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Francisco Pizarro

Pizarro, Francisco (pĭzäˈrō, Span. fränthēsˈkō pēthärˈrō) [key], c.1476–1541, Spanish conquistador, conqueror of Peru. Born in Trujillo, he was an illegitimate son of a Spanish gentleman and as a child was an illiterate swineherd. Pizzaro accompanied Ojeda to Colombia in 1510 and was with Balboa when he discovered the Pacific. Hearing of the fabled wealth of the Incas, he formed (1524) a partnership with Diego de Almagro and Fernando de Luque (a priest who secured funds). The first expedition reached the San Juan River, part of the present boundary between Ecuador and Colombia. On the second (1526–28), Pizarro explored the swampy coast farther south while his pilot, Bartolomé Ruiz, crossed the equator and then returned to bring definite news of the southern realms. In 1528 his partners sent him to Spain to secure aid from Emperor Charles V; he achieved this and gained for himself most of the future profits. Pizarro managed to soothe the disgruntled Almagro. Sailing south, Pizarro landed at Tumbes (1532) and ascended the Andes to Cajamarca, where the Inca, Atahualpa, awaited him. Professing friendship, he enticed Atahualpa into the power of the Spanish, seized him, exacted a stupendous ransom, and then treacherously had him executed. The conquest of Peru was virtually completed by the capture of Cuzco, which was later defended against Inca forces led by Manco Capac. Pizarro set about consolidating his conquest by founding new settlements, notably the present capital of Peru, Lima, and allotting land and Native Americans in encomienda to his followers. An attempt by Pedro de Alvarado to claim Quito was forestalled by Sebastián de Benalcázar and Almagro. Pizarro now made a pact with Almagro, whom he had cheated several times in the division of spoils, granting him the conquest of Chile. When he failed to receive the territory promised him, Almagro attempted to redress the injustice by seizing Cuzco. Pizarro sent his half-brother, Hernando Pizarro, to Cuzco, and Almagro was defeated and put to death. In 1539, Francisco appointed his brother Gonzalo Pizarro governor of Quito. Francisco's greed and ambition, extreme even in a conquistador, had, however, offset his resourcefulness, courage, and cunning. By alienating the Almagro faction he paved the way for conspiracy. A band of assassins surprised him at dinner, and although he fought desperately, he was overpowered and slain. The account by W. H. Prescott, History of the Conquest of Peru (1847), is classic. An early account is Pedro Pizarro, Relation of the Discovery and Conquest of the Kingdoms of Peru (tr. 1921).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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