González Dávila, Gil (1490–1550)

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González Dávila, Gil (1490–1550)

Gil González Dávila (b. 1490; d. 1550), Spanish conqueror and explorer of Nicaragua. While still a young man, González achieved renown for his military exploits in Europe and won permission from the Spanish king to explore Central America. He left Spain in 1518, passed through Cuba, and reached Panama in 1519. Although holding a commission from the king himself, González fell afoul of the tyrannical governor of Panama, Pedro Arias de Ávila (Pedrarias), a circumstance that delayed his expedition for three years. These intervening years, however, enabled González to familiarize himself with New World conditions and gather information of use to his mission.

In 1522 González set out by sea with the fleet of the recently executed Vasco Núñez de Balboa and reached Costa Rica. Finding no easy riches there, González's interest in lands northward was aroused by a Costa Rican cacique. Abandoning his worm-eaten fleet, he continued inland on foot. Using his Costa Rican contacts, González obtained an introduction to Chief Nicarao, leader of a large settlement of Indians, and spent eight days with him in the area now known as Rivas. González subsequently claimed the entire region for the king of Spain and named it Nicaragua, a derivation of the chief's name. The Spaniards did not have much time to exploit their new acquisition, however; on 17 April 1522 a rival chief, Diriangen, attacked their group, forcing the would-be conquerors to withdraw.

Arriving in Panama, González recounted his accomplishments for the governor: the discovery of Lake Nicaragua, the addition of 224 leagues of land to the king's empire, the purported baptism of some 32,000 Indians, and the seizure of riches. González also claimed Nicaragua as his separate and independent authority, granted under the king's commission, something Pedrarias found unacceptable. A bitter competition for jurisdiction followed—a common occurrence among the Spanish conquerors—until Pedrarias stripped González of his right to primacy in the area and replaced him with Francisco Fernández De Córdoba. González managed to flee Panama with 112,524 gold pesos obtained during his Nicaraguan expedition. He remained in Santo Domingo for several years, all the while pressing his claims and plotting a military counterattack.

In 1525 González and his supporters defeated a detachment of Fernández's men and encouraged Fernández to rebel against Pedrarias. The three-way struggle for Nicaragua prompted a year-long civil war ending in 1526 and culminating in Fernández's execution when Pedrarias moved northward to assume the governorship himself.

González remained in exile and returned to Panama in 1532, the year after the death of his arch rival, Pedrarias. He continued to fight for his claims and formed an alliance with Hernán Cortés against Cristóbal de Olid, who was attempting to set up his own authority in Honduras. González was found guilty of the assassination of Olid. But he had won the gratitude of Cortés, who permitted him to return to Spain, where he spent the remainder of his days enjoying his reputation and his riches.

See alsoNicarao; Nicaragua.


Harvey K. Meyer, Historical Dictionary of Nicaragua (1972).

Ernesto Chinchilla Aguilar, Historia de Centroamérica, 3 vols. (1974–1977).

Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr., Central America: A Nation Divided (1985).

Additional Bibliography

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

                                    Karen Racine

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González Dávila, Gil (1490–1550)

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González Dávila, Gil (1490–1550)