Pedro de Valdivia

Pedro de Valdivia bigraphy, stories - Spanish conquistador

Pedro de Valdivia : biography

00 1500 – December 25, 1553

Pedro Gutiérrez de Valdivia or Valdiva (ca. 1500 – December 25, 1553Dates sometimes given as 1510 – 1569, i.e. Robert Chambers "Book of Days" (1868)) was a Spanish conquistador and the first royal governor of Chile. After serving with the Spanish army in Italy and Flanders, he was sent to South America in 1534, where he served as lieutenant under Francisco Pizarro in Peru, acting as his second in command. In 1540 he led an expedition of 150 Spaniards into Chile, where he defeated a large force of Indians and founded Santiago in 1541. He extended Spanish rule south to the Bío-Bío River in 1546, fought again in Peru (1546 – 48), and returned to Chile as governor in 1549. He began to conquer Chile south of the Bío-Bío and founded Concepción in 1550. He was captured and killed in a campaign against the Araucanian Indians. The city of Valdivia in Chile is named after him.

Arauco War

Between 1549 and 1553, after his arrival back in Santiago, Valdivia again undertook the conquest of southern Chile, but faced heavy resistance from the indigenous population. Valdivia had a clash with the warlike Araucanians beyond the Bio-Bio River in 1550 in which he defeated them but by no means broke their will to resist, a will that grew stronger when the conquistador established settlements in their territory. In spite of the fierce resistance at the Battle of Penco, he founded Concepción in 1550. Later he founded the more southern villages of La Imperial, Valdivia, Angol and Villarrica, in 1551 and 1552.

The uprising of 1553

After a brief stay in Santiago, Valdivia returned to the south again in December 1552. To keep the connection open between Concepción and the southern settlements, Valdivia had a number of forts built in Cordillera de Nahuelbuta. He moved against the Araucanians again in 1553 and built a fort at Tucapel. By the advice of the cacique Colocolo, the Araucanians united their efforts choosing as toqui (general-in-chief) the famous warrior Caupolicán.

Valdivia had earlier captured and presumably made friends with Lautaro, an Araucanian youth who became his groom. Lautaro secretly remained true to his own people and rejoined them to show Caupolicán a means by which Valdivia could be defeated. Toward the end of 1553, the Araucanians under Lautaro revolted and they fell on the over-extended Spanish forces in the south. One of the first signs that a big rebellion was building was the attack on the fort at Tucapel, where they managed to destroy the fortress on December 2, 1553. Valdivia was at Concepcion when he received notice of this event, and, believing that he could easily subdue the uprising, he hurried southward, sallying forth with only 40 men to stamp out the rebellion.

Near the ruins of the fortress Valdivia gathered the remnant of the garrison. He was ambushed before arriving to his destination and the Battle of Tucapel would be Valdivia’s last. As each successive wave of attackers was wiped out or beaten off by the Spaniards, Lautaro sent another, until the entire Spanish company was massacred. The dreaded conquistador was captured still alive along with a priest by the Mapuche.


There are many versions of how Valdivia’s killing took place. According to Jerónimo de Vivar, an author contemporary with the events, the execution of Valdivia was personally ordered by Caupolicán, who had him killed with a lance and later his head, along with those of two of his bravest companions, were put on display. Another contemporary chronicler, Alonso de Góngora Marmolejo writes that Valdivia offered as a ransom for his life the evacuation of all the Spanish settlements in the Mapuche lands and to give them large herds of animals, but this offer was rejected and the Mapuche first cut off his forearms, roasted and ate them in front of him before killing him and his accompanying priest.

Alonso de Ercilla refers that Valdivia was killed with the blow of a club, then with a knife a warrior cut open his breast and ripped his still quivering heart which was then handed to the toqui, who sucked its blood. The heart was passed round from one to another, and a drinking cup was made from his skull. The warriors keep running round the corpse brandishing their lances and uttering cries, while the rest of the assembly stamped with their feet until the earth shook.