Pedro de Valdivia


Pedro de Valdivia : biography

00 1500 – December 25, 1553

Yet another contemporary chronicler, Pedro Mariño de Lobera, also wrote that Valdivia offered to evacuate the lands of the Mapuche but says he was shortly thereafter killed with a large club by a vengeful warrior named Pilmaiquen, who said that Valdivia could not be trusted to keep his word once freed. Lobera also says that a common story in Chile at the time was that Valdivia had been killed by forcing him to drink molten gold. According to an even later legend, Lautaro took Valdivia to the Mapuche camp and put him to death after three days of torture, extracting his beating heart and eating it with the Mapuche leaders. The fact remains that probably all the stories about his death are apocryphal, since none of Valdivia’s party survived the battle, and the only witnesses that could be found were Indians that were captured in subsequent battles.

The site of his death is close to the modern city of Valdivia named in his honor.


The expedition

Alonso de Ovalle’s 1646 engraving of Pedro de Valdivia.

After the failure of the expedition of Diego de Almagro in 1536, the lands to the south of Peru (then known as Nueva Toledo, extending from the 14° – close to modern day Pisco, Peru – to the 25° latitude – close to Taltal, Chile) had remained unexplored. Valdivia asked governor Francisco Pizarro for permission to complete the conquest of that territory. He got his permission but was appointed only Lieutenant Governor, and not Governor as he had wanted.

The expedition was fraught with problems from the beginning. Valdivia had to sell the lands and the mine that had been assigned to him in order to finance the expedition. A shortage of soldiers and adventurers was also problematic since they were not interested in conquering what they were sure were extremely poor lands. Furthermore, while he was preparing the expedition, Pedro Sancho de Hoz arrived from Spain with a royal grant for the same country. To avoid difficulties, Pizarro advised the two competitors to join their interests, and on December 28, 1539, a contract of partnership was signed.

The small expedition finally left Cuzco, Peru in January, 1540, with Pizarro’s permission and Pedro Sancho de Hoz as partner. They carried with them a plethora of seeds for planting, a drove of swine and brood mares, and almost a thousand native Indians but were composed of only a few Spaniards. Only one woman was among the travelers, Inés de Suárez, Valdivia’s mistress. En route more Spaniards joined the expedition, attracted by Valdivia’s fame as a brilliant leader. These conquistadores had formed part of the failed campaigns to the highlands of Bolivia and all in all around 150 Spaniards joined the expedition.

Valdivia resolved to avoid the road over the Andes, which had proved fatal to Almagro’s army, and set out resolutely through the Atacama Desert. On the way, Pedro Sancho de Hoz, seeking sole leadership, tried to murder Valdivia but failed. He was pardoned but from then on had to accept subordinate status. The natives of the region were not pleased by the return of the Spaniards due to the maltreatment they had suffered under Almagro. With many promises, Valdivia was able to regain their trust. After a march of five months, and suffering great privations, they arrived at the Copiapo valley, where Valdivia officially took possession of the land in the name of the Spanish king.

Soon thereafter they continued south and in December 1540, eleven months after they left Cuzco, Valdivia and his expedition reached the valley of the Mapocho river, where they were able to establish the capital of the territory. The valley was extensive and well populated with natives. Its soil was fertile and there was abundant fresh water. Two high hills provided defensive positions. Soon after their arrival, Valdivia tried to convince the native inhabitants of his good intentions, sending out delegations bearing gifts for the caciques.

Finally on February 12, 1541, Valdivia officially founded the city of Santiago de la Nueva Extremadura (named after Saint James, Santiago in Spanish, and Valdivia’s home region of Extremadura, Spain). The ceremony was held at the foot of the Huelén hill (now known as Santa Lucia hill).