Finding and founding a base: Legazpi and Urdaneta

Felipe II, the Prudent (and slow), succeeded to the Spanish Crowns on the abdication of his father the Emperor Charles V, in January 1556. The death of his unhappy wife Mary Tudor in November 1558 and the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis with France in the following April freed him, for the time, from his more burdensome European preoccupations. Spice prices were rising sharply. It is, then, perhaps significant that less than six months after Cateau-Cambrésis the King wrote to Luis de Velasco, Viceroy of New Spain, definitely ordering ‘the discovery of the western islands towards the Malucos’;[40] and this was to be a directly royal expedition, not just an authorised entrada.

There had been previous correspondence, and Philip enclosed ‘the letter that you think I should write to Fray Andrés de Urdaneta’, the companion of Loaysa, now an Augustinian monk. There are modern doubts as to Urdaneta's real standing as a navigator, and he sailed simply as a missionary; but by contemporaries- 101 -he was highly regarded as an expert on Pacific affairs, and was much deferred to by Legazpi, a personal friend, and by Velasco. The Viceroy replied to his master in May 1560, saying that he was preparing ships—ostensibly for Peru and coast defence—but raising the question of the demarcation: Urdaneta and others believed that the Philippines lay west of the Moluccas (as they do) and hence in the pawned and prohibited region. But Urdaneta himself hit upon the solution: ‘some legitimate or pious reason is needed’, and this can be the redemption of Spanish captives from earlier voyages, or their children, whose souls would be in obvious danger. Once the position and value of the Philippines were ascertained, the pawn might be redeemed. The academic geographers and lawyers in Spain, however, still clung to the belief that the Philippines were a legitimate target.[41]

At this point the objectives of the expedition were not at all clear. In a long memorandum (early 1561) Urdaneta lays stress on occupying ‘San Bartolomé’ (Taongi, discovered by Salazar in 1526) as an intermediate base; if a start could not be made before December 1561, New Guinea should be sought; if not before January 1562, then they should wait until March and sail northwest, along the coast which Cabrillo had found, and then strike west, perhaps from about 40°N, to somewhere near Japan. These alternatives depended of course on the seasonal winds, and the last was obviously a bad shot. The return track seems to have been left studiously vague, though the Ladrones were mentioned; but it is possible that Urdaneta was keeping a northern route in reserve. There were other experts in the field; Juan Pablo de Carrion, who had been with Villalobos and de Retes, attacked the idea of going to New Guinea (and especially of settling there) from personal knowledge of the island, and urged a direct course for the Philippines, where the Spaniards had contacts and whence the return should be easier to find; eight years later he claimed to have planned both the out and home tracks. Although an obvious choice for almirante or second-in-command,[42] and in fact so chosen, he did not go with Legazpi, being unwilling to work with Urdaneta.

Although Velasco had hoped that the expedition might leave early in 1562, there were as always delays; it was not until 21 November 1564 that four ships under Miguel Lopez de Legazpi sailed from Acapulco; the choice of that port was due to Urdaneta, who argued at some length its superiority over Navidad, and his insistence on by-passing Navidad on the return voyage may be said to have fixed Acapulco as the Mexican terminal of the Galleon route.[43]

Velasco had died four months earlier, and the final orders were issued by the Audiencia of Mexico. They were sealed; security was much to the fore, and Velasco may have spread the idea that the destination was China, both as cover story and to aid recruiting.[44] When the orders were opened, 100 leagues out, they proved to opt firmly for the Philippines: Carrion's plan, and on Villalobos's course. Urdaneta (apparently still hankering after New Guinea) and his friars protested, but acquiesced. The orders stressed trade (there was still some hope of spices), settlement if practicable, and conversion to the Faith; exploration could extend to the Japanese islands, believed to be in the Spanish zone but contacted- 102 -by the Portuguese. Above all, the return route was to be found as quickly as possible, and Urdaneta was to come back with the first ship. While there was the usual licence for all to write to the King and the Audiencia, letters would not be forwarded until the Audiencia had received a full report, and precautions were to be taken against leakage. From all this it is clear that the prime objective was a serious attempt at colonisation, and probably also that Spanish officialdom, at least in New Spain, was by no means as sure of the international legal standing of the venture as it would have liked.

The four ships carried a total complement of 380, of whom 200 were soldiers for the settlement. The ships were soon reduced to three: on the morning of 30 November the patache San Lucas, which should have been ahead, was missing; a serious loss, as she was intended for close coastal work in the islands.[45] Between 9 and 12 January 1565, in about 10°N, they sighted five small islands in the Marshalls; on the 17th the pilots thought that they were already west of Villalobos's Los Matelotes (Fais) and hence might soon find themselves up against Mindanao on their lee. Urdaneta differed, and they agreed to go up to 13°N so as ‘to avoid entering [the Philippines] at the hunger-point of Villalobos’.[46] Five days later Urdaneta was proved right, when what the pilots thought the Philippines turned out to be Guam: he had a clearer idea of the width of the Ocean than his fellows. On 26 January Legazpi made a formal Act of Possession of the Ladrones, and their arrival in the Philippines on 13 February was followed by a flurry of similar acts: six in all, on Samar, Bohol, and Cebu.

A Moro (Muslim) trading prau from Borneo was taken after a sharp fight; Legazpi returned its cargo and received the useful information that the indigenous avoidance of the newcomers was due to devastating raids by Portuguese posing as Castilians. Reconnaissance showed that Cebu was populous and well provisioned; and in Spanish eyes the Cebuans were already vassals since Magellan's day. On 27 April 1565 the fleet anchored off Cebu; an attempt to negotiate peacefully failed. Women and children were fleeing to the hills, fighting men and praus were assembling: the Cebuans were obviously in apostasy and rebellion. A brief bombardment left most of the little town in smouldering ruins; but in a hut they found ‘a marvellous thing, a child Jesus like those of Flanders, in its little pine cradle and its little loose shirt.…’ Truly, a marvellous thing: forty-four years before Pigafetta, or possibly Magellan himself, had given it to the Queen of Cebu, and there could be no more moving omen, a holy joy, for Catholic men. On 8 May Legazpi broke ground for the fort and town of San Miguel, and proclaimed a possession that was to last for 333 years; the Niño Jesus was to endure longer yet, and still looks down on the faithful of Cebu in the Church of the Holy Child.[47]

Legazpi, more of a Cortes than a Pizarro, soon came to reasonable terms with the Cebuans; as ever, long-standing local rivalries provided the Spaniards with auxiliaries, and gradually Spanish lordship was extended over, or at least among,- 103 -the islands between Mindanao and Luzon. Mindanao itself was to prove a tougher nut to crack, and the Moros of Jolo, in the Sulu archipelago to the south, tougher still: it would be wearisome to count, let alone to recount, the raids and counterraids, the piracies and punitions, the pacifications and the treaties of short-lived eternal amity; and indeed as these words are written (1977) ‘pacification’ still pursues its weary and bloody way. To the north, however, ‘The Hispanization of the Philippines’[48] was powerfully influenced by the Augustinians, later by Franciscans and other Orders; and if the friars too often became themselves exploiters, the excesses of the entrada and the encomienda were at least attenuated in the Philippines.

There was an ever-present danger, and sometimes the actuality, of famine; the local subsistence agriculture could hardly cope with the injection of so many new and unproductive mouths, and the general disruption and hunger led to dissensions and plots. Apart from this, there was also a threat not from pagans or Muslims but from fellow Christians. The first contacts with the Portuguese were made in November 1566, wary and shiftily evasive on both sides. Two ships arrived from New Spain in August 1567 with 200 men and badly needed supplies, though not on the scale asked for in urgent messages to Mexico.[49] The San Juan was sent off in July 1568 with over 400 quintals of cinnamon; she was wrecked off Guam, and although her company was saved, the loss of the spice cargo, relied upon to attract more support, was a serious blow. It was followed by a solid Portuguese threat: on 2 October 1568 four galleons, two galliots, and two smaller vessels under Gonçalo Pereira arrived from the Moluccas. There followed four months of sporadic skirmishing and lengthy diplomatic exchanges; at his last summons Pereira announced that he was ‘weary of so many papers containing so many irrelevancies’ (he had himself supplied the longest and most irrelevant of them). Velvety insults were traded; Legazpi protested that he would like nothing better than to depart, had he the ships to do so; perhaps Pereira might lend him some …? In the end the Portuguese departed first, on 1 January 1569; and soon after Legazpi left, not for New Spain but for Panay, better-found than Cebu (whose resources were now badly strained) and farther from the Portuguese, who also were about at the end of their tether.

In June 1569 Juan de la Isla brought reinforcements (including fifty married couples), permission to grant encomiendas, and Legazpi's promotion to Governor and Captain-General; the couples were sent to a new town on Cebu. Reconnaissance brought information of the region around Manila Bay, central to the largest island, densely populated and with a good harbour; there was plenty of food, and reportedly gold; the people were civil enough to have artillery of a sort and even a foundry. Trade with the Moluccas and their spices was obviously barred, but the situation of Luzon gave promise of trade with China, always a background element in the project and soon to come to the fore. In May 1571 Legazpi landed at Manila and enforced a treaty of vassalage; in June he set up a cabildo for the new Spanish city. Within a year the populous areas of- 104 -coastal Luzon had been visited and some inland excursions made, and—a most significant development—a small colony of Chinese traders was establishing itself at Manila.[50]

When Legazpi died on 20 August 1572, he had laid foundations for one of the strangest of colonies. Itself a colony of colonial Nueva España,[51] it existed, apart from an intense missionary effort, by and for its one great emporium, Manila. The islands themselves produced little (wax, ginger, poor cinnamon, a little gold), and the military and administrative establishment had to be permanently subsidised by Mexico. Manila was an arsenal for the military and the Church Militant, but its supreme function was to be the pumping-station in a channel through which the silver of New Spain drew the luxuries of the Orient, above all Chinese silks, to America and to Seville. Well might Legazpi report ‘We are at the gate and in the vicinity of the most fortunate countries of the world, and the most remote … great China, Burnei … Siam, Lequois, Japan, and other rich and large provinces’.[52] But Spain was not alone at the gate: after so much valour and suffering, Portugal still held the Spiceries, and since 1557 had been established at another emporium, Macao.



[40] Cushner, Spain, 39–40; Blair & Robertson, II.78—most of this volume is devoted to documents on the voyage and the founding of Spanish rule, of which Cushner (30–73) gives a good general account. G. F. Zaide, Philippine Political and Cultural History (revised ed., Manila 1957), is more detailed but less well organised. For the preparations and problems surrounding the voyage: Gschaedler, Mexico, passim; Wagner, Voyages to NW, 94–120; Wallis, Exploration, 152–67; Wright, American Voyages, 240–4, and ‘Spanish Voyages’, 73–7.

[41] Blair & Robertson, II.80–1; Wagner, Voyages to NW, 104, and 105–6 for Urdaneta's memorandum.

[42] Confusingly for a later age, the overall commander of a Spanish fleet was the General and his flagship was styled the capitana; the second in command was the almirante and his ship the almiranta. On the Carrion-Urdaneta question, see M. Mitchell, Friar Andrés de Urdaneta, O.S.A. (London 1964), 140–6—a better biography than Cuevas's rather arriéré work.

[43] Blair & Robertson, II.84; Wallis, Exploration, 193–4.

[44] Wagner, Voyages to NW, 107; instructions summarised in Blair & Robertson, II.89–100.

[45] The other ships were the San Pedro, 500 tons, capitana; San Pablo, 300 or 400, almiranta; San Juan, 80. There was also a smaller craft, either a fregata towed by the San Pedro or a bergantin carried on her deck. The patache San Lucas was 40 tons.

[46] Blair & Robertson, II.108; for the islands, Sharp, Discovery, 36–9.

[47] Cushner, Spain, 53–5; Blair & Robertson, II.120–1; for photograph of ‘El Niño’, Plate 1 in K. Lightfoot, The Philippines (London 1973).

[48] The title of J. L. Phelan's study, subtitled Spanish Aims and Filipino Responses, 1565–1700 (Madison 1959).

[49] See the extremely interesting lists in Blair & Robertson, II.182–95.

[50] Cushner, Spain, 65–70, for the move to Manila; for its advantages, Lightfoot, Philippines, 73.

[51] P. Chaunu, Les Philippines et le Pacifique des Ibériques (Paris 1960), 20–1.

[52] Blair & Robertson, II.214.