A Most Unprepossessing Man

The Mouse That Conquered the Lions

The Mouse That Conquered the Lions

This is my last posting inspired by my reading of William H. Prescott’s The History of the Conquest of Peru, which I have just completed. After the Incas were conquered and Atahuallpa executed, there arose in Peru a civil war between the two partners of the enterprise, Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro, and after these two were killed, between their families. Finally, Gonzalo Pizarro, Francisco’s brother, was firmly in power—or so he thought. There was still the Spanish crown with which to contend. Carlos V and later Philip II sent various representatives, some well chosen, some notoriously bad.

Finally, the Spanish cleric Pedro de la Gasca was sent with broad authority to put an end to the conflicts and to secure Peru to the crown. Where others failed, Gasca finally succeeded. While a most unprepossessing man, he had vast reserves of shrewdness and good judgment which enabled him to take down the last of the Pizarros and unite the people behind him:

After the dark and turbulent spirits with which we have been hitherto occupied, it is refreshing to dwell on a character like that of Gasca. In the long procession which has passed in review before us, we have seen only the mail-clad cavalier, brandishing his bloody lance, and mounted on his war-horse, riding over the helpless natives, or battling with his own friends and brothers; fierce, arrogant, and cruel, urged on by the lust of gold, or the scarce more honorable love of a bastard glory. Mingled with these qualities, indeed, we have seen sparkles of the chivalrous and romantic temper which belongs to the heroic age of Spain. But, with some honorable exceptions, it was the scum of her chivalry that resorted to Peru, and took service under the banner of the Pizarros. At the close of this long array of iron warriors, we behold the poor and humble missionary coming into the land on an errand of mercy, and everywhere proclaiming the glad tidings of peace. No warlike trumpet heralds his approach, nor is his course to be tracked by the groans of the wounded and the dying. The means he employs are in perfect harmony with his end. His weapons are argument and mild persuasion. It is the reason he would conquer, not the body. He wins his way by conviction, not by violence. It is a moral victory to which he aspires, more potent, and happily more permanent, than that of the blood-stained conqueror. As he thus calmly, and imperceptibly, as it were, comes to his great results, he may remind us of the slow, insensible manner in which Nature works out her great changes in the material world, that are to endure when the ravages of the hurricane are passed away and forgotten.

With the mission of Gasca terminates the history of the Conquest of Peru. The Conquest, indeed, strictly terminates with the suppression of the Peruvian revolt, when the strength, if not the spirit, of the Inca race was crushed for ever. The reader, however, might feel a natural curiosity to follow to its close the fate of the remarkable family who achieved the Conquest. Nor would the story of the invasion itself be complete without some account of the civil wars which grew out of it; which serve, moreover, as a moral commentary on preceding events, by showing that the indulgence of fierce, unbridled passions is sure to recoil, sooner or later, even in this life, on the heads of the guilty.

I find it interesting that the Bolivian stamp illustrated above honors Gasca and pokes fun at neighboring Peru, which had to be pacified by this mouse of a Spanish cleric.