Pedro de Valdivia

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Pedro de Valdivia

Pedro de Valdivia (ca. 1502-1553) was a Spanish conquistador and professional soldier. He fought in Europe and in the civil wars of Peru and initiated the conquest of Chile.

Pedro de Valdivia was born in the district of La Serena in Estremadura. Joining the Spanish army early, he fought in Flanders and then at the battle of Pavia in 1525. He reached America in 1535, spent an uneventful year in Venezuela, and moved on to Peru. There he took part on the side of Hernando Pizarro in the battle of Las Salinas in 1538, which saw Almagro defeated and captured. Valdivia had married in Spain, but in Peru he became attached to the widow Inés de Suárez, who accompanied him to Chile as his mistress.

Early in 1540, with Francisco Pizarro's permission, Valdivia left Cuzco for Chile with a small expedition and one Sancho de Hoz as partner. On the way, Sancho, seeking sole leadership, tried to murder Valdivia but failed. He was pardoned but from then on had to accept subordinate status.

In central Chile, Valdivia founded Santiago on the Mapocho River in 1541, and 3 years later Juan Bohón established La Serena in the Coquimbo Valley. These were followed by Concepción, Villarrica, Imperial, Valdivia, and Angol. Valparaíso, though used as a port by the Spaniards from the start, had no considerable population until much later. Santiago was largely destroyed, soon after its foundation, by Aconcagua Native Americans during Valdivia's absence. The Spaniards there were not annihilated, however, and Inés de Suárez largely conducted the defense and caused the attackers to reire. Ultimately, pressure from his political superiors compelled Valdivia to end his relations with Inés.

When the Gonzalo Pizarro rebellion began in Peru, the insurgents attempted unsuccessfully to win Valdivia to their side. Early in 1548 Valdivia joined the royal army of Pedro de la Gasca in Peru, and his military experience counted heavily in the victory of Xaguixaguana on April 9 of that year. Valdivia returned to Chile with his position and prestige considerably strengthened.

Earlier, on learning of Francisco Pizarro's murder in 1541, Valdivia had removed Chile from Peruvian control and acknowledged only the royal authority, an arrangement the Crown found acceptable. Secure now in his own domain, he pushed exploration southward and aided the development of the country by dividing the land among his ablest followers and parceling out the Indians in encomiendas. Chile possessed minerals, but Valdivia definitely subordinated mining to agriculture and stock raising.

Valdivia had a clash with the warlike Araucanians beyond the Bio-Bio River in 1550 in which he defeated them but by no means broke their will to resist, a will that grew stronger when the conquistador established the Concepción settlement in their territory. He moved against them in 1553 and built a fort at Tucapel. He had earlier captured and presumably made friends with Lautaro, an Araucanian youth who became his groom. Lautaro secretly remained true to his own people and rejoined them to show Chief Caupolicán a means by which Valdivia could be taken. The Spanish leader was captured on Christmas Day, 1553. Though different accounts exist of his execution, the likeliest is that a chief, Pilmaiquén, hit him in the head with a war club.

Further Reading

Ida S. W. Vernon, Pedro de Valdivia: Conquistador of Chile (1946), is a carefully researched, factual biography. H. R. S. Pocock, The Conquest of Chile (1967), is also very useful. R. B. Cunninghame Graham, Pedro de Valdivia: Conqueror of Chile (1926), is of some value, largely because it contains translations of five important letters by Valdivia to Charles V of Spain. Stella (Burke) May, The Conqueror's Lady, Inés Suárez (1930), is a fictionalized biography but is based on primary sources and good secondary works. Author and poet Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga arrived in Chile after Valdivia's death, but his epic poem, translated into English as The Araucaniad, contains facts available nowhere else.

Additional Sources

Cunninghame Graham, R. B. (Robert Bontine), Pedro de Valdivia, conqueror of Chile, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1974. □