Herrera y Tordesillas, Antonio de (1549–1625)

views updated

Herrera y Tordesillas, Antonio de (1549–1625)

Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas (b. 1549; d. 1625), Spanish colonial historian and official chronicler of the Indies. Antonio de Herrera had a long and distinguished career in which he wrote one of the most encyclopedic accounts of Spanish activities in the New World. In his early years, he was appointed as secretary to Vespasiano Gonzaga, viceroy of Naples, where he began his history of the reign of Philip II. Herrera's loyalty to the cause of the crown attracted the attention of the court, and in 1596 he was appointed the official historian of the Indies, with the task of providing a favorable account of the Conquest and settlement of the New World to combat the negative versions being written by Black Legend partisans in England and northern Europe.

Herrera's most famous work, the eight-volume Historia general de los hechos de los castellanos en las islas y tierra firme del mar océano, was published in Madrid from 1601 to 1615. As official historian, Herrera had access to persons and documents not available to other contemporary writers. He had never set foot in the New World and therefore relied upon information contained in the relaciones geográficas and other state-sponsored informational surveys and reports, the writings of Bartolomé de las Casas, Diego de Landa, Gonzalo Fernández Oviedo, and Francisco López de Gómara. Like others of his time, Herrera was obsessed with chronology and inclusiveness; his synthesis is remarkable, but the wealth of information renders his Historia general difficult for the modern reader.

Herrera's mission was to glorify the work of Ferdinand and Isabella by emphasizing their Christianizing mission and true concern for the Indians. As an imperialist historian, he sought to justify the empire as a unit and accordingly deemphasized the accomplishments of individual conquerors. Nevertheless, unlike Gómara and Oviedo, Herrera gave Columbus credit for his unique achievement. The chronicle is told from a clearly European perspective; it opens with a description of the Spanish Empire and continues with a discussion of official activities in the New World from 1492 to 1546. Herrera was intellectually honest enough to admit to some of the abuses that had occurred, but he refused to condemn the process of the Conquest in general. He did incorporate many of Las Casas's ideas and did much to restore his good name, but on the question of official policy toward Indians, Herrera took the side of Oviedo and Sepúlveda. Herrera's Historia general is a substantial and informative work, and it is a major example of the sophistication of the late imperialist school of colonial historiography.

See alsoFerdinand II of Aragon; Isabella I of Castile; Spain.


David A. Brading, The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State, 1492–1867 (1991).

C. Pérez Bustamente, "El cronista Antonio de Herrera y la historia de Alejandro Farnesio," in Boletín de la Universidad de Santiago de Compostela 6, no. 21 (1934): 35-76.

Manuel Ballesteros Gaibrois, "Antonio de Herrera, 1549–1625," in Handbook of Middle American Indians. Vol 13, Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, edited by Howard F. Cline (1973), pp. 240-255.

Additional Bibliography

Murray, James C. Spanish Chronicles of the Indies: Sixteenth Century. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994.

                                        Karen Racine

About this article

Herrera y Tordesillas, Antonio de (1549–1625)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article