Pizarro Brothers

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PIZARRO BROTHERS. The Pizarro brothers, Francisco and his half brothers Gonzalo, Juan, and Hernando, were the conquerors of Inca Peru. Francisco (c. 14781541), the illegitimate son of Captain Gonzalo Pizarro and Francisca González, was a native of Trujillo in southwestern Spain and received little formal education. In 1502 he sailed to the Caribbean with Nicolás de Ovando, the new governor of Hispaniola. Over the next two decades Pizarro helped explore andplunder Central America. He accompanied Vasco Núñez de Balboa's expedition that crossed Panama in 1513 and discovered the South Sea (Pacific Ocean). The infamous Governor Pedrarias de Ávila awarded him an encomienda (grant of indigenous tribute and labor) and made Francisco lieutenant governor of Panama.

Such rewards and status did not satisfy his ambitions. Francisco formed a partnership with Diego de Almagro and Hernando de Luque to investigate rumors of rich indigenous lands south of Panama. Two expeditions (1524 and 15261528) brought him to the city of Tumbes, in the northern Tawantinsuyu (Inca Empire). Returning to Panama, Francisco consulted with his partners and then went to Spain for royal authorization to conquer Peru. The Agreement of Toledo (26 July 1529) gave him overall command of the enterprise and left Almagro feeling cheated and bitter.

In Trujillo, Francisco recruited family and other adventurers for the foray. Three half brothers, all born after his departure in 1502, joined up: Hernando (the legitimate son of Gonzalo Pizarro and Isabel de Vargas [c. 15031578]); Juan (the illegitimate son of Gonzalo Pizarro and María Alonso [c. 15091536]); and Gonzalo (the illegitimate son of Gonzalo Pizarro and María de Biedma [c. 151210 April 1548]).

In Panama, the Pizarros outfitted an expedition and headed south in late 1530. They found Tumbes partially destroyed in a civil war between rival Inca factions headed by Huascar and Atahualpa. Receiving word that Atahualpa and his victorious army were inland near Cajamarca, Francisco took a small force of less than 200 into the Andes to meet the Inca ruler. They massacred Atahualpa's guard and took the overconfident ruler captive on 16 November 1532.

Spanish plunder of the Andes began. To ransom himself, Atahualpa offered to fill a room with gold and silver. Hernando Pizarro went to Pachacamac to seize gold at the shrine there. In Cajamarca the Spaniards divided Atahualpa's fabulous ransom, each Pizarro claiming great quantities of gold and silver. Francisco sent Hernando back to Spain with the king's fifth of the treasure, executed Atahualpa on 26 July 1533, and then moved south to Cuzco, the Inca capital. There, Francisco set up a Spanish government but controlled the Andeans through a puppet ruler, Manco. He distributed encomiendas and lands to his followers, reserving many for his family. For better communications with Panama and Spain, Francisco established Lima on the coast on 18 January 1535. Meanwhile, Almagro remained resentful, particularly when Francisco placed Hernando, back from Spain, in command of Cuzco. In 1535, Almagro departed for Chile, futilely looking for rumored wealth, and Manco launched a massive uprising throughout the Andes. Juan Pizarro died in the fighting at Cuzco. Almagro's forces returned from Chile in 1537 to help lift the siege of Cuzco but then turned on the Pizarros, who defeated the Almagrists at the battle of Salinas (6 April 1538) and captured and executed Almagro.

The hatred between the Spanish factions brought Francisco to a violent end on 26 June 1541, when Almagrists murdered him in Lima. In his sixties by then, Francisco had risen from the shadows of illegitimacy and illiteracy to possess great wealth and govern a vast realm. The king had made him a marquis. With a sister of Atahualpa, Inés Huaylas Yupanqui, he had two children, Francisca and Gonzalo, although he recognized neither her nor them in his will. He conquered an indigenous empire of perhaps 14 million people through his own tenacity, factionalism among the Incas, superior Spanish weaponry and horses, and the inadvertent introduction of deadly diseases such as smallpox and typhus.

Little interested in living in the Andes, Hernando returned to Spain in 1539. Francisco's murder left Gonzalo to defend Pizarro interests in Peru. As governor of Quito, Gonzalo led an ill-fated search into the Amazon basin for the "Land of Cinnamon." After tremendous suffering, Gonzalo and part of the expedition struggled back to Quito; Francisco de Orellana continued down the Amazon to the Atlantic. In 1544 Gonzalo led a rebellion when Blasco Núñez de Vela, the first viceroy of Peru, attempted to enforce the New Laws of 1542, which would have stripped the conquerors of their encomiendas. Gonzalo was defeated and executed by royalist forces on 910 April 1548 near Cuzco.

Only Hernando died a natural death, long after violence claimed his brothers. In 1541 Almagrists secured his arrest in Spain for Diego de Almagro's murder and other crimes. Hernando spent the next twenty years imprisoned, although his wealth and fame enabled him to turn the time into a relatively comfortable existence. From his confinement he managed the family estate and in 1550 married doña Francisca Pizarra, Francisco's mestiza daughter, to unite and protect the family fortunes. He also built a great palace on Trujillo's central plaza before his death in 1578.

See also Colonialism ; Cortés, Hernán ; Exploration ; Potosí ; Spanish Colonies: Peru .


Hemming, John. The Conquest of the Incas. New York, 1970. Narrates the conquest and its aftermath until the 1570s.

Lockhart, James. The Men of Cajamarca: A Social and Biographical Study of the First Conquerors of Peru. Austin, Tex., 1972. Biographies and analysis of each of the men present at the capture of Atahualpa.

Varón Gabai, Rafael. Francisco Pizarro and His Brothers: The Illusion of Power in Sixteenth-Century Peru. Translated by Javier Flores Espinoza. Norman, Okla., 1997. Studies the post-conquest political and economic activities of the Pizarros.

Kendall W. Brown