Francisco Pizarro


Francisco Pizarro overcame enormous obstacles and relentlessly pursued his objective of conquering the Incan empire for over ten years, in spite of many dangers, setbacks, and the lack of trust or backing of the governors of the region. Unfortunately, persistance and bravery, seem to have been his only positive qualities. Most of the other conquistadors were held in relatively high regard among their contemporaries, in spite of many instances of brutality, greed, and corruption. But Pizarro had few adherents, even at the height of his power and was generally distrusted—for good reason. He rose to power as the ruthless henchman of a grasping governor, and once in a leadership position, he surrounded himself with similar souls. He betrayed his most loyal and longest serving partner, and was himself murdered in frezy of vengeful retaliation. It is of little consolation that such an unsavory character came to a bad end. He lived long enough to leave a legacy of greed, cruelty and abuse towards the native people, that long survived him.

Francisco Pizarro was born as an impoverished illegitimate son of a particularly amorous noblemen. As such, he had a great many half-brothers, all sharing his name, but with different mothers. In due time, four brothers accompanied him on his expeditions and became his closest associates. It is not unlikely that his poverty and low social status affected his bearing throughout life. Virtually all of the governors and most of the conquistadors where men of rank and position. Pizarro "clawed his way to the top."

Pizzaro sailed with Alonso de Ojeda when he attempted to found a colony on the coast of modern day Colombia. The natives had poisoned arrows and many men were killed. Pizzaro was left in charge of the desperate community, and was eventually rescued by Balboa who established a bettered positioned colony at Darien. Pizarro rose to influence at Darien, first under Balboa and later under Balboa's nemesis, Pedrarias. Pizarro accompanied Balboa on the expedition on which he discovered the Pacific, but was also the man sent to arrest him, when he was accused of treason by the dispicable Pedrarias. As one of the chief henchmen of Pedrarias, Pizarro was allowed to take over governance of Panama City, where Balboa had been working building boats for an expedition to Peru. By getting Balboa out of the way Pedrarias and Pizarro cleared the way for obtaining credit and control of an expedition to the south land, about which the natives told stories of enormous riches.

The conquest and exploration of the legendary land of gold, however, proved very difficult and presented a great many problems. Boats need to be build on the West coast. Provisions needed to be brought over land, and men needed to be recruited for the undertaking. The whereabouts of the Incan empire were unknown, but it proved to be far to the south, and high in the mountains; not easily approached. Pizarro formed a partnership with the governor Pedrarias, a corrupt but wealthy priest, and a soldier by the name of Almagro to undertake an expedition, but things did not go well for many years. In 1526, during Pizarros' second expedition, Pedrarias gave up on the alliance. In spite of many setbacks, Pizarro refused to return to Panama even when supplies ran out and the sponsors sought to abort the mission. With only thirteen followers, he stayed on the coast of Ecuador, and explored the inland regions until he obtained elaborate gold and silver jewelry from one of the coastal tribes, and more specific information about the location of the Incas. With actual riches in hand, he was able to bypass the local governors, go to Spain and appeal for help directly from Charles V.

The third expedition of Pizarro was, therefore, undertaken in 1530 over twelve years after the death of Balboa. Even with the king's backing the venture was far from secure and the Incan capital was not reached for two years. When it was, the Inca himself was kidnapped during the ignominious Battle of Caxamala and the empire conquered by only a handful of Spaniards. The Incas were fierce warriors, but considered the Spaniards to be immortal gods, and did not recongize them as enemies until it was too late. There were a few fierce battles, particularly at Cuzco, the largest of the Inca cities, but the Spaniards largely ruled by installing a puppet governor, and enslaving lower-ranking natives for work in the mines.

The division of loot was, as to be expected, a matter of much discord. Almagro had served as an equal partner to Pizarro for over eight years and was very largely responsible for the success of the mission. Yet Pizarro's brother's who had only served for two years were granted the most favorable fiefdoms. This led to civil war among the Spaniards which ended in the death of Almagro. These divisions ultimately led to the downfall of the entire Pizarro clan. Juan was killed in a rebellion at Cuzco. Francisco himself was murdered in his home by band of Almago's supporters, and Gonzalo was beheaded for treachery after his entire army deserted him in a battle against the governor who replaced Pizarro. Many of the conquistadors came to bad ends, but few lament the just deserts of the Pizarro brothers.

Key events during the life of Francisco Pizarro:

Born to a poor woman, as the illegitimate son of a Spanish noble.
Sailed with Alonso de Ojeda to establish a colony in the New World.
Left in charge of a settlement on the coast of Columbia while Ojeda sought supplies.
Accompanied Balboa on his discovery of the Pacific Ocean.
Arrested Balboa for treason on behalf of Pedrarias.
Formed a partnership with a rich priest, and Almagro to explore Peru.
First expedition reached Columbia.
Second expedition reached the coast of Ecuador.
Pizarro and thirteen men refuse to return to Panama until he found gold.
Returns to Spain to appeal directly to the King.
Launch of third expedition to Peru.
Battle of Puna, first encounter with hostile natives.
Arrived in Caxamala after a two month march. Kidnapped the Inca at the Battle of Caxamala.
Inca killed, puppet ruler Tupac Huallpa put in his place.
Cuzco, the largest Inca city is captured.
Founded the city of Lima near the coast, as the Spanish capital of the region.
Juan Pizarro killed during a rebellion in Cuzco.
Almagro and Pizarro dispute over the spoils of war. Almagro is defeated and executed.
Gonsalo Pizarro embarks on an expedition to the east, discovers the Amazon River.
Pizarro murdered by supporters of Almagro.

Book Links
Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru  by  Frederick Ober

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Pizarro  in  A Child's History of Spain  by  John Bonner
Pizarro, the Adventurer  in  Stories of South America  by  E. C. Brooks
Conquest of Peru  in  America First—100 Stories from Our History  by  Lawton B. Evans
Swineherd Who Wanted a Castle  in  The Men Who Found America  by  Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson
Pizarro and the Inca's Golden Ransom  in  Historical Tales: Spanish American  by  Charles Morris
Conquest of Peru  in  The Discovery of New Worlds  by  M. B. Synge
Explorers in South America  in  A Book of Discovery  by  M. B. Synge
Caxamalca  in  The Boy's Book of Battles  by  Eric Wood

Image Links

They burst upon the ranks of the unarmed Indians
 in South American Fights and Fighters

He threw his sole remaining weapon in the faces of the escaladers.
 in South American Fights and Fighters

He defended himself with his terrible spear
 in South American Fights and Fighters

Francisco Pizarro
 in Stories of South America
Francisco Pizarro
Francisco Pizarro
 in Back Matter
Pizarro Exhorting his band at gallo
Pizarro Exhorting his band at gallo
 in Back Matter

If you will let me go free, Pizarro, I will fill up this room with gold.'
 in The Men Who Found America

Death of Atahualpa
 in Historical Tales: Spanish American

Francisco Pizzaro
 in Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru

The assassination of Francisco Pizarr.
 in Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru

Franciso Pizarro
 in Builders of Our Country: Book I

 in A Book of Discovery

The runaways on the Mountain
 in The Adventures of Pizarro

The Indians rushed upon him to kill him.
 in The Adventures of Pizarro

The line in the sand
 in The Adventures of Pizarro

Pizarro's entry into Cuzco
 in The Adventures of Pizarro

He fought with the strength and ferocity of a tiger.
 in The Adventures of Pizarro

Short Biography
Alonso de Ojeda Spanish conquistador who made several daring expeditions to the new world. Associate of Vespucci and Pizarro.
Vasco Nunez Balboa Helped establish a Spanish colony in Panama and discovered the Pacific Ocean.
Pedrarias Davila First Governor of the Spanish colony of Darien in Peru. Murderous and unscrupulous rival of Balboa.
Hernando De Soto Adventurer who aided in conquest of Peru, then explored Southwestern United States. Discovered Mississippi river.
Gonzalo Pizarro Brother of Francisco Pizarro; led an expedition from Quito across the Andes and discovered the Amazon.
Atahualpa Last monarch of the Incan Empire. Captured by Pizarro at Caxamalca and eventually killed.
Almagro Spanish soldier who partnered with Pizarro, providing ships, men, and provisions for the Incan Conquest.
Charles V 16th century Hapsburg Emperor who ruled Austria, the Netherlands, Spain and parts of Italy.
Juan Pizarro Brother of Francisco Pizarro who died during the Siege of Cuzco.
Hernando Pizarro Brother of Francisco Pizarro who was imprisoned in Spain upon his return.