Biography of Diego de Almagro, Spanish Conquistador

Diego de Almagro

 Jojagal / Wikimedia Commons / CC​0 1.0

Diego de Almagro (1475–July 8, 1538) was a Spanish soldier and conquistador, famous for his role in the defeat of the Inca Empire in Peru and Ecuador and his later participation in a bloody civil war among the victorious conquistadors. He rose from humble beginnings in Spain to a position of wealth and power in the New World, only to be defeated by his former friend and ally Francisco Pizarro. His name is often associated with Chile: He led an expedition of exploration and conquest there in the 1530s, although he found the land and its people too harsh and tough.

Fast Facts: Diego de Almagro

  • Known For: Helped conquer the Inca Empire
  • Born: 1475 in Almagro, Castile (now Spain)
  • Parents: Juan de Montenegro, Elvira Gutiérrez
  • Died: July 8, 1538 in Cuzco, Peru
  • Spouse: Ana Martinez 
  • Children: Diego de Almagro el Mozo

Early Life

Diego de Almagro was born illegitimately in Almagro, in present-day Spain, which explains why his name is based on his place of birth rather than his parents, Juan de Montenegro and Elvira Gutiérrez. According to most accounts, his father shunned him; when he was very young he was raised by his mother or a servant of his mother.

At any rate, his parents were of little help to him as he grew up. Later, he was raised by his maternal uncle Hernán Gutiérrez, but he is believed to have struck out on his own around age 15. At some point, he is thought to have served in the Spanish navy.

By 1514 he was in the New World—possibly after killing a man in a fight—having arrived with the fleet of Pedrarías Dávila, a colonial administrator. A tough, determined, ruthless soldier, Almagro quickly rose through the ranks of the adventurers who were conquering the New World. He was older than most, approaching 40 by the time of his arrival in Panama. He eventually took a common-law wife, Ana Martinez, and they had a son, Diego de Almagro el Mozo. The latter part of the son's name is variously translated as "the younger" or "the lad."

Panama

Gov. Dávila's first mainland outpost was created in the isthmus of Panama. The spot that Dávila picked for the settlement was humid and buggy, and the settlement struggled to survive. The highlight of this period was without a doubt Vasco Núñez de Balboa's overland voyage that discovered the Pacific Ocean.

Three of the hardened soldiers of the Panama expedition were Almagro, Francisco Pizarro, and the priest Hernando de Luque. Almagro and Pizarro were important officers and soldiers, having participated by this time in various expeditions.

Exploring the South

Almagro and Pizarro remained in Panama for a few years before receiving news of Hernán Cortés’ stunning conquest of the Aztec Empire. Together with Luque, the two men put together a proposal to the Spanish king to outfit and direct an expedition of a conquest to the south. The Inca Empire was as yet unknown to the Spanish: they had no idea who or what they would find down south.

The king accepted the proposal, and Pizarro set forth with about 200 men. Almagro remained in Panama to send men and supplies to Pizarro.

Conquest of the Inca

In 1532, Almagro heard that Pizarro and 170 men had captured the Inca Emperor Atahualpa and were ransoming him for a treasure unlike any the world had ever seen. Almagro hurriedly gathered reinforcements and departed for present-day Peru, catching up with his old partner in April 1533. His 150 well-armed Spaniards were a welcome sight to Pizarro.

Soon the conquistadors began hearing rumors of the approach of an Inca army under Gen. Rumiñahui. In a panic, they decided to execute Atahualpa. The Spanish somehow managed to hold onto the Empire.

Troubles with Pizarro

Once the Inca Empire was pacified, Almagro and Pizarro began having troubles. The crown’s division of Peru was vague: The wealthy city of Cuzco fell under Almagro’s jurisdiction, but the powerful Pizarro and his brothers held it. Almagro went north and participated in the conquest of Quito, but the north was not as rich. Almagro seethed at what he saw as Pizarro's schemes to cut him out of the New World loot.

He met with Pizarro and it was decided in 1534 that Almagro would take a large force south into present-day Chile, following rumors of vast wealth. His issues with Pizarro were left unsettled.

Chile

The rumors turned out to be false, and the journey was arduous. The conquistadors had to cross the treacherous, mighty Andes, which took the lives of several Spaniards and countless African slaves and native allies. Once they arrived, they found Chile to be a harsh land, full of tough-as-nails Mapuche natives who fought Almagro and his men on several occasions.

After two years of exploring and finding no rich empires like the Aztecs or Incas, Almagro’s men prevailed upon him to return to Peru and claim Cuzco as his own.

Civil War

Almagro returned to Peru in 1537 to find Manco Inca, an Inca prince who had been a puppet ruler of the Inca Empire, in open revolt against Pizarro's forces, who were on the defensive in the highlands and the city of Lima. Almagro's army was weary and tattered but still formidable, and he was able to drive off Manco.

Almagro saw the revolt as an opportunity to seize Cuzco and quickly engaged the Spaniards who were loyal to Pizarro. He had the upper hand at first, but Pizarro sent another force up from Lima in early 1538. They soundly defeated Almagro and his men at the battle of Las Salinas.

Death

Almagro fled to Cuzco, but men loyal to the Pizarro brothers pursued and captured him there. Almagro was sentenced to death, a move that stunned most of the Spanish in Peru, as he had been elevated to a nobleman by the Spanish king some years before. He was executed by garrote, an iron collar slowly tightened around the neck, on July 8, 1538, and his body was put on public display.

Legacy

The unexpected execution of Almagro had far-reaching consequences for the Pizarro brothers, turning many against them in the New World as well as in Spain. The civil wars did not end. In 1542 Almagro’s son, then 22, led a revolt that resulted in the murder of Francisco Pizarro. Almagro the Younger was quickly caught and executed, ending Almagro’s direct line.

Today, Almagro is remembered chiefly in Chile, where he is considered an important pioneer even though he left no real lasting legacy there other than having explored some of it. Pedro de Valdivia, one of Pizarro’s lieutenants, finally conquered and settled Chile.

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