Biography of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés (1478-1557)

Historian, naturalist and Ethnologist of Indian born in Madrid in 1478 and died in Santo Domingo the 26 of June 1557. He/She lived in American territory during the first half of the 16th century, where he/she personally met the great characters of the discovery and colonization. He/She wrote one of the most important stories of Indian, and its prospects of historian were often opposed to the father's Las Casas.

The biography of Fernández de Oviedo is scattered in his work Quincuagenas and its battles and Quincuagenas, as well as in his history of the Indies. He/She was the son of Miguel Sobrepena and Juana de Oviedo and was born in Madrid in August 1478. His family was of noblemen of origin Asturian, although some historian has been unfounded they were converts. He/She had a long court training, which began at the age of twelve, when he/she was the Duke of Villahermosa (nephew of the Catholic King) page, and continued as a lad of House of Prince Juan, son of the Catholic monarchs, where he/she met the sons of Columbus. His memories of this time picked them up in his later work book of the House of the Prince Don Juan (published in Madrid, 1870). He/She was then in Italy, Mantua and Rome, where he/she served to the cardinal Juan de Borja. Then, in Naples, Fadrique King and Queen Juana, widow of Fernando II of that Kingdom. He/She returned to Spain with the Duke of Calabria, and in 1505 Fernando II, King of Aragon and Castile V commissioned him to compile news on the Kings of Spain, mission failed until 27 years later and whose manuscript is in the Escorial. This training gave him a character of defender of noble and chivalrous, interests of cult of moral values and sense of patriotic, accentuated by the events that he/she had to live, such as the surrender of Granada and the discovery of America. In 1506, was for a brief time Apostolic notary and Secretary of the Inquisition. In 1507 he/she returned to Madrid and served as escribano, was married to Margarita Vergara and was soon widowed.

After briefly acting as Secretary of the Great Captain, he/she embarked for India in search of fortune the year 1514 in the great Navy of Pedrarias Dávila "charges of casting and marking, the mines and the crime and court clerk" and the trade of iron slaves and Indians. There was witness to the irregularities of Pedrarias, who decided to denounce the King. In 1515 he/she was elected Procurator of Tierra Firme and returned to Spain. He/She met in Plasencia with Fernando el Católico, already very ill, who asked him to surrender his reports to the Secretary Conchillos. Knowing then the monarch's death, he/she decided to go to Brussels in order to communicate the Indian problems to his heir. Prince Carlos did not listen to him, but sent him to report everything to Cisneros and Utrecht. He/She returned to Madrid and then wrote a strange novel of chivalry titled book of the very brave and invincible Knight of fortune, properly called don Claribalte, which was published the year 1519 in Valencia. This year was his confrontation with houses, because both antithetical colonization projects proposed to the Crown to remedy the problems of Indian. Oviedo was inclined by a stately type, made by Knights of Santiago, while Las Casas did on the other exclusively religious.

Disillusioned, returned to Darien in early 1520, willing to rebuild their lives with his second wife. It was an unfortunate time, as his son died and again widowed. Also died the Governor Lope de Sosa and returned to govern the omnipotent Pedrarias that had big showdowns. Part of them were due to the obstinacy of Pedrarias to move the capital of Castilla del Oro to the new city of Panama, which had been founded in the Pacific, depopulated the old of Santa María de el Darién, established by Balboa in the Atlantic and where Oviedo had his home and properties. He/She was appointed Lieutenant Governor in the decadent Santa María (1522), where tried to reform customs. From this period dates his Chronicle of the Catholic Kings and the beginnings of his General history and Natural of the Indies. In 1521 he/she returned to Spain to report irregularities of Pedrarias. By then wrote the answer to the moral epistle of the Admiral of Castile, in which emphasized the evils Spanish, and the relationship of what happened in the prison of the rey Francisco de Francia, concluding also the summary of the Natural history of the Indies, published the year 1526 in Toledo.

In 1526 went for the third time for Indies, this time with the post of Governor of Cartagena. It was this square, not back to Panama, where it remained observer. He/She participated in the trial of Pedrarias residence and went to Nicaragua with Diego López de Salcedo, relative and Governor of Honduras. He/She settled in the city of León, but returned to find themselves under the jurisdiction of Pedrarias, who was appointed Governor of Nicaragua and drove out to Salcedo in 1528. In 1529 Oviedo took place a slave expedition to the interior, climbed up to the crater of the Masaya, and then returned to Spain as Procurator of the municipalities of Panama and Santo Domingo. Once on the peninsula submitted a report detailed on the situation on the island of Hispaniola before the Council of the Indies, to support the need for greater labor attachment of Indians. In 1532 he/she was appointed official chronicler of the Indies, and transferred his position as overseer to his son Francisco González Valdés, who would die in the Peru in 1536.

In the autumn of 1532 he/she returned for the fourth time to India, and specifically to Santo Domingo, where in 1533 he/she was appointed warden of his fortress. It wasn't much in return to Spain and published nineteen books of the first part of his famous work General history of the Indies (Seville, 1535), which continued to expand later, the rest was unpublished, and was José Amador the Ríos published by Commission of the Academy of history between 1851 and 1855. Your derogatory towards the Indian and Spanish-friendly tone produced the indignation of the Las Casas father who decided to write his history of the Indies, already initiated following the publication of the summary of Oviedo.

In January of 1536 he/she made his fifth trip to India, returning again to Santo Domingo; now would remain ten years in a row in America, his longest stay. He/She lived in Santo Domingo, arranged its strength, he/she said many times about Indian problems and tried to mediate between Pizarro and Almagro. Chile killed his son and one of his grandchildren.

In 1546, he/she made his last trip to Spain; again to denounce new outrages. As Attorney of Santo Domingo, a position which he/she held for three years, pleaded that you become renouncing the new President Alonso López de Cerrato, appointed to enforce the new laws, which succeeded. Asked his former Government of Cartagena, but all he/she got was the perpetual stage manager of Santo Domingo. He/She traveled to the island in 1546 and already remained on it until his death, occupying this time in fighting the abuses of the Secretary of the audience Diego Caballero and to complete their history, and their battles and Quincaguenas, who finished in 1556, with 69. The following year was published in Valladolid the 20th book of the second part of General history.


His work was gigantic and in various fields, but especially noted for being the first great chronicler of Indias, since nothing I leave his predecessor Antonio Guevara. This letter served Oviedo for 25 years and with enormous dignity. His work is General history and Natural of the Indies, which acted in both aspects: as a historian and as a naturalist. It basically historió the Spanish conquest, without relevance to the Indians, who saw and treated as subjects for observation for a naturalist, which did not spare the houses. The facts of the Castilians were interpreted instead in an almost providential manner, which did not prevent search for historical truth in them and denounce the outrages. It used many documentary reports and personal references of the great characters that met. As a naturalist, he/she was the first in the history of American science.

Occasional news the first discoverers, travellers and conquerors, Fernández de Oviedo aims to offer a set of American nature image. The summary, after a brief news about sailing to the new world, is on Hispaniola, Cuba and other islands of the Caribbean, and Tierra Firme. In each of these territories is occupied of the inhabitants and, more broadly, of animals and vegetables, while minerals, with the exception of gold, worth very little attention. In history, this geographical sorting is replaced by another inspired by Plinio: firstly, vegetables, subdivided into cultivated plants, trees and herbs; Secondly, animals, starting with the land, followed by the water, in the air and insects.

The fundamental interest of his work lies, however, in that it is based on the observation of nature and not indirect news as the reunited by Pedro Mártir de Anglería, which said the own Oviedo: "wanted to write the truth if it were accurately reported, more as spoke of it not vido... his decades with many defects". Your objectivity in this area was recognized even by Las Casas, the bitter enemy who had not hesitated to insult him as "false", "hypocrite", "evil" and "liar" in issues of governance: "what I believe in writing of Oviedo - says - and all its parleria says the trees and herbs desta island of Hispaniola, which writes truth because the vido and stories see them see them want to"", and thus he/she wrote of the Tierra Firme". In contrast to the erudition, often crippling, Las Casas, Oviedo lacked academic training according to his rival, did not know "what was latin" and up to his admired Pliny had it, "not in latin, but in Tuscan". It favored, undoubtedly the character direct and spontaneous decisions, occasionally schematic as the figures included in his work, often with fine details of observation, but always based on the reality. "Oviedo - says Cohen - has become famous as a perceptive observer and his keen sense of the description, based on an honest critical attitude". The summary was translated into English, Italian and latin, reaching fifteen editions in a century. The fourteen who has had during the last century and the current one, also in different languages, reflect his estimate as "classical" scientific importance, which opened, as says Álvarez López, "before the astonished eyes of the Europeans," the gate of an unknown nature.



FERNÁNDEZ DE OVIEDO and VALDÉS, G. Summary of the natural and general history of the Indies. Toledo, r. de Petras, 1526.fernandez of OVIEDO and VALDES, G. The general history of the Indies. Seville, Juan Cromberger, 1535. It includes only the first part.FERNÁNDEZ DE OVIEDO and VALDÉS, G. general and natural history of the Indies, Islands and Tierra-firme of the ocean sea, 4 vols. Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, 1851-1855. First complete Edition.


Alvarez LOPEZ, e. "The natural history in Fernández de Oviedo", in Revista de Indias, 17 (1957), pp. 541-601.AMADOR DE LOS RIOS, J. life and writings of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés. Introduction to general and natural history of the Indies. Madrid, 1851.BALLESTEROS GAIBROIS, M. life of Madrid's Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés. Madrid, 1958.COHEN, B. I. The New World as a Source of Science for Europe. Actes du IXe Congrés International d´Histoire des Sciences. Barcelona and Paris, Hermann, p-95-130.OTTE, e. "Aspirations and heterogeneous activities of Fernández de Oviedo" in Revista de Indias No 71. Madrid, 1958perez in TUDELA, j. preliminary study to his edition of the story, 5 vols. Madrid, library of Spanish authors, 1959--: "features of the spiritual countenance of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo: the knightly chivalry to the new world", in Revista de Indias. Madrid, 1957.

Manuel Lucena Salmoral / José María LÓPEZ PIÑERO