Friday, September 7, 2012

Governor Velasquez's Instructions for Hernan Cortes's Expedition of the Yucatan (Theonomy Applied)

One recurring and important emphasis in Governor Diego Velasquez's
commission to Hernan Cortez is the requirement to avoid harming
innocent inhabitants of the land.

Diego Velasquez (1465 - 1524) was a Spanish Conquistador and the Governor of Cuba (1511 - 1524) on behalf of Spain.

While governor, Velasquez commissioned Conquistador Hernan Cortez to embark on a mission to the Yucatan to both find a missing fleet as well as six Christians believed to be captured and enslaved by Indians. The commission includes several rules of conduct for Cortez and his men, many of which more or less accord with biblical law. 

While we don't approve of everything done by the Conquistadors -- and we certainly do not endorse their Roman Catholicism -- in some of these rules we find much wisdom for how explorers ought to conduct themselves. One recurring and important emphasis in Velasquez's commission is the requirement to avoid harming innocent inhabitants of the land. Moreover, the rules rightfully prioritize the glory of God, as rule number one threatens against being irreverent 

In addition, the commission's prefatory remarks include several acknowledgements of God:
To redeem them [the missing explorers] would be a great service rendered to God our Lord and Their Highnesses. In consideration of which, and in the service of God our Lord and Their Highnesses, it seemed to me best to send in search of and to succor the said squadron that said Juan de Grijalva commanded, and in search of the sloop that sailed after he did and following him, and to rescue, if it be possible, the said Christians that in the hands of said Indians are captive, I resolved, after much thought, deliberation, and conversation with judicious persons, to send another squadron, well supplied, rigged and manned and furnished with everything necessary for such an expedition, in order that if they find the first fleet, or said sloop which followed it, they may be able to succor them, or besiege the place, or if they should not find them, they can alone sail around and explore those islands, learn their secrets, and do anything they can in the service and name of God our Lord and Their Highnesses. For Captain of this expedition, I have resolved to appoint you Hernando Cortes, believing from my knowledge of you since you have been in this island in my company and the service you have rendered to Their Highnesses, that you are a judicious person, and that with all diligence and zeal in their roval service, you will give a good account of all which is by me, in the name of Their Highnesses, commanded In said negotiation, and you will conduct and manage it in the way bestfitted to advance the interests of Their Highnesses and the cause of God our Lord.[1]

Diego Velasquez, governor of Cuba
Velasquez's commission includes the following 30 rules (we have highlighted some of the more theonomic ones):

1. Serve God in all things, punishing with severity those who are irreverent.

2. Punish especially fornication.

3. Prohibit dice and card playing, for they are occasions of discord and other excesses.

4. The squadron having sailed from this City of Santiago, you will be careful to charge them neither to insult nor injure Spaniards or Indians, in any port you may enter.

5. Having taken the necessary provisions in said ports, you will set sail for your destination, first reviewing your troops and arms.

6. Do not allow either an Indian or squaw to go with you.

7. Once at sea and boats taken in, you will in your own boat visit the other ships, and again review the troops, calling the roll of each ship.

8. You will advise the Captains and Masters of the other vessels never to leave your convoy or fleet, and also that they do all that is possible to arrive together at the Island of Cozumel, Santa Cruz, whither your direct course will be.

9. You will command them, if by chance any vessel arrive before you, that no one dare to treat the Indians badly, neither tell them the cause of their visit, nor question them about the Christians captive in the Island of Santa Maria de los Remedios, only say that the Captain will speak with them when he arrives.

10. Arriving at said Island of Santa Cruz, you will explore and sound its harbors, bays and inlets, also those of Santa Maria de los Remedios and Santa Maria de las Nieves and give a full report of them.

11. You will tell the Indians of Cozumel, Santa Cruz, and other places that it is by command of the King that you visit them. You will speak of his power and conquests, particularly of his conquests in these islands and continent ; of his favors to all who serve him; you will also tell them that they ought to give in their allegiance to him, and as a proof of it, present you, as others have done, gold, pearls, &c., and thus he will see their good intentions and will protect and defend them ; that I, in his name, assure them of this, that I greatly regret the battle fought against them by Francisco Hernandez, and that I send you to explain to them that His Highness wishes them to be well treated.

12. You will obtain complete information about the crosses which it is said are found in the Island of Santa Cruz and worshipped by the Indians, as well as the origin and cause of such customs.

13. You will learn in a general way whatever concerns the religion of the land.

14. Take great care to instruct them in the true faith, as this is the principal reason why Their Highnesses permit these discoveries. [Editor's note: we do not endorse the Roman Catholic understanding of "true faith."]

15. Inquire for the fleet of Juan de Grijalva and for the sloop commanded by Christóbal de Olid, that followed him.

16. In case you first meet the squadron, you may then look for the sloop, agreeing upon a place where all may again meet.

17. You will do the same, should you first find the sloop.

18. You will keep along the coast of the Island of Yucatan Santa Maria de los Remedios, where are the six Christians in the power of some chiefs, who are known by Melchor Indio of that place, who goes with you. Treat him with great kindness, in order that he may remain with you and serve you faithfully. May you be kept from harm, for the Indians of that land, in case of war, are very skilful.

19. Wherever you go, you will treat the Indians very kindly.

Hernan Cortes, sent by Governor
Velasquez on a mission to
rescue Christians believed to
be captured and enslaved
by Indians.

20. Whatever treasure you may receive, you will put in a box having three keys, one of which you will retain, the inspector shall have one, and a treasurer you may appoint, the other.

21. Whenever you need water, wood, &c., you will send judicious persons, under the command of the one in whom you have most confidence, so that they give no cause for scandal, nor endanger their lives.

22. If in the interior you should see a settlement of Indians, who shall offer friendship, you will go to them well armed and with the most pacific people, being very watchful that no harm be done them, either in their worldly goods or women.

23. In such case you will leave the ships well guarded. You will be very careful that no one deceive you, and that the Indians do not mingle much with the Spaniards.

24. If it please God our Lord that you may find the Christians that in said Island of Yucatan Santa Maria de los Remedios are captive, you will continue your voyage to the low point, which is the beginning of the continent that the said Juan de Grijalva recently discovered, and you will continue in search of him along the coast, taking note of all the rivers and ports of it, until you reach the bay of San Juan, and Santa Maria de las Nieves, which is the place from which the said J. de Grijalva sent me the sick and wounded and wrote me what had happened up to that time, and if you should there find him, you will unite your forces and go with Juan, because between the Spaniards that you carry and those who are with him there can be no differences ........ Let each one have charge of the people he carries with him ....

You will consult together as to what is best in accordance with these instructions and those that Grijalva took with him, and the trading will be done in the presence of Francisco de Penalosa, inspector, that J. de Grijalva has with him.

25. You will carefully look into everything in the countries you visit, both moral and natural, and inquire if there are pearls, spices, gold, &c., particularly in Santa Maria de las Nieves, from which place Grijalva sent me certain specimens of gold, melted and not melted.

26. When you disembark let it be before your Lord, and many witnesses, and you will take possession of the land with the accustomed solemnities. Inquiries about the kind of people, their character and condition, for it is said that there are people in those lands with large, broad ears, and others whose faces are like dogs; also inquire about the Amazons, who, the Indians you carry with you say, are in that vicinity.

27. The rest I leave to your prudence, being confident that you will in all things be extremely careful to do what shall most redound to the service of God and Their Highnesses.

28. In any port of this Island where you might find Spaniards that wish to go with you, do not take those who have debts unless they pay them, or give sufficient security for them.

29. Immediately after arriving at Santa Maria de las Nieves, you will send in the ship arriving soonest here, all that you will have exchanged and found, gold, pearls, spices, birds, &c., with relation of that you have done and what you think to do, that I may give notice of it to the King.

30. You will recognize, according to the right, the lawsuits, civil and criminal, that happen, as Captain of this army with all the powers, &c., &c. Done in this city of Santiago, port of this island of Fernandina, Oct. 23, 1518.[2]


[1] Cited in William H. Prescott, History of the Conquest of
Mexico: With a preliminary view of the ancient Mexican civilization, and the life of the conqueror, Hernando Cortes: Volume 2 (Belford, Clarke, & Co., 1886), 423-426.

[2] Cited in Ibid.

Note about the Theonomy Applied Series: In quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily endorse every aspect of that law as biblical, whether it be the prohibition, sanction, court procedure, etc. Rather, we are merely showing the more or less attempt to apply biblical law in history, whether or not that application was fully biblical. Moreover, in quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily consider those who passed and/or enforced such a law as being fully orthodox in their Christian theology. Professing Christian rulers in history have ranged in their theology from being orthodox (that is, Reformed Protestants) to heretical (for example, Roman Catholics).



MayanPresbiteriano said...

Those "Christians" he was sent to rescue were Papists and the sort that would not hesitate to have slaughtered Protestants, especially the Huguenots. Cortes was a very bloody man who committed multiple acts of adultery. This is very well documented. His men were given to raping the natives as well. Their "theonomy applied" was murderous...just look at their Spanish counterparts in Europe.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Hi Edgar,
Good to hear from you again. While none of this would surprise me, I would want to see - and would welcome - reliable primary source validation of these claims (e.g., rape, multiple acts of adultery, and murder). I don't want to base my view of Cortes on liberal anti-Western criticisms (not to say you have yourself). With you, I oppose Roman Catholicism.

However, regardless of all these things, I did give a disclaimer, and the "theonomy applied" is (or at least some of) the instructions given by Velasquez (whether or not it was followed in part or in whole).