Chronicles of America 

The Court of Ferdinand and Isabella

Not long after the return of Martín Alonso Pinzón from Rome, Guardian Juan Perez, and perhaps Pinzón also, wrote to Queen Isabella, asking a further hearing for Columbus and his project. The request was granted, and Perez was summoned to Court at Santa Fe, before Granada. He set out in a manner truly Columbian, alone, on a mule, secretly at low midnight. He was soon empowered to invite Columbus to join him. In December the latter came. Ferdinand and Isabella were in receptive mood. Granada was about to fall and Spain to be delivered from the Moor forever. A council was ordered — one, like Talavera's, composed of philosophers, astrologers, cosmographers, seamen, and pilots. With Talavera's council, however, the primary consideration had been the theoretical feasibility of Columbus's project. With the new council, it was the practical question of ways and means that gave pause.

Columbus, repeating with emphasis the terms submitted to King John II of Portugal, demanded of Ferdinand and Isabella a patent of nobility, the admiralty of the ocean, the viceroyalty and government of all lands discovered, and "a commission of ten per cent upon everything within the limits of his admiralty which might be bought, exchanged, found, or gained." That, in addition, he should demand three caravels, to cost possibly 2,000,000 maravedis ($6000), was by comparison trifling.

In after years the discoverer of America was wont to complain that in his struggle for recognition in Spain "everybody had derided him, save two monks, " Marchena and Perez. Derided he no doubt was, but the cause perhaps was not so much his belief in problematical islands and lands as his demand for rewards — rewards which, if granted, would raise him to a dizzy height, to a point of rank, power, and riches next to that of the throne itself.

As in 1486, so in 1492, in the month of January to which we are now come, Columbus was dismissed a second time from the Spanish Court and departed sorrowing. The royal flags streamed from the towers of the Alhambra, for Granada had fallen, but in this event our Genoese took little interest. His course led him toward Cordova, for here was Beatrix Enríquez with Ferdinand, now in his fourth year; and here must now be brought Diego, ten or twelve years old, from La Rábida,. Again it must have been France, his last hope among the nations, with which the thoughts of Columbus were busy. Be that as it may, when but two leagues from Granada who should overtake him but a royal constable, sent posthaste by the Queen with orders for his return! His demands, one and all, would be complied with.

What specifically it was that induced the Spanish sovereigns to change their minds may be only inferred. Whether it was proof of actual islands to the west, proof secretly confided to Columbus at Palos, no one knows. Whatever it was, the lost cause was powerfully pleaded before Isabella by Luis de Santangel, treasurer of Aragon; and before Ferdinand by Juan Cabrero, his chamberlain, and by Juan Diego of Deza, preceptor to Prince John. The risk was small, the possibilities for God and the realm were incalculable — such, we are told, was the reasoning. Especially was it the reasoning of Santangel; and so wrought upon by it was Isabella, that, seized with enthusiasm, she is said to have tendered her jewels, priceless gems that they were, in security for money for the enterprise.

But just here a question. Columbus knew that the world was round, and, like Behaim his double, had read Sir Marco Polo's Book and the Travels of Sir John Mandeville. Unlike Behaim, however, he in all probability had not read the Imago Mundi of Pierre d'Ailly, with its doctrine of a small earth, and hence of a short route to Asia. Is it likely, then, that in 1492 his objective was Asia, as was Behaim's in 1486? Is it not more likely that it was merely "islands and lands" in the far Atlantic?

And again. In 1492, on the 17th of April, the Spanish sovereigns issued to Columbus a Capitulation empowering him, on his own terms, to seek "islands and lands" but in no way mentioning Asia; and this Capitulation was confirmed by Letters Patent on the 30th of April. Now may not the failure here to mention Asia, (Cathay or India) be due to a fact — the fact, namely, that Columbus's hopes and expectations stopped short of Asia?

One might perhaps think that the aims of Columbus were exclusive of Asia, were it not for two considerations: the first, that he had cause, both from Marco Polo's Book and from Pinzón personally, to be aware that Asia was a background to Japan, and, like it, probably attainable from the West; the second, that in 1492 he carried with him, besides a general passport, a special "Letter" from his sovereigns to "The Most Serene Prince, our very dear friend, " etc. — a document almost certainly implying the Great Kaan of Cathay.

What manner of navigator was this Genoese, this Christopher Columbus, by whom this vast enterprise had been conceived, and by whom it was to be carried out? He was, indeed, no stranger to the sea, for he had been to Chios in the east, to Africa in the south, and to England in the north. To use his own words: "I have traversed the sea for twenty-three years [?] without leaving it for any time worth counting, and I saw all the Levant and the West [Azores, etc.], and the North which is the way to England; and I have been to Guinea."

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