Translated by Frederick (Jamie) Anderson ‘19

What follows is a letter sent by the chronicler and author of these histories along with this volume and first part of his chronicles, as soon as they were printed, to his most reverent and illustrious lord, the Cardinal of Spain, Honorable Friar García Jofre de Loayza, presbyter Cardinal of Saint Susanna, Bishop of Sigüenza, confessor of His Imperial Majesty, President of the Royal Council of the Empire of the West Indies, islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea, etc.[1]


Most Reverend and Illustrious Lord.


It is written that trees that are neither planted nor bear fruit are regarded in religion as wretched and damaged. Well, compared to those useless men who by their indolence are of no use to others, it seems to me that such men are very similar to what Pliny says of said trees.[2] It should also be considered (to place further blame on them) that such men are endowed with reason and industry and have the freewill to inquire and know how to recognize the bad and choose the good, and those other vegetative or sensitive animals in whom reason is lacking are less to blame, for nature made them as such, in more or less a degree from each other, according to her purpose—though they are not entirely useless, for according to Job: Nihil in terra sine causa fit [Nothing happens on Earth without a reason.][3]

In truth, Most Reverend Prince, I have always wished to avoid being one of those whose work can fall into oblivion and its power diminished, and thus chose, in serving His Imperial Majesty, and according to the weakness of my wit, the best use for my time, spending my sweat and vigils in such a way that whoever reads my work should praise God for His wonders and not see my care as badly exercised nor regard me as a useless tree, and in so doing I wish to help others through my writing and give those who would read these materials reason to feel such an endeavor was fruitful; those who read this treatise would necessarily have to give infinite thanks and praise to the Maker of so many marvels, knowing their God and hearing the things that I have written so particularly here, as I say them and as they are. To this end, with my natural inclination and desire, this first part of the General and Natural History of the Indies has arrived to the state in which Your Most Reverend Lordship can see it here; after this history was viewed and examined in the Royal Council of the Indies, presided over by Your Most Reverend Lordship, I came to this city of Seville to have it printed with the royal license and authority of that said Council. In the time and effort that this first impression has taken I have worked and expended much more than the interest such books will attract, and I would not have stopped here because of it nor would I have avoided returning to the Indies had I not respect for another more certain and greater reward or prize: that of not only fulfilling what His Imperial Majesty has commanded me to carry out (in compiling these materials) but also serving Your Most Reverend Lordship in said endeavor, thus helping news reach the world of the many things that will be pleasing to prudent ears; especially being certified that before such high mare magno and the excellence of Your Most Reverend Lordship, of such authority and science, and so experienced and informed in hearing each day the matters concerning this Empire of the Indies (which Your Most Reverend Lordship rules and governs with such ample authority and rectitude), my poorly ornamented writings have referred to part of those new and true accounts that are here compiled until such time as the completed second and third parts of my work see the light of day, when Your Most Reverend Lordship might so permit and give me license to do so.

And so, his Imperial Majesty is at present away from Spain, basking in his immortal triumphs as Our Lord has now added to his memorable and glorious trophies (having conquered by force of his arms the very powerful and ancient Carthage, now referred to as Tunis), and though your lordship may be here, His Imperial Majesty wishes that everything goes through and is offered to the hands of Your Most Reverend Lordship; fulfilling his royal mandate, and with the very certain desire I have always had and will always have to serve Your Most Reverend Lordship, I plead, as a servant in your house, that this trifling offer be accepted and that His Imperial Majesty be notified by your hand. Because I wish for your lordship to favor what is written here and its writer with that clemency that always makes all those of us who live in the Indies feel worthy—who always find in Your Most Reverend Lordship a father and a true refuge in all our moments of need and favor and assistance in our work, all of those who normally live through those part as well as those of us who come here, especially those who speak the truth—and since my work is full of truth, despite its poor style and lack of artificial words, I put it forth with that reverence and observance that is required sub umbra alarum tuarum[4] in hopes that Your Most Reverend Lordship may thus receive it.

Moreover, Most Reverend Lord, I am often in admiration when I recall how after Your Most Reverend Lordship was in the Roman court engaged in the governance of the world and of God’s Church (as you are such a great and excellent pillar of it) the Divine Providence returned Your Most Reverend Lordship safely to our Spain for our good and the benefit of these kingdoms; I also recall with admiration how, in furtherance of the Emperor’s fortune and with the help of the Council and the prudence of Your Most Reverend Lordship, it seems that by God’s hand the victories of His Imperial Majesty have increased and they continue to grow every day, and even matters concerning the Indies and its riches seem to thrive under your shadow. God’s worship flourishes in these parts: the Christian republics ennoble themselves, the kingdoms of Spain grow richer, and things are going from good to better. And this is as it should, for these goods to multiply each day, for Your Lordship governs those parts to the great benefit of those parts and these; not without reason did Jesus Christ enlightened the Emperor’s heart so as to entrust his western empire of the Indies to Your Lordship, given that in all his States and dominions so much is given to Your Lordship that not a single thing of importance is determined without your agreement and knowledge. And because at the time that this first part of the General and Natural History of the Indies was seen and examined in the Royal Council of the Indies Your Most Reverend Lordship was with His Imperial Majesty in Barcelona, and so could not see it at the time, I now send it with the supplication I declared above, for it was seen by the illustrious lord Count of Osorno, don Garci Fernández Manrique, who in the absence of Your Most Reverend Lordship usually presides over that said Council, and when present is given notice of all matters given the prominence of his person, who the Emperor so deservingly esteems as one of Spain’s grandees most esteemed in his secret council and in all other matters. Thus the other people who assist in that same Council of the Indies under Your Most Reverend Lordship’s presidency saw and corrected said history: namely the very magnificent lord, Doctor Beltran, who has long held the first place and vote in said council, a person of such great knowledge and career that he is well-known in Spain and elsewhere; the very reverend and generous lord, Licenciado Xuarez de Carvajal, a very learned man and close relative of Your Most Reverend Lordship; the very reverend lord, Doctor Bernal, holder of great and ancient wisdom, and the noble gentlemanLicenciado Gutierre Velázquez. All four are select and perfect minds, well-suited for such great and important business as administering said council with the aid of the magnificent and noble sir, secretary Johan of Samano, Knight of the Military Order of Santiago, and not inferior or the least of those I have mentioned, with whose knowledge these affairs have had the proper outcome; from a tender age he was trained in the negotiation and dealings of the offices of the Indies, and so versed is he in these matters that no one of the many of us who live there can come to better understand them, apart from the high credit that His Imperial Majesty gives him and the great dignity in which Your Most Reverend Lordship holds him.—With this company of eminent and qualified people, enlightened by God and by the guidance and radiance of Your Most Reverend Lordship, these our Indies are governed, in the name of which, and as the least important of Their Majesties there—as procurator as I am of the island of Hispaniola and City of Santo Domingo and such an old hand in the conquest and pacification of those kingdoms (such that I left for those lands with no gray hairs on my head and my head is now full of them)—I beg that Your Most Reverend Lordship continue to bestow your mercy upon the Indies, as usual, especially upon our city and island, keeping it in mind in all that may befall it, for it is the mother, origin, and foundation of all the Christian republics of the Indies. I ask this in two aspects, particularly: first, that those prelates who will be sent there be well suited and of good lineage and of approved and experienced life and virtues, and that they reside in their own dioceses; likewise I say that the same standard be kept in the election of judges and officials of the royal estate, because although if heretofore, by the virtue of God and the caution of Your Lordship so it has been observed, in this there might have been neglect, so it can be seen that the sheep will stray if the shepherds to whom they are entrusted are not what they need to be; and the danger is greater because the journey there is long and Your Most Reverend Lordship is so far away as not to see what happens in those lands, making the danger of doubting and not knowing the truth of what goes on here all the greater. And for this I would hope, Most Reverend Monsignor, that your Lordship, before these shepherds and officials should go there, be informed by sight of their character and qualities so as to avoid having to recall and punish them afterwards; this I wish so that the Emperor’s royal conscience and that of your Most Reverend Lordship and of the gentlemen of the Council may rest quietly, and so we neighbors of those parts may live safely and peacefully in the glory and worship of Jesus Christ, in whose holy service the most reverend and illustrious person and state of Your Lordship may thrive for long years to come. From Seville, on September 30th, 1535.




[1] In 1548, when Oviedo was finishing the final draft of the first part of this General History, not only had Friar García Jofre de Loayza, of the Dominican Order, passed from this life but so had his successor to the presidency of the Royal Council of the Indies, don Garci Fernández Manrique, Count of Osorno; said council was governed at the time by don Luis Hurtado de Mendoza. Regarding this matter, see the Preface to Book VII of this first part. [AR]

[2] Pliny, Book XVI, Chapter XXVII. [GFO]

[3] Chapter V. [GFO]

[4] . . . under the shadow of your wings.