Oviedo y Valdés, Gonzalo Fernández (1478–1557)

views updated

Oviedo y Valdés, Gonzalo Fernández (1478–1557)

Gonzalo Fernández Oviedo y Valdés (b. August 1478; d. 26 June 1557), chronicler of the Indies. Born in Madrid, Oviedo was one of the earliest and most astute chroniclers of the Indies, combining a critical understanding of the historical method with first-hand experience. In 1490 he entered the service of Alfonso de Aragon, duke of Villahermosa, who presented him to the court. He witnessed the surrender of Granada. In 1493 he entered the service of Prince Don Juan, who was his own age. After the prince's untimely death six years later, Oviedo participated in the Italian campaigns. In 1500 he was admitted to the court of Don Fadrique, king of Naples. Oviedo returned to Madrid in 1502 and married Margarita de Vergara, who died within ten months of the union. In 1503 Oviedo entered the service of the duke of Calabria and fought in Rousellon. He remarried in 1509 and had a son.

King Ferdinand named Oviedo secretary to Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, the Great Captain, in Italy. Oviedo and others, frustrated by lack of action and tardy pay, returned to Spain and joined an expedition to Castilla del Oro. With two thousand men on twenty-two vessels, the group departed Spain on 11 April, reaching Santa Marta on 12 July 1514, and continued on to Santa María de la Antigua. There, within a few weeks, with insufficient food and supplies and suffering illness, many settlers died. Oviedo returned to Spain to give full account of the disastrous expedition. In the meantime, King Ferdinand had died, so Oviedo traveled to Flanders to report to the young Charles. The question of inheritance in Spain led to long delays at Darién in the review of what happened, but Oviedo was vindicated and given fresh assignments in the Indies (1519). He also received royal support to complete a general history that he had already begun.

Oviedo returned to the Indies with his wife, two children, and eight servants, to assume administrative duties at Santa María de la Antigua. Conflict led to a residencia (investigation) of his activities. Although he was not found guilty of improprieties, he decided to return to Spain to give account of his services. Gravely ill, he left Panama for Cuba on 3 July 1523. While recuperating in Santo Domingo, he met Diego Colón. After reaching Sanlúcar, Spain, on 5 November, he journeyed north to Vitoria, where he held an audience with Charles, now emperor. At this time he secured fresh information from Juan Sebastián de El Cano on the circumnavigation begun by Magellan. Although granted a position in Darién, Oviedo remained at court, pressing claims against Dávila.

In 1525 he returned to the Indies a third time, stopping first in Castilla del Oro and then Nicaragua before finally settling in Santo Domingo. At the end of 1530 he returned to Spain again. It was then that Charles V named him "cronista general de Indias." In 1532 he returned to Santo Domingo, where he was alcaide of the city's fort. On his fourth return to Spain in mid-1534, he carried the completed first part of the Historia general y natural de las Indias, which was published in September 1535. Oviedo returned to Santo Domingo, where he remained from 1536 to 1546 while he finished the second and third parts of the history. He also collected a series of important new documents, including Diego de Almagro's report on the Chilean expedition. He returned again to Spain (late 1546 to early 1549), carrying to court important reports on the Peruvian civil wars. Oviedo then returned to Santo Domingo, where he remained until his death. In addition to his Historia general y natural de las Indias and the Sumario de la historia natural de las Indias, he prepared several other histories.

See alsoExplorers and Exploration: Spanish America; Santo Domingo; Spanish Empire.


Francisco Esteve Barba, Historiografía indiana (1964).

Additional Bibliography

Ares Queija, Berta, and Serge Gruzinski, eds. Entre dos mundos: Fronteras culturales y agentes mediadores. Seville: Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos, 1997.

Pardo Tomás, José. Oviedo, Monardes, Hernández: El tesoro natural de América: Colonialismo y ciencia en el siglo XVI. Madrid: Nivola, 2002.

                                       Noble David Cook