Valdivia, Pedro de (c. 1500–1553)

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Valdivia, Pedro de (c. 1500–1553)

Pedro de Valdivia (b. c. 1500; d. 1553), Spanish conquistador and founder of Chile. Before undertaking the expedition to Chile, Valdivia had already acquired extensive military experience. He entered the army in 1521, participated in the Spanish campaigns in Flanders and Italy, and fought in the battle of Pavia (24 February 1525). He returned to Spain and married Marina Ortíz de Gaete, a native of Salamanca. The sources available contain conflicting information about this union. Some sources say that he was married before the Italian campaigns, while others say he married after. From 1525, when he was in Milan, to 1535, when he embarked on his voyage to the New World, not much is known about his life.

Valdivia probably sailed for Venezuela in an expedition led by Jerónimo de Alderete. He remained in Venezuela for a year or a year and a half, another period in his life for which there is not too much information. He then went to Peru as a member of an expedition to help Francisco Pizarro suppress an Indian rebellion led by Manco Capac. His experience in the military served him well, and in 1537, Pizarro named him his aide-de-camp. Valdivia gained a reputation as a brave soldier in the war between Pizarro and Diego de Almagro. He and Gonzalo Pizarro led the infantry against the forces of Almagro in the decisive battle of Salinas on 6 April 1538. As a reward for his services, Francisco Pizarro granted Valdivia an encomienda in the valley of La Canela.

Valdivia, however, was a man of adventure, and he asked permission from Pizarro to go to Chile, despite the fact that Almagro had gone before and had come back disappointed because he had not found gold. To finance his expedition, Valdivia sold his lands. In the middle of January 1540, he left for Chile from Cuzco accompanied by twelve Spaniards; one woman, Inés de Suárez (who later became the second of four significant women in Valdivia's life); about one thousand Indians; and a few black slaves. Others joined him as he moved on to Chile. Late in 1540, Valdivia reached the Copiapó Valley and called the new land Nueva Extremadura. He moved farther south to Coquimbo and then to the Mapocho Valley, and on 24 February 1541, near the Mapocho River, Valdivia founded Santiago del Nuevo Extremo, present-day Santiago.

The city endured an Indian siege while Valdivia was absent, and the Spaniards suffered many hardships because reinforcements and supplies did not arrive until two years later, in 1543. With more men and supplies, Valdivia continued exploring and in 1544 founded La Serena, halfway between the Copiapó Valley and Santiago. In 1545, he went further south to Quilacura, and at the same time, his lieutenants were exploring other areas.

In 1547, Valdivia left for Peru with the intention of getting more supplies and found himself in the middle of a rebellion led by Gonzalo Pizarro. He sided with the crown's visitador, Pedro de Lagasca, and became an important factor in Pizarro's defeat. He returned to Chile on 21 January 1549, after being cleared by Lagasca of accusations leveled against him by his enemies. Once in Chile, Valdivia continued his explorations and founded more cities: Concepción (1550), Valdivia (1552), and Villarica (1552). He died in 1553 in a battle against the Araucanians led by Lautaro.

Valdivia symbolizes the spirit of the conquistadores in his desire for adventure and his drive to explore new lands. He resembles, for example, Alvar Núñez Cabeza De Vaca, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, and Hernando de Soto, men who were driven more by the spirit of adventure than by the hope of finding gold.

See alsoExplorers and Exploration: Spanish America .


Francisco Esteve Barba, Descubrimiento y conquista de Chile (1946).

Jaime Delgado, Pedro de Valdivia (1987).

Carmen Pumar Martínez, Pedro de Valdivia: Fundador de Chile (1988).

Ida Stevenson Weldon Vernon, Pedro de Valdivia: Conquistador of Chile (1946).

Additional Bibliography

Cordero, María de Jesús. The Transformations of Araucania from Valdivia's Letters to Vivar's Chronicle. New York: P. Lang, 2001.

Larraín Valdés, Gerardo. Pedro de Valdivia: Biografia. Santiago, Chile: Editorial Luxemburgo, 1996.

Nauman, Ann K. The Career of Doña Inés de Suárez: The First European Woman in Chile. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000.

                                 Juan Manuel PÉrez

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Valdivia, Pedro de (c. 1500–1553)

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