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Facsimile of the first page of the folio edition of the Spanish text of Columbus's letter to Luis de Santangel, dated February 15, 1493. From the original (unique) in New York Public Library.

Columbus's Letter on the First Voyage to the New World was written by Christopher Columbus on February 15, 1493, on board the caravel Niña at sea with a postscript written on March 14 when he arrived back into port at Lisbon, Portugal.[1][2][3] The open letter to the Catholic Monarchs described his discoveries and unexpected items he came across..[1]

Contents

Letter to Luis de Santangel

Columbus departing on a voyage. Colored engraving 16th century.

The first letter of February 15, 1493, was addressed to the Escribano De Racion, Luis de Santangel, finance minister to Ferdinand II and the high steward or comptroller of the king's household expenditures.[3][4] He had been the one who made the case to Isabella I in favor of Columbus's voyage eight months earlier.[1] The Catholic Monarchs were swayed by Santangel's arguments to back Columbus's project.[4][5] Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand first heard of Columbus's successful undertaking from the lips of Santangel.[4]

Columbus then sailed to Palos de la Frontera on March 15, 1493. The earliest Spanish news that Columbus had arrived in Lisbon and found all that he went to seek is evidenced by a letter of Luis de la Cerda y de la Vega, Duke of Medinaceli, of March 19, 1493.[6]

Columbus's Letter on the First Voyage was placed into the hands of a printer by Luis de Santangel to be widely circulated throughout Spain.[7] Columbus's letter was printed at Barcelona as early as April 1, 1493, soon after Ferdinand and Isabella had received the news.[7] A surviving Italian letter about Columbus' arrival was written by Hannibal Zenaro to his brother at Milan on April 9, 1493.[2] Columbus didn't arrive at the port of Barcelona until mid April.[8]

Letter to Raphael Sanchez

Columbus wrote an almost identical letter March 14, 1493, to Raphael Sanchez, the treasurer of Aragon.[1] It is sometimes described as the letter "to Gabriel Sanxi" or "to Gabriel Sánchez".[9] Raphael Sanchez (d. 1505) was one of the three influential New Christians that Luis de Santangel got help from to finance Columbus' first voyage.[9] He was the high treasurer of the Kingdom of Aragon. Sanchez was of the family of conversos who traced their origins back to a Jew named Alazar Goluff of Saragossa.[9] One of Columbus's crew members was Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, a surgeon, who was a relative of Raphael Sanchez.[10]

History records that the inquisitor Pedro de Arbues was murdered. The three brothers of Raphael Sanchez (a.k.a. Gabriel Sanchez) - Juan, Alfonso, and Guillen - were accused of this murder or at least participated in a conspiracy to eliminate the inquisitor.[9] Juan managed to escape but was condemned to death in effigy. Alfonso managed to flee Aragon before the Inquisition could lay hands on him. Alfonso was also accused of being a Marrano.[9] Guillen was allowed by the Inquisition to repent. Sanchez's father-in-law who was also implicated was less fortunate than Guillen. He was charged with Judaizing and sentenced to death. Sanchez was also accused of having participated in the conspiracy, however it could not ultimately be proved. Had it been proven the Inquisition would have tarred him as a heretic. He continued to have the support of King Ferdinand.[9]

Columbus regarded Sanchez as one of his staunchest supporters like Santangel since he also had a hand in the voyage's finances.[9][11] Sanchez's letter of Columbus' "discovery" of the first voyage to the New World was reproduced by Sanchez and a copy was forwarded to his brother Juan in Florence. Juan passed it on to his cousin Leander de Cosco (a Marrano) who translated it into Latin and had it published by April 29, 1493. It was then distributed throughout Rome in May.[7] Within a year, the Latin translation ran through nine editions, thus spreading the news of the New World throughout Europe.[6][8]

Papal bull

Cantino planisphere of 1502 shows the line of the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Pope Alexander VI issued the bull Inter caetera May 4 and extracts were taken on the subject from Columbus's letter.[8] Columbus had sent a letter to the Pope as soon as he arrived in Castile to prevent the Portuguese from attempting to claim the results of his voyage. The papal bull granted control to Spain of every island Columbus had encountered. An imaginary line, called the "Line of Demarcation", was drawn in the ocean about 300 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands. All previously unknown land west of the line not belonging to a Christian sovereign was declared to belong to Spain, but the bull did not mention Portugal or its lands. This resulted in an immediate conflict. A resolution was reached in 1494 when the sovereigns of Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, which moved the Line of Demarcation about 1,000 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands.[12]

History of letter

In its Latin version, Columbus's Letter on the First Voyage was so popular that it went through three printings. The Roman printing was followed by printings in Paris, Antwerp, Basel, and Florence before the end of 1493.[7][13] It was from the Latin version that the rest of Europe was given the knowledge of Columbus's new discoveries.[14] Giuliano Dati published in Rome a poetical paraphrase of Columbus's letter in June 1493, which is reprinted in Major's Select Letters of Columbus.[15]

Columbus's Letter on the First Voyage is the first eyewitness report to become a best seller.[13][16][17] In Italy Columbus's letter was known as Epistola. Between 1493 and 1500 approximately 3,000 copies of his letter were published throughout Europe, over half this amount came from Italy alone.[17]

Other views

Columbus's Letter on the First Voyage usually refers to one of the 1493 printed editions of a letter from his first voyage announcing his "discovery" of the New World. A traditional view holds that Columbus wrote three letters:

  1. one addressed to Luis de Santangel, keeper of accounts of Aragon, dated February 15, 1493
  2. another almost identical letter sent to Gabriel Sanchez, treasurer of Aragon, dated March 14, 1493.
  3. an individual letter addressed specifically to Ferdinand and Isabella, of which no copy has survived today.

Recent thinking on the subject is that all three letters were derived from a single manuscript sent to Ferdinand and Isabella, from which copies were then made and endorsed to several court officials.[18]

Journal of first voyage

The New York Public Library states:

The journal that Columbus kept of his first voyage to the New World and presented to Ferdinand and Isabella upon his return to Spain has not survived in its original form. The journal is known to us today only in the abridgement of Bartolome de las Casas, a partly quoted and partly summarized version of the original. The following are scholarly transcriptions and translations of this document.
  • Columbus, Christopher, The Diario of Christopher Columbus's First Voyage to America, 1492-1493, abstracted by Fray Bartolome de las Casas, Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley, Jr., trs. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989). HAN 89-4493.
  • Columbus, Christopher, The Journal of Christopher Columbus, Cecil Jane, tr. (L.A. Vigneras, reviser and annotator) (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1960). HAN 1960.
  • Columbus, Christopher, Journal of the First Voyage of Christopher Columbus, B.W. Ife, ed./tr. (Westminster, England: Aris & Phillips, Ltd., 1990). HAN 91-5853.
  • Columbus, Christopher, The Log of Christopher Columbus, Robert H. Fuson, tr. (Camden, ME: International Marine Publishing Co., 1987). HAN 88-288.
  • Columbus, Christopher, Select Documents Illustrating the Four Voyages of Columbus, Including Those Contained in R.H. Major's Select Letters of Christopher Columbus (Reprint: Hakluyt Society, Works, Second Series) (Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1967). JFL 75-29 / 2nd Series, nos. 65 & 70.
  • Henige, David, In Search of Columbus: The Sources for the First Voyage (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991). HAN 91-8063.[18]

References

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Footnotes

  1. ^ a b c d Anzovin, p. 109, item #2282. The first letter containing a description of America was written by the explorer Christopher Columbus. On March 14, 1493, having docked in Lisbon at the end of his first voyage to the New World, he dispatched two letters of identical content, one to Raphael Sanchez and the other to Luis de Santangel, describing his encounters and discoveries.
  2. ^ a b Morison, p. 376
  3. ^ a b Document No. AJ-063, p. 271-272
  4. ^ a b c "CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS' VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY: JEWISH AND NEW CHRISTIAN ELEMENTS". http://www.saudades.org/ccolumbusvoyage.html. Retrieved 2008-06-25.  
  5. ^ A History of the Inquisition of Spain, by Henry Charles Lea, 1906, MacMillan , New York. Santangel was referred to as george de Santangel "Ferdand's financial secretary, who advanced to Isabella the 16,000 or 17,000 ducats to enable Columbus to discover the New World was penanced July 17, 1491. He still continued in the Royal service but he must have been condemned for, after his death, about 1500, Ferdinand kindly made over his confiscated property to his children...", and that he was the cousin of another Luis de Santangel "who had been knighted by Juan II for services in the war with Catalonia, was beheaded and burnt..."
  6. ^ a b Morison, p. 375
  7. ^ a b c d Document No. AJ-063, p. 261
  8. ^ a b c Morison, p. 367
  9. ^ a b c d e f g "Santangel letter-Christopher Columbus". http://www.ems.kcl.ac.uk/content/etext/e022.html. Retrieved 2008-06-25.  
  10. ^ "Destination: The New World". http://www.myjewishlearning.com/history_community/Medieval/TheStory6321666/Expulsion/DestinationNewWorld.htm. Retrieved 2008-06-25.  
  11. ^ "Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress: Columbus Sets Sail". http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/loc/loc12a.html. Retrieved 2008-06-25.  
  12. ^ "MSN Encarta Encyclopedia Article - Christopher Columbus". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. http://www.webcitation.org/5kwRBtLlz. Retrieved 2008-06-22.  
  13. ^ a b Anzovin, p. 294, item #4453. First eyewitnessness report to become a best seller was a letter Christopher Columbus wrote to the monarchs of Spain in March 1493, describing his voyage across the Atlantic, from which he had just returned. By April 1, the letter had been printed and distributed throughout Barcelona. By April 29, this letter, or another written at about the same time (to Luis de Santangel) was circulating in a Latin translation in Rome, where it was so popular that it went through three editions. Before the year was out, printed copies had been published in Paris, Antwerp, Basel, and Florence.
  14. ^ Document No. AJ-063, p. 262
  15. ^ Major, Richard Henry, Select Letters of Christopher Columbus by Christopher Columbus, Hakluyt Society 1847, original at University of Michigan.
  16. ^ Discovering Christopher Columbus: How History is Invented By Kathy Pelta, p. 25. http://books.google.com/books?id=syQdCfbj5DkC&pg=PA25&dq=%22Best+seller%22+columbus+first+letter+voyage&sig=W99l9TboWYPitHpqqkR1vvA0qnU. Retrieved 2008-06-22.  
  17. ^ a b The European Outthrust and Encounter: The First Phase C.1400-c.1700; p. 298-299. http://books.google.com/books?id=Dg-8ZOeBqcYC&pg=PA298&dq=%22Best+seller%22+columbus+first+letter+voyage&sig=EYDJ0iZrWbV3htfj9AfbyTZRsaM. Retrieved 2008-06-22.  
  18. ^ a b "Christopher Columbus and Early European Exploration - Primary Documentation". http://www.nypl.org/research/chss/grd/resguides/columbus/primary.html. Retrieved 2008-06-22.  

Bibliography

  • Dunn, Oliver, and James E. Kelley, Jr., eds. and trans. "The Diario" of Christopher Columbus's First Voyage to America, 1492-1493, Abstracted by Fray Bartolome de las Casas, Norman, OK, 1989.
  • Jane, Cecil, ed. and trans. Select Documents Illustrating the Four Voyages of Columbus. 2 volumes, London, 1930, 1933.
  • Varela, Consuelo, ed. Cristobal Colon: Los cuatro viajes, testamento. Madrid, 1986.
  • West, Delno C., and August Kling, eds. and trans. The "Libro de las profecias" of Christopher Columbus. Gainesville, FL, 1991.
  • Columbus, Christopher, The Letter of Columbus on His Discovery of the New World (Los Angeles: USC Fine Arts Press, 1989). HAN 89-21486.
  • Major, Richard Henry, The Bibliography of the First Letter of Christopher Columbus Describing His Discovery of the New World (London: Ellis & White, 1872).
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot, A New and Fresh English Translation of the Letter of Columbus Announcing the Discovery of America by (Madrid: Graficas Yagues, 1959).
  • Columbo, Cristoforo, The Spanish Letter of Columbus to Luis de Sant' Angel, Escribano de Racion of the Kingdom of Aragon, Dated 15 February 1493 (London: G. Norman and Son, Printers, 1893).

Additional

The following concerning Columbus's letter are at the New York public library with a special permit required to view.

  • Columbus, Christopher; The Columbus papers : the Barcelona letter of 1493. A facsimile edition of the unique copy in the New York Public Library / introduced by Mauricio Obregón and with a new English translation by Lucia Graves ; illustrated with maps of the period and with two original etchings by Juan Antonio Roda. Call number JFE 97-6152
  • Columbus, Christopher; La prima lettera di Cristoforo Colombo annunziante la scoperta dell'America., Letter to Sanchez. (Latin.). 1493, Rome: Plannck, "Ferdinand" (repr. 1932), Call number KB 1493 (Columbus, C. Prima lettera di Cristoforo Colombo annunziante la scoperta dell'America)
  • Columbus, Christopher; The letter of Columbus to Luis de Santangel concerning his voyage to the Indies, Call number KP (Windsor) (Columbus, C. Letter of Columbus to Luis de Santangel) Copy 1
  • Columbus, Christopher; Letter of Columbus to Luis de Santangel, dated 15 February 1493. [Valladolid: Pedro Giraldi and Miguel de Planes, ca. 1497], Call number KB 1497 (Columbus, C. Letter of Columbus to Luis de Santangel)
  • Columbus, Christopher; Select letters of Christopher Columbus : with other original documents, relating to his four voyages to the New world - translated and edited by R. H. Major, Call number HAN (1870) (Columbus, C. Select letters of Christopher Columbus)
  • Columbus, Christopher; Letters of Christopher Columbus, describing his first voyage to the Western Hemisphere together with the chapter in Bernaldez said to give the original Spanish version of the same. Texts and translations. Call number ZH-659
  • Columbus, Christopher; Personal narrative of the first voyage of Columbus to America. From a manuscript recently discovered in Spain. Tr. from the Spanish, Call number HAN (1827) (Columbus, C. Journal (English). 1827. Personal narrative of the first voyage)
  • Columbus, Christopher; Letter of Columbus to Luis de Santangel, dated 15 February 1493, Letter to Santangel. (Spanish). 1493 folio., Call number KB+ 1493 (Columbus, C. [Letter of Columbus to Luis de Santangel, dated 15 February 1493)

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