Alvarado y Mesía, Pedro de (1485?–1541?)

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Alvarado y Mesía, Pedro de (1485?–1541?)

Pedro de Alvarado y Mesía (b. 1485?; d. 29 June 1541?), a leader in the Spanish conquests of Mexico, Central America, and Ecuador. Born in Badajoz to a family of the minor nobility, Alvarado came to the Americas around 1510. He was a member of the Juan de Grijalva expedition to the Gulf coast of Mexico, and then accompanied Hernán Cortés as his chief lieutenant on his conquest of central Mexico (1519–1521). He was in charge of the garrison in Tenochtitlán (Mexico City) and by instituting a massacre during the Toxcatl holiday sparked the events that led up to the disastrous Spanish withdrawal from the city (the Noche Triste) and played an outstanding role in the final siege and Spanish victory.

Known to the native peoples as "Tonatiuh" (the Sun), Alvarado was sent south by Cortés in 1523 with an army of 429 Spaniards and some 20,000 Tlaxcalans and other Indian allies. He wreacked havoc on various Maya settlements as he led the Spanish conquests of Soconusco, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and pushed into Honduras, where he met conquistador groups coming from Nicaragua. His two letters of relación to Hernán Cortés are the only extant and immediate eyewitness accounts of the campaign. In all these events he showed his customary bravery, impetuousness, and cruelty.

After the Conquest he ruthlessly suppressed a major Cakchiquel revolt, and founded the first two Spanish capitals, Almolonga and Ciudad Vieja. (The latter was destroyed in 1541 by an avalanche of water and mud that killed his second wife shortly after he himself had died.) He seized the best encomiendas and slave cuadrillas for himself, his five brothers, and other relatives and associates. Many of his indigenous slaves were put to work on gold panning or shipbuilding. At one time he allegedly owned 1,500 branded native slaves who worked in the gold fields.

Alvarado dominated much of Central America for about seventeen years (1524–1541). His life after he became governor of Guatemala was marked by ambition and restlessness. His frequent absences and predatory return visits were disruptive. Each new expedition deprived the region of Spaniards, native auxiliaries, and supplies.

Leaving his brother Jorge in charge, Alvarado returned to Spain via Mexico in 1526–1527 to defend himself against charges of wrongdoing. While there, he married Francisca de la Cueva, a member of the high nobility, won his case, and was named governor and captain-general of Guatemala. His new wife died in Veracruz (1528) during the return journey to Guatemala.

Alvarado immediately began to plan an expedition to the South Seas but was diverted from it by news of the wealth won in Peru by Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro. Against royal orders, he set off for Quito in 1534, again leaving Jorge as lieutenant governor. This time he took some 500 Spaniards and 2,000 native auxiliaries with him. Penetrating inland, Alvarado met Almagro. Potential conflict turned to negotiations when Alvarado realized that his men were tired, and that some of them were being induced to change sides. He finally agreed to turn over most of his men, ships, and equipment in return for 100,000 gold pesos. After his return to Guatemala (1535) he complained to the crown about Almagro's conduct, and his anger was increased by the discovery that some of the payment he had received consisted of adulterated and even falsified coinage.

Again facing accusations, this time from Mexico, Alvarado boldly set off from the coast of Honduras to plead his case in Spain (1536). There, on 22 October 1538, Charles V absolved him of all blame, and reappointed him as governor of Guatemala for seven more years. Charles also obtained a papal dispensation so that Alvarado could marry Beatríz de la Cueva, his deceased wife's sister.

Alvarado had been absent for over three years when he returned to Santiago de Guatemala in 1539. On his way from the coast he took over the governorship of Honduras from Francisco de Montejo and moved its main city inland to Gracias a Dios. In Guatemala he vigorously set about finding places for the large entourage that he and his new wife had brought from Spain. He also began to build ships and to collect men and supplies for yet another voyage of discovery to the Spice Islands.

He sailed with the new expedition in 1540, leaving Francisco de la Cueva in charge. This time he took 850 Spaniards and many auxiliaries with him. The fleet stopped for supplies at a port in Jalisco, where Alvarado met Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, made a series of agreements with him, and joined in the suppression of a native revolt in Nueva Galicia. In late June 1541, during a skirmish, he was crushed to death by a falling horse.

See alsoConquistadores .


William R. Sherman, "A Conqueror's Wealth: Notes on the Estate of don Pedro de Alvarado," in The Americas 26 (1969): 199-213.

Adrián Recinos, Pedro de Alvarado, Conquistador de México y Guatemala, 2d ed. (1986).

Additional Bibliography

Flint, Richard, and Shirley Cushing Flint. Documents of the Coronado Expedition, 1539–1542: "They Were Not Familiar with His Majesty, nor Did They Wish to Be His Subjects." Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 2005.

Jaramillo, Mario. Perfiles de conquista: La aventura de España en América. Bogota, Colombia: Universidad Sergio Arboleda, Fondo de Publicaciones, 2003.

                                     Murdo J. MacLeod

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Alvarado y Mesía, Pedro de (1485?–1541?)

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