Luke Charalambous Charalambous itibaren Dangarampur, West Bengal 722121, Hindistan
There is an anthropological theory that one of the key genetic mutations which distinguish humans from other creatures, including those human-like Neanderthals which shared the earth with us many thousands of years ago, is the one behind the desire to travel to unknown places for the purpose of finding out what is there, even if the journey requires the suspension of the fear of immediate death. This restlessness, combined with potential payoffs of wealth, power and glory can be a powerful motivating factor. By the fifteenth century, this quest took the form of daring sea captains and crews providing feedback on improvement of the state of the art in ship building, enhanced with the backing of the first European countries which saw the benefit of finding a way to travel to Asia to deal directly with the suppliers of spices and other goods coveted in Europe since ancient times. The Portuguese became the early practitioners of this sea trade. There was speculation among some cartographers and experienced sailors that sailing Westward from Europe would be a much more direct path to the Spice Islands than following the Portuguese trade routes around Africa. The primary booster of this route was Christopher Columbus, a highly experienced and ambitious Italian sailor who wanted to get backing to try out this theory. He becomes the first significant character in this book by a history professor from the University of Reading, in England. Hugh S. Thomas has planned this book to cover the first thirty years of Spanish exploration in the New World, to be followed by two more volumes on the subject. So, although Columbus was not the only key figure involved in this exploration and conquest, his story is the most compelling because it initiated the European conquest of the Americas. He had spent six years knocking about Spain, following Ferdinando and Isabell from court to court, trying to convince the Spanish bureaucracy delegated to review his claims, to give the Royals the green light to authorize funding for his project. He had to operate in an atmosphere of national priorities consisting of a desire to make the Spanish state the most Christian of nations. The Royal couple's desire to purge the kingdom of infidels, leading ultimately to the expulsion of Jews, followed by the Muslims, would not have been anathema to Columbus; next to finding a western trade route, he was a strong believer in the liberation of Jerusalem. The Spanish Royals were in enough need to find an Asian sea route outside the Portuguese-dominated sea lanes to give Columbus the three small ships and eighty sailors he needed to make his exploration. It was easy to promise him rewards, including the position of Admiral of the Seas, if he succeeded. This would suit his ego and not cost Spain much, since there was no Spanish navy west of the Canary Islands. He returned to Spain with evidence of his discovery of a far-off land, including seven or eight living of the two-dozen Taino natives he had kidnapped. It was said that the Royal couple wept when he was presented to them in Barcelona in 1493. He would make three more voyages to the Americas. He was given the governership of all Spanish possessions in the New World. He led a remarkable life in this position, spending much of his time sailing throughout the Caribbean, the first European to see many of its islands, and naming all that he discovered. He was assisted in his administrative duties by his brothers Bartholeme and Diego. Many colonists were arriving all the time to the main island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic today) and the Columbus brothers accumulated many enemies. Columbus was accused of tyrannical rule and incompetence; how much of this was based on jealousy, or on facts, is open to dispute. The astonishing result, however, was that this heroic explorer was trundled back to Spain in chains eight years after his celebrated first trip. The Spanish rulers released him and allowed him to sail back across the ocean on his fourth voyage, in 1502, but he would remain replaced as governor by Francisco de Bobadilla. Continuing his pattern of sailing and exploring, he and his crew would be grounded on Jamaica after their ship was damaged by a storm, and would remain stranded there for a year. The most colorful group to travel to the New World after 1492 was the Conquistadores. These soldiers of fortune were motivated by the ever-present rumors of gold and silver to be obtained from deposits in the ground or to be looted from the natives. The one who would gain the most fame was Hernan Cortes, who arrived as a colonist in Hispaniola at age eighteen, in 1504. He would become involved in the conquest, from the natives, of Hispaniola and Cuba and would rise in social status, being granted an "encomienda", or Crown Charter, to control or own native laborers. He was named captain of the third Spanish expedition to the mainland, in 1519. He exceeded the ruthlessness he had earlier shown in Cuba by enlisting thousands of natives as allies against their feared and despised Aztec overlords and conquered Mexico. He operated in open mutiny to the Governor of Cuba, who had ordered his expedition recalled, and was rewarded by the Spanish government with the title of Viceroy. Not all Spaniards remained impassive to the brutalities against the natives. The missionary Bartholeme de las Casas and the Dominican monk Fray Montesino voiced their abhorrence of this treatment. Ferdinando and Isabell had expressed their desire from the outset that natives should be treated humanely, while being led to education in Christianity; their benevolence included even the encouragement of intermarriage with Spanish colonists. Their sentiments were echoed by their grandson and successor, Charles I, after he heard from de las Casas of the cruelties being meted out against the Indians. This benevolence didn't survive intact across the distance of the ocean. The colonists on the ground needed a captive population to perform the dangerous and back-breaking labor in the mines and fields. Even Columbus had resisted religious conversion of the natives, since it was illegal to enslave anyone who had been baptized into Christianity. A figure who would be remembered for his name if not for his contributions was Columbus' Italian contemporary, Amerigo Vespucci. The Florentine was not a sailor. He did, however, serve as an official observer on the voyage captained by Pedro Cabral which discovered Brazil for Portugal in 1500. He became famous after he served on a subsequent Portuguese expedition, in which he ultimately became the leader, which traveled much further South than Cabral, proving that South America was a continent and not an island. On such incremental discoveries was the knowledge of the New World's geography revealed during these first decades after 1492. Two published accounts of his voyages, purported to be written by Vespucci, were widely circulated. His reputation was honored by the cartographer Martin Waldseemuller, whose 1507 world map named the new continent "America." Vespucci would eventually settle in Seville, and, in 1508, would become the Chief Navigator of Spain. As the book ends, Ferdinand Magellan begins his famous journey in 1519. A Portuguese, he sailed for Charles I of Spain in an effort to complete what Columbus started, to sail to the Spice Islands (Indonesia) via sailing westward across the Atlantic Ocean. He would find the passage into the ocean that bore the name "Pacific" by the end of the year/early 1520. The subject of this book goes beyond biographical details of the early explorers of the Americas to lay out how Europe became a world power. The primary European emerging power at this time was Spain, which would grow from a collection of poor provinces under the control of often belligerent nobles to a united exploiter of the people and resources of a continent, under the self-proclaimed mantle of divine approval. In addition to being very well written, the book contains several sections of excellent illustrations and photographs, in color. The strong academic background and experienced prior publishing history of the author is reflected in the highly impressive listing of original Spanish and Latin American research materials used. Thomas' scholarship is continued with the 2011 release of his next chronicle of imperial conquest, native civil war and lusting for gold, "The Golden Empire." I'll be looking forward to reading it sometime in the future.
This book was adorable. It had enough funny, cute, and problems to make it seem real. I am so reading this again.