Biography of Hernando Pizarro

Hernando Pizarro
Hernando Pizarro. Original Art by Guaman Poma

Biography of Hernando Pizarro:

Hernando Pizarro (ca. 1495-1578) was a Spanish conquistador and the brother of Francisco Pizarro. Hernando was one of five Pizarro brothers to journey to Peru in 1530, where they led the conquest of the mighty Inca Empire. Hernando was his brother Francisco's most important lieutenant and as such received a huge share of the profits from the conquest. After the conquest, he took part in the civil wars among the conquistadors and personally defeated and executed Diego de Almagro, for which he was later imprisoned in Spain. He was the only of the Pizarro brothers to reach old age, as the rest were executed, murdered or died on the battlefield.

Journey to the New World:

Hernando Pizarro was born sometime around 1495 in Extremadura, Spain, one of the children of Gonzalo Pizarro and Ines de Vargas: Hernando was the only legitimate Pizarro brother. When his elder brother Francisco returned to Spain in 1528 looking to recruit men for an expedition of conquest, Hernando swiftly joined up, along with his brothers Gonzalo and Juan and their illegitimate half-brother Francisco Martín de Alcántara. Francisco had already made a name for himself in the New World and was one of the leading Spanish citizens of Panama: nevertheless, he dreamed of making a huge score like Hernán Cortés had done in Mexico.

The Capture of the Inca:

The Pizarro brothers returned to the Americas, organized an expedition and departed from Panama in December of 1530. They disembarked on what is today the coast of Ecuador and began working their way south from there, all the while finding signs of a rich, powerful culture in the area. In November of 1532, they made their way inland to the town of Cajamarca, where the Spaniards caught a lucky break. The ruler of the Inca Empire, Atahualpa, had just defeated his brother Huascar in an Inca civil war and was in Cajamarca. The Spaniards persuaded Atahualpa to grant them an audience, where they betrayed and captured him on November 16, killing many of his men and servants in the process.

The Temple of Pachacamac:

With Atahualpa captive, the Spanish set out to loot the wealthy Inca Empire. Atahualpa agreed to an extravagant ransom, filling rooms in Cajamarca with gold and silver: natives from all over the Empire began bringing treasure by the ton. By now, Hernando was his brother's most trusted lieutenant: other lieutenants included Hernando de Soto and Sebastián de Benalcázar. The Spaniards began to hear tales of great wealth at the Temple of Pachacamac, located not far from present-day Lima. Francisco Pizarro gave the job of finding it to Hernando: it took him and a handful of horsemen three weeks to get there and they were disappointed to find that there was not much gold in the temple. On the way back, Hernando convinced Chalcuchima, one of Atahualpa's top generals, to accompany him back to Cajamarca: Chalcuchima was captured, ending a major threat to the Spanish.

First Trip Back to Spain:

By June of 1533, the Spaniards had acquired a massive fortune in gold and silver unlike anything seen before or since. The Spanish crown always took one fifth of all treasure found by conquistadors, so the Pizarros had to get a fortune halfway around the world. Hernando Pizarro was entrusted with the task. He left on June 13, 1533 and arrived in Spain on January 9, 1534. He was personally received by King Charles V, who awarded generous concessions to the Pizarro brothers. Some of the treasure had not yet been melted down and some original Inca artworks were put on public display for a while. Hernando recruited more conquistadors – an easy thing to do – and returned to Peru.

The Civil Wars:

Hernando continued to be his brother's most loyal supporter in the years that followed. The Pizarro brothers had a nasty falling-out with Diego de Almagro, who had been a major partner in the first expedition, over the division of loot and land. A civil war broke out between their supporters. In April of 1537, Almagro captured Cuzco and with it Hernando and Gonzalo Pizarro. Gonzalo escaped and Hernando was later released as part of negotiations to end the fighting. Once again, Francisco turned to Hernando, giving him a large force of Spanish conquistadors to defeat Almagro. At the Battle of Salinas on April 26, 1538, Hernando defeated Almagro and his supporters. After a hasty trial, Hernando shocked all of Spanish Peru by executing Almagro on July 8, 1538.

Second Trip Back to Spain:

In early 1539, Hernando once again departed for Spain in charge of a fortune in gold and silver for the crown. He didn't know it, but he would not return to Peru. When he arrived in Spain, supporters of Diego de Almagro convinced the King to imprison Hernando at la Mota castle in Medina del Campo. Meanwhile, Juan Pizarro had died in battle in 1536, and Francisco Pizarro and Francisco Martín de Alcántara were murdered in Lima in 1541. When Gonzalo Pizarro was executed for treason against the Spanish crown in 1548, Hernando, still in prison, became the last surviving of the five brothers.

Marriage and Retirement:

Hernando lived like a prince in his prison: he was allowed to collect the rents from his considerable estates in Peru and people were free to come and see him. He even kept a longtime mistress. Hernando, who was executor of his brother Francisco’s will, kept most of the loot by marrying his own niece Francisca, Francisco’s only surviving child: they had five children. King Phillip II released Hernando in May of 1561: he had been imprisoned over 20 years. He and Francisca moved to the city of Trujillo, where he built a magnificent palace: today it is a museum. He died in 1578.

Legacy of Hernando Pizarro:

Hernando was an important figure in two major historical events in Peru: the conquest of the Inca Empire and the brutal civil wars among the greedy conquistadors that followed. As his brother Francisco's trusted right-hand man, Hernando helped the Pizarros become the most powerful family in the New World by 1540. He was considered the friendliest and most smooth-talking of the Pizarros: for this reason he was sent to the Spanish court to secure privileges for the Pizarro clan. He also tended to have better relationships with the native Peruvians than his brothers did: Manco Inca, a puppet ruler installed by the Spanish, trusted Hernando Pizarro, although he despised Gonzalo and Juan Pizarro.

Later, in the the civil wars among the conquistadors, Hernando won the crucial victory against Diego de Almagro, thus defeating the greatest enemy of the Pizarro family. His execution of Almagro was probably ill-advised - the king had raised Almagro to nobleman status. Hernando paid for it, spending the best years of the rest of his life in prison.

The Pizarro brothers are not remembered fondly in Peru: the fact that Hernando was probably the least cruel of the lot isn't saying much. The only statue of Hernando is a bust that he commissioned himself for his palace in Trujillo, Spain.


Hemming, John. The Conquest of the Inca London: Pan Books, 2004 (original 1970).

Patterson, Thomas C. The Inca Empire: The Formation and Disintegration of a Pre-Capitalist State.New York: Berg Publishers, 1991.

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Minster, Christopher. "Biography of Hernando Pizarro." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Minster, Christopher. (2023, April 5). Biography of Hernando Pizarro. Retrieved from Minster, Christopher. "Biography of Hernando Pizarro." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).