Francisco Pizzaro was born in the Extremeñan city of Trujillo in 1478. At the age of twenty he enlisted in the Spanish army under the command of the Great Captain. Later he went to the Americas where he continued his military life on the island of La Española, nowadays Santo Domingo.
In 1509, under the command of Alonso de Ojeda, he took part in the founding of the city of San Sebastián de Urabá, located today in Colombia, where he was made captain and lieutenant of the city when Ojeda left; in 1513, under the command of Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, he took part in the discovery of the Pacific Ocean.
Pizarro’s great quest was South America and so, in 1524 and in the company of Diego de Almagro and the cleric Hernando de Luque, he financed the expeditions and conquest of the South American lands, and consequently the Inca Empire, nowadays known as Peru, with 18,000 gold pesos.
This Peruvian conquest was carried out in three expeditions, of which the first two were a failure. During the second of them, on the island of Gallo, south of Colombia, the story goes that, faced with the troop’s unrest who wanted to return to Panama, Pizarro drew a line in the wet sand of the beach with his sword, and pointing to the south said, “This is the hardship route, but by it we get to Peru and become rich;” later, pointing in the opposite direction, he said, “That way you get to the haven of Panama, but you’ll be poor; you choose…” Only thirteen men, known as the Famous 13, followed Pizarro and waited on that island until they were sent reinforcements by their partners Almagro and Luque.
In order to continue with the expedition, in 1529 Pizarro travelled to Spain and negotiated an agreement with King Charles 1 in Toledo. This authorised Pizarro to conquer the so-called New Castilla, the name which had been given to Peru, and he was named governor. Pizarro travelled to his birthplace of Trujillo where, on hearing the good news, his brothers, family relations and a fair number of the locals decided to enrol on the expedition, and they departed for America in four boats.
In 1531 Pizarro set sail with 150 men from Panama City for the mouth of the River Tumbe, in the land of the Inca Empire. There they established the colony of San Miguel, the first Spanish colony in Peru; for the Incas, the arrival of the Spanish meant the fulfilment of the legend concerning the return of their god Viracocha, and they treated the Spaniards like deities.
On hearing the news of the death of the Inca emperor Huayna Capac and the dispute between his two sons Atahualpa and Huáscar, Pizarro knew how to take advantage of the situation and unrest amongst the Incas and managed to get allies from other indigenous peoples who were opposed to the dominance of the Incas.
In November of 1532, Pizarro arrived at the city of Cajamarca, located some 90 kilometres from Lima, where he expected to meet with the Inca Atahualpa, who with his great army made up of 35,000 men, entered with much pomp and ceremony in the square of the armoury. Atahualpa was required to convert to Christianity, renounce his gods, and submit himself to the power of King Charles 1. In reality, both sides were intending to attack, but Pizarro and his 187 men, 37 horses and 2 gunnery divisions, had an ambush organized for their defence. The surprise and roar of the Spanish attack caused panic amongst the Incas, and they were defeated and Atahualpa taken prisoner.
In order to be set free, Atahualpa promised Pizarro rooms full of gold and silver. The Spaniards accepted, but while the substantial ransom was on its way, and faced with the fear of an Inca attack, Atahualpa was accused of insurrection, the murder of his brother Huáscar and of the crime of idolatry, amongst other charges, and he was executed.
In this way, Pizarro initiated the conquest of Cuzco with the support of the Incan nobility who had backed Huáscar, naming his stepbrother Manco Capac emperor. In November of 1534 Cuzco was taken by Pizarro with hardly any resistance, and one month later Diego de Almagro founded the city of Trujillo. At the start of 1535, Pizarro founded the City of the Kings, which would later be known as Lima and become the capital of Peru, due to the requirement of the Spanish to have access to the sea, which wasn’t the case with Cuzco.
Pizarro married for the first time with Quispe Sisa, an Incan princess, daughter of the emperor Huayna Capac. From this marriage was born Francisca Pizarro Yupanqui, heir to a huge fortune due to her ancestry, who later married her uncle Hernando Pizarro in Spain.
The conquest of Peru caused a war between Spaniards for the control of the city of Cuzco; in the battle of Salinas in 1538, Diego de Almagro was defeated and would be executed by the brothers Gonzalo and Hernando Pizarro. Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of Peru, died in 1541 in the city of Lima, murdered by the supporters of Diego de Almagro, who shouted “Long live the King, Death to the tyrant!” His remains lie in a chapel in the cathedral of Lima.
Text written by Inés Pérez de Herrasti y Urquijo