THE SILENCED VISIT OF HERNAN CORTES TO CATALONIA
Most of the texts and historical documents that expound the relationship between Catalonia and the discovery and conquest of America have been either altered or deleted. Texts have been deleted and rewritten, and the names and biographies of Conquistadors have suffered the same fate. Furthermore, the arrival of American gold in Catalonia, and its use to pay the debts owed to the Emperor Charles by the Catalan institutions, makes clear the direct involvement of this country with the conquest and colonization of the New World. We often find that chroniclers’ stories hide this Catalan nationality, or replace it by a Castillian one.
For example, we find that the friar Father Cases (Father ‘Bartolome de las Casas’, as he is referred to in Spanish documents), who chronicled with conscientious and extraordinary detail all the facts of Hernan Cortès, strangely forgets to mention the visit of Cortes to the Emperor at Montsó and then at Barcelona. This is despite the fact that his book History of the Indies extends up to year 1561, as the author himself expressed in its last pages. The visit of Cortes to Montso is not mentioned either by Alonso Santa Cruz, who nevertheless specified that in the year 1528, “he [Cortes] came to kiss the hands of the Emperor, with many great pomp, where he was admired and loved by everyone “2.
According to the soldier Bernal Díaz del Castillo, in 1528, Cortes “reached the court, at that time held at Toledo” 3, where he was solemnly received by the Emperor and where he gave an account of his exploits 4. Throughout the chapter, this chronicler always speaks of “Castile” and “Toledo” and writes emphatically that “I want to bring to mind other things that happened to Cortes in Castile during the time that the court remained there.” 5 However, as indicated by the historian Demetrio Ramos, “this event could not have occurred at the city of the river Tajo (Toledo) since it did not have courts” 6, and “Cortes had to get to Montso, where the Aragonese Courts were held, to personally meet the king “7.
Cortes’s contemporary, Sandoval, also writes that “towards the end of 1528, being the Emperor at Toledo, came to that city the famous, and worthy of perduring name, Fernando Cortes, having conquered New Spain and other many provinces larger than Europe “8. And notoriously, López de Gómara says that Cortes “arrived in Spain in late 1528, when the court was at Toledo. He filled the entire kingdom with his name and everyone wanted to see him “9.
The fact that so many official chroniclers make an apparent mistake, always at that precise point, when we know they were following the Court wherever it went and possessed first-hand information, and therefore witnessed what they narrated, means that this error is not unintentional, but comes from higher authorities, who may have introduced modifications whenever necessary, a posteriori, i.e., after the fact.
That such document modifications had taken place was sensed by Amanda Lopez Meneses, who compared the Mexican chronicles with the official documentation of the Courts of Castile. She rejects the idea that Cortes met the Emperor in Toledo. For her, from the time it was written by Gómara in the sixteenth century, “it is a recurrent idea being endlessly repeated that the first interview of the conqueror of New Spain with the King of the Indies, islands and mainland of the Sea Ocean, was held in Toledo. Certainly, with its palace, Toledo would have been a magnificent setting for the event; but the king Charles of Austria left that city on 12th February 1526 “10.
Indeed, according to Martí de Viciana, at the beginning of 1528 the Emperor entered Valencia. This chronicler explicitly states that this was on a day of May, and immediately following that, “the sixteenth of that month, he swore to uphold the Charters and privileges at the cathedral ” 11. On the 20th of that month he went to Montso, “the place to have the courts to which he had summoned the kingdoms of Aragon, Valencia and the Principality of Catalonia” 12. Marti de Viciana tells us that he was an eyewitness of this event 13. The Courts opened on June 13th of 1528 and moved to Barcelona on 4th May of the following year 1529 (14) , “where the king made a new proposal” 15 and where the Parliament would close on July 5th of that same year 16. That is, the Emperor was in the Catalan Nation during all year 1528 and a large part of 1529. And then, if he interviewed Cortés, he could only do it here. This is why the historian Lopez de Meneses believes that Cortes “after passing through Valencia, arrived at Montso, the traditional seat of the courts of the domains of the crown of Aragon, where the courts were going to be held, to be present in them” 17. And it was precisely at the courts of Montso – “where, in addition to attorneys and representatives of the arms, almost all members of the Council of the Indies were present”’ 18-, that the Emperor, as king of the Catalan Nation, refused to grant Cortes the title of viceroy 19, but granted him, nevertheless, on the 6th of July 1529, from Barcelona, the title of Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca and Captain General of New Spain and the coasts of the South Sea20 .
It is surprising, and even shocking, that the Emperor, at the same time that he presided the courts in Montso and Barcelona, did not stop traveling around all Spain, signing a plethora of documents in the most diverse Castilian cities. Vicente de Cadenas21, Manuel Fernandez Álvarez22 and Francisco Bejarano Robles23, just to mention three of the compilers of royal documentation, without even flinching, furnish a wealth of examples of this royal omnipresence.
However, the information regarding the imperial reception to Cortes, which the censors, naturally, always place in Castile, has at least one historiographic slip, since, in 1629, Juan de Solórzano describes with all details that Cortes, returning from the New World, was received in Barcelona. According to this chronicler, on arrival in Spain, “he received, in return, from the Caesar Charles V the government and supreme command, both civilian and military, of New Spain and the title of Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca and other places, with the tax from 23,000 vassals, of which he was despatched a quite honorable royal privilege in Barcelona “24.
Accordingly, the negotiation of a traditionally Catalan position such as that of ‘viceroy’ for his American domains is indisputable, as well as his stay in Barcelona. Thus, Manuel Fernandez said, “It is very likely that the Conqueror was disappointed to find that the statesman [Charles I] preferred to grant him the honors of Captain General of the South Sea rather than the viceroyalty of Mexico. Maybe, in Barcelona, when the Caesar was hurrying to embark for Italy, Hernan Cortes put too much pressure and angered the King with too many petitions, “25.
Finally, it appears that before the King embarked, Cortes got sick, because Sandoval insists that “being sick, the [Emperor] visited him at home, and before he set sail for Italy he granted him the title of Marquis of the Valley of Huaxaques, on 6th July this year, and captain general of New Spain, [and] the provinces and coasts of the South Sea “26; thus, we also know that the Mexican conqueror had a house in Barcelona.
Now, the position of viceroy was granted only “in the presence of the country’s authorities” 27, and “directors and deputies were involved in the act of oath of office, who demanded the viceroy to swear in Barcelona “28. Because Cortes asked specifically for the title of viceroy, and the negotiations took place in the Catalan capital – as also happened in the case of Columbus- we conclude from this that there was a direct involvement of the Catalan government and its institutions with the conquest and first colonization of Mexico.
Therefore, it is well supported that Cortes arrived at Montso, and shortly, at Barcelona, where Cortes had a house. When Gómara says that ” he filled the whole kingdom with his name and everyone wanted to see him”; or when Santa Cruz stresses that “he came to kiss the hands of the Emperor, with large fast, where he was admired and loved by everyone” 29, what they probably refer to is that Cortes filled Catalonia of his fame, and all Catalans were eager to to see and admire him.