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Díaz del Castillo, Bernal (c. 1495–1584)

Díaz del Castillo, Bernal (c. 1495–1584)

Bernal Díaz del Castillo (b. ca. 1495; d. 3 February 1584), Spanish conquistador and author. In a passage from his Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (True History of the Conquest of New Spain), Díaz establishes his birthplace as Medina del Campo and recalls his first journey to America in Pedro Arias de Avila's expedition to the Darien in 1514. He subsequently participated in the explorations of the Yucatán by Francisco Hernández De Córdoba (1517) and of the Gulf of Mexico by Juan de Grijalva (1518), both of which preceded Cortés's conquest in 1519. After the Conquest, Díaz was awarded several encomiendas in Guatemala.

Like the other encomenderos, Díaz was adversely affected by a series of decrees in the mid-sixteenth century that eliminated encomiendas in perpetuity and personal services. However, his description of his poverty in the Historia verdadera should be taken as a rhetorical device. There are numerous documents that disprove his complaints about not having been sufficiently rewarded for his participation in the Conquest. Recently critics have insisted that his claims of "lacking letters" and his criticism of Francisco López de Gómara's elevated style in the Historia de las Indias y la conquista de México (1552) are a subterfuge to mask the fact that Bartolomé de Las Casas is the true target of his attacks. Díaz's and Gómara's styles are not as different as Díaz would lead us to believe; both cultivate a simple and clear language. Las Casas's condemnations of the colonial order, however, influenced the decrees against the encomienda system, and it was during the early 1550s that Díaz decided to write his Historia verdadera. He constantly revised the work until he finally finished it in 1568. The Historia verdadera, however, was not published until 1632. Although Díaz's expressed intent in writing the Historia was to better the lot of his children and grandchildren, his story is nevertheless a riveting account of the Conquest that ultimately constitutes a defense of the conquistadores. He died in Guatemala.

See alsoConquistadores; Las Casas, Bartolomé de.


Herbert Cerwin, Bernal Díaz, Historian of the Conquest (1963).

Bernal Díaz Del Castillo, The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517–1521, translated and edited by A. P. Maudslay (1970).

Rolena Adorno, "Discourses on Colonialism: Bernal Díaz, Las Casas, and the Twentieth-Century Reader," in Modern Language Notes 103 (March 1988): 239-258.

Bernal Díaz Del Castillo, Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España, edited by Carmelo Saenz de Santa María (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Campos Fernández-Fígares, María del Mar. El caballo y el jaguar: Sobre la Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España. Granada: Editorial Comares, 2002.

Cortínez, Verónica. Memoria original de Bernal Díaz del Castillo. Huixquilucan: Oak Editorial, 2000.

Mendiola Mejía, Alfonso. Bernal Díaz del Castillo: Verdad romanesca y verdad historiográfica. Mexico: Universidad Iberoamericana, Departamento de Historia, 1995.

Orquera, Yolanda Fabiola. Los castillos decrépitos: O la "Historia verdadera" de Bernal Díaz del Castillo: una indagación de las relaciones entre cultura popular y cultura letrada. Tucumán: Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad Nacional de Tucumán, 1996.

                                                JosÉ Rabasa

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