Christopher Columbus in Spain

IT is supposed by some that Columbus, after leaving Portugal, applied for aid to the Republic of Genoa. If he did, he was unsuccessful; and so we find him at the gate of the convent near Palos, in Andalusia, which was dedicated to Santa Maria de Rabida. Whilst the porter was getting refreshments for his boy, the prior of the convent, Friar Juan Perez de Marchena, happening to pass by, was attracted by the dignified aspect of the stranger. He soon learned that he was on his way to the neighboring town, Huelva, to seek for his brother-in-law, probably Pedro Correo, already mentioned. He also learned, from a brief conversation, that the stranger was an extraordinary man, and he invited Columbus to remain as his guest. With increasing wonder and admiration he heard the lips of the navigator unfold his theories, his plans and his hopes. That such a man should stand a beggar at his convent gate was a marvel to Father Marchena.

The friar was learned in geographical science. Able, therefore, to comprehend the grandeur of the views of Columbus, he was deeply impressed with the wisdom of the navigator, which seemed to him like inspiration. Distrusting his own judgment, he sent for Garcia Fernandez, a scientific friend in Palos, to come and converse with his guest; and within the quiet cloisters of La Rabida, the project of Columbus received the most profound respect, such as powerful courts and learned philosophers in council had not deigned to bestow. There he was brought in contact with old and eminent navigators of Palos, whose stories of the sea confirmed his faith in his theory. Marchena, impressed with the same faith, and the importance to Spain of a successful result of an enterprise like that proposed by Columbus, not only offered to give him a favorable introduction to the court, but he also offered to take his son Diego into the convent, and there educate him.

It was not one of the most remarkable and brilliant periods in the history of the Spanish monarchy. Ferdinand, King of Arragon, and Isabella, Queen of Castile and Leon, had been joined in marriage. Their kingdoms were united, and formed a strong empire. So was consolidated the Christian power of the Spanish Peninsula, and gave a prophecy of a speedy conquest of the Moors who were confined to Grenada, the kingdom which they had set up on Spanish soil more than two hundred years before. To effect that conquest, the efforts of united Spain were now directed. The two monarchs were one in love, respect, interest, views and aims, and were happily united in their councils for the good of the realm, yet they ruled as separate sovereigns, each having an independent council, and sometimes holding court and exercising sovereignty at widely separate points at the same time. They were wise in council and brave in action. Sometimes they were both in the field at the head of troops in their warfare with the Moors; and the armor worn by the queen on these occasions may be seen in the royal arsenal at Madrid. The monarchs were a unit, however, in the general administration of the consolidated kingdoms. All acts of sovereignty were executed in the names of both; public documents were signed by both; their profiles were stamped together on the national coins, and the royal seal displayed the united arms of Castile and Arragon. They were both extremely religious and were warmly attached to the Church of Rome, then at the height of its temporal power, whose head claimed to be "King of Kings."

It was an inauspicious time for Columbus to lay his projects before the monarchs. The court was moving from place to place, and was continually surrounded by the din and pageantry of war. So the navigator remained quietly at La Rabida, the guest of Father Marchena, until the spring of 1486, when the court had arrived at the ancient city of Cordova, where the troops had assembled for a vigorous spring campaign against the common enemy. To that old city, and to the court of the young sovereigns, Columbus repaired, bearing a letter from Marchena to the friar's intimate friend, Fernando de Talevera, prior of the monastery of Prado and confessor to the queen. He was a man high in the royal confidence, and possessed great weight in public affairs. With bright hopes Columbus presented the letter. The prior read it carefully, listened patiently to the explanations of the bearer, and coldly shaking his head in token of his doubts, bade the disappointed mariner good morning. He was not favorably impressed with the project of Columbus, and it is probable that he did not even mention it to the sovereigns.

For a long time Columbus lingered in Cordova. He went no more to the priest, but found a friend and an advocate of his theory in Quintanillo, the controller of the finances of Castile. That officer obtained for the navigator the friendly aid of Mendoza, Archbishop of Toledo and Grand Cardinal of Spain. By that important personage he found admittance to the royal presence. The sovereigns listened with wonder and deep interest whilst he unfolded his theory and gave them corroborating facts. The prior of Prado was ordered to assemble a council of astronomers and cosmographers at Salamanca to confer with the navigator. There, in the Convent of St. Stephen, they listed to his theories and his arguments. These were confuted by the books of Moses, the Psalms of David, the prophecies, the Gospels and Epistles, and by the writings of the early fathers of the Christian Church. Plain reason confounded his wild notions. "If the earth is round," said the wise men of that council, "you will be compelled to sail up a kind of mountain from Spain, which you cannot do, even with the fairest wind, and you could never get back." The Grand Cardinal of Spain intimated that the theories of Columbus were irreligious; and the astonished navigator was really in danger of being consigned to the Inquisition, which was about to be revived, as a heretic, instead of receiving aid and honor as a discoverer.

Columbus was again doomed to long delay. Disappointed, wearied, almost in despair, he humbled his just pride and wrote a letter to the King of Portugal, whose overtures he had rejected, again asking aid. That monarch invited him to Lisbon. It was now the early spring of 1488. Circumstances had just then revived his hopes of help from the Spanish monarchs, and Columbus did not go. He was attached to Cordova, for there Beatrix Enriquez had borne him a son whom he named Fernando, and who became the historian of his father. But another year passed away before he was again summoned to confer with scientific men at Seville. The war was then at its height. The clangor of arms disturbed every peaceful occupation, and the conference was not held.

Another year passed away and Columbus, wearied by the suspense, pressed for a decisive answer to his petition. Another council of wise men decided that his project was vain, and beneath the dignity of sovereigns to engage in. Not so, secretly thought the monarchs. They were unwilling to reject his suit altogether, and they sent him word that so soon as the war should be closed they would treat with him on the subject. So encouraged, Columbus went to the court at Seville, but saw little prospect of success there. He felt impelled to seek aid at other European courts, but he did not wish to leave Spain. Diego was at La Rabida, and Beatrix and his infant son Fernando were at Cordova. So he turned from the monarchs to the rich nobles of Spain. But he found no one among them willing to embark in his enterprise. The Duke of Medina Celi, to whom he applied, advised him to make another application to the Spanish monarchs, and gave him a letter to the queen.

The proud spirit of Columbus would not permit him to again wait upon the court in the character of a suppliant. He had received an invitation from the king of France to come to Paris, and he resolved to go. He went to the convent for Diego, to place him with Beatrix, at Cordova. The good father, Marchena, was touched with tenderest pity when he saw that great man, after years of weary waiting, again standing at his gate as poor, almost, as when he first stopped at that portal and asked food for his famishing boy. The friar's patriotism was also enkindled when he heard from the lips of the disappointed navigator that he was about to leave the country forever, for he wished Spain to be a sharer with Columbus in the brilliant honors which would be acquired by the great discoveries which Marchena believed he would soon make. He summoned his scientific friends of Palos to a council for consultation. Among them came Martin Alonzo Pinzon, the head of a wealthy family of navigators there. Pinzon approved the project of Columbus, and showed his faith in the theory by offering to engage in a voyage of discovery, with his person and his purse, and to pay the expenses of another application to the court. Columbus was willing to delay his departure for France, but he would not be a suppliant again at the feet of the Spanish monarchs. So the warm-hearted Father Marchena resolved to seek a personal interview with Queen Isabella. He had once been her confessor, and he knew that persons of his sacred order found easy access to the presence of that devout woman.

Isabella was then at the military city of Santa Fe. Thither Marchena sent a letter to the queen by an eminent navigator, who, within a fortnight, brought back a note from her majesty summoning the friar to her presence, and giving Columbus, the assurance that he might confidently expect royal aid. That note was laid before the little junta of friends at the convent, and produced much joy. Before midnight Marchena had saddled his mule and departed secretly for Santa Fe, where the sovereigns were superintending the close investment of the capital of Granada. An audience of the queen was readily obtained, when the friar pleaded eloquently in behalf of Columbus and Spain. His honest zeal and earnest eloquence secured Isabella's favorable attention. Her favorite, the Marchioness of Moya, seconded Father Marchena's pleading, and the queen requested that Columbus should be sent to her again. She forwarded money to him wherewith to purchase clothes a mule for his journey, and to bear his traveling expenses.

With renewed hope Columbus journeyed, toward the camp before Granada, where he arrived in time to see the Moors surrender to the Spanish power. He was soon admitted to the presence of the sovereigns. "What do you expect?" asked the king. "To be invested with the title and privileges of an admiral and viceroy over all the countries I may discover," Columbus replied. "Also one-tenth of all the gains either by trade or conquest," he added. One of the courtiers said: "By such an arrangement you would secure the honor of a command, without any loss in case of failure." Columbus instantly replied: "I will furnish an eighth of the cost provided I may enjoy an eighth of the profits." His terms were pronounced to be inadmissible. Others were offered. He refused to compromise, and the conference seemed fruitless. Columbus, again disappointed and heartily disgusted, turned with a heavy heart from the royal pavilion, resolved to go immediately to France. He mounted his mule and started for La Rabida. Some powerful persons who were zealous converts to his theory, learning of his departure, deeply deplored the event. One of these was St. Angel, receiver of the ecclesiastical revenues of Arragon. He obtained an immediate audience of the monarchs, and ably vindicated the judgment of Columbus. The king was not convinced; the queen was. "Our treasury," said Ferdinand, "has been too much drained by the war, to warrant us in engaging in the undertaking." "I will undertake the enterprise," said Isabella, "for my own crown of Castile, and, if necessary, I will pledge my jewels for the money." St. Angel said, with emphasis," It will not be necessary."

A courier was sent to bring Columbus back to the presence of the queen. He was two leagues away when the messenger overtook him at the bridge of Pinos. The often disappointed mariner hesitated. The injunction, "Put not your trust in princes," was deeply impressed on his mind. When he was assured of Isabella's earnestness, he turned back. An immediate audience was granted. The queen received him graciously. She was seated in a richly-cushioned chair by the side of her husband, whilst Columbus stood before her with St. Angel at his right hand. He was then fifty-six years of age; the queen was forty. In person she was of medium height, and exquisitely formed. Her complexion was fair, her hair a rich auburn color, and her eyes a clear blue. There was a mingled gravity and sweetness in her countenance which made it very winning, and a singular modesty which graced the firmness of her purposes, her earnestness of spirit, and her courage to do right. She possessed more genius and grandeur of soul than her husband; and could far better than he comprehend the theory of Columbus, and estimate the mighty results of his success should be achieve it.

The ambition of the navigator was lofty and noble. His piety was heartfelt; his religious convictions were deep and controlling, and his zeal was fed by an earnest desire to serve God and benefit mankind. And when, with a tongue that seemed to be touched with the flame of inspiration, he told the queen of his faith and hope,-a belief that he was ordained of God to bear the Gospel of Jesus to the heathen of unknown lands, and a hope that he should bring back to her the glad tidings of pagans converted to the true faith,-her face kindled with enthusiasm and beamed with angelic benignity. And when he spoke of giving to Spain the honors and emoluments of his anticipated discoveries, and promised to devote the profits of the enterprise to efforts for the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem from the hands of the Paynim, the beautiful queen was transported with joy. She arose quickly from her chair, and stretching forth her clasped hands, sparkling with jewels, and with her soft eyes raised toward heaven, she fervently invoked the blessing of Almighty God upon the person and deeds of Columbus. The navigator stood in awe, with bowed head, before the seeming transfigured sovereign. The colder Ferdinand's soul was warmed, and to the uttered benediction he responded "Amen."

Isabella assented to all of the demands of Columbus, and urged him to depart on his great mission as speedily as possible. Ferdinand acquiesced in the arrangements. The contract was signed by the sovereigns, at Santa Fe, on the 17th of April, 1492. On the 30th of the same month, his commission of admiral and viceroy was signed by both of them in the city of Granada. By that instrument, the dignities and prerogatives of viceroy were made hereditary in the family of Columbus, and his heirs were entitled to prefix to their names the title of Don, a token of rank an estate. Early in May the queen appointed Diego, the son of Columbus, page to her majesty's son, Prince Juan or John. Then Columbus departed for La Rabida with a light heart, and was there received by the good Father Marchena with open arms.

The port of Palos had lately sinned against the monarchs, and the citizens had been condemned to serve the crown one year with two armed caravels-small three-masted vessels. Furnished with authority from the monarchs, Columbus went to the Church of St. George, in Palos, and in the porch of the fane, in the presence of the public officers of that sea-port town and many citizens, he caused a royal order to be read commanding the authorities to have two caravels ready for sea within ten days, and they and their crews placed at the disposal of the admiral. By the same order he was empowered to fit out a third vessel; and the people of that portion of the Andalusian coast were directed to furnish supplies for the three ships at fair prices.

When the destination of Columbus was made known, the greatest consternation spread amongst the seamen of Palos and their friends. The stories of the awful terrors of the far-western Atlantic, which everybody believed, made the stoutest hearts of the mariners quail. Many of them fled to avoid the service, and for weeks no progress was made toward the equipment of the vessels. Finally Martin Alonzo, Pinzon, and his brother, Vincent Yanez, navigators of Palos, of great wealth and well-known courage and ability, having ships and seamen in their employ, came forward and not only engaged to furnish one of the vessels, but to go themselves with Columbus on the perilous voyage, each as master of ship. Martin also agreed to furnish Columbus with the money to pay his promised one-eighth of the cost. These acts of the Pinzons had a powerful effect upon the people, soothing their fears and inspiring them with confidences and very soon three vessels-all that were required-were ready for sea. Two of them were no larger than our river and coast sailing vessels-without decks, pierced for oars to be used in calms, with each a forecastle, and a cabin in the high stern for the accommodation of the ship's company. The largest, which was fitted expressly for the expedition, was decked, and was named Santa Maria (or Holy Mary). She was the flag-ship of Columbus. One of the caravels was called the Pinta, and was commanded by Martin Alonzo Pinzon, who was accompanied by his brother, Francisco Martin, as pilot. The other caravel was the Nina, with lateen sails, and was commanded by Vincent Yanez Pinzon. There were three other pilots; an inspector-general of the armament; also a native of Cordova, Diego de Avana, as chief alguazil, an officer corresponding in his functions with our constable. Roderigo de Escobar was with Columbus as royal notary, an officer always sent with the armaments of the crown, as historian of the expedition. There were also a physician and surgeon, some private adventurers, servants, and ninety mariners; in all one hundred and twenty persons. After appropriate religious ceremonies in the Church of St. George in Palos had been performed, the expedition sailed on Friday the 3d of August, 1402. On the 9th, the little flotilla reached the Canary Island, where they were detained more than three weeks, and early in September they passed the westernmost of the group, escaped some Portuguese caravels which had been sent out to intercept them, and sailed boldly toward the unknown. Columbus carried with him charts constructed on the basis of that which Toscanelli had formerly sent to him. Expecting to find the eastern coast of Asia, he also bore a letter from the Spanish sovereigns to the Grand Khan (Emperor) of Tartary, in whose service Marco Polo had been employed two hundred years before.

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