Pizarro, Gonzalo (c. 1506–1548)

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Pizarro, Gonzalo (c. 1506–1548)

Gonzalo Pizarro (b. ca. 1506; d. 10 April 1548), conqueror of Peru and leader of the rebellion of encomenderos. Gonzalo, illegitimate son of Captain Gonzalo Pizarro and María de Biedma, was the youngest of the Pizarro brothers. He traveled with the third expedition to the Andes in 1531, was literate, and enjoyed the pastimes associated with the hidalgo: he was a good horseman, an excellent lancer, and a fine marksman. His position was minor during the first years of Peru's conquest, probably because of his youth. He was said to have been with De Soto at the interview with Atahualpa and accompanied Hernando Pizarro to Pachacamac, just south of Lima. He did receive a large share of Atahualpa's ransom as Francisco Pizarro's half brother and was named to a seat on the Cuzco council when that Inca city became a Spanish municipality.

Gonzalo's military abilities were first recognized during the Indian siege of Cuzco (1536–1537). Named captain of horse, he gained a reputation for brashness and impetuosity. When Hernando Pizarro left for Spain, Francisco began to groom Gonzalo for leadership in Peru. Commander of the expedition into Charcas and founder of La Plata, he received major encomiendas in the districts of Charcas, Arequipa, and Cuzco. In 1540 Francisco appointed him governor of Quito, where he organized and directed the famous search for the "Land of Cinnamon." His second in command, Francisco de Orellana, was the first European to travel the course of the Amazon River to the Atlantic. Gonzalo marched back to Quito from a base camp on one of the tributaries of the Amazon, suffering great hardship and loss of men, but securing fame as a tenacious leader against tremendous odds.

In Quito, Gonzalo learned of his brother's assassination in Lima and the naming of a new governor, Cristóbal Vaca De Castro. Angry and resentful (Francisco had appointed him governor of Peru in his will), Gonzalo retired under protest, by order of Vaca de Castro, to his estates and mines in Charcas. The arrival in 1544 of Peru's first viceroy, Blasco Núñez Vela, an unbending and arrogant administrator dedicated to the literal enforcement of the New Laws that would have destroyed the power base of the Peruvian encomenderos, provided Gonzalo the opportunity he needed. Proclaimed captain-general in city after city, he entered Lima in October 1544. The audiencia had already imprisoned the viceroy and sent him back to Spain to face numerous charges. But Blasco Núñez Vela had escaped during the voyage and amassed troops loyal to him and the monarch. After a series of maneuvers, loyalist and rebel forces clashed on 18 January 1546 not far from Quito in the battle of Añaquito (Inaquito), in which the viceroy was killed.

Meanwhile, the crown had sent Pedro de la Gasca with authorization to repeal sections of the New Laws and to reestablish royal authority in the rebellious colony. An adept diplomat, Gasca was able to gradually weaken support for Gonzalo and build an army. He effectively played on the fears and dislikes of Francisco de Carvajal, Pizarro's notorious military commander. After a defeat of the royalists at Huarina (21 October 1547), Gonzalo Pizarro established himself in Cuzco and waited for the forces of Gasca, missing, however, several opportunities to block the southward advance of the royalist army. By the time the two forces met on the plain of Jaquijahuana, not far from Cuzco, Gasca not only had gained a superior force, but, with subtle diplomacy, had suborned Pizarro's men. On 9 April 1548, the greater part of Pizarro's army melted away as he watched. Gonzalo Pizarro surrendered, and the following day he, Carvajal, and forty-eight leaders of the rebellion were executed. His body was interred in the Church of la Merced in Cuzco, while his head was sent to Lima to be nailed to a post and at last put to rest in the Franciscan convent there.

Gonzalo was one of the most attractive of the Pizarro brothers. According to James Lockhart, he "was well proportioned and graceful, with a handsome dark face and a beard that grew black and full as he matured." His death brought to an end the most important of the Peruvian civil wars.

See alsoCharcas, Audiencia of; Gasca, Pedro de la.


José Antonio Del Busto Duthurburu, Francisco Pizarro, el marqués gobernador (1966).

James Lockhart, The Men of Cajamarca (1972), pp. 175-189.

Alexandra Parma Cook and Noble David Cook, Good Faith and Truthful Ignorance: A Case of Transatlantic Bigamy (1991).

Additional Bibliography

Jaramillo, Mario. Perfíles de conquista: La aventura de España en América. Bogotá, DC: Universidad Sergio Arboleda, Fondo de Publicaciones, 2003.

Varón Gabai, Rafael. Francisco Pizarro and His Brothers: The Illusion of Power in Sixteenth-Century Peru. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

                                    Noble David Cook