Contreras Brothers

views updated

Contreras Brothers

Contreras Brothers (Hernando [b. c. 1529; d. 1550] and Pedro [b. c. 1531; d. 1550]), sons of Rodrigo de Contreras, governor of Nicaragua (1534–1544), and grandsons of Pedro Arias de Ávila; in 1550 they led one of the most serious revolts against Spanish royal authority during the colonial period. Their father, from a prominent Segovian family, was accused, among other abuses, of misappropriating to himself, his family, and his friends the best encomiendas in Nicaragua. When he was relieved of office, his sons and supporters faced the reduction or loss of their pueblos, along with diminished social and political influence. Emboldened by sulking encomenderos and malcontents from Peru, the brothers rebelled with some three hundred followers, a majority of the residents in Nicaragua.

In León, Hernando and others murdered Bishop Antonio de Valdivieso, a persistent critic of Rodrigo, after which other rebels proceeded to destroy livestock and crops, as well as surplus sailing vessels. They aimed to capture the silver fleet from Peru, commanded by the formidable Pedro de la Gasca, and take control of the city of Panama. Thereafter they planned to establish rule in Peru under Hernando Contreras, the "prince of liberty," spuriously claiming that kingdom because initial Spanish expeditions to the general region had sailed under the aegis of Ávila and that, accordingly, certain proprietary rights accrued to his grandsons.

Because of overconfidence, poor planning, and inept leadership, the uprising failed. Reared in luxury and enjoying the favor of the colonists, the leaders were inexperienced; Hernando, though a licentiate, was only twenty-one, and Pedro nineteen. They understood strategy very poorly, making the mistake of dividing their forces into small groups. After a clumsy attack on Panama City, the residents there fought back with unexpected skill and resolution. In disarray, the hapless rebels fled for their lives. Pedro was lost at sea, and Hernando drowned in a river. His head was displayed as a warning to would-be traitors.

See alsoÁvila, Pedro Arias de .


The most complete study of the Contreras family is Marqués De Lozoya (Juan De Contreras), Vida del segoviano Rodrigo de Contreras, gobernador de Nicaragua (1534–1544) (1920), although the author, a descendant of Rodrigo, is biased in his presentation. In English, see Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Central America, vol. 2 (1883). See also Antonio De Remesal, Historia general de las Indias Occidentales y particular de la gobernación de Chiapa y Guatemala, 2 vols. (1966), first published in 1619. Another publication of interest is Teodoro Hampe-martónez, Don Pedro de la Gasca (1493–1567): Su obra política en España y América (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Chamorro, Pedro Joaquín. Limites de Nicaragua: Su formación histórico geográfica durante la conquista y el período colonial, 1502–1821. Managua, Nicaragua: Fondo Editorial, CIRA, 2000.

Coronel Urtecho, José. Reflexiones sobre la historia de Nicaragua: De la colonia a la independencia. Managua, Nicaragua: Fundación Vida, 2001.

Mena García, María de Carmen. Temas de historia panameña. Panamá: Editorial Universitaria, 1996.

Montiell Argüello, Alejandro. Nicaragua colonial. Managua, Nicaragua: Banco Central de Nicaragua, 2000.

                                        William L. Sherman