Mozambique Letters

Letters asking for help from the master and the pilot of the ship Trinidad, Juan Bautista de Punzorol and León Pancado, prisoners of the Portuguese in Mozambique, addressed to King Carlos I and a Very Reveredissimo Señor .
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The journey that our sailors describe in their letters, carried out after the separation in Tidore of the Victoria ship and the subsequent repair of the Trinidad ship. In April 1522 they set sail for Panama, but they had no choice but to return to Tidore, on a journey that lasted seven months. There they were captured by the Portuguese, who had arrived in May. Later they were transferred successively to Banda, Malaca and Cochin, from where they ended up fleeing as stowaways in a Portuguese ship that sailed for Lisbon. They were discovered, and imprisoned in the Mozambique factory, in 1525. They were tried to return to India, but the ship in which they were traveling had to return due to bad weather. In October of that year they wrote these letters asking for help.

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The sequence of events that led our two sailors to Mozambique is in itself worthy of an adventure novel. Very briefly, both were survivors of the attempt to return through the Pacific with the nao Trinidad, which is why, when they returned to Tidore, in the Moluccas, they were captured by the Portuguese captain Antonio de Brito. From there they were successively transferred to Banda, Malaca and, finally, to Cochin (India). From here they ended up fleeing like stowaways, both in the same ship that sailed towards Portugal, although each one separately, without knowing one about the other.

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After being discovered, they were imprisoned when that ship called at the Portuguese factory on the island of Mozambique. They were shipped back to India to render accounts to their governor there, but the latter had to return to Mozambique due to bad weather. So they wrote these letters asking for help from there.

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Who were the authors

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Both were Genoese sailors in the service of Carlos I. The most prominent of them was Juan Bautista de Punzorol. He was the most experienced officer of those who remained on the Trinidad ship, and he served as a master on this ship since the expedition sailed from Spain, that is, at the same level as Elcano, who had started the expedition with this position on the Concepción ship. . The master was the highest authority on the governance of the ship.

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His qualities were highlighted by the Portuguese captain Antonio de Brito, who considered him the best of those he encountered on board the Trinidad when it arrived in the Moluccas after trying to cross the Pacific back. We are not sure how old he was, but he was undoubtedly relatively older, perhaps in his mid-50s, given that one of his sons joined the expedition as a sailor. This then implied having many years of experience at sea. His son, by the way, did not choose to stay with his father on the Trinidad ship, but traveled with Elcano on the Victoria ship to go around the world, although he died in the Atlantic, off the coast of Guinea.

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For his part, León Pancado had embarked as a sailor in Trinidad, but ended up acting as a pilot throughout the solo voyage across the Pacific, after the death of Juan López Carvallo in the Moluccas. We have a brief overview of him and his later life in Epic Lives .

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We do not know who of the two wrote one of the main sources about the trip, the one known as Roteiro de un Piloto Genovés . It would even be possible for them to do it together.

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León Pancado managed to flee Mozambique when he stowed away again on another Portuguese ship that was heading to Lisbon, and he could tell that, before that, his partner Juan Bautista had already died. Following the efforts of Carlos I, he was released from the Lisbon prison of El Limoeiro in early 1527, together with Captain Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa.

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Ten years later, Macías del Poyo, one of the few survivors of Loaysa's expedition who returned to Spain, declared that he heard the Portuguese sayings that, a Genoese who was on the said nao [Trinidad], because he was a pilot They had killed him with poison . It is probable that he was referring to our unfortunate Juan Bautista de Punzorol.

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Location of the so-called Island of Mozambique , a Portuguese factory in which the master Juan Bautista de Punzorol and the pilot León Pancado were imprisoned.

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Juan Bautista de Punzorol and León Pancado wrote letters from Mozambique, very similar in content, in which they reported their situation, told how they had gotten there, and asked for help. One of them was addressed to Carlos I, while the other is not specified, except for its heading, which reads "Very Reverend Lord", and who is referred to as "Your Lordship." The only news we have about them can be found in the Torre do Tombo National Archive (Lisbon).

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This archive published the transcription of both letters in As Gavetas da Torre do Tombo . The digitizations of these letters have not been made public to this day by the ANTT, although they do have descriptive files.

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Recently, we decided to request the ANTT to digitize the originals for study and publication here. It is a service that carries a cost, but the letters are of such a high interest that they well deserved to assume it. So, for the first time we can see these two letters without physically going to Lisbon:

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Letters asking for help from Mozambique

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Letter addressed to King Charles I:
Letter addressed to a Most Reverend Lord:
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The letters do not appear to be the originals handwritten by our sailors. We reason this because, in the first place, their calligraphy style is the one used by the Portuguese of the time, with characteristic features that make them easily distinguishable from the calligraphy used in other kingdoms. On the other hand, they are unsigned, which would be strange in the case of the originals in the handwriting of their own authors. Finally, the text at the bottom of the last folio of the letter addressed to a Most Reverend Lord is written between two equal rubrics, a sign usually characteristic of the scribe who copied the document.

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At the bottom of the letter addressed to a Most Reverend Lord, we find the same rubrics on the left and right. In the other cropped image we see that, in addition, a mark was inserted at the end of the body of the text. Both are customs typical of a notary public of the time.

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It should be noted that there is no other archived document that could be original by the hand of either of the two Genoese, which would allow us to compare their calligraphies, to definitively clear any doubt about whether the letters preserved in the ANTT are originals or copies.

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In line with this, it is important to note that the calligraphy of both letters is the same, that is, that both were copied by the same scribe, who undoubtedly must be Portuguese. In addition to this, also by the letter we dare to ensure that these copies are contemporary with the originals, or were copied not long after, something that turns out to be an interesting detail, which we will deal with.

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To finish with this preliminary analysis, both letters were written in good Spanish, although there are some words that we find written in an unusual way, such as çezara by cesarean section , or muncho por mucho , without our daring to venture the cause. Despite this, the person who copied the letters, being Portuguese, evidences having done the work with care and detail, since he does not incur in Portugueseism, he maintains the terms with apparent fidelity and uses an extraordinarily clear handwriting, being very likely that he knew Spanish .

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The striking similarities with the letter from Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa to Carlos I written in Cochin.

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The two letters written in Mozambique by Juan Bautista de Punzorol and León Pancado are very similar in content. What is truly striking is that they contain great similarities with the letter that Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa also addressed to Carlos I from Cochín ( see original) . Thus, we can see how in the three letters complete sentences are repeated in surprisingly similar terms. Without being exhaustive, as an example:

  • We made our way to demand the firm land, where Mr. Andres Niño made the caravels, which is in the South Sea, where Lord, His Majesty will know that from said mainland to the islands of Maluco there are no more than two million leagues to the most lex you walk.

Letter from Punzorol and Pancado to Carlos I.

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  • We made our way to and demand the mainland where Andres Niño made the caravels, which is in the mainland of the southern part, where Lord, Your Honor will know that from the said mainland to Maluco there is no further road but two thousand leagues.

Letter from Punzorol and Pancado to a Most Reveredissimo Lord.

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  • We made our way to and go to demand the mainland where Andrés Niño made the caravels, which is in the Mar del Sull, where Señor, found that from Maluco to the first land he did not fly but a thousand and eight hundred leagues.

Letter from Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa to Carlos I.

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  • We discovered fourteen yslas, which were very well populated with naked people, which people are the color of those of the Indians.

Letter from Punzorol and Pancado to Carlos I.

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  • The other yslas sir, are full of infinitely many naked people of the color of those of the Indians.

Letter from Punzorol and Pancado to a Most Reveredissimo Lord.

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  • I discovered fourteen islands, which were full of infinitely many naked people, which people were of the color of the people of the Indies.

Letter from Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa to Carlos I.

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  • Let us let your Majesty know how you have three verjeles here, the best that ay oy in the world.

Letter from Punzorol and Pancado to Carlos I.

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  • Let your honor know that the emperor our lord has here in these parts three yards, the best in the world today.

Letter from Punzorol and Pancado to a Most Reveredissimo Lord.

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  • Sir, don't have Vtra. Holy Majesty, in a few words, the islands of Maluco, and those of Banda and Timor, because, Lord, there are three verjeles, the best in the world.

Letter from Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa to Carlos I.

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Possible relationship between the letters of Punzorol and Pancado, and that of Espinosa.

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The similarities found suggest that Punzorol and Pancado had access to Espinosa's letter written in Cochín (India), and that they even copied and / or had it before them at the time of writing theirs, given the surprising coincidence of terms used, which is extremely attractive.

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Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa's letter was dated January 22, 1525, while those of the Genoese in Mozambique were dated October 20 and 25 of the same year. As we know, Espinosa's letter was brought to Spain by a Portuguese captain named Taymón, a servant of Dona Leonor of Austria, the older sister of King Carlos I and the widowed queen consort of Portugal. It is Espinosa himself who told us this in his letter. To this it is added that, in addition, a payment that the Casa de Contratación de Sevilla made to a Taymón was later registered, for an amount of 15,000 maravedís. This payment was deducted from the salary due, not to Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa, as would apparently be logical, but to Juan Bautista de Punzorol. Why Juan Bautista and not Espinosa? Did Taymon also render any service to John the Baptist? And here are the key questions we got to from all this, did Taymón also bring to Spain the originals of the letters from Punzorol and Pancado? Where are those originals? Why were they copied, why are they kept in Lisbon, and why, on the other hand, did Espinosa's letter reach its destination and is kept in the General Archive of the Indies in Seville?

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The journey from India to Mozambique is marked by the monsoon cycle, being favorable to do so during the summer due to the prevailing winds, while, on the contrary, in winter it was impossible or very difficult to do so. For this reason, Taymón had to travel from India during the summer of 1525, and so did our Genoese. It would be a lot of coincidence if they did it together in the same ship, but there is a real possibility that even so.

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We have tried to locate which vessel or vessels traveled from India to Mozambique and then to Lisbon, searching the ANTT, but without success. We have also verified that the scribe to whom Espinosa dictated his letter in Cochín - at that time he did not know how to write, although he did sign it with a signature - did not have the same handwriting as that of the copies of the letters written in Mozambique. We have even searched other archived documents from those years in the hope of finding the scribe's own rubrics that we already mentioned appear in the letter addressed by the Genoese to a very reverend lord , without finding any that could give us a new clue.

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Something is escaping us in this whole story that leaves us with all these doubts. The only thing really clear is that these three cards are not only a jewel for what they tell, but also for the story that they themselves hide.

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Hypothesis about the unknown recipient

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Finally, there is another matter that deserves our attention. Our Genoese, besides the king, who did they turn to for help? Who could that very reverend gentleman be with the capacity to intercede for them in their situation? Since the letter is written in Spanish, it is ruled out that it was an Italian you trust.

There are two Castilian candidates who deserve us to pay attention to them, due to their involvement in this expedition, and their weight in court: they are Cristóbal de Haro and Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca.

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The first was a Burgos shipowner, accustomed to the spice trade with Flanders, who shared expenses with the Crown in the freight of the expedition. It is recorded that he traveled to Sanlúcar de Barrameda during the time that the expedition remained there, and he dealt with many details regarding its organization. It is therefore highly unlikely that our Genoese did not know Cristóbal de Haro, so that, as the captain of the Loaysa expedition, Hernando de la Torre, who came to him from Maluco to ask for help, was someone to trust for the expeditionaries and for the king. By the way, the letter from Hernando de la Torre to Cristóbal de Haro is also in the ANTT, and it is a signed original ( see ). It is moving to see the captain's confidence in the Burgos factor, so we all ask him as a father and lord , he said.

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However, it is strange that, to address Cristóbal de Haro, Punzorol and Pancado did so using the formula reverendissimo señor , which seems more appropriate to refer to someone from the ecclesiastical establishment. This leads us to think of Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, bishop of Burgos, who was entrusted by the Catholic Monarchs with the creation of the Casa de Contratación de Indias de Sevilla, and who would be appointed president of the Council of the Indies. Let's say that Fonseca was the head of the Casa de Contratación, and someone the king trusted, so it would be wise for Juan Bautista and León Pancado to think of him to help them get out of that trance.

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We could not rule out that the enigmatic addressee of this letter was another person, but for the above reasons we consider it very reasonable to think that it was the powerful Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca.

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November 2020. I thank Braulio Vázquez and Reyes Rojas, from the Archivo General de Indias, with whom I have shared these manuscripts, for the expert comments they made me about them and that enrich this text.

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PS After a few days after sending me the scans, the ANTT made them public in Digitarq.

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