Francisco Pizarro

Francisco Pizarro

Ranking with Hernán Cortés as one of the most ruthless and effective of all the Spanish conquistadores, Francisco Pizarro was the principal force behind the conquest of Peru and subjugation of the Inca Empire in the 1530s.

Along with his brother Gonzalo and half brother Hernándo, Francisco successfully suppressed a rebellion launched by his erstwhile partner in conquest Diego de Almagro in 1537–38, only to have disgruntled Almagrists acting under the nominal authority of Almagro’s mestizo son, Almagro the Younger, slay him in his palace in Lima on July 26, 1541.

An illiterate swineherd as a youth and the illegitimate son of a minor nobleman, Francisco Pizarro was born in Trujillo, Estremadura, Spain, around 1476. He arrived in the Americas in 1510 and participated in the expedition across Panama led by Vasco Núñez de Balboa that led to the European discovery of the Pacific Ocean in 1513. After the first two exploratory expeditions along the Peruvian coast, in 1528, Pizarro returned to Spain to seek the Crown’s sanction (capitulación) for an expedition of conquest.

He received it, along with the title of governor and captain-general of Peru, to the dismay of Almagro, who received a much less exalted title. One of his most memorable and consequential acts was in July 1533 when he decided to execute the Inca Atahualpa in Cajamarca to the chagrin of King Charles V, provoking an outcry among Spaniards.

He is also credited with founding numerous towns, including the colony’s capital city along the coast, Ciudad de los Reyes (City of the Kings, founded on January 6, 1535), which by the late 1500s had become known as Lima, a corruption of its indigenous name; Cuzco (1534); the coastal city of Trujillo (1535); and San Juan de la Frontera, later known as Huamanga (1539).

He was also responsible for allotting Indians in encomienda and repartimiento to reward his followers and supporters, a tactic he also used to buy off potential adversaries, including members of the Inca royal family such as Manco Inca’s half brother Pallu, to whom he granted a repartimiento of more than 5,000 Indians in 1539.

This was the same year that the Crown granted him the title of marquis and his own coat of arms, which depicted a chained Atahualpa reaching into two chests laden with treasure.

His most consequential political error, in the judgment of many scholars, was to sow the seeds of the Almagrist war by his own extreme greed and his niggardly allotments to Almagro, whose supporters slew him in 1541.

His many descendants ranked among the richest and most powerful members of Peru’s colonial society. An imposing statue of the legendary conquistador astride his steed can be found in the town of his birth, facing the palace built by his brother Hernándo.