered through the city, shouting,—

"The tyrant is dead! The laws are restored! Long live the emperor, and our governor Almagro!"

The city was soon aroused to the wildest dismay and confusion. The adherents of Almagro rallied at his house, and soon a body of three hundred soldiers was formed to defend his title and person. Pizarro's palace and the houses of his principal officers and friends, were plundered by the victorious party; and the secretary Picado was seized, and cast into prison.

Meanwhile some of Pizarro's bitterest enemies clamored to have the dead hero's body dragged to the marketplace, and there hung in disgrace on the public gallows. But Almagro would not consent to this. The corpse was tenderly taken up by some of Pizarro's mourning attendants, and quietly placed in an obscure grave in the cathedral, with a hurried funeral ceremony at the dead of night. Years afterwards the coffin was taken from its resting-place, and deposited in a magnificent tomb near the high altar; and Pizarro's remains now lie in the new cathedral at Lima, which was built a half-century after his death.

Such was the sudden and violent end of the heroic soldier and great conqueror, Francisco Pizarro. He was somewhat over sixty years old at the time of his death, which took place on the 26th of June, 1541. He had lived long enough to prove his intrepid valor on many a hard-fought field; to acquire for Spain, with but a handful of followers, one of the noblest and richest possessions in the world; and to gain for himself as much power and renown as any man ever achieved in a career of conquest over a less-civilized empire. While he was sometimes cruel, and too often perfidious, he was also beyond most men impetuous in action, persevering against the most formidable obstacles, temperate in living, lavish with his wealth, possessed of wonderful endurance, noble and soldierly in bearing, self-confident, resolute, and true to his kin and his friends. He is one of the greatest figures in history, and his name must live long as one of the world's foremost heroes.

"Toil and pain,

Famine and hostile elements, and hosts

Embattled, failed to check him in his course;

Not to be wearied, not to be deterred,

Not to be overcome. A mighty realm

He overran, and with relentless arm

Slew or enslaved its unoffending sons;

And wealth and power and fame were his rewards."

For many years after Pizarro's death, Peru continued to be the scene of fierce conflicts between rival Spanish aspirants to its rule. War and conspiracy wrought long confusion in the land; but at last it became once more orderly and settled, and was governed by viceroys sent out by the Spanish monarchs. The native Peruvians never succeeded in restoring their Inca to the, throne of his ancestors, the Children of the Sun. The country remained under Spanish dominion for nearly three centuries. It was conquered by Pizarro in 1532, and it became independent of Spain by the success of a revolution which took place in 1821. For the past fifty-seven years Peru has been a republic, in form much like our own. But the beautiful land still retains many vestiges of the long and prosperous reign of the Incas, as well as of the rude and devastating conquests of Pizarro; and these remain as monuments at once of its ancient grandeur and power, and of its degradation under the heels of the conquering stranger.