Map 1. The Peoples of America, 1492.
Based on Pierre Chaunu, L'Amerique et les Ameriques (Paris 1964), map. 3.
Hernan Cortes and Christopher Newport
A shrewd notary from Extremadura, turned colonist and adventurer, and a onearmed ex-privateer from Limehouse, in the county of Middlesex. Eighty-seven years separate the expeditions, led by Hernan Cortes and Captain Christopher Newport respectively, that laid the foundations of the empires of Spain and Britain on the mainland of America. The first, consisting of ten ships, set sail from Cuba on 18 February 1519. The second, of only three ships, left London on 29 December 1606, although the sailing date was the 19th for Captain Newport and his men, who still reckoned by the Julian calendar. That the English persisted in using a calendar abandoned by Spain and much of the continent in 1582 was a small but telling indication of the comprehensive character of the change that had overtaken Europe during the course of those eighty-seven years. The Lutheran Reformation, which was already brewing when Cortes made his precipitate departure from Cuba, unleashed the forces that were to divide Christendom into warring religious camps. The decision of the England of Elizabeth to cling to the old reckoning rather than accept the new Gregorian calendar emanating from the seat of the anti-Christ in Rome suggests that - in spite of the assumptions of later historians - Protestantism and modernity were not invariably synonymous.'
After reconnoitring the coastline of Yucatan, Cortes, whose ships were lying off the island which the Spaniards called San Juan de U16a, set off in his boats on 22 April 1519 for the Mexican mainland with some 200 of his 530 men.2 Once ashore, the intruders were well received by the local Totonac inhabitants before being formally greeted by a chieftain who explained that he governed the province on behalf of a great emperor, Montezuma, to whom the news of the arrival of these strange bearded white men was hastily sent. During the following weeks, while waiting for a reply from Montezuma, Cortes reconnoitred the coastal region, discovered that there were deep divisions in Montezuma's Mexica empire, and, in a duly notarized ceremony, formally took possession of the country, including the land yet to be explored, in the name of Charles, King of Spain.' In this he was following the instructions of his immediate superior, Diego Velazquez, the governor of Cuba, who had ordered that `in all the islands that are discovered, you should leap on shore in the presence of your scribe and many witnesses, and in the name of their Highnesses take and assume possession of them with all possible solemnity 4
In other respects, however, Cortes, the protege and one-time secretary of Velazquez, proved considerably less faithful to his instructions. The governor of Cuba had specifically ordered that the expedition was to be an expedition for trade and exploration. He did not authorize Cortes to conquer or to settle.' Velazquez's purpose was to keep his own interests alive while seeking formal authorization from Spain to establish a settlement on the mainland under his own jurisdiction, but Cortes and his confidants had other ideas. Cortes's intention from the first had been to poblar - to settle any lands that he should discover - and this could be done only by defying his superior and securing his own authorization from the crown. This he now proceeded to do in a series of brilliant manoeuvres. By the laws of medieval Castile the community could, in certain circumstances, take collective action against a `tyrannical' monarch or minister. Cortes's expeditionary force now reconstituted itself as a formal community, by incorporating itself on 28 June 1519 as a town, to be known as Villa Rica de Vera Cruz, which the Spaniards promptly started to lay out and build. The new municipality, acting in the name of the king in place of his `tyrannical' governor of Cuba, whose authority it rejected, then appointed Cortes as its mayor (alcalde mayor) and captain of the royal army. By this manoeuvre, Cortes was freed from his obligations to the `tyrant' Velazquez. Thereafter, following the king's best interests, he could lead his men inland to conquer the empire of Montezuma, and transform nominal possession into real possession of the land.6
Initially the plan succeeded better than Cortes could have dared to hope, although its final realization was to be attended by terrible trials and tribulations for the Spaniards, and by vast losses of life among the Mesoamerican population. On 8 August he and some three hundred of his men set off on their march into the interior, in a bid to reach Montezuma in his lake-encircled city of Tenochtitlan (fig. 1). As they moved inland, they threw down `idols' and set up crosses in Indian places of worship, skirmished, fought and manoeuvred their way through difficult, mountainous country, and picked up a host of Mesoamerican allies, who were chafing under the dominion of the Mexica. On 8 November, Cortes and his men began slowly moving down the long causeway that linked the lakeshore to the city, `marching with great difficulty', according to the account written many years later by his secretary and chaplain, Francisco Lopez de Gomara, `because of the pressure of the crowds that came out to see them'. As they drew closer, they found `4,000 gentlemen of the court ... waiting to receive them', until finally, as they approached the wooden drawbridge, the Emperor Montezuma himself came forward to greet them, walking under `a pallium of gold and green feathers, strung about with silver hangings, and carried by four gentlemen (fig. 2)'.'
It was an extraordinary moment, this moment of encounter between the representatives of two civilizations hitherto unknown to each other: Montezuma II, outwardly impassive but inwardly troubled, the `emperor' of the Nahuatl-speaking Mexica, who had settled on their lake island in the fertile valley of Mexico around 1345, and had emerged after a series of ruthless and bloody campaigns as the head of a confederation, the Triple Alliance, that had come to dominate central Mexico; and the astute and devious Hernan Cortes, the self-appointed champion of a King of Spain who, four months earlier, had been elected Holy Roman Emperor, under the name of Charles V, and was now, at least nominally, the most powerful sovereign in Renaissance Europe.
The problem of mutual comprehension made itself felt immediately. Cortes, in Gomara's words, `dismounted and approached Montezuma to embrace him in the Spanish fashion, but was prevented by those who were supporting him, for it was a sin to touch him'. Taking off a necklace of pearls and cut glass that he was wearing, Cortes did, however, manage to place it around Montezuma's neck. The gift seems to have given Montezuma pleasure, and was reciprocated with two necklaces, each hung with eight gold shrimps. They were now entering the city, where Montezuma placed at the disposal of the Spaniards the splendid palace that had once belonged to his father.
After Cortes and his men had rested, Montezuma returned with more gifts, and then made a speech of welcome in which, as reported by Cortes, he identified the Spaniards as descendants of a great lord who had been expelled from the land of the Nahuas and were now returning to claim their own. He therefore submitted himself and his people to the King of Spain, as their `natural lord'. This 'voluntary' surrender of sovereignty, which is likely to have been no more than a Spanish interpretation, or deliberate misinterpretation, of characteristically elaborate Nahuatl expressions of courtesy and welcome, was to be followed by a further, and more formal, act of submission a few days later, after Cortes, with typical boldness, had seized Montezuma and taken him into custody.'
Cortes had secured what he wanted: a translatio imperii, a transfer of empire, from Montezuma to his own master, the Emperor Charles V. In Spanish eyes this transfer of empire gave Charles legitimate authority over the land and dominions of the Mexica. It thus justified the subsequent actions of the Spaniards, who, after being forced by an uprising in the city to fight their way out of Tenochtitlan under cover of darkness, spent the next fourteen months fighting to recover what they regarded as properly theirs. With the fall of Tenochtitlan in August 1521 after a bitter siege, the Mexica empire was effectively destroyed. Mexico had become, in fact as well as theory, a possession of the Crown of Castile, and in due course was to be transformed into Spain's first American viceroyalty, the viceroyalty of New Spain.
By the time of Christopher Newport's departure from London in December 1606, the story of Cortes and his conquest of Mexico was well known in England. Although Cortes's Letters of Relation to Charles V had enjoyed wide circulation on the continent, there is no evidence of any particular interest in him in the British Isles during the reign of Henry VIII. In 1496 Henry's father, tempted by the lure of gold and spices, and anxious not to be excluded by the Spaniards and Portuguese, had authorized John Cabot to `conquer and possess' in the name of the King of England any territory he should come across on his North Atlantic voyage not yet in Christian hands.' But after the death of Henry VII in 1509, Tudor England, enriched by the discovery of the Newfoundland fisheries but disappointed in the prospects of easy wealth, turned away from transatlantic enterprises, and for half a century left the running to the Spaniards, the Portuguese and the French. In the 1550s, when Mary Tudor's marriage made Charles's son and heir, Philip, for a brief time King of England, Richard Eden used his translation into English of the first three books of Peter Martyr's Decades of the New World to urge his compatriots to take lessons from the Spaniards. It was not until around 1580, however, that they began to pay serious attention to his words.10
By then, English overseas voyages had significantly increased in both number and daring, and religious hostility, sharpening the collective sense of national consciousness, was making an armed confrontation between England and Spain increasingly probable. In anticipation of the conflict, books and pamphlets became the instruments of war. In 1578 Thomas Nicholas, a merchant who had been imprisoned in Spain, translated into English a much shortened version of Lopez de Gomara's History of the Indies under the title of The Pleasant Historie of the Conquest of the Weast India. Here English readers could read, although in mutilated form, a vivid account of the conquest of Mexico, based on information derived from Cortes himself."i Not only did Nicholas drastically cut Gomara's text, but he also managed to give it a distinctively English colouring. Where Gomara introduced Montezuma's formal surrender of sovereignty to Charles V by saying that he summoned a council and Cortes `which was attended by all the lords of Mexico and the country round', English readers would no doubt have been gratified to learn that he `proclaimed a Parliament', after which `Mutezuma and the burgesses of Parliament in order yielded themselves for vassals of the King of Castile, promising loyalty'."
A few years later, Richard Hakluyt the younger, who had emerged as the principal promoter and propagandist of English overseas empire, reminded the readers of his Principall Navigations how `Hernando Cortes, being also but a private gentleman of Spain ... took prisoner that mighty Emperor Mutezuma in his most chief and famous city of Mexico, which at that instant had in it above the number of 500,000 Indians at the least, and in short time after obtained not only the quiet possession of the said city, but also of his whole Empire."3 The taking of possession had hardly been `short' or `quiet', but Hakluyt's message was clear enough.
A few Elizabethans were coming to realize, as Cortes himself had realized after observing the devastation by his compatriots of the islands they had ravaged in the Caribbean, that the acquisition of empire demanded a firm commitment to settle and colonize. The preface to John Florio's 1580 English translation of Jacques Cartier's account of his discovery of Canada (New France) informed English readers that `the Spaniards never prospered or prevailed but where they planted';14 and in his Discourse of Western Planting of 1584 Richard Hakluyt cited with approbation Gomara's remarks on the folly of Cortes's predecessor, Juan de Grijalva, who, on reaching the coast of Yucatan, failed to found a settlement.'5 In that same year an English expedition identified Roanoke Island, off the coast of what was later to become North Carolina, as a base for privateering attacks on the Spanish West Indies. But Walter Raleigh, for one, saw its potential as a base not only for privateering but also for colonization, and in the following year Roanoke was to become the setting for England's first serious, although ultimately abortive, attempt at transatlantic settlement (fig. 4).16
Although Raleigh's Roanoke colony ended in failure, it would provide valuable lessons for the more sustained Jacobean programme of colonization that was to begin with Christopher Newport's expedition of 1606-7. But the loss of the colony meant that, lacking any base in the Americas, Newport's expedition, unlike that of Cortes, had to be organized and financed from the home country. The Cortes expedition had been funded in part by Diego Velazquez out of his resources as governor of Cuba, and in part by private deals between Cortes and two wealthy islanders who advanced him supplies on credit. 17 The Newport expedition was financed and organized by a London-based joint-stock company, the Virginia Company, which received its charter from James VI and I in April 1606, granting it exclusive rights to settle the Chesapeake Bay area of the American mainland. Under the same charter a Plymouth-based company was given colonizing rights further to the north. Although funding was provided by the investors, many of whom were City merchants, the appointment of a thirteenman royal council with regulatory powers gave the Company the assurance of state backing for its enterprise.18
Where Cortes, therefore, was nominally serving under the orders of the royal governor of Cuba, from whom he broke free at the earliest opportunity, Newport was a company employee. The company chose more wisely than the governor of Cuba. Cortes was too clever, and too ambitious, to be content with playing second string. His father, an Extremaduran hidalgo, or minor nobleman, had fought in the campaign against the Moors to reconquer southern Spain. The son, who learnt Latin and seems to have mastered the rudiments of the law while a student in Salamanca, made the Atlantic crossing in 1506, at the age of twenty-two.19 When Cortes left for the Indies it was hardly his intention to serve out his life as a public notary. Like every impoverished hidalgo he aspired to fame and fortune, and is said to have dreamed one night, while working as a notary in the little town of Azua on the island of Hispaniola, that one day he would be dressed in fine clothes and be waited on by many exotic retainers who would sing his praises and address him with high-sounding titles. After the dream, he told his friends that one day he would dine to the sound of trumpets, or else die on the gallows.20 But for all his ambitions, he knew how to bide his time, and the years spent in Hispaniola, and then in Cuba, gave him a good understanding of the opportunities, and the dangers, that awaited those who wanted to make their fortunes in the New World. If he lacked military experience when he set out on the conquest of Mexico, he had developed the qualities of a leader, and had become a shrewd judge of men.
Newport, too, was an adventurer, but of a very different kind.2' Born in 1561, the son of a Harwich shipmaster, he had the sea in his blood. In 1580, on his first recorded transatlantic voyage, he jumped ship in the Brazilian port of Bahia, but was back in England by 1584, when he made the first of his three marriages. By now he was a shipmaster who had served his apprenticeship, and was gaining the experience that would make him one of the outstanding English seamen of his age. The years that followed saw him engaged in trading and raiding, as England went to war with Spain. He took service with London merchants, and he sailed to Cadiz with Drake in 1587, remaining behind to engage in privateering activities off the Spanish coast. In 1590 he made his first independent voyage to the Caribbean as captain of the Little John, and lost his right arm in a sea-fight off the coast of Cuba when attempting to capture two treasure ships coming from Mexico. His third marriage, in 1595, to the daughter of a wealthy London goldsmith, made him a partner in major new commercial and privateering ventures, and provided him with a well-equipped man-of-war. Thereafter he made almost annual voyages to the West Indies, and by the time of the Anglo-Spanish peace settlement of 1604 he knew the Caribbean better than any other Englishman of his times. His long experience of Spanish American waters and his impressive seafaring skills therefore made him a natural choice in 1606 as the man to plant a colony for the Virginia Company on the North American mainland (fig. 3).
Of the 105 `first planters', as the men who composed Newport's expedition were called, thirty-six were classed as gentlemen.22 There were also a number of craftsmen, including four carpenters, two bricklayers, a mason, a blacksmith, a tailor and a barber, and twelve labourers. The proportion of gentlemen was high, and would become still higher by the time the new colony had twice been reinforced from England, giving it six times as many gentlemen as in the population of the home country.23 It was also high in relation to the number in Cortes's band, which was five times as large. Of the so-called `first conquerors', who were present with Cortes at the founding of Vera Cruz, only sixteen were clearly regarded as hidalgos.24 But many more had pretensions to gentility, and Bernal Diaz del Castillo goes so far as to claim in his History of the Conquest of New Spain that ,all the rest of us were hidalgos, although some were not of such clear lineage as others, because it is well known that in this world not all men are born equal, either in nobility or virtue.'25 The Cortes expedition included some professional soldiers, and many other men who, during their years in the Indies, had participated in raiding parties to various of the Caribbean islands, or joined previous expeditions for reconnaissance, barter and settlement. It also included two clerics (Newport's expedition had on board `Master Robert Hunt Preacher'), and a number of notaries, as well as craftsmen and members of specialist trades. Effectively, Cortes's company was composed of a cross-section of the residents of Cuba, which was deprived of nearly a third of its Spanish population when the expedition set sail.26 It was therefore well acclimatized to New World conditions, unlike Newport's party, which, within six months of arrival, had lost almost half its number to disease.27
The fact that the company on board Newport's ships were styled `planters' was a clear indication of the purpose of the voyage. For the English in the age of the Tudors and Stuarts, `plantation' - meaning a planting of people - was synonymous with 'colony'.28 This was standard usage in Tudor Ireland, where `colonies' or `plantations' were the words employed to designate settlements of English in areas not previously subject to English governmental control.29 Both words evoked the original coloniae of the Romans - simultaneously farms or landed estates, and bodies of emigrants, particularly veterans, who had left home to `plant', or settle and cultivate (colere), lands elsewhere.30 These people were known as `planters' rather than `colonists', a term that does not seem to have come into use before the eighteenth century. In 1630, when the British had established a number of New World settlements, an anonymous author would write: `by a colony we mean a society of men drawn out of one state or people, and transplanted into another country.'3'
The Spanish equivalent of `planter' was poblador. In 1498, when Luis Roldan rebelled against the government of the Columbus brothers on Hispaniola, he rejected the name of colonos for himself and his fellow settlers of the island, and demanded that they should be known as vecinos or householders, with all the rights accruing to vecinos under Castilian law. 32 A colon was, in the first instance, a labourer who worked land for which he paid rent, and Roldan would have none of this. Subsequent usage upheld his stand. During the period of Habsburg rule Spain's American territories, unlike those of the English, were not called `colonies'. They were kingdoms in the possession of the Crown of Castile, and they were inhabited, not by colonos, but by conquerors (conquistadores) and their descendants, and by pobladores, or settlers, the name given to all later arrivals.
The English, by contrast, were always `planters', not `conquerors'. The discrepancy between English and Spanish usage would at first sight suggest fundamentally different approaches to overseas settlement. Sir Thomas Gates and his fellow promoters of the Virginia Company had asked the crown to grant a licence ,to make habitation plantation and to deduce a Colonic of sundry of our people' in `that part of America commonly called Virginia ...'33 There was no mention here of conquest, whereas the agreement between the Castilian crown and Diego Velazquez in 1518 authorized him to `go to discover and conquer Yucatan and Cozumel'.34 But the idea of conquest was never far away from the promoters of English colonization in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The Spaniards had given the lead, and the Spanish example was very much in the elder Richard Hakluyt's mind when he wrote in his Pamphlet for the Virginia Enterprise of 1585 that in the face of opposition from the Indians `we may, if we will proceed with extremity, conquer, fortify, and plant in soils most sweet, most pleasant, most strong, and most fertile, and in the end bring them all in subjection and to civility."' The degree to which `conquest' entered into the equation would depend on the behaviour and reactions of the indigenous population when Newport and his men set foot on land.
First impressions were hardly encouraging. Approaching Chesapeake Bay, Captain Newport put a party ashore on a cape he christened `Cape Henry', after the Prince of Wales, only to have them `assaulted by 5 Salvages, who hurt 2 of the English very dangerously'.36 Although the English were unaware of the fact, this was not the first encounter of the local inhabitants with European intruders. The Spanish had been seeking to establish fortified posts along the coast, first at Santa Elena, in the future South Carolina, in 1557, and then in Florida, where Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded St Augustine in 1565 after exterminating a settlement of French Huguenots.37 Five years later, with Menendez's blessing, a party of eight Jesuits set out from Santa Elena under the leadership of Father Juan Bautista de Segura, the vice-provincial of the Jesuit Order in Florida. They had as their guide and translator a young Algonquian chief who had been picked up on an earlier expedition, given the baptismal name of Don Luis de Velasco in honour of the viceroy of New Spain, and taken to Spain, where he was presented to Philip II. Presumably in a bid to return to his native land he encouraged the Jesuits to establish their mission at `Ajacan', whose exact location on the Chesapeake is unknown, but which may have been some five miles from the future Jamestown. In 1571 Velasco, who had made his excuses and returned to live among his own people, led an Indian attack which wiped out the mission. Following a Spanish punitive expedition in 1572 the Ajacan experiment was abandoned. If, as has been suggested, Velasco was none other than Opechancanough, the brother of the local `emperor' Powhatan, Newport and his men had fixed their sights on a land where the ways of Europeans were already known and not admired.38
In search of a safer landing-place, Newport's expedition moved across the bay and up river, finally putting ashore on 13 May 1607 at what was to be the site of Jamestown, the colony's first settlement. The London Company had named a resident council of seven to govern the colony, and ground-clearing and the construction of a fort began immediately under its supervision. Jamestown, with its deep anchorage, was to be the English Vera Cruz, a base for reconnaissance and for obtaining supplies by sea.
Here the Indians, like those of Vera Cruz, seemed favourably disposed: `the Salvages often visited us kindly (fig. 5).'39 Newport took a party to explore the higher reaches of the river, and, after passing `divers small habitations ... arrived at a town called Powhatan, consisting of some 12 houses pleasantly seated on a hill'. Beyond this were falls, which made the river unnavigable for their boat. On one of the `little islets at the mouth of the falls', Newport `set up a cross with this inscription Jacobus Rex. 1607, and his own name below At the erecting hereof we prayed for our king and our own prosperous success in this his action, and proclaimed him king, with a great shout.'40 The English, like the Spaniards in Mexico, had formally taken possession of the land.
In both instances tender consciences might question their right to do so. `The first objection', Robert Gray was to observe in A Good Speed to Virginia (1609), `is, by what right or warrant we can enter into the lands of these savages, take away their rightful inheritance from them, and plant ourselves in their places, being unwronged or unprovoked by them.'41 This was a problem with which the Spaniards had long had to wrestle. Spanish claims to New World dominion were based primarily on the Alexandrine bulls of 1493-4. These, following the precedent set by papal policy towards the Portuguese crown in Romanus Pontifex (1455), gave the monarchs of Castile dominion over any islands or mainland discovered or still to be discovered on the westward route to Asia, on condition that they assumed responsibility for protecting and evangelizing the indigenous inhabitants.42
Since a favourable reaction of the indigenous population to such a take-over could hardly be taken for granted, their willingness to submit peacefully came to be tested by the formal reading aloud to them of the requerimiento, the notorious legal document drawn up in 1512 by the eminent jurist Juan Lopez de Palacios Rubios, and routinely used on all expeditions of discovery and conquest, including that of Hernan Cortes. The document, after briefly outlining Christian doctrine and the history of the human race, explained that Saint Peter and his successors possessed jurisdiction over the whole world, and had granted the newly discovered lands to Ferdinand and Isabella and their heirs, to whom the local population must submit, or face the waging of a just war against them.43 The right of the papacy to dispose of non-Christian lands and peoples in this way was in due course to be contested by Spanish scholastics like Francisco de Vitoria, but papal concession was to remain fundamental to Spanish claims to possession of the Indies, although it might be reinforced or supplemented, as Cortes tried to supplement it, by other arguments.
Papal authorization was obviously not an option for Protestant England when it found itself faced with identical problems over rights of occupation and possession, although the general tenor of the argument based on papal donation could easily be adapted to English circumstances, as it was by Richard Hakluyt: `Now the Kings and Queens of England have the name of Defenders of the Faith; by which title I think they are not only charged to maintain and patronize the faith of Christ, but also to enlarge and advance the same.'44 England, therefore, like Spain, acquired a providential mission in America, a mission conceived, as by Christopher Carleill in 1583, in terms of `reducing the savage people to Christianity and civility ...'4s
At the time of Newport's arrival, the Virginia Company is more likely to have been exercised by prior Spanish claims to the land than by those of its indigenous inhabitants, with whom it was hoped that the colonists could live side by side in peace. A few years later William Strachey dismissed Spanish claims with contempt: `No prince may lay claim to any amongst these new discoveries ... than what his people have discovered, took actual possession of, and passed over to right ... '46 Physical occupation of the land and putting it to use in conformity with established practice at home was the proper test of ownership in English eyes.
This Roman Law argument of res nullius could conveniently be deployed against Spaniards who had failed to establish their nominal claims by actual settlement; but soon it also became the principal justification for seizing land from the Indians,47 although in the early years of settlement it seemed wise to cover all eventualities. In a sermon preached before the Virginia Company in 1610 William Crashaw advanced a range of arguments to justify the Virginia enterprise. One of these, borrowed from the Spanish theologian Francisco de Vitoria '41 was based on the universal right conferred by the `law of nations' (ius gentium) to freedom of trade and communication. `Christians', he asserted, `may traffic with the heathen.' There were other justifications too. `We will', he continued, `take from them only that they may spare us. First, their superfluous land' - the res nullius argument. `Secondly, their superfluous commodities . . .' Finally, there was England's national mission, as formulated by Christopher Carleill and others during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. `We give to the Savages what they most need. 1. Civility for their bodies. 2. Christianity for their souls.'49 All possible moral and legal objections to the enterprise were thus conveniently met.
In conducting relations with the Indians, Newport and his colleagues were under firm instructions from the company: `In all your passages you must have great care not to offend the Naturals if you can eschew it ...'S0 No doubt inspired by the example of Mexico, where the indigenous population was alleged to have believed that the strange white visitors were immortal, the council in London also told the resident councillors to conceal any deaths among the colonists, and thus prevent `the Country people' from perceiving `they are but common men' .51 But the local tribes seem to have been neither deceived nor overawed. While Newport was still away on his reconnaissance of the James River, a surprise raid on the fort at Jamestown left two English dead, and a dozen or more wounded. The English ships retaliated by bombarding Indian villages along the waterfront.52 The establishment of a working relationship with the inhabitants was clearly considerably more complicated than the London sponsors of the expedition had envisaged.
The situation facing the settlers looks, at first sight, like a miniature version of that which faced Cortes in Mexico. The territory on which they had established themselves, known as Tsenacommacah, was dominated by an `emperor', Powhatan, with whom Newport engaged in an exchange of presents when they first met near the Powhatan falls. For the last quarter of a century Powhatan had been building up his power, and through warfare and cunning had established his paramountcy over the numerous Algonquian-speaking tribes of the region. His `empire' seems to have been the nearest equivalent in North America to the Aztec empire far to the south,53 although in populousness and wealth it did not begin to rival that of Montezuma. During the sixteenth century the diseases which the Spaniards had brought with them from Europe had spread northwards, ravaging the Indian tribes in the coastal regions, and leaving in their wake a sparsely settled population.54 Where Montezuma's empire in central America had a population estimated at anything from five to twenty-five millions when Cortes first set foot on Mexican soil, that of Powhatan consisted in 1607 of some thirteen to fifteen thousand." The differences in size and density of the indigenous population would profoundly affect the subsequent character of the two colonial worlds.
Powhatan, however, outwitted the white intruders, as Montezuma did not. Described by Captain John Smith as `a tall, well proportioned man, with a sour look', he could not compete in grandeur with Montezuma, but none the less lived in a style which impressed the English. `About his person ordinarily attendeth a guard of 40 or 50 of the tallest men his country doth afford. Every night upon the 4 quarters of his house are 4 sentinels each standing from other a flight shoot, and at every half hour one from the Corps du garde cloth hollow, unto whom every sentinel loth answer round from his stand; if any fail, they presently send forth an officer that heateth him extremely. S6 Powhatan was quick to see possible advantages to himself in the presence of these foreign intruders. He could make use of the goods that the English brought with them, and especially their much coveted copper, to reinforce his own position in the region by increasing the dependence of the lesser chieftains on him. The English, with their muskets, would also be valuable military allies against the enemies of the Powhatan Confederacy, the Monacan and the Chesapeake. Since, if they wanted to stay, they would be dependent on his people for their supplies of food, he was well placed to reduce them to the status of another subject tribe. The exchange of presents with Newport when the two men met at the falls duly ratified a military alliance with the English against his enemies."
The English, for their part, were playing the same game, hoping to turn Powhatan and his people into tributaries who would work for them to keep the infant colony supplied with food. But there were problems about how to achieve this. William Strachey would later quote Sir Thomas Gates to the effect that `there was never any invasion, conquest, or far off plantation that had success without some party in the place itself or near it. Witness all the conquests made in those parts of the world, and all that the Spaniards have performed in America. 15' Resentment among rival tribes at Powhatan's dominance might in theory have made this possible, but in practice Powhatan was so much in control of the local scene that there proved to be only limited scope for the leaders of the new colony to follow Cortes's example and play off one tribal grouping against another.
In June 1607, when Newport sailed for England to fetch supplies for the hungry and disease-ridden settlement, Captain John Smith, a member of the resident seven-man council, was deputed to lead expeditions into the interior, where he would attempt to negotiate with the Chickahominy tribe, who were settled in the heart of Powhatan's empire but did not form part of it. In December, however, he was taken prisoner by a party headed by Powhatan's brother and eventual successor, Opechancanough, and held for several weeks. Mystery surrounds the rituals to which Smith was subjected in his captivity and his `rescue' by Powhatan's daughter Pocahontas, but the episode appears to be one element in the process by which Powhatan sought to subordinate the English and bring them within the confines of Tsenacommacah.59 In conversations with Powhatan, Smith described Newport as `my father''60 and Powhatan may have seen Smith as an inferior chieftain, who, once he had spent time among his people and become an adopted Powhatan, could safely be returned to the English settlement and help ensure its obedience. He was released in early January just as Newport arrived back in the starving colony with much-needed supplies.
Following Newport's departure for England in April 1608 for further reinforcements of new settlers and supplies, Smith successfully forced his way into a commanding position in the faction-ridden colony. A professional soldier with long experience of warfare in continental Europe, he was elected in September into the presidency of the settlement, which badly needed the gifts of leadership that he alone seemed capable of providing.
A Powhatan shaman is alleged to have predicted that `bearded men should come and take away their country 161 - a prophecy like that which is said to have influenced the behaviour of Montezuma. But in Virginia, as in Mexico, this and other alleged `prophecies' may have been no more than rationalizations of defeat concocted after the event,62 and Powhatan at least showed no sign of resigned submission to a predetermined fate. He had the cunning and the skills to play a cat-and-mouse game with the Jamestown settlement, capitalizing on its continuing inability to feed itself. If the English needed an Hernan Cortes to counter his wiles, only Captain Smith, who had gained some knowledge of Indian ways during the time of his captivity, had any hope of filling the part.
The contrast between Powhatan's confident attitude and the hesitations of Montezuma is revealed at its sharpest by the bizarre episode of Powhatan's 'coronation', which has parallels with what had happened in Tenochtitlan eight decades earlier. Just as Cortes was determined to wrap his actions in the mantle of legitimacy by obtaining Montezuma's `voluntary' submission, so the Virginia Company, possibly attracted by the Mexican precedent, sought a comparable legitimation for its actions.
Newport returned from England in September 1608 with instructions from the company to secure a formal recognition from Powhatan of the overlordship of James I. But Powhatan, unlike Montezuma, was not in custody, and resolutely refused to come to Jamestown for the ceremony. `If your king have sent me presents,' he informed Newport, `I also am a king, and this my land ... Your father is to come to me, not I to him . . .' Newport therefore had no choice but to take the presents in person to Powhatan's capital, Werowacomoco. These consisted of a basin, ewer, bed, furniture, and `scarlet cloak and apparel', which, `with much ado', they put on him, according to Captain Smith's scornful account of a ceremony of which he deeply disapproved. `But a foul trouble there was', wrote Smith, `to make him kneel to receive his crown, he neither knowing the majesty, nor meaning of a crown, nor bending of the knee ... At last by leaning hard on his shoulders, he a little stooped, and Newport put the crowne on his head.' Once he had recovered from his fright at hearing a volley of shots, Powhatan reciprocated by presenting Newport with his `old shoes and his mantle' (fig. 6).63
Powhatan was clearly no Montezuma. Nor, it turned out, did his `empire' offer anything comparable to those fabulous riches extracted by the Spaniards from that of Montezuma. The letters patent of 1606 authorized the colony's council to `dig, mine and search for all manner of mines of gold, silver and copper', with one-fifth (the Spanish quinto real) of the gold and silver, and one-fifteenth of the copper, to be automatically set aside for the crown.64 Initially, hopes ran very high. A letter home from one of the colonists, dating from May or June 1607, reported that
such a bay, a river and a land did never the eye of man behold; and at the head of the river, which is 160 miles long, are rocks and mountains, that promiseth infinite treasure: but our forces be yet too weak, to make further discovery: now is the king's majesty offered the most stately, rich kingdom in the world, never possessed by any Christian prince; be you one means among many to further our seconding, to conquer this land, as well as you were a means to further the discovery of it: And you yet may live to see England more rich, and renowned, than any kingdom, in all Ewroopa [sic].65
`To conquer this land.' The mentality, at least, was that of Cortes and his men, and the motivation was the same: riches, conceived in terms of gold, silver and tribute. But the high hopes were soon dashed. `Silver and gold have they none ...', reported Dudley Carleton in August 1607.66 Even trading prospects were severely limited. `The commodities of this country, what they are in Esse, is not much to be regarded, the inhabitants having no commerce with any nation, no respect of profit ... '67 Limited local resources; a colony oversupplied with gentlemen unwilling to turn their hands to work; a parent organization at home, the Virginia Company, ill-informed about the local situation and impatient for quick profits; and a dangerous dependence on the Powhatans for supplies of corn - all these brought the colony to the brink of disaster. There was an absence of continuity in the direction of the colony as Newport made his frequent voyages to and from England to keep Jamestown's lifeline open, although Captain Smith did his best to instil some discipline among the settlers. At the same time, rejecting Newport's conciliatory approach to the Indians, he adopted bullying and intimidating tactics that seem to have been inspired by those of Cortes, and brought him some success in securing food supplies.68
Looking back many years later on his experiences of a colony that he left in 1609, never to return, Smith remarked on the importance of having the right men in positions of leadership: `Columbus, Cortez, Pitzara, Soto, Magellanes, and the rest served more than apprenticeship to learn how to begin their most memorable attempts in the West Indies ...'69 This indeed was true, but neither the circumstances, nor perhaps his own temperament, allowed Smith to achieve a repeat performance of the conquest of Mexico on North American soil. For many years the survival of the settlement was to hang in the balance, with alternating peace and hostilities between the Powhatans and the English, until the so-called `Great Massacre' of some 400 of the 1,240 colonists in 1622 precipitated a conflict in which the English gradually gained the upper hand.70 But the Virginia colony that emerged from these harsh birth-throes differed sharply in many ways from the viceroyalty of New Spain. Unlike New Spain, it was not established on the tribute and services of the indigenous population, whose numbers were rapidly depleted by hunger, war and disease. And salvation, when it came, came not from gold but from tobacco.
Motives and methods
Cortes, outmanoeuvred by royal officials, returned to Spain in 1528 to put his case to the Emperor, who confirmed him as captain-general, but not governor of New Spain. He returned there in 1530, but after costly and exhausting expeditions to the Pacific coast searching for a route to China and the Moluccas, he moved back to Spain in 1540, never again to return to the land he had conquered for Castile. Christopher Newport, for his part, left the service of the Virginia Company in 1611, apparently as a result of his dissatisfaction with its efforts to keep the Jamestown settlement supplied, and died in Java in 1617 on the third of a series of voyages on behalf of the East India Company. Both men had cause to feel disappointment with their treatment, but each, in his own way, had laid the foundations for an empire. Cortes, an inspired leader, beached his boats and led his expedition resolutely into the interior of an unknown land to conquer it for his royal master. Newport, ever the professional sailor, was the great enabler, who explored the waterways of the Chesapeake, and, after establishing a tiny settlement on the edges of a continent, opened the lifeline with the mother country that would allow it to survive.
Their two expeditions, although separated in time and space, possessed enough similarities to suggest certain common characteristics in the process of Spanish and British overseas colonization, as well as significant differences that would become increasingly marked as the years went by. The Spanish and British empires in America have been described respectively as empires of `conquest' and of `commerce'," but even these two expeditions would seem to indicate that motivations are not easily compartmentalized into neat categories, and that approaches to colonization resist straightforward classification. Was Cortes, with his almost obsessive determination to settle the land, no more than a gold-hungry conqueror? And were the promoters of the Virginia enterprise purely concerned with commercial opportunities, to the exclusion of all else?
There are sufficient references in Tudor and Stuart promotional literature to the activities of the Spaniards in America to make it clear that English attitudes to colonizing ventures were influenced in important ways by Spanish precedents. Yet at the same time, the English, like the Spaniards, had their own priorities and agenda, which themselves were shaped by historical preoccupations, cumulative experience and contemporary concerns. The aspirations and activities of both the planters of Jamestown and the conquerors of Mexico can only be fully appreciated within the context of a national experience of conquest and settlement which, in both instances, stretched back over many centuries. For historically, Castile and England were both proto-colonial powers long before they set out to colonize America.
Medieval England pursued a policy of aggressive expansion into the nonEnglish areas of the British Isles, warring with its Welsh, Scottish and Irish neighbours and establishing communities of English settlers who would advance English interests and promote English values on alien Celtic soil.72 The English, therefore, were no strangers to colonization, combining it with attempts at conquest which brought mixed results. Failure against Scotland was balanced by eventual success in Wales, which was formally incorporated in 1536 into the Crown of England, itself now held by a Welsh dynasty. Across the sea the English struggled over the centuries with only limited success to subjugate Gaelic Ireland and `plant' it with settlers from England. Many of the lands seized by the Normans in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were recovered by the Irish during the fourteenth and fifteenth;73 and although in 1540 Henry VIII elevated Ireland to the status of a kingdom, English authority remained precarious or nonexistent beyond the densely populated and rich agricultural area of the Pale. With the conversion of Henry's England to Protestantism the effective assertion of this authority over a resolutely Catholic Ireland acquired a new urgency in English eyes. The reign of Elizabeth was to see an intensified planting of new colonies on Irish soil, and, in due course, a new war of conquest. The process of the settlement and subjugation of Ireland by the England of Elizabeth, pursued over several decades, absorbed national energies and resources that might otherwise have been directed more intensively, and at an earlier stage, to the founding of settlements on the other side of the Atlantic.
In medieval Spain, the land of the Reconquista, the pattern of combined conquest and colonization was equally well established. The Reconquista was a prolonged struggle over many centuries to free the soil of the Iberian peninsula from Moorish domination. At once a military and a religious enterprise, it was a war for booty, land and vassals, and a crusade to recover for the Christians the vast areas of territory that had been lost to Islam. But it also involved a massive migration of people, as the crown allocated large tracts of land to individual nobles, to the military-religious orders engaged in the process of reconquest, and to city councils, which were given jurisdiction over large hinterlands. Attracted by the new opportunities, artisans and peasants moved southwards in large numbers from northern and central Castile to fill the empty spaces. In Spain, as in the British Isles, the process of conquest and settlement helped to establish forms of behaviour, and create habits of mind, easily transportable to distant parts of the world in the dawning age of European overseas expansion.74
The conquest and settlement of Al-Andalus and Ireland were still far from complete when fourteenth-century Europeans embarked on the exploration of the hitherto unexplored waters and islands of the African and eastern Atlantic.75 Here the Portuguese were the pioneers. It was the combined desire of Portuguese merchants for new markets and of nobles for new estates and vassals that provided the impetus for the first sustained drive for overseas empire in the history of Early Modern Europe.76 Where the Portuguese pointed the way, others followed. The kings of Castile, in particular, could not afford to let their Portuguese cousins steal a march on them. The Castilian conquest and occupation of the Canary Islands between 1478 and 1493 constituted a direct response by the Crown of Castile to the challenge posed by the spectacular expansion of Portuguese power and wealth.`7
The early participation of Genoese merchants in Portugal's overseas enterprises, and the consequent transfer to an expanding Atlantic world of techniques of colonization first developed in the eastern Mediterranean'78 gave Portugal's empire from its early stages a marked commercial orientation. This would be reinforced by the nature of the societies with which the Portuguese came into contact. Neither Portuguese resources, nor local conditions, were conducive to the seizure of vast areas of territory in Africa and Asia. Manpower was limited, local societies were resilient, and climate and disease tended to take a heavy toll of newly arrived Europeans. As a result, the overseas empire established by the Portuguese in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries consisted largely of a string of fortresses and factories (feitorias) - trading posts and enclaves - on the margins of the unconquered continents of Africa and Asia. The most obvious exceptions were Madeira and the Azores, and then, from the 1540s, Brazil, as the Portuguese became alarmed by reports of French designs on the territory and took the first steps towards bringing it under more effective control. By contrast, the Spaniards began constructing for themselves, from the very early stages of their movement overseas, something more akin to an empire of conquest and settlement.
The process had begun with the subjugation of the Guanche population of the Canary Islands and continued with Columbus. For all his Genoese origins and long residence in Lisbon, he seems, as he returned from his first voyage in 1492, to have had something more in mind than the establishment of an overseas trading base. Be sure', he wrote in his journal, addressing Ferdinand and Isabella, ,that this island [Hispaniola] and all the others are as much your own as is Castile, for all that is needed here is a seat of government and to command them to do what you wish'; and he went on to say of the inhabitants of Hispaniola, whom he described as `naked and with no experience of arms and very timid', that `they are suitable to take orders and be made to work, sow and do anything else that may be needed, and build towns and be taught to wear clothes and adopt our cus- toms.79 Here already can be discerned the outlines of a programme which would today be regarded as that of the archetypal colonial regime: the establishment of a seat of government and of rule over the indigenous population; the induction of that population into the working methods of a European-style economy, producing European-style commodities; and the acceptance on behalf of the colonizing power of a civilizing mission, which was to include the wearing of European clothes and the adoption of Christianity. This would in due course become the programme of the Spaniards in America.
There were reasons both metropolitan and local why the Spanish overseas enterprise should have moved in this direction. The Reconquista had firmly established the tradition of territorial conquest and settlement in Castile. Columbus, who watched Ferdinand and Isabella make their triumphal entry into the Moorish city of Granada on its surrender in January 1492, participated in, and turned to his own advantage, the euphoria generated by this climactic moment in the long history of the Reconquista. From the vantage-point of 1492 it was natural to think in terms of the continuing acquisition of territory and of the extension of the Reconquista beyond the shores of Spain. Across the straits lay Morocco; and, as Columbus would soon demonstrate, across the Atlantic lay the Indies.
Alongside the tradition of territorial settlement and expansion, however, late medieval Castile also possessed a strong mercantile tradition, and it could have followed either route when embarking on its overseas ventures.80 But conditions in the Indies themselves encouraged a territorial approach, as conditions facing the Portuguese in Africa and Asia did not. Disappointingly for Columbus, the Caribbean offered no equivalent of the lucrative trading networks in the Indian Ocean, although the first Spanish settlers in Hispaniola and Cuba would engage in a certain amount of rescate, or barter, with the inhabitants of neighbouring islands. While some gold would be found on Hispaniola, precious metals were not a major commodity of local exchange, and if the Spaniards wanted them it soon became clear that they would have to get them for themselves. The exploitation of mineral resources therefore demanded dominion of the land.
The indigenous societies of the New World, too, were very different in character from those of Africa and Asia. In the first place they were vulnerable - vulnerable to European technological superiority and to European diseases - in ways that the societies of Africa and Asia were not. Moreover, it soon transpired that these peoples had apparently never heard the Christian gospel preached. Their conversion, therefore, became a first priority, and would constitute - with papal blessing - the principal justification for a continuing Spanish presence in the newly found Indies. Castile, already uniquely favoured by God in the triumphant reconquest of Granada, now had a recognized mission across the newly navigated `Ocean Sea' - the mission to convert these benighted peoples and introduce them to the benefits of policia (civility), or, in other words, to European norms of behaviour. In accordance with the terms of the Alexandrine bulls, Castile, by way of compensation for its efforts, was granted certain rights. The inhabitants of Hispaniola, and subsequently those of Cuba and other islands seized by the Spaniards, became vassals of the crown, and a potential labour force for crown and colonists - not, technically, as slaves, because vassalage and slavery were incompatible, but as labourers conscripted for public and private works.
The nature of the Indies and its inhabitants therefore favoured an approach based on conquest and subjugation rather than on the establishment of a string of trading enclaves, thus reinforcing the conquering and colonizing, rather than the mercantile, aspects of the medieval Castilian tradition. But, after the first heady moments, the Caribbean began to look distinctly disappointing as a theatre for conquest and colonization. Hispaniola was not, after all, to prove a source of abundant gold; and its Taino population, which the first Spanish settlers had seen as vassals and as a potential labour force, rapidly succumbed to European diseases and became extinct before their eyes.81 The same proved true of the other islands which they seized in their frenetic search for gold. For a moment it seemed as if the imperial experiment would be over almost as soon as it had begun: the meagre returns scarcely warranted such a heavy investment of resources. But once the lineaments of a great American landmass were revealed, and Cortes went on to overthrow the empire of the Aztecs, it was clear that Spain's empire of the Indies had come to stay. The discovery and conquest of Peru a decade later served to drive the lesson home. Here were vast sedentary populations, which could be brought under Spanish control with relative ease. Dominion over land brought with it dominion over people, and also - as large deposits of silver were discovered in the Andes and northern Mexico - dominion over resources on an unimagined scale.
The Cortes expedition - an expedition conceived in terms of subjugation and settlement - therefore fitted into a general pattern of behaviour developed in the course of the Iberian Reconquista and transported in the wake of Columbus to the Caribbean. Traditionally, the Reconquista had relied on a combination of state sponsorship and private initiative, the balance between them being determined at any given moment by the relative strength of crown and local forces. The monarch would `capitulate' with a commander, who in turn would assume responsibility for financing and organizing a military expedition under the conditions outlined in the agreement. The expectation was that the expedition would pay for itself out of the booty of conquest, and the followers of the captain, or caudillo, would receive their reward in the form of an allocation of land, booty and tribute-paying vassals.82 None of this would have been foreign to Cortes, whose father and uncle took part in the final stages of the Granada campaign. Not surprisingly, he pursued his conquest of Mexico as if he were conducting a campaign against the Moors. He tended to refer to Mesoamerican temples as ,mosques', 83 and in making his alliances with local Indian caciques, or when inducing Montezuma to accept Castilian overlordship, he resorted to strategies often used against the petty local rulers of Moorish Andalusia. Similarly, in his dealings with the crown, on whose approval he was more than usually dependent because of the ambiguous nature of his relationship with his immediate superior, the governor of Cuba, he was scrupulously careful to follow traditional Reconquista practice, meticulously setting aside the royal fifth before distributing any booty among his men.84
But Cortes showed himself to be something more than a caudillo in the traditional mould. Unlike Pedrarias Davila, who as governor of Darien from 1513 murdered and massacred his way through the isthmus of Panama with his marauding band, Cortes, for all the brutality and ruthlessness of his conduct, adopted from the first a more constructive approach to the enterprise of conquest. He had arrived in Hispaniola in the wake of his distant relative and fellow Extremaduran, Nicolas de Ovando, who had been appointed the royal governor of the island in 1501, with instructions to rescue it from the anarchy into which it had descended under the regime of the Columbus brothers, and to establish the colony on solid foundations.85 By the time Ovando left Hispaniola in 1509, seventeen towns had been established on the island, Indians had been allotted by distribution (repartimiento) to settlers who were charged with instructing them in Christian doctrine in return for the use of their labour, and cattle raising and sugar planting had begun to provide alternative sources of wealth to the island's rapidly diminishing supply of gold.
Cortes would have seen for himself something of the transformation of Hispaniola into a well-ordered and economically viable community, while at the same time his Caribbean experiences made him aware of the devastating consequences of uncontrolled rapine by adventurers who possessed no abiding stake in the land. He therefore struggled to prevent a recurrence in Mexico of the mindless style of conquest that had left nothing but devastation in its wake. As expressed by Gomara, his philosophy was that `without settlement there is no good conquest, and if the land is not conquered, the people will not be converted. Therefore the maxim of the conqueror must be to settle.'86 It was to encourage settlement that he arranged the repartimiento of Indians among his companions, who were to hold them in trust, or encomienda, and promoted the founding or refounding of cities in a country which already had large ceremonial complexes and urban concentrations. And it was to encourage conversion that he invited the first Franciscans - the so-called `twelve apostles' - to come to Mexico. Conquest, conversion and colonization were to be mutually supportive.
Effective colonization would not be possible without a serious attempt to develop the resources of the land, and Cortes himself, with his sugar plantations on his Cuernavaca estates and his promotion of long-distance trading ventures, practised what he preached.87 But he was only one among the many conquistadores and early settlers who displayed marked entrepreneurial characteristics. As new waves of Spanish immigrants moved across the continent in the aftermath of the conquest of Mexico and Peru, it became clear that the easiest forms of wealth - silver and Indians - were reserved for the fortunate few. Disappointed conquistadores and new immigrants therefore had to fend for themselves as best they could. This meant, as it had meant in the lands recovered by the Christians in medieval Andalusia, applying their skills as artisans in the cities, or exploiting local possibilities to develop new sources of wealth. The sixteenth-century settlers of Guatemala, for instance - a region without silver mines - developed an export trade in indigo, cacao and hides for American and European markets.88
Entrepreneurial as well as seigneurial aspirations were therefore to be found in this Spanish American colonial society, and already in the first half of the century that great chronicler of the Indies, Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, was expressing pride in Spanish entrepreneurial accomplishments: `We found no sugar mills when we arrived in these Indies, and all these we have built with our own hands and industry in so short a time.'89 Similarly, Gomara's praise for the success of the Spaniards in `improving' Hispaniola and Mexico shows that the language of improvement was being used by the Spaniards a century before English colonists turned to it in order to justify to themselves and to others their presence in the Caribbean and the North American mainland.90
Spain's empire of the Indies, then, cannot be summarily categorized as an empire of conquest, reflecting exclusively the military and seigneurial values of the metropolitan society that founded it. As Cortes's vision - and practice - make clear, there were counter-currents at work, which were perfectly capable of flourishing, given the right conditions. But those conditions would in part be set and shaped by the requirements and interests of the crown. The scale of the conquests was simply too large, the potential resources of the continent too vast, for the crown to remain indifferent to the ways in which those resources were exploited and developed. Tradition, obligation and self-interest all worked from the very beginning to ensure close royal involvement in Spanish overseas settlement.
The united Spain created by the dynastic union of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469 bore the imprint of their unique authority. Their restoration of order in the peninsula after years of civil war and anarchy, and the triumphant completion of the Reconquista under their leadership, had brought the monarchs unparalleled prestige by the time the overseas enterprise was launched. Their investment in Columbus - a rare example of direct financial participation by the crown in overseas expeditions of discovery and conquest91- had yielded rich returns. But their `capitulations' with Columbus proved to have been over-generous. Having asserted their authority with such difficulty at home, they were not inclined to let their subjects get the better of them overseas. The crown would therefore seek to rein in Columbus's excessive powers, and would keep a close watch over subsequent developments in the Indies, making sure that royal officials accompanied, and followed hard on, expeditions of conquest, in order to uphold the crown's interests, impose its authority, and prevent the emergence of over-mighty subjects.
The case for intervention and control by the crown was further strengthened by its obligations under the terms of the Alexandrine bulls to look to the spiritual and material well-being of its newly acquired Indian vassals. It was incumbent on the royal conscience to prevent unrestricted exploitation of the indigenous population by the colonists. With the acquisition of millions of these new vassals as a result of the conquests of Mexico and Peru, the obligation was still further increased. Just as the crown, following Reconquista practice, insisted on retaining ultimate authority over the process of territorial acquisition and settlement, so also it insisted on retaining ultimate authority when it came to the protection of the Indians and the salvation of their souls.
But more than the crown's conscience was at stake. The Indians were a source of tribute and of labour, and the crown was determined to have its share of both. As it struggled under Charles V to maintain its European commitments - to fight its wars with the French and defend Christendom from the Turk - so its dependence on the assets of empire grew. The discovery in 1545 of the silver mountain of Potosi in the high Andes, followed the next year by that of important silver deposits at Zacatecas, in northern Mexico, vastly enhanced those assets, turning Castile's possessions in the Indies into a great reservoir of riches, which, in the eyes of its European rivals, would be used to promote Charles's aspirations after universal monarchy. As Cortes had told Charles in the second of his letters from Mexico, he might call himself `the emperor of this kingdom with no less glory than of Germany, which, by the Grace of God, Your Sacred Majesty already possesses'.92
Even if Charles and his successors ignored the suggestion, and declined to adopt the title of `Emperor of the Indies', Cortes's vision of the monarchs of Castile as masters of a New World empire was very soon to be an established fact. Charles and his successors saw this empire as a vast resource for meeting their financial necessities. Their consequent concern for the exploitation of its silver deposits and the safe annual shipment of the bullion to Seville was therefore translated into continuing attention to the affairs of the Indies, and into a set of policies and practices in which fiscal considerations inevitably tended to have the upper hand. In the Europe of the sixteenth century, silver meant power; and Cortes and Pizarro, by unlocking the treasures of the Indies, had shown how the conquest and settlement of overseas empire could add immeasurably to the power of European states.
In the circumstances, it was not surprising that the England of Elizabeth should have expressed its own imperial aspirations, nicely symbolized by the `Armada portrait' of Queen Elizabeth, with her hand on the globe and an imperial crown at her side.93 Empire calls forth empire, and although Elizabeth's `empire' was essentially an empire of `Great Britain' embracing all the British Isles, the notion of imperium was flexible enough to be capable of extension to English plantations not only in Ireland but on the farther shores of the Atlantic.94 It was important, too, for Hakluyt and other promoters of overseas colonization to refute any Spanish claims to possession of the New World based on papal donation by the Alexandrine bulls. In his Historie of Travell into Virginia of 1612, William Strachey roundly asserted that the King of Spain `hath no more title, nor colour of title, to this place (which our industry and expenses have only made ours ... than hath any Christian prince'.95
While Spain served as stimulus, exemplar, and sometimes as warning, English empire-builders could equally well look to precedents in their own backyard. Ireland, like the reconquered kingdom of Granada, was both kingdom and colony, and, like Andalusia, constituted a useful testing-ground of empire. 16 For example, the English had for centuries been seeking to enmesh Irish kings and chieftains in a network of allegiance, and the model of Montezuma's submission was hardly a necessary prerequisite for the Virginia Company to come up with the farce of Powhatan's `coronation'.
It is therefore no accident that the Elizabethans most active in devising the first American projects - Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir Walter Raleigh, Ralph Lane, Thomas White - were deeply involved in the schemes for Irish plantation. It was not until he went to Ireland in 1566 as a soldier and planter that Gilbert began to appreciate how colonization could bring to its promoters territorial wealth and power.97 In the early years of Elizabeth, growing hostility to Spain, and the burning desire of the English to get their hands on the riches of the Spanish Indies, made it natural that strategic and privateering interests should predominate over any enterprise of a less ephemeral character. But in his abortive voyage of 1578 Gilbert seems to have been moving beyond piracy towards some sort of colonizing scheme.98 The failure of the voyage pushed him still further in the same direction, and in 1582 he devised a project for the settlement of 8.5 million acres of North American mainland in the region known as Norumbega.99
Sir Humphrey Gilbert belonged to that West Country connection - Raleighs, Carews, Gilberts, Grenvilles - with its trading, privateering and colonizing interests, initially in Ireland, which can be seen as an English counterpart to the Extremadura connection that produced Nicolas de Ovando, Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizarro, and many other Spanish conquerors and settlers of America." His plans were designed to provide landed estates for that same class of rural gentry and younger sons which had looked to land and vassals in Ireland as a means of realizing its aspirations. The Irish experience was of a kind to encourage gentlemen adventurers - men imbued with similar values and ideals to those to be found among the Spanish conquistadores, for there was nothing exclusively Spanish about the conquistador ideal. It inspired Sir Walter Raleigh with his wild schemes for wealth and glory through the conquest of the `large, rich, and bewti- ful empyre of Guiana', and it filled the heads of the gentlemen adventurers of Jamestown with dreams of gold and Indians.101
But if there were some suggestive similarities in English and Castilian plans for overseas expansion - plans which, although carried out under state sponsorship and subject to state control, were heavily dependent on private and collective initiatives for their realization - there were also some important differences. England under Elizabeth was moving, however reluctantly, in the direction of religious pluralism, and this was to be reflected in the new colonizing ventures. It was symptomatic, for instance, that one of the main proponents of Gilbert's colonization scheme was Sir George Peckham, a Roman Catholic, and the colony was at least partially envisaged as offering alternative space to the English Catholic commu- nity.102 In 1620, inspired by comparable urgings for an alternative space, a group of separatists under the leadership of William Bradford would land at Cape Cod and move across Massachusetts Bay to establish themselves in New Plymouth. The willingness of the English crown to sanction projects designed to provide refuge in America for a harassed minority contrasted strikingly with the determination of the Spanish crown to prevent the migration of Jews, Moors and heretics to the Indies.
It was also a reflection of the changing times that England's transatlantic enterprise was sustained by a more coherent economic philosophy than that which attended Spain's first ventures overseas. Commercial considerations had admittedly been present from the beginning of the Spanish enterprise, and had been central to Columbus's presentation of his case at court. The colonization of Venezuela in the early 1530s was actually undertaken by a commercial organization, the Seville branch of the German merchant-banking firm of the Welsers, with results as disappointing as those that would later attend the efforts of the Virginia Company.103 But the discovery of silver in such vast quantities, and the overwhelming importance of precious metals in the cargoes for Seville, inevitably relegated other American commodities, however valuable, to a subordinate status in Spain's transatlantic trade. Although by the middle years of the sixteenth century some Spaniards were already expressing concern about the economic as well as the moral consequences of the constant influx of American silver into the Iberian peninsula'104 those who benefited from it - starting with the crown - had little inducement to listen to the theorists.
In the England of Elizabeth, however, the promoters of overseas colonization were still having to look for arguments that would advance their cause. Although the younger Hakluyt's writings were suffused with anti-Spanish and patriotic sentiments, patriotism by itself was not enough. Colonization schemes required merchant capital, and it was essential to present them in terms that would appeal to the mercantile community, with which the Hakluyts themselves had close con- nections.105 At a time when the country was anxiously casting around for new export markets, this meant emphasizing the value of colonies as an outlet for domestic manufactures. Again, the example of Spain was uppermost in the younger Hakluyt's mind. Warning his compatriots of the likely consequences of Philip II's acquisition of Portugal and its overseas territories in 1580, he reminded them that `... whenever the rule and government of the East and West Indies ... shall be in one prince, they neither will receive English cloth nor yet any vent of their commodities to us, having then so many places of their own to make vent and interchange of their commodities. For all the West Indies is a sufficient vent of all their wines, and of all their wool indraped ...'106
The case was further strengthened by the growing anxiety in Elizabethan England about the alarming social consequences of overpopulation. Spain and Portugal, wrote Hakluyt somewhat optimistically in his Discourse of Western Planting, `by their discoveries have found such occasion of employment, that these many years we have not heard scarcely of any pirate of those two nations: whereas we and the French are most infamous for our outrageous, common and daily piracies.' In contrast with Spain, `many thousands of idle persons are within this realm, which having no way to be set on work be either mutinous and seek alteration in the state, or at least very burdensome to the common wealth'.107 Colonization, therefore, became a remedy for the home country's social and economic problems, as Hakluyt conjured up for the benefit of contemporaries and posterity the vision of a great English commercial empire, which would redound both to the honour of the nation and the profit of its industrious inhabitants.
It was ironical that, at the very time when Hakluyt and his friends were vigorously arguing the case for overseas empire, a number of informed and sophisticated Spaniards were beginning to question its value to Spain. In his great General History of Spain, written in the early 1580s, Juan de Mariana summed up the increasingly ambivalent feelings of his generation towards the acquisition of its American possessions: `From the conquest of the Indies have come advantages and disadvantages. Among the latter, our strength has been weakened by the multitude of people who have emigrated and are scattered abroad; the sustenance we used to get from our soil, which was by no means bad, we now expect in large measure from the winds and waves that bring home our fleets; the prince is in greater necessity than he was before, because he has to go to the defence of so many regions; and the people are made soft by the luxury of their food and dress.'108
Mariana's words were a foretaste of things to come. The years around 1600, when the ominous word `decline' first began to be uttered in Spain, saw the beginnings of an intensive Castilian debate about the problems afflicting Castilian society and the Castilian economy.109 From the earliest stages of this debate, the alleged benefits to Spain of the silver of the Indies were the subject of particularly critical scrutiny. `Our Spain', wrote one of the most eloquent and intelligent of the participants, Martin Gonzalez de Cellorigo, `has its eyes so fixed on trade with the Indies, from which it gets its gold and silver, that it has given up trading with its neighbours; and if all the gold and silver that the natives of the New World have found, and go on finding, were to come to it, they would not make it as rich or powerful as it would be without them."10 In this reading, precious metals were not after all the true yardstick of wealth, and real prosperity was to be measured by national productivity, and not by a fortuitous inflow of bullion.
This was a lesson that still had to be learnt, outside as much as inside Spain itself. The insistence of Hakluyt and his friends on an empire based on the exchange of commodities rather than on the acquisition of precious metals played its part in helping to give merchants and their values a new prominence in the English national consciousness at a moment when in Castile a minority was struggling against heavy odds to promote a similar awareness of the crucial importance of those same values for national salvation." English merchants, too, benefited from a social and political system which offered them more room for manoeuvre than their Castilian counterparts, who found it difficult to protect their interests against the arbitrary financial requirements of the Spanish crown.
The fact that the English were embarking on overseas colonization at a time when their society was acquiring a more commercial orientation in response to internal pressures and to a changing climate of national and international opinion about the relationship of profit and power,'12 inevitably gave a slant to the English colonial enterprise that was not to be found in the opening stages of Castile's overseas expansion. The founding of the Virginia Company in 1606 under royal charter reflected the new determination of merchants and gentry to combine personal profit and national advantage by means of a corporate organization which owed more to their own energy and enthusiasm than to that of the state.113 The very fact that the agent of colonization was to be a trading company pointed towards a future English `empire of commerce'.
Yet the tensions that bedevilled the Company from the outset suggest that an empire of commerce was by no means foreordained. The seigneurial aspirations that nearly wrecked the Jamestown settlement were to recur frequently in English colonizing projects of the seventeenth century. Indigenous labour might be in short supply, but the introduction of a slave labour force would in due course allow for the growth in the British Caribbean of societies characterized by the same kind of attitude to conspicuous consumption as was to be found in the Hispanic-American world.
If large quantities of silver had indeed been found in Virginia, there is little reason to doubt that the development of an extractive economy would have created a high-spending elite which would have more than lived up to the dreams of the gentlemen settlers of Jamestown. But the lack of silver and indigenous labour in these early British settlements forced on the settlers a developmental as against an essentially exploitative rationale; and this in turn gave additional weight to those qualities of self-reliance, hard work and entrepreneurship that were assuming an increasingly prominent place in the national self-imagining and rhetoric of seventeenth-century England.
The presence or absence of silver, and of large native populations that could be domesticated to European purposes, had other implications, too, for the two imperial enterprises. With much less immediate profit to be expected from overseas colonization, the British crown maintained a relatively low profile in the crucial opening stages of colonial development. This contrasted strikingly with the interventionist behaviour of the Spanish crown, which had an obvious and continuing interest in securing for itself a regular share of the mineral wealth that was being extracted in the Indies. Similarly, with fewer Indians to be exploited and converted, the British crown and the Anglican church had much less reason than their Spanish counterparts to display a close interest in the well-being of the indigenous population in the newly settled lands.
As a result of this relatively low level of royal and ecclesiastical interest, there was correspondingly more chance for a transatlantic transfer of minority and libertarian elements from the metropolitan culture to British than to Spanish America. While Massachusetts was a reflection of the growing pluralism of English society, it was also a reflection of the relative lack of concern felt by the British crown in these critical early stages of colonization over the character of the communities that its subjects were establishing on the farther shores of the Atlantic. There was, said Lord Cottington, no point in troubling oneself about the behaviour of settlers who `plant tobacco and Puritanism only, like fools'.114 The Spanish crown, acutely aware of its own dependence on American silver and of the vulnerability of its silver resources to foreign attack, could not afford the luxury of so casual an approach to settlement in its overseas possessions.
If, then - as the Cortes and Jamestown expeditions suggest - many of the same aspirations attended the birth of Spain's and Britain's empires in America, accidents both of environment and of timing would do much to ensure that they developed in distinctive ways. But in the early stages of settlement, the creators of these Spanish and British transatlantic communities found themselves confronted by similar problems and challenges. They had to take `possession' of the land in the fullest sense of the word; they had to work out some kind of relationship with the peoples who already inhabited it; they had to sustain and develop their communities within an institutional framework which was only partly of their own devising; and they had to establish an equilibrium between their own developing needs and aspirations, and those of the metropolitan societies from which they had sprung. At once liberated and constrained by their American environment, their responses would be conditioned both by the Old World from which they came, and by the New World which they now set out to master and make their own.