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Arrangement with the Spanish Sovereigns-Preparations for the Expedition at the Port of Palos. [1492.]
On arriving at Santa Fé, Columbus had an immediate audience of the queen, and the benignity with which she received him atoned for all past neglect. Through deference to the zeal she thus suddenly displayed, the king yielded his tardy concurrence, but Isabella was the soul of this grand enterprise. She was prompted by lofty and generous enthusiasm, while the king remained cold and calculating, in this as in all his other undertakings.
A perfect understanding being thus effected with the sovereigns, articles of agreement were drawn out by Juan de Coloma, the royal secretary. They were to the following effect :
1. That Columbus should have, for himself during his life, and his heirs and successors for ever, the office of high admiral in all the seas, lands, and continents, he might discover, with similar honours and prerogatives to those enjoyed by the high admiral of Castile, in his district.
2. That he should be viceroy and governor general over all the said lands and continents, with the privilege of nominating three candidates
for the government of each island or province, one of whom should be selected by the sovereigns.
3. That he should be entitled to one tenth of all free profits, arising from the merchandise and productions of the countries within his admiralty.
4. That he, or his lieutenant, should be the sole judge of all causes and disputes arising out of traffic between those countries and Spain.
5. That he might then, and at all after times, contribute an eighth part of the expense of expeditions to sail to the countries he expected to discover, and should receive in consequence an eighth part of the profits.
These capitulations were signed by Ferdinand and Isabella, at the city of Santa Fé, in the vega or plain of Granada, on the 17th of April, 1492. All the royal documents, issued in consequence, bore equally the signatures of Ferdinand and Isabella, but her separate crown of Castile defrayed all the expense. As to the money advanced by St. Angel out of the treasury of King Ferdinand, that prudent monarch indemnified himself, some few years afterwards, by employing some of the first gold brought by Columbus from the New World to gild the vaults and ceilings of the grand saloon, in his royal palace of Saragoza, in Arragon.
One of the great objects held out by Columbus in his undertaking, was the propagation of the christian faith. He expected to arrive at the extremity of Asia, or India, as it was then generally termed, at the vast empire of the Grand Khan, of whose maritime provinces of Mangi and Cathay, and their dependent islands, since ascertained to be a part of the kingdom of China, the most mag
nificent accounts had been given by Marco Polo. Various missions had been sent, in former times, by popes and pious sovereigns, to instruct this oriental potentate, and his subjects, in the doctrines of Christianity. Columbus hoped to effect this grand work, and to spread the light of the true faith among the
barbarous countries and nations that were to be discovered in the unknown parts of the east. Isabella, from pious zeal, and Ferdinand from mingled notions of bigotry and ambition, accorded with his views, and when he afterwards departed on this voyage, letters were actually given him, by the sovereigns, for the Grand Khan of Tartary.
The ardent enthusiasm of Columbus did not stop here. Recollecting the insolent threat once made by the Soldan of Egypt, to destroy the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem, he proposed that the profits which might arise from his discoveries should be consecrated to a crusade for the rescue of the holy edifice from the power of the infidels. The sovereigns smiled at this sally of the imagination, and expressed themselves well pleased with the idea; but what they may have considered a mere momentary thought was a deep and cherished design of Columbus. It is a curious and characteristic fact, which has never been particularly noticed, that the recovery of the holy sepulchre was the leading object of his ambition, meditated throughout the remainder of his life, and solemnly provided for in his will, and that he considered his great discovery but as a preparatory dispensation of Providence, to furnish means for its accomplishment.
The port of Palos de Moguer, in Andalusia, was fixed upon as the place where the armament for the
expedition was to be fitted out, the community of the place being obliged, in consequence of some misdemeanour, to serve the crown for one year with two armed caravals. A royal order was issued, commanding the authorities of Palos to have these caravals ready for sea within ten days, and to yield them and their crews to the command of Columbus. The latter was likewise empowered to fit out a third vessel; nor was any restriction put upon his voyage, excepting that he should not go to the coast of Guinea, or any other of the lately discovered possessions of Portugal. Orders were likewise issued by the sovereigns, commanding the inhabitants of the sea-board of Andalusia, to furnish supplies and assistance of all kinds for the expedition, at reasonable rate, and threatening severe penalties to such as should cause any impediment.
As a mark of particular favour to Columbus, Isabella, before his departure from the court, appointed his son Diego page to Prince Juan, the heir apparent, an honour granted only to the sons of persons of distinguished rank. Thus gratified in his dearest wishes, Columbus took leave of the court on the 12th of May, and set out joyfully for Palos. Let those who are disposed to faint under difficulties, in the prosecution of any great and worthy undertaking, remember that eighteen years elapsed after Columbus conceived his enterprise, before he was enabled to carry it into effect; that the most of that time was passed in almost hopeless solicitation, amidst poverty, neglect, and taunting ridicule; that the prime of his life had wasted away in the struggle; and that when his perseverance was finally crowned with success, he was about
fifty-six years of age. His example should teach the enterprising never to despair.
When Columbus arrived at Palos, and presented himself once more before the gates of the convent of La Rabida, he was received with open arms by the worthy Juan Perez, and again entertained as his guest. The zealous friar accompanied him to the parochial church of St. George, in Palos, where Columbus caused the royal order for the caravals to be read by a notary public, in presence of the authorities of the place. Nothing could equal the astonishment and horror of the people of this maritime community, when they heard of the nature of the expedition, in which they were ordered to engage. They considered the ships and crews demanded of them in the light of sacrifices devoted to destruction. All the frightful tales and fables with which ignorance and superstition are prone to people obscure and distant regions were conjured up concerning the unknown parts of the deep, and the boldest seamen shrunk from such a wild and chimerical cruise into the wilderness of the ocean.
Repeated mandates were issued by the sovereigns, ordering the magistrates of Palos, and the neighbouring town of Moguer, to press into the service any Spanish vessels and crews they might think proper, and threatening severe punishments on all who should prove refractory. It was all in vain ; the communities of those places were thrown into complete confusion; tumults and altercations took place, but nothing of consequence was effected.
At length Martin Alonzo Pinzon, the wealthy and enterprising navigator, who has already been mentioned, came forward and engaged personally