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Lope de Aguirre, a Spanish conquistador from the Basque region, is best remembered for his extreme brutality and treachery in colonial Spanish America and for being one of the first to identify himself as an American. He wrote this letter to King Philip II of Spain, in July 1561, which condemns the King for cruelty to his vassals in the Americas. De Aguirre declared himself free of any allegiances to the Spanish Crown and explains his reasons for declaring outright independence. He also describes his long history of service to the Crown and lists his grievances. The conquistador explains the dissolution of the priests, how their behavior is not favorably viewed by the natives, and offers his predictions of how the scandal will be resolved. De Aguirre ends his letter by stating that he will remain rebel against the Catholic Crown for King Philip’s ingratitude.
Lope de Aguirre (c. 1510–1561) was a Spanish conquistador of the Basque region of Spain who left for the New World around 1534. In 1560, after spending several years in Peru, Aguirre joined Pedro de Ursúa’s expedition along the Marañón and Amazon rivers in search of the legendary, and perhaps even mythical, city of El Dorado--the city of gold. In 1561, he participated in the killing of Ursúa, eventually overthrowing his successor and killing him too. Aguirre and his followers captured Margarita Island (Venezuela) and persuaded them to sign an act proclaiming him prince of Peru, Chile, and Terra Firma (now Panama). He was captured and killed in October 1561 by Spanish forces loyal to the King. The reaction of the Crown to this historic document is unknown, but it is almost certain that by the time the Crown received it, Aguirre was dead.