Vaca de Castro, Cristóval (c. 1492–1576)

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Vaca de Castro, Cristóval (c. 1492–1576)

Cristóval Vaca de Castro (b. ca. 1492; d. after 1576), governor of Peru (1541–1544). Born in a small town (Izagre) near León, Spain, Vaca de Castro served as oidor (judge) of the Audiencia of Valladolid (1536). Recognizing his administrative abilities, Charles I appointed him (September 1540) for a three-year term to investigate Peru's chaotic political situation. Vaca de Castro reached Panama in January 1541, and because of difficult weather decided to travel overland rather than sail. From coastal Buenaventura in present-day Colombia, he proceeded to Cali, where he recuperated for three months from an illness. In Popayán he learned Francisco Pizarro had been assassinated and Peru was under the control of Diego de Almagro the Younger. Vaca de Castro then moved southward, collecting an army to oust Almagro.

Early in 1542 he left Quito, marched to Piura in northwest Peru, then to Trujillo, back into the highlands, then on to Huamanga. By then Vaca de Castro had the aid of Lima and letters of support from Gonzalo Pizarro in the south. Almagro had been staying in Cuzco and had been negotiating with royalists. The administration of Peru was settled on 16 September 1542 at the battle of Chupas, one of the bloodiest battles of Peru's civil wars. Almagro fled, but was soon captured. He was executed in Cuzco and buried alongside his father.

Vaca de Castro undertook to defuse Peru's turmoil by removing its cause—the large number of discontented soldiers. He supported three major expeditions: In 1543, Captain Juan de Porcel entered the Bracamoros in northwest Peru; Diego de Rojas began the exploration and settlement of the Tucumán region in present-day northwest Argentina; and Captain Juan Pérez de Vergara initiated the conquest of the Moyobamba and Rupa-Rupa in the upper jungle in 1544. A threat of a newly revived Inca state was lessened when the energetic and highly capable leader Manco Inca was assassinated by a group of Spaniards the same year.

The arrival of Peru's first viceroy, Blasco Núñez Vela, brought the end of Vaca de Castro's tenure. The viceroy was welcomed into Lima (15 May 1544) but refused to take advice from the ex-governor. Believing Vaca de Castro to be a member of a conspiracy against him, the new viceroy imprisoned the official and charged him with forcing Indians to work in the mines without salary, authorizing their employment as beasts of burden, and selling encomiendas. Before hearings got under way, the viceroy himself was jailed by adherents of Gonzalo Pizarro. Vaca de Castro escaped to Spain, only to face charges there. Caught between the Pizarrist and Almagrist factions at court, he found himself in jail again, in Valladolid, Arévalo, and later Simancas. It was not until 1555 that the court freed and rehabilitated him.

In 1556 he returned to the Council of Castile and in 1559 received back salary. He served on the council until his retirement in 1566. Thereafter, he lived in the convent of San Agustín in Valladolid. After his death, his remains were transferred by order of his second son, Pedro de Castro, Archbishop of Granada, to the Colegiata del Sacro-Monte of Granada.

See alsoAlmagro, Diego de; Núñez Vela, Blasco.


Manuel De Mendiburu, Diccionario histórico biográfico del Perú (1935).

José Antonio Del Busto Duthurburu, Historia general del Perú: Descubrimiento y conquista (1978).

Additional Bibliography

García-Gallardo Carcedo, Genoveva. "Cultural Encounters: The Peruvian Artifacts Collected by Cristobal Vaca de Castro." M.A. thesis. Western Michigan University, 2004.

                                   Noble David Cook