« IndietroContinua »
were breaking away, and order was coming out of confusion. He now looked forward to the prosecution of his grand enterprises, the exploring the coast of Paria, and the establishment of a pearl fishery in its waters. How illusive were his hopes! at this very moment those events were maturing that were to overwhelm him with distress, strip him of his honours, and render him comparatively a wreck for the remainder of his days.
Intrigues against Columbus in the Spanish Court-Appointment of Bobadilla as Commissioner—His Arrival at San Domingo.
WHILE Columbus had been involved in a series of difficulties in the factious island of Hispaniola, his enemies had been but too successful in undermining his reputation in the court of Spain. Every vessel that returned from the new world came freighted with complaints, representing the character and conduct of Columbus and his brothers in the most odious point of view, and reiterating the illiberal but mischievous insinuation that they were foreigners, who had nothing but their own interest and gratification in view. It was even alleged that Columbus intended to cast off all allegiance to Spain, and either to make himself sovereign of the countries he had discovered, or to yield them into the hands of some other power; a slander which, however extravagant, was calculated to startle the jealous mind of Ferdinand. The bishop Fonseca, and other enemies of Columbus who were about the court, having continual access to the sovereigns, were enabled to place every thing urged against him in the strongest point of view, while they destroyed the force of his vindications. They had a plausible logic by which to
convict him of either bad management or bad faith. There was an incessant drain upon the mothercountry for the support of the colony. Was this compatible, they asked, with the extravagant pictures he had drawn of the wealth of the island, and its golden mountains, in which he had pretended to find the Ophir of ancient days, the source of the riches of king Solomon? They inferred that he had either deceived the sovereigns by exaggerations, or grossly wronged them by malpractices, or that he was totally incapable of the duties of government.
For the purpose of irritating the pride of the king, every repining man who returned from the colony was encouraged to put in claims for arrears of pay withheld by Columbus, or losses sustained in his service. A gang of the disorderly ruffians who had been shipped off to free the island from their seditions found their way to the court at Granada. They followed the king when he rode out, filling the air with complaints, and clamouring for their pay. About fifty of them assembled one day in the main court of the Alhambra, under the royal apartments, holding up bunches of grapes, as the meagre diet to which they were reduced by their poverty, and by the cruel deceits of Columbus. Seeing the two sons of the admiral pass by, who were pages to the queen, they followed them with imprecations. "There go," cried they," the whelps of him who discovered the land of vanity and delusion, the grave of Spanish hidalgos!"
The incessant repetition of falsehood will gradually wear its way into the most candid mind. Isabella herself began to entertain doubts respecting the conduct of Columbus. If he and his brothers
were upright, they might be injudicious, and mischief is oftener produced in government through error of judgment than iniquity of design. Isabella doubted, but the jealous Ferdinand felt convinced. He had never regarded Columbus with real cordiality; and ever since he had ascertained the importance of his discoveries, had regretted the extensive powers he had vested in his hands. He now resolved to send out some person to investigate the affairs of the colony, and, if necessary for its safety, to assume the command. This measure had actually been decided upon, and the papers drawn out, early in 1499; but, from various reasons, had been postponed. It is probable Isabella opposed so harsh a step against a man for whom she entertained an ardent gratitude and high admiration. The arrival of the ships with the late followers of Roldan brought matters to a crisis. The king listened entirely to the representations of the rebels, and a circumstance took place, which, for a time, suspended the friendship of Isabella, the great safeguard of Columbus.
The followers of Roldan brought with them a number of slaves, some of which Columbus had been compelled to grant them by the articles of capitulation, others had been conveyed away clandestinely. Among them were several daughters of caciques, who had been seduced from their homes by these profligates. Some were in a state of pregnancy, others had new-born infants. The gifts and transfers of these unhappy beings were all represented as voluntary acts of Columbus. The sensibility of Isabella as a woman, and her dignity as a queen, were instantly in arms. "What right," ex
claimed she, indignantly, " has the admiral to give away my vassals?" She immediately ordered all the Indians to be restored to their homes; nay, more, she commanded that those which had formerly been sent to Spain by the admiral should be sought out and reshipped to Hispaniola. Unfortunately for Columbus, at this very juncture, in one of his letters, he advised the continuance of Indian slavery for some time longer, as a measure important to the welfare of the colony. This contributed to heighten the indignation of Isabella, and induced her no longer to oppose the sending out a commissioner to investigate his conduct, and, if necessary, to supersede him in command.
The person chosen for this most momentous office was Don Francisco de Bobadilla, an officer of the royal household, and commander of the military and religious order of Calatrava. He is represented by some as a very honest and religious man; by others, and with apparent justice, as needy, passionate, and ambitious-three powerful objections to his acting as judge in a case where the utmost caution and candour were required, and where he was to derive wealth and power from the conviction of one of the parties.
Bobadilla arrived at San Domingo on the 23d of August, 1500. Before entering the harbour, he learnt from a canoe which came off from the shore, that the admiral and the Adelantado were absent in the interior of the island, and Don Diego in command. He was told of the recent insurrection of Moxica, and the punishments which had followed. Seven of the rebels had been hanged that week, and five more were in the fortress of San Domingo,