Images of Cortés in sixteenth-century translations of Francisco López de Gómara’s Historia de la conquista de México (1552)

Victoria Ríos Castaño


This study provides an overview of five sixteenth-century translations of Francisco López de Gómara’s Historia de la conquista de México (1552), namely, Agostino di Cravaliz’s and Lucio Mauro’s into Italian, Thomas Nicholls’s into English, and Martin Fumée’s and Guillaume Le Breton’s into French. The article is organized into two main sections. The first one casts some light upon the socio-historical context in which the translations were written by analysing several paratexts (e.g., acknowledgements and introductions). The second section focuses on the manner in which passages regarding Cortés’s origins and death were rendered, discussing translators’ techniques, skopos, and target audiences.

Publication history
Table of contents

Soon after its publication, the Spanish priest Francisco López de Gómara’s (1511-ca. 1559) Historia general de las Indias (General history of the Indies) (1552) was shrouded in polemics. As encapsulated by its subtitle – “con todo el descubrimiento y cosas notables que han acaecido desde que se ganaron hasta el año de 1551” (covering the discovery and notable events occurring since [the Indies] were won until the year of 1551) – López de Gómara aspired to furnish a comprehensive story of New World “discoveries” and conquests by the Spaniards. Its second part, Historia de la conquista de México (History of the conquest of Mexico), was specifically concerned with Hernán Cortés’s military campaigns against the Aztec Empire. A year after its publication, and despite the novelty of its contents, the highest colonial administration within the Spanish Empire (the Council of the Indies) banned it. López de Gómara apparently met with discontent from a circle of officials, historians, and conquistadores alike. Firstly, he failed to dedicate the history of the conquest of Mexico to Emperor Charles V or to the future emperor, his son Philip II. Instead, the honour was bestowed upon Cortés’s son, the Marquis of Valle Don Martín Cortés. Secondly, López de Gómara was accused of making factual mistakes and of elevating Hernán Cortés to the stature of an exemplary Christian hero of military acumen, exhibiting bravery in battle, the gift of speech, and a moral compass. These accolades were perceived as having been inscribed in a biased narrative (Gurría Lacroix 2007, xviii–xxiii; Roa-de-la-Carrera 2005, 3).

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