Vasco Nuñez de Balboa  (Part 6)

Balboa - His Execution

In 1518, Governor Pedrarias had enough accomplices aligned up, to set his plan in progress. In order to arrest Balboa, he had to separate him from his men. At the time, about 300 of them were at the Pearl Islands, preparing for the voyage of exploration, searching for Biru, and the great wealth the natives of Castilla del Oro, had told him about. The were planning to use the three caravel that they had transported across the Isthmus, in pieces, and then reassembled. Having tried to discredit Balboa in all different way, he had been unsuccessful and was determined to kill him, to get rid of him.

Pedrarias sent Balboa a fatherly letter, begging him to return to Acla, so that they could have a meeting. The letter was full of praise and kindness and gave no indication of what Pedrarias had planned. Pedrarias had Balboa's friends in Antigua and Acla arrested, in order that they could not testify on behalf of Balboa, and the sham trial that he was setting up. He also ordered Pizarro to gather all the men he could, and arrest Balboa, when he was alone, with out his followers.

Balboa was on the small island of Tortugas finishing the preparations, when the messenger with the letter from Pedrarias reached him. Not suspecting any treachery, he left Francisco Compañon in charge of his command, and set out to Acla. On the way there, the messenger, suspecting that something was going on, warned Balboa of the recent events that had taken place at Acla, and that his life was in danger. Balboa would not believe that his future father-in-law would betray him, and continued his journey. Once they crossed the cordillera, and started their descent, they met Pizarro and the force sent to arrest him. When Balboa saw Pizarro, at the head of the force, exclaimed. "¿Qué es esto, Francisco Pizarro? ¡Como es posible que vos venis de esta manera para recibir me!" Balboa offered no resistance, and was chained and  transported on to Acla, and confined in the house of Catañeda.

The trial was a farce and over quickly. The Alcalde Mayor (judge) was the  Licenciado, Gaspar de Espinosa. The main prosecutor against Balboa were, or one, Pedrarias' treasurer, Puente, with the assistance of Diego Marquez and the lawyer Corral. The governor was present to make sure that the trail proceeded according to his script and Balboa would not have anyone to defend him. Balboa was charged with treason, not obeying the laws of Spain and attempting to rob the crown of its just dues. The old charges about what he did to Nicuesa and Encisco, were also brought up.

Balboa denied the charges of treason and plead innocence of all the charges brought against him. But it was evident to all that the governor was determined to get rid of Balboa, the he would be found guilty, at all cost. As Balboa shouted his innocence, the governor and his cohorts, shouted "guilty!", over and over again. The judge found Balboa guilty on all charges and the penalty was death. But he suggested to the governor that his life be spared, considering all the good and service he had done for the Crown and Castilla de Oro. This the governor denied and demanded that he be put to death.

Balboa claimed the right of all Spanish Officers of the Crown, (he had been granted the title of Adelantado and Governor of the South Sea's and the lands it bathed) the right to appeal to the Council of the Indies, which the governor also denied. Balboa that requested this case be reviewed by the Jeronimite Fathers of the church of Santo Domingo, that were overseeing the affairs of the Church while the Bishop of Castilla del Oro, Quevedo, was in Spain. Pedrarias also denied that. Espinosa, not wanting to have the blood of Balboa on his hand, pleaded with the governor, to grant the appeal, but Pedrarias again said No, "pues se peco, muera por ello", and ordered that Balboa be put to death by beheading immediately, with out further delay. Pedrarias was fearful that Vasco Nuñez's friends, or the bishop's appeal to the Crown, for their friend might result in favor of Balboa and against the governor and his cronies. The execution had to take place before a Royal pardon could be obtained

The next day, in January day in 1519, during the evening all of the condemned men were marched out in heavy chains. Leading the parade was the town crier, proclaiming loudly that "This is the justice which our lord, the King, and Pedrarias, his lieutenant, in his name, command to be done upon this man as a traitor and illegal seizures' of the lands subject to the royal crown.". They were marched to a scaffold that had been erected in the plaza of Acla.

Balboa, raised his eyes to Heaven, and said: "It is a lie and falsehood which is charged against me! Never did I entertain such a thought. It was always my intention to serve the Kin as a faithful and loyal vassal, and my desire to enlarge his domains with all my power and strength". The condemned men were allowed to confess and receive the sacraments. Balboa then walked up to the block, and calmly placed his head on the block, and was beheaded. He was followed by his friends, Andrés de Balderrábano, Luis Botello, Hernan Muñoz and Fernando de Argüello. When it came to Argüello's turn to be executed, it was already night, and the people thought that it was a sign from God, that there should be no more executions. They pleaded with the governor, to Argüello be spared. Pedrarias responded with "It cannot be, I would sooner die myself than spare one of them".

Pedrarias had watched the proceedings from a hut, located about 10 paces from the scaffold. As a further insult to his greatest rival in Castilla del Oro, he ordered that Balboa's head be stuck on a pole in the center of the plaza, to be seen by all, where it remained for several days.

Of the three men that were beheaded with Balboa, two of them, Balderrábano, and Muñoz had been with him, when he discovered the South Sea. Also arrested with them, was Andrés Garabito, but he turned states witness against his commander and joined the forces of Pedrarias. He was set free, after he testified against Balboa.

Thus ended the life of Vasco Nuñez de Balboa at 44 years of age. Considered by many historians as the greatest Conquistador that had very lived. If he would have believed that Pedrarias was really out to get him, and instead left with his men to look for Biru, (Peru), history would have been totally different for the Incas. Balboa was a great commander, that had great respect for the native inhabitants of Tierra Firme. He was firm, but believed in diplomacy and treating the Indians with respect. In Castilla del Oro, he knew that he must first conquer the natives, but then treat them with respect, and make friends with them. He knew that the Spaniards depended on the natives, to survive in the country. Only with friendship, was he able to do this. His men, all respected him and considered him to be fair. Francisco Pizarro had already proved in Panama, under Pedrarias, that he was without mercy with the natives, and this was reaffirmed with the Inca's of Peru. As with the natives in Castilla del Oro, he indiscriminately persecuted them, and slaughtered thousands, in his pursuit of gold and riches. Most historians believe that had Vasco Nuñez had been the discoverer of the Inca Civilization, there would not have been the mass destruction of that civilization, and things would have been much better for the natives. 

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September 11, 2002