Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Book Review on the Bobadilla's Report


If you haven’t read any of my blogs, you should read this one, since it’s about the book of the so-called "lost document" from the 16th century that historians found claiming Columbus was a "tyrant" toward the Spanish colonists. This news went viral and it is the “source” used by many mainstream historical, biographical and educational websites to support that claim. The book is titled La Caída de Cristóbal Colón: El juicio de Bobadilla ("The fall of Christopher Columbus: The Judgement of Bobadilla") by Consuelo Varela. The book is divided into two parts. The first one, the author gives some context on the circumstances where the document was written, and the author tells us what’s in it. The second part of the book is the transcription (made by Isabel Aguirre) of the actual report. 

The original report, or document, was written by Francisco de Bobadilla, whom the King and Queen of Spain had sent to Hispaniola to investigate complaints that Spanish colonists were making against Columbus and his brothers during the third voyage. The report is a copy of the original, and it’s 25 "folios" or pages long. The first page is missing. 

Twenty-two "witnesses" answered the questions by Bobadilla, which were divided into three questions: 

1. Did Columbus plan to attack the investigator (Bobadilla) when he arrived, with an army of Spaniard colonists and natives?  

2. Did Columbus and his brothers stop the evangelization of the natives? 

3. Was Columbus and his brothers unjust toward the colonists?

There is a second part to the report at the end, which is ten pages long, and it’s a summary of the last question.

Though it’s fascinating to read a historical document, this one is no different than if someone found a historical document authored by those who hated and aimed to smear Jesus Christ. We know the story, and we know the accusations are false, but it would be an interesting read. So, it is with Columbus: We know the story, we know the accusations are false, we know Bobadilla arrested Columbus and his brothers without due process and sent them in chains to Spain. We also know the King and the Queen of Spain cleared Columbus and his brothers of the charges because they did not believe the accusations. Instead, they sent another investigator to investigate Bobadilla, who then was justly removed from the governorship’s office. As for the "witnesses," who were engaged in rebellion, they were sentenced for mutiny. Source: The Life of the Admiral by Ferdinand Columbus, Ch. 86.

I can’t believe that the author, being a historian who had read the very same Spanish primary sources that I have read, believes the report. Even though she acknowledges that the accusations by the colonists were fueled by malice, hate, and envy. She even admitted that Bobadilla was excessive in his behavior and that most of the colonists were cheats and hoodlums. 

Now, let’s take a quick look at the three questions on the Bobadilla report: 

Question 1. Did Columbus plan to attack Bobadilla when he arrived in Hispaniola? 

Answer: There is no primary source that says such a thing. In fact, Columbus and his brothers acted very civil with Bobadilla. (Source: The Life of the Admiral by Ferdinand Columbus, Ch. 86, pp. 222-223). But assuming this was true, it should not be surprising that Columbus would prepare a preemptive attack or a defense against a political coup. Prior to this episode, Columbus suffered several political coups and coup attempts from different people. The last agitator was Alonso de Hojeda, who made a stop at Hispaniola to harass Columbus telling him the queen was "at the point of death." Source: Select Letters of Christopher Columbus, p. 156.

The innuendo here was that Columbus’ only supporter in the court was about to die, thus he would be without any political protection of his titles and privileges. According to the Bobadilla report, Columbus’ Spanish servants compared Bobadilla to Hojeda. However, Columbus learned that the queen indeed had sent Bobadilla to meet with him. Columbus wrote, "When I heard this, I thought he [Bobadilla] must be like Hojeda, or one of the other rebels; but I held my peace, when I learned for certain, from the friars, that he had been sent by their Highness…" Select Letters, p. 161.

Whether this first claim was true or not (that Columbus planned an attack), we know Columbus received Bobadilla peacefully.

Question 2: Did Columbus stop the evangelization of the natives in Hispaniola? 

Answer: Anyone who has read Columbus’ letters or read from those who knew him, will see that he was a very devoted Christian. He is the reason why Christianity is here in the New World. It was one of his main goals for his journeys, therefore this claim is ridiculous. Also, the "witnesses'' contradicted themselves when they said Columbus required one to have a license to evangelize the natives. In other words, he was not stopping the spread of the gospel. What happened was that, according to the Bobadilla report, the natives wanted to "become Christians" in order to receive the gifts that Columbus often gave away to them. All that Columbus wanted was to make sure that the natives really understood what Christianity really meant.

Question 3: Were Columbus and his brothers unjust and cruel toward the colonists?

Answer: This is where we get that Columbus and his brothers were indiscriminately punishing colonists by cutting off their "ears and noses, parading women naked through the streets and selling them into slavery." That one "man caught stealing corn had his nose and ears cut off, was placed in shackles and was then auctioned off as a slave. A woman who dared to suggest that Columbus was of lowly birth was punished by his brother Bartolomé… was stripped naked and paraded around the colony on the back of a mule… Bartolomé ordered that her tongue be cut out… Christopher congratulated him for defending the family."

According to the Guardian (where the citations above comes from, quoting from Consuelo Varela’s book), "... the Spanish monarchs... became worried by growing rumours of Columbus’ barbarity and avarice." The irony is that neither Consuelo, nor the Guardian, said anything of the Spanish Inquisition. Was that barbaric too? Or is this a case of selective moral outrage?

One of the tactics that Columbus detractors often use is to remove him from the historical context he lived in. During this era some crimes were indeed punished with torture, cutting ears, noses, floggings, hangings. By the way, the natives used the same, similar, or worse punishments for their criminals. The question here is not if Columbus punished people, but if the people he punished were innocent or guilty of crimes. The claim from the colonists on the report was that Columbus was punishing them for "cosas livianas" or "little things." Was it? The answer is no.

This group of colonists were mutineers and rebels who disobeyed Columbus’ orders to respect their native neighbors, who were his allies. They harassed, assaulted, murdered and raped natives just because they could. The queen herself had ordered Columbus to severely punish any person or persons who would mistreat them. Source: Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus by Morison, p. 204. 

All Columbus did was to follow instructions. He punished them according to the laws of the time. According to the primary sources, some of them were flogged, others were hung for mutiny and high crimes. Source: Historia General de las Indias by Gómara, Cap. XX, p. 56. Historia General by Herrera, D. I, Lib. IV, Cap. VIII, p. 110.

No primary source says anything of women’s tongue being cut off by Columbus’ brother. This must be one of the charges Columbus referred to in a letter to a friend (Juana de las Torres) as "never invented in hell," meaning, not even hell would invent such accusations. Source: Select Letters, p. 163. 

The mutineers were just trying to minimize their own actions on the report by pleading a lesser crime, like stealing corn just because they were hungry, and so forth. If you have any doubts, this kind of abusive behavior intensified after Columbus was out of office, where many colonists commit all sorts of atrocities, marking a dark chapter in history. Just read A Brief History of the Destruction of the Indies by Fray Bartolome de las Casas and you will see. I would suggest as well reading my books Christopher Columbus The Hero and Christopher Columbus and the Christian Church since some people have and keep misusing Las Casas’ quotes for propaganda purposes.

In the meantime, I’m planning to write a book (2021?) on the Bobadilla report, with all the details that I can’t use here due to space; otherwise this post would be too long. Details like the specific names of the “witnesses,” their specific claims, contradictions, unintended admissions, since the more they talked, the more they incriminated themselves with non "cosas livianas." 
To conclude, the people who were cruel here, were the mutineer colonists and not Columbus or his brothers. Columbus and his brothers were just protecting their Taino allies and punishing those who mistreated them. The Bobadilla report is full of half-truths, innuendos, double-talking, slanders, lies, etc. As for Consuelo’s book, I will give it a three-star rating just because the transcription of the document carries great historical interest. 

#ConsueloVarela #IsabelAguirre #LaCaidaDeCristobalColon #BookReview #Debunking #FranciscoDeBobadilla


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