Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of Peru, was born in the city of Trujillo, Extremadura, in 1478. At 20 years old, he enlisted in the Tercios of the Great Captain to defend Spanish territories in Italy. Subsequently, he left for America and landed on the island of Hispaniola, in what is known today as Santo Domingo.
In the year 1513, under the command of Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, he took part in the discovery of the Pacific Ocean. Pizarro joined forces with Diego de Almagro and the priest Hernando de Luque to explore and conquer the lands of South America.
On Gallo Island, in the south of Colombia, in response to the discontent among his troops, Pizarro drew a line with his sword in the wet sand of the beach. Pointing south, he said, “This is the path of hardship, but it leads to Peru, to be rich.” Then, pointing in the opposite direction, he said, “That way leads back to Panama, to rest and ease, but to poverty – make your choice.”
Only 13 men, known as the Famous Thirteen, followed him.
In 1529, he travelled to Spain and received the appointment of governor from King Charles I and an authorisation to conquer the so-called New Castile, the name given to Peru.
He went to his hometown of Trujillo where his brothers, relatives and a good number of local residents decided to enlist in the expedition and left for America in four ships.
In 1531 he set sail from Panama City with roughly 150 men to the mouth of the Tumbes River, in the lands of the Inca Empire. There he established the colony of San Miguel, the first Spanish settlement in Peru.
For the Incas, the arrival of the Spaniards represented the fulfilment of the legend of the god Viracocha’s return. After the death of the Inca Emperor Huayna Capac, Pizarro became aware of the conflict for the throne between his sons Atahualpa and Huáscar. He knew how to take advantage of the situation to gain allies from other indigenous peoples who were opposed to Inca domination.
In 1532, he arrived in the city of Cajamarca, where he expected to meet with the Inca Atahualpa who, with his great army of roughly 35,000 men, entered the main square with grand ceremony. Atahualpa was required to convert to Christianity, renounce his idolatry and submit to the power of King Charles I.
In reality, both sides intended to attack. However, with his 180 Spaniards, 37 horses and two falconet cannons, Pizarro had organised an ambush for his defence.
The surprise and the roar of the Spanish attack sparked panic among the Incas, who were defeated, and Atahualpa was taken prisoner.
In attempting to secure his release, Atahualpa promised Pizarro rooms full of gold and silver.
The Spaniards accepted, but due to fears of an Inca attack as the hefty ransom was arriving, Atahualpa was accused of rebellion, the murder of his brother Huáscar, and the crime of idolatry – leading to his execution.
Thus, Pizarro began the conquest of Cuzco with the backing of the Inca nobility who supported Huascar, and appointed his half-brother Manco Capac as emperor.
In November 1534, Cuzco was taken by Pizarro with barely any resistance. And a month later, Diego de Almagro founded the city of Trujillo.
In early 1535, Pizarro founded the City of the Kings, which would later be renamed Lima and would become the capital of Peru due to the Spaniards’ need for sea access, which Cuzco did not provide.
Pizarro married Quispe Sisa, an Inca princess. From this marriage, Francisca Pizarro Yupanqui was born. She inherited a large fortune due her lineage, and would later marry her uncle Hernando Pizarro in Spain.
The conquest of Peru ignited a war between Spaniards for the control of Cuzco and, in the Battle of Las Salinas in 1538, Diego de Almagro was defeated and later executed by the brothers Gonzalo and Hernando Pizarro.
Francisco Pizarro died in 1541, in the city of Lima, murdered by supporters of Diego de Almagro to the cry of, “Long live the king, death to the tyrant.”