Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas


His father, Roderigo de Tordesillas, and his mother, Agnes de Herrera, were both of good family. After studying for some time in his native country, Herrera proceeded to Italy, and there became secretary to Vespasian Gonzago, with whom, on his appointment as viceroy of Navarre, he returned to Spain. Gonzago, sensible of his secretary’s abilities, commended him to Philip II of Spain; and that monarch appointed Herrera first historiographer of the Indies, and one of the historiographers of Castile.

Placed thus in the enjoyment of an ample salary, Herrera devoted the rest of his life to the pursuit of literature, retaining his offices until the reign of Philip IV, by whom he was appointed secretary of state very shortly before his death.

The Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos

Of Herrera’s writings, the most valuable is his Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos en las islas y tierra firme del Mar Oceano (Madrid, 1601-1615, 4 vols), a work which relates the history of the Spanish-American colonies from 1492 to 1554. The author’s official position gave him access to the state papers and to other authentic sources not attainable by other writers, while he did not scruple to borrow largely from other manuscripts, especially from that of Bartolomé de Las Casas.

He used his facilities carefully and judiciously; and the result is a work on the whole accurate and unprejudiced, and quite indispensable to the student either of the history of the early colonies, or of the institutions and customs of the aboriginal American peoples. Although it is written in the form of annals, mistakes are not wanting, and several glaring anachronisms have been pointed out by MJ Quintana. “If,” to quote Dr Robertson, “by attempting to relate the various occurrences in the New World in a strict chronological order, the arrangement of events in his work had not been rendered so perplexed, disconnected and obscure that it is an unpleasant task to collect from different parts of his book and piece together the detached shreds of a story, he might justly have been ranked among the most eminent historians of his country.”

This work was republished in 1730, and has been translated into English by J Stevens (London, 1740), and into other European languages.

Work’s value in solving puzzle on Mazaua, Magellan’s lost port

Unknown to Magellan scholars and navigation historians, Herrera’s work is central to a geographical conundrum related to Ferdinand Magellan‘s travel in Philippine waters. It’s only now, in the 21st century, that this fact has surfaced.

Herrera, with Andrés de San Martín as authority, wrote Magellan’s fleet had anchored at an isle named “Mazagua“, an exact equivalent of a Butuanon word in that locality, “masawa”, meaning bright light. The “gu” is the Spanish equivalent of w which is absent in the Spanish alphabet. He wrote a mass was celebrated at that port on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1521. Also a cross was planted at the isle’s highest hill. Herrera’s account is faithful to the actual incident and coincides with the reports of eyewitnesses Antonio Pigafetta, Ginés de Mafra, Francisco Albo, Martín de Ayamonte, and The Genoese Pilot.

Herrera also provides an information found only in one other document in the entire Magellanic literature, the Ginés de Mafra account, that the rulers of Cebu, Mazaua and Butuan are blood relatives. The papers of San Martín were in the possession of de Mafra, entrusted to him by the astrologer before May 1, 1521 when San Martín is presumed to have died during the massacre of Magellan’s crew at Cebu.

Sole published work that has word Mazaua since 1521 to 1890

Herrera’s work is the only published document from the time of the 1521 anchorage at the tiny isle until publication of F.H.H. Guillemard‘s biography of Magellan in 1890 that has the real name of the isle, Mazaua. Guillemard spelling was “Mazzava”–the spelling found in the three extant French manuscripts of Pigafetta, the Beinecke-Yale codex, Ms f. 5650, and Ms f. 24224. In that whole period, published works used the name popularized by Maximilianus Transylvanus, “Messana” and “Massana.”

Two 17th century Spanish Jesuit missionaries wrote an epitome–three paragraphs at most for each–of Magellan’s travel in the Surigao Sea. They used Herrera’s “Mazagua” ironically to negate Herrera’s account of the anchorage at the tiny isle. They Fr. Francisco Colín and Fr. Francisco Combés. The first coined a name, “Dimasaua”, a combination of a Bisayan prefix, “di” meaning “no” or “not” added to Herrera’s “Mazagua.” Colín’s “Dimasaua” means “not Mazaua“, pointing to an isle in southern Leyte at f9° 56′ N, 125° 35′ E. Four years later, Combés renamed the isle “Limasaua” which the isle retains to this day.

Two friars use Herrera’s Mazagua to negate Mazaua

Colín invented the name in the context of the Easter Sunday mass which his other source, the garbled Italian translation of Pigafetta by Giovanni Battista Ramusio, said took place at Butuan on March 31, 1521. Colín had correctly assumed Pigafetta being an eyewitness would be more accurate; what he didn’t know was that Ramusio had replaced Mazaua with Butuan. In the case of Combés, he got hold of another edition of Ramusio that still had the anchorage at Butuan but did not mention any mass there. While Combés adopts the solution of Colín of using Herrera’s “Mazaua”, he rejected the prefix “di” since he wasn’t dismissing a non-existent Easter mass in his Ramusio. He instead used a mystifyingly unknown prefix, “Li” which is unknown in Philippine languages and is neither Spanish or Portuguese or perhaps French, added before Herrera’s “Mazagua.”

At the beginning of the 19th century, an authentic Pigafetta account was published based on the transcription of a paleologist-scientist, the Augustinian Carlo Amoretti of the Ambrosiana library in Milan. In two footnotes Amoretti turned truth on its head. He said the word “Limasava” (as spelled) in a map of Jacques N. Bellin may be the Messana/Massana in Pigafetta. As proof he said both isles are found in the same latitude, 9° 40′ N. In reality Limasawa is in 9° 56′ N while Mazaua has been variously located at two other latitudes, 9° 20′ N by Francisco Albo and 9° N by The Genoese Pilot.

Coming full circle

The craft of history entails putting together pieces left by a past incident. The Mazaua conundrum has been unravelling first with the “discovery” of the little known Ginés de Mafra whose account turns out to be a mirror of the insights of the Renaissance navigation genius, Andrés de San Martín, who was in turn the authority of Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas for his Mazaua story. In connecting the three, the truth of Herrera’s Mazagua has gone full circle.

Herrera’s main works

Herrera’s main published works are the following:

  • Historia de lo sucedido en Escocia a Inglaterra en quarenta y quatro annos que vivio la reyna Maria Estuarda (Madrid, 1589)
  • Cinco libros de la historia de Portugal, y conquista de las isles de los Acores, 1582-1583 (Madrid, 1591)
  • Historia de lo sucedido en Francia, 1585-1594 (Madrid, 1598)
  • Historia general del mundo del tiempo del rey Felipe II, desde 1559 haste su muerte (Madrid, 1601-1612, 3 vols)
  • Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos en las islas y tierra firme del Mar Oceano (Madrid, 1601-1615, 4 vols)
  • Tratado, relation, y discurso historico de los movimientos de Aragon (Madrid, 1612)
  • Comentarios de los hechos de los Españoles, Franceses, y Venecianos en Italia, etc., 1281-1559 (Madrid, 1624, seq.).

Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, (last visited Apr. 28, 2009).

About Android