Diego de Almagro

Diego de Almagro
Diego de Almagro

A leading figure in the conquest of Peru Diego de Almagro launched a rebellion against the Pizarro brothers around Cuzco that convulsed the newly conquered Andean territories in civil war (1537–38) and led to his own death by garroting at the hands of Hernando Pizarro.

Almagro’s mestizo son, also named Diego de Almagro (Almagro the Younger), nominally headed the Almagrist faction that murdered Francisco Pizarro in 1541, but he, too, was captured and executed in 1542. The name Almagro thus has come to be associated with internecine conflicts among Spaniards during the most tumultuous years of the conquest of the New World.

Both sides held substantial encomiendas in Panama, and in 1524 Diego de Almagro and Francisco Pizarro formed a partnership for exploration and conquest along the Pacific coast of South America. After two exploratory expeditions (1524 and 1526–28), Pizarro returned to Spain in mid-1528 and in Toledo received sanction for conquest from King Charles.

The seeds of later dissension were sown in this Toledo agreement, as Pizarro was named governor and captain-general of Peru, and Almagro given the much lesser title of commandant of Tumbez, an Incan city they had encountered in the Gulf of Guayaquil and the anticipated site of a new bishopric.

During the third expedition, which resulted in Pizarro’s capture of the Incan Atahualpa in Cajamarca in November 1532, Almagro stayed behind in Panama, where he had taken ill. He rejoined Pizarro in April 1533 at Cajamarca, bringing some 150 Spanish reinforcements.

Almagro’s men received a much smaller share of Atahualpa’s ransom than did Pizarro’s, sharpening the factionalism between the two leaders and their followers. After their combined forces had taken and ransacked Cuzco, Pizarro sent Almagro and Sebastián de Benalcázar north to defeat the last substantial Inca military force and to prevent rival conquistador Pedro de Alvarado from seizing Quito first.

They succeeded. Alvarado returned to Guatemala with a handsome bribe to ensure his departure; Almagro returned to Cuzco; and Pizarro went to the coast to found the new capital city of Lima. About this time, in early 1535, news arrived that King Charles had divided Peru, with Pizarro awarded the northern portion and Almagro the southern.

The actual document not yet in hand, rumors flourished among partisans of both camps that their leader had been awarded Cuzco. Open civil war was avoided by Francisco Pizarro, who persuaded his old comrade Almagro to head an expedition south into Chile.

Almagro’s Chilean campaign (July 1535–April 1537) turned out to be a disaster, with no treasure but much hardship, many cruelties against the natives, and much native resistance. Upon his return to Cuzco in April 1537, Almagro was determined to wrest the city from Hernando and Gonzalo Pizarro.

His forces took the city, for a year. A bitter civil war ensued between the two factions and their Indian allies. Hernando Pizarro was released, Gonzalo escaped, and both joined forced with Francisco on the coast.

Marching inland, the forces of the Pizarro brothers roundly defeated the Almagrist faction in the Battle of Las Salinas, just outside Cuzco, on April 26, 1538. In July 1538, in Cuzco, Hernando Pizarro had Almagro garroted. Almagrist feeling against the Pizarros still ran high, however, culminating in the faction’s murder of Francisco Pizarro in Lima in June 1541.

Diego de Almagro the Younger, a figurehead, ruled Lima for the next year, until the new viceroy, Vaca de Castro, definitively crushed the Almagrist faction on September 16, 1542 in the Battle of Chupas, just outside the city of Huamanga, and had its young mestizo leader executed. Thus ended the bitter civil war between the Pizzarist and Almagrist factions in Peru.

The conflict was emblematic of intra-Spanish divisions in the conquest of the Americas, in its violence and factionalism comparable to the civil wars between the conquistadores of Central America a few years earlier.