Pedro de Alvarado

Pedro de Alvarado

Alvarado, Pedro de, 1486-1541, Spanish conquistador. He went to Hispaniola (1510), sailed in the expedition (1518) of Juan de Grijalva, and was the chief lieutenant of Hernán Cortés in the conquest of Mexico. He commanded at Tenochtitlán in the absence of Cortés, and his brutality provoked a brief native rebellion. Sent out by Cortés in 1523, he conquered Guatemala and Salvador. He was governor of Guatemala until his death. He met with much opposition from the audiencia in Mexico, but strengthening his power on two voyages to Spain (1527-28, 1536-39), he exercised absolute control. He founded many cities and developed the colony. An expedition to Ecuador (1534-35), made in an attempt to share in the booty Francisco Pizarro was taking from the Incan empire, ended in defeat. In 1540, Alvarado, sailing for the Moluccas, stopped in Mexico. While there he was influenced by the viceroy Antonio de Mendoza and by the tales of Marcos de Niza to begin a search for the fabled Cibola. When the indigenous people of Nueva Galicia unexpectedly revolted in 1541, Alvarado took part against them in the Mixtón War. He led a foolhardy attack and was accidentally killed in the subsequent retreat. Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo took command of the maritime expedition. Alvarado's wife, Doña Beatriz de la Cueva, succeeded him as governor of Guatemala. His letters concerning the conquest of Guatemala have been published.

See J. E. Kelly, Pedro de Alvarado (1932).

Pedro de Alvarado y Contreras (born Badajoz, Extremadura, Spain, ca. 1485 or ca. 1495, died Guadalajara, New Spain, 4 July, 1541) was a Spanish conquistador and governor of Guatemala, known for his skill as a soldier, and his cruelty to native populations is well-documented. His brutality is represented in various sources, including the Lienzo de Quauhquechollan, wherein his conquest is depicted. This document shows that he enslaved natives, and murdered them by means such as hanging, burning, and throwing them to dogs. His wife, Doña Beatriz de la Cueva, of Úbeda, became governor after his death, but died in September 1541 during the mudflow of the Guatemalan "Agua" volcano.

Indigenous people, both Nahuatl-speakers and speakers of other languages, called him Tonatiuh, meaning "sun" in the Nahuatl language.

Life and work

Pedro de Alvarado was a native of Badajoz and son of Diego Gómez de Alvarado y Mexía de Sandoval, born in Badajoz in 1460 and vecino of Badajoz, Extremadura, Commander of Lobón, Puebla, Montijo and Cubillana, Alcalde of Montanchez, Trece of the Order of Santiago, Lord of Castellanos, Maestresala of Henry IV of Castile and General of the Frontier of Portugal, widow of Teresa Suárez de Moscoso y Figueroa, and second wife Leonor de Contreras y Gutiérrez de Trejo.

Alvarado went to Hispaniola in 1510 with all his younger brothers Gonzalo, Jorge, Gómez, Hernando and Juan and their uncle Diego de Alvarado y Mexía de Sandoval. He held a command in the Juan de Grijalva expedition sent from Cuba against Yucatán in the spring of 1518, and returned in a few months, bearing reports of the wealth and splendour of Moctezuma II's empire.

In 1519 he accompanied, as chief lieutenant and second in command, Hernán Cortés in the expedition for the conquest of Mexico. Alvarado was being appointed to the command of one of the eleven vessels of the fleet. He acted as Cortés's principal officer on the first occupation of the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlán. He was left in command of the forces at Tenochtitlan when Hernán Cortés had to move against Pánfilo de Narváez. When the Spaniards had temporarily to retire before the Mexican uprising, Alvarado led the rear-guard (July 1, 1520: see La Noche Triste) and the Salto de Alvarado — a long leap with the use of his spear, by which he saved his life — became famous.

Sent out by Hernán Cortés with 120 horsemen, 300 footsoldiers and several hundred Cholula and Tlaxcala auxiliaries, Alvarado was engaged in the conquest of the highlands of Guatemala from 1523 to 1527. At first, Alvarado allied himself with the Cakchiquel nation, in his conquest of their traditional rivals, the Quiché nation, but his cruelties alienated the Cakchiquel, and he needed several years to stamp out resistance in the region. Pedro de Alvarado led the first effort by Spanish forces to extend their dominion to the future El Salvador, in June 1524. Spanish efforts were firmly resisted by the indigenous people known as the Pipil and their Mayan speaking neighbors. Led by a war-leader who tradition calls Atlacatl, the indigenous people defeated the Spaniards and forced them to withdraw to Guatemala. Pedro de Alvarado was wounded on his left thigh, remaining handicapped for the rest of his life. He abandoned the war and appointed his brother, Gonzalo de Alvarado, to continue the task. Two subsequent expeditions were required (the first in 1525, followed by a smaller group in 1528) to bring the Pipil under Spanish control. In 1525 the conquest of El Salvador was completed and the city of San Salvador was established. Alvarado was subsequently appointed governor of Guatemala by Charles I of Spain and remained governor of Guatemala until his death. He was made Adelantado de La Florida and Knight of Santiago in 1527, and also Governor of Guatemala. In that year he married in Spain to Francisca de la Cueva, a Dame of Úbeda and niece of the Duke of Alburquerque. She died shortly after their arrival to America.

In 1534, Alvarado heard tales of the riches of Peru, headed south to the Andes and attempted to bring the province of Quito under his rule. When he arrived, he found the land already held by Francisco Pizarro's lieutenant Sebastian de Belalcazar. The two forces of Conquistadors almost came to blows; however, Alvarado bartered to Pizarro's group most of his ships, horses, and ammunition, plus most of his men, for a comparatively modest sum of money, and Alvarado returned to Guatemala.

In 1532, Alvarado received a Royal Cedula naming him Governor of the Province of Honduras, which at that time consisted of a single settlement of Spaniards in Trujillo, but he declined to act on it. In 1533, or 1534 he began to send his own work teams of enslaved Africans and Indians into the parts of Honduras adjacent to Guatemala to work the placer gold deposits. In 1536, ostensibly in response to a letter asking for aid from Andres de Cereceda, then acting Governor of the Province of Honduras, Alvarado and his army of Indian allies arrived in Honduras, just as the Spanish colonists were preparing to abandon the country and go look for gold in Peru. In June, 1536, Alvarado engaged the indigenous resistance lead by Çiçumba in the lower Ulua river valley, and won. He divided up the Indian labor in repartimiento grants to his soldiers and some of the colonists, and returned to Guatemala.

During a visit to Spain, in 1537, Alvarado had the governorship of Honduras reconfirmed in addition to that of Guatemala for next seven years. His governorship of Honduras was not uncontested, however. Francisco de Montejo had a rival claim, and was installed by the Spanish king as Governor of Honduras in 1540. Then, ten years after widowing, he married a sister of his first wife, Doña Beatriz de la Cueva, who outlived him.

Alvarado fought to suppress a major revolt by the Mixtón natives of the Nueva Galicia region of Mexico in 1541. After an unsuccessful assault on the fortified peak of Nochistlan, Alvarado was leading a retreat (at present day Barranca de Huentitan) when he was crushed by a horse that lost its footing. He died a few days later, on July 4, 1541, and was buried in the church at Tiripetio (in present-day Michoacán). Four decades later, his daughter Leonor de Alvarado Xicoténcatl paid to transport his remains to Guatemala for reburial in the cathedral of the city of Santiago (now Antigua Guatemala).

After the death of Pedro de Alvarado, his wife, Doña Beatriz de la Cueva, of Úbeda, became governor of Guatemala, but died months later, in the September 1541 destruction of the city of Guatemala by the volcano called "de Agua".

He had no issue from both his marriages. But more than his wives his vital companion was Luisa de Tlaxcala (also called Xicoténcalt or Teculuace, her original names after Catholic Baptism), an Indian Noblewoman, daughter of the Tlaxcaltec Chief Xicotenga. Luisa was delivered by her father in 1519 to Hernán Cortés as a proof of respect and friendship, and in turn he gave her in guard to Pedro de Alvarado, who quickly became her lover. Luisa followed Pedro in his adventures, and despite never being recognized as his legitimate wife, she had numerous possessions and was respected as a Dame, both for her relationship with de Alvarado and for her noble origin. She died in 1535 and was buried at the Guatemala Cathedral.

With Luisa de Tlaxcala he had three children:

  • Leonor de Alvarado, born at the newly founded city of Santiago de los Caballeros, who married Pedro de Portocarrero, conquistador and man of the trust of his father in law, whom he accompanied during the conquest of Mexico and Guatemala, participating in numerous battles against the Indians
  • Pedro de Alvarado, who disappeared in the sea when travelling to Spain
  • Diego de Alvarardo, El Mestizo, who died in 1554 in the civil wars of Peru

By other women, in conceiled and occasional love affairs, he also had:

  • Gómez de Alvarado, without further notice
  • Ana (Anita) de Alvarado, who might have been the one who married her father's brother in law Don Francisco de la Cueva and had a long life and a numerous offspring


See also



  • Samuel Z. Stone, The Heritage of the Conquistadors (genealogical diagrams), and also La Dinastia de los Conquistadors.

External links

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