Subject: King Ferdinand's Letter to the Tainos

De Las Casas is not terribly good about dating things and I can't figure out exactly when the letter below was written. It is in Book 3, section 57 in of his History of the Indies and he does say that the events of book three occurred between 1511 and 1520, and the letter is very early in the book.

This letter was preserved by Bartolome de las Casas and this is his introduction to it:

"The King gave instructions to Governor Pedrarias [Davila] regarding his conduct in the New World and included an injunction requiring the allegiance of the Indians to the King of Castile, the text of which was later used through the Indies. The King's council once more showed grave and hateful ignorance in this for whatever is founded on injustice is doomed to fall apart at the seams and cause a thousand ills that will corrupt and unnerve the moral and political edifice of a nation, replacing it with consummate malice.
"The injunction reads:..." p. 192

Then follows the same letter which is below. This is all from: HISTORY OF THE INDIES by Bartolome De Las Casas

Harper Torchbooks, NY, 1971. p. 192-93
(Book Three section 57). This book was begun by Las Casas in 1527 and finished before 1565.)

Imperialism without any pretence!

Below is a letter which King Ferdinand sent to the governor of Hispaniola. It was to be communicated to the Taino/Arawak Indians. It is a fascinating document. The King wants the Indians to acknowledge the Christian religion and God, and to accept the authority of the King of Spain.

The letter is a mix of promises of benefits that will come to them, but quickly followed up with the direst of threats if they do not comply.

It is all so blatant. I read documents like these from past centuries and I often think I'd rather be living in a time when there wasn't as much pretence. It seems, at least, that people were bolder, or more fool hardy or perhaps just more powerful and arrogant, but they tended to say what they meant. Today countries like the U.S. seem to be just as imperialistic as was Spain in 1500, but they try to act like they are not. King Ferdinand's letter is shocking and horrible, but at the same time the unmasked nature of his imperialism is refreshing.


In the name of King Ferdinand and Juana, his daughter, Queen of Castile and Leon, etc., conquerors of barbarian nations, we notify you as best we can that our Lord God Eternal created Heaven and earth and a man and woman from whom we all descend for all times and all over the world. In the 5,000 years since creation the multitude of these enerations caused men to divide and establish kingdoms in various parts of the world, among whom God chose St. Peter as leader of mankind, regardless of their law, sect or belief. He seated St. Peter in Rome as the best place from which to rule the world but he allowed him to establish his seat in all parts of the world and rule all people, whether Christians, Moors, Jews, Gentiles or any other sect. He was named Pope, which means admirable and greatest father, governor of all men. Those who lived at that time obeyed St. Peter as Lord and superior King of the universe, and so did their descendants obey his successors and so on to the end of time.
The late Pope gave these islands and mainland of the ocean and the contents hereof to the above-mentioned King and Queen, as is certified in writing and you may see the documents if you should so desire. Therefore, Their Highnesses are lords and masters of this land; they were acknowledged as such when this notice was posted, and were and are being served willingly and without resistance; then, their religious envoys were acknowledged and obeyed without delay, and all subjects unconditionally and of their own free will became Christians and thus they remain. Their Highnesses received their allegiance with joy and benignity and decreed that they be treated in this spirit like good and loyal vassals and you are under the obligation to do the same.
Therefore, we request that you understand this text, deliberate on its contents within a reasonable time, and recognize the Church and its highest priest, the Pope, as rulers of the universe, and in their name the King and Queen of Spain as rulers of this land, allowing the religious fathers to preach our holy Faith to you. You own compliance as a duty to the King and we in his name will receive you with love and charity, respecting your freedom and that of your wives and sons and your rights of possession and we shall not compel you to baptism unless you, informed of the Truth, wish to convert to our holy Catholic Faith as almost all your neighbors have done in other islands, in exchange for which Their Highnesses bestow many privileges and exemptions upon you.
Should you fail to comply, or delay maliciously in so doing, we assure you that with the help of God we shall use force against you, declaring war upon you from all sides and with all possible means, and we shall bind you to the yoke of the Church and of Their Highnesses; we shall enslave your persons, wives and sons, sell you or dispose of you as the King sees fit; we shall seize your possessions and harm you as much as we can as disobedient and resisting vassals. And we declare you guilty of resulting deaths and injuries, exempting Their Highnesses of such guilt as well as ourselves and the gentlemen who accompany us. We hereby request that legal signatures be a fixed to this text and pray those present to bear witness for us, etc.


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