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Echoes of the Requerimiento in English Representations of the New World

Echoes of the Requerimiento in English Representations of the New World

Echoes of the Requerimiento in English Representations of the New World

The <span class="ital" "="">requerimiento has been a subject of debate (and an object of scorn) from the sixteenth century to the present day. In this essay, I engage with this larger debate only tangentially. Instead, my paper focuses on a close reading of two English documents, one from the late sixteenth and one from the early seventeenth century, that dispute the validity of the Requerimiento as a justification for Spanish conquest of native peoples and possession of “New World” territories. The histories of these two documents could not be more different. The first, The Spanish Colonie, which is the earliest English translation of Bartolomé de Las Casas’s Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias, was printed, widely circulated, and immensely popular, becoming a foundational text in the formation of an anti-Spanish “Black Legend” discourse. The second text, a manuscript memorial related to Walter Ralegh’s 1595 journey to the lower Orinoco, was most likely circulated only among a small group of advisers to the queen; only one manuscript copy survives. Despite these English texts’ varied histories, bringing them together can help us to understand how the Requerimiento shaped early modern English engagements with Spanish imperial claims. More specifically, I argue that English debates about the Requerimiento reveal English concerns about inter-European imperial rivalries as well as justifications for conquest in the Americas.

The Requerimiento occupies a particularly vexed position in critical histories of Spanish imperial ventures. The image that it conjures, of a would-be conquistador arriving and producing a formal document to be proclaimed, thereby legitimating conquest, has been described as incongruous (and at times preposterous) almost since its inception.[1] Nonetheless, it was clearly central to the rhetorical and juridical apparatus whereby the Spanish Crown laid claim to territories in the New World, despite the fact that the procedure of its execution and its subsequent validity remain a subject of scholarly debate.

Some scholars describe the Requerimiento as having been read in Spanish to an uncomprehending Indigenous audience, or even to Indigenous peoples already in chains in the aftermath of an attack. Others assert that efforts were made to use interpreters, at least in some instances.[2] It is unclear whether it was meant to be comprehensible to the New World natives it putatively addressed, or whether the reading of it constituted, in Patricia Seed’s term, a “ceremony of possession” in its own right, signaling to the Spanish Crown and other European powers that lands had been claimed for Spain.[3] There is, though, one thing that these widely varying interpretations agree on: to understand the value of the Requerimiento we must determine both its actual and its intended audiences. As a sincere attempt to solicit the acquiescence of New World natives, the proclamation seems naïve and wrongheaded at best. As a legal ritual signaling ownership to other European powers, it seems deeply cynical. The two English texts I examine here both address the question of the Requerimiento’s audience. Each text is steeped in anti-Spanish Black Legend discourse; as such, neither can tell us much about the actual—and, in reality, multiple, confused, and contradictory—purposes of the Requerimiento. Instead, these English texts show us that, despite their criticism of the Requerimiento, they repeatedly turn to this “ceremony of possession” as they define English authority in the New World and negotiate imperial claims within Europe.

Bartolomé de Las Casas’s Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (1552) first appeared in English in 1583, bearing the title The Spanish Colonie or Briefe chronicle of the acts and gestes of the Spaniardes in the West Indies. The translation circulated widely in England, becoming a central text in the formation of the Black Legend of Spanish cruelty. Its source is not the Castilian original but Jacques de Miggrode’s 1579 French translation, Tyrannies et cruautez des Espagnol commises es Indes Occidental, qu’on dit le nouvelle monde.[4] As the French title suggests, both the French and the English translations use Las Casas’s descriptions of atrocities committed by Spaniards in the New World as a warning against the perils of Spanish rule. Although Las Casas discusses the Requerimiento in detail elsewhere, famously writing in his Historia de las Indias that he did not know whether to laugh or cry about it, the description provided in the Brevísima relación is much abbreviated.[5] The Requerimiento is described in most detail in the chapter “De la tierra firme,” where Las Casas provides a lengthy description of one corrupt governor’s use of it. Aside from a few added rhetorical flourishes, the translation in The Spanish Colonie of 1583 does not differ significantly from the Spanish. I cite the passage in full here:

The most pernicious blindnes, wc hath alwaies possessed those who haue gouerned the Indians in stead of the care wc they shold haue for the conuersion & saluation of those people, (wc they haue alwaies neglected, their mouth wt painted fables speaking one thing, but their heart thinking another) came to ye passe, as to command orders to be set down vnto ye Indians to receiue the faith, & render themselues vnto ye obedience of the K. of Castile, or otherwise to bid them battel wt fire & sworde, & to slay them or make them slaues: : As if ye sonne of God which died for euery one of them had commanded in his law, wher he saith, Go teach al nations, yt there should be ordinances set down vnto infidels, being peacefull & quiet, & in possession of their proper lande, if so be they receiued it not foorth with, wtout any preaching or teaching first had: & if yt they submitted not themselues to ye dominion of a king, whom they neuer sawe & whom they neuer heard speake of, & namely such a one as whose messengers & men were so cruel, & so debarred from all pitie, & such horrible tyrants, yt they should for ye lose their goods & lands, their liberty, their wiues & children, wt their liues. Which is a thing too absurd & fond, worthy of al reproch & mockery, yea worthy of hel fire, in such sort as when this wicked and wretched gouernour had accepted the charge, to put in execution the sayde ordinances, to the end to make them seeme ye more iust in appearance. For they were of themselues impertinent, against all reason & law, he commanded (or peraduenture ye thieues, whom he dispatched to doe ye execution, did it of their own heads) when they were purposed to go a rouing & robbing of any place, where they knewe yt there was any gold, ye Indians being in their towns & dwelling houses, without mistrusting any thing, ye wicked Spaniards would go after ye guise of thieues, vnto within halfe a league neere some town, borrowe, or village, and there by themselues alone, & by night make a reading, publication, or proclamation of ye said ordinances, saying thus, Oyes Caciques & Indians of this firme land of such a place: Be it knowen vnto you, that there is one God, one Pope, one king of Castile, which is L. of these landes: make your appearance, al delay set aside, here to do him homage, &c. Which if you shall not accomplish: Be it knowen vnto you, yt we wil make war vpon you, and we wil kil you, & make you slaues. Hereupon at the fourth watch in ye morning, the poore innocents, sleeping yet with their wiues and children: these tyrantes set vppon the place, casting fire on the houses which commonly were thatched, & so burn vp all quick men, women & children, more sodainely then that they could of a great many be perceiued.[6]

Las Casas does not mention a number of the ideas set forth in the Requerimiento: the history of the world and the dominion of the pope, the appeal to the authority of the papal donation of 1493, and the promise to leave native peoples free from servitude if they submit to the rule of the Spanish. Instead, he summarizes its contents in three devastating sentences: be it known that there is a God, king, and pope; come forth and do homage; if you do not, we will make war upon you.[7] The action of acknowledging consent is also elided. Thus, the entire rhetorical justification for conquest is stripped from this condensed version of the Requerimiento, thereby emphasizing the inexorable brutality of its underlying logic. Las Casas also joins other Spanish critics of the Requerimiento in underlining the absurdity of the situations in which it was delivered, describing soldiers as reciting it in the middle of the night outside the hearing of villagers.[8] As Las Casas’s text moves into English in The Spanish Colonie, its context gives it a more specifically anti-Spanish emphasis. The translated text becomes another example of Spanish tyranny, as the importance of selected translations of Las Casas to the formation of the Black Legend attests.

The unusual nature of the Requerimiento as a legal document in a larger European context emerges in a closer examination of how the word itself is translated. The French version translates it as “mandemens”; in the English version, it is most frequently translated as “ordinance,” while in one instance the reading of the Requerimiento is translated as an act of “command[ing] orders.” The linguistic jumps that the word requerimiento makes as it moves from Spanish to French and from French to English indicate a struggle to define the exact nature of the term. Both the noun requerimiento and the verb from which it is derived, requerir, have close cognates in both French and English. Similarly, the French mandement has a closer English cousin in “commandment” than it does in “ordinance.” Nonetheless, both translators reach for a less linguistically proximate term as they attempt to define what kind of claims the Requerimiento makes. These linguistic shifts indicate a larger uncertainty about the precise nature and legal status of the Requerimiento as it crosses borders.

As Patricia Seed has discussed, requerimiento is a tricky term. The document takes its name from the form in which it enjoins Indigenous subjects to submit: “os rogamos y requerimos.” Requerir can be translated into English in a number of ways: to require, summon, demand, or request. The English “ordinance,” like its French source mandement, carries a more specific context of legal and religious obligation: an ordinance, to paraphrase the Oxford English Dictionary, is “something decreed, ordained or prescribed” by law or by God; mandement is also frequently translated as “decree.” Seed has argued that the Requerimiento takes its precedent from Islamic rituals of conquest; if this is in fact the case, any traces of that history disappear as descriptions of it appear in other European languages.[9] Similarly, the notion of the Requerimiento as a request or summons is not present in the English translation; instead, the description of the delivery of an “ordinance” suggests that the Spanish are laying claim to divine and earthly authority alike. More specifically, in choosing the terms “mandement” and “ordinance,” the translators emphasize the notion that the Requerimiento attempts to make a legal claim on the subjects it addresses.

References to the Requerimiento make up only a small part of Las Casas’s text. But as the Spanish text crossed national and linguistic boundaries, the description of the Requerimiento seems to have struck a chord. The English version (following the French translation) describes the Requerimiento in the introduction:

For I pray you what right had the Spaniards ouer the Indians: sauing that the Pope had giuen them the said land, and I leaue to your iudgemente what right hee had therein: for it is doubtfull whether his power doe stretch to the distributing of worldly kingdomes. But admit hee had that authority, was there therefore any reason that hee should for crying in the night, There is a God, a Pope, & a King of Castile who is Lord of these Countries, murder 12. 15. or 20. millions of poore reasonable creatures, created (as our selues) after the image of the liuing God.

The introduction stresses the work that the Requerimiento is meant to do as Las Casas describes it: namely, to justify slaughter on a mass scale. It also emphasizes, as Las Casas does, the failure of the Requerimiento as communication. Setting aside the language barrier between Spaniards and New World natives, the introduction presents the Requerimiento as being delivered to no one; it is not only incomprehensible but actually unheard, a cry in the night, presumably without an audience. In fact, the text does not stress the linguistic barrier between Spaniards and native peoples here. Instead, in its insistence that the Requerimiento was read when no one was there to listen, it emphasizes the presumed cynicism and corruption of the conquistadors while avoiding the larger issue of linguistic incommensurability.

Another text from this period engages the Requerimiento at greater length than does The Spanish Colonie, although it does not refer to it by name. A brief memorial entitled “Of the Voyage for Guiana” was preserved in manuscript among the Sloane manuscript collection at the British Library. In their discussions of the Requerimiento, both Lewis Hanke and Patricia Seed mention this text, describing it as Sir Walter Ralegh’s refutation of the Requerimiento’s logic.[10] In fact, it is unlikely that Ralegh wrote the memorial. Joyce Lorimer, in her recent edition of the Discoverie of Guiana, suggests that either Lawrence Keymis or Thomas Hariot was commissioned by Ralegh to write the memorial and that the intended audience was the queen and her advisers.[11] The manuscript is undated, but scholarly consensus is that it is roughly contemporaneous with Ralegh’s 1595 manuscript draft of the Discoverie of the Large, Rich and Beautiful Empyre of Guiana. The memorial may have been attached to this draft, which circulated among the queen and some of her advisers, or may have been written and circulated shortly thereafter.[12]

Unlike Ralegh’s Discoverie of Guiana, first printed in 1596, “Of the Voyage for Guiana” was not printed until the nineteenth century. Its engagement with the Requerimiento cannot tell us, as the more widely circulated The Spanish Colonie may, about how English descriptions of the Spanish document informed representations of Spain in early modern English culture at large. “Of the Voyage for Guiana” does, though, suggest how knowledge of the Requerimiento shaped discussions of England’s position in the New World and its right to lay claim to territory and make alliances there.

The manuscript’s discussion of the Requerimiento begins: “the president [precedent] of [the Spaniard’s] dishonorable actions may not serve for our instructions. For which purpose I lay downe this as a maxime (which that upon better advise I am ready to retract) that no Christians may lawfully invade with hostility any heathenish people not under their allegiance, to kill, spoil and conquer them, only upon pretence of their fidelity.”[13] The passage turns from moral ­imperatives—it is dishonorable to behave as Spaniards have—to a discourse of law. The author lays down a “maxim” (a word that frequently appears in sixteenth-century legal language) that renders the presumed actions of the Spaniards not only dishonorable but also unlawful.

While the text does not explicitly describe the act of proclaiming the Requerimiento as the translation of Las Casas does, it goes on to lay out in detail why laying claim to land in the name of the pope should be considered unlawful. As it does so, it mirrors and rebuts the content of the Requerimiento itself. The Requerimiento (which I quote here in Hanke’s English translation) begins as follows:

 … the Lord our God, Living and Eternal, created the Heaven and the Earth, and one man and one woman, of whom you and I, and all the men of the world, were and are descendants, and all those who come after us.[14]

“Of the Voyage for Guiana” lays out “poses and reasons” for its maxim that taking possession of land under the auspices of religion is unlawful as follows:

In the beginning god having made the world, reserving the heavens for his throne of Majestie, gave the earth and all therein, with the benefit issuing from the sunne, the moone, and all the starrs, to the sonnes of men as is manifest by the blessing of God uppon Adam, afterwards renewed unto Noah and his discendaunts.

The Spanish Requerimiento continues:

God our Lord gave charge to one man, called St. Peter, that he should be Lord and Superior of all the men in the world, that all should obey him, and that he should be head of the whole human race, wherever men should live, and under whatever law, sect, or belief they should be; and he gave him the world for his kingdom and jurisdiction. And he commanded him to place his seat in Rome, as the spot most fitting to rule the world from; but also he permitted him to have his seat in any other part of the world, and to judge and govern all Christians, Moors, Jews, Gentiles, and all other sects. This man was called Pope, as if to say, Admirable Great Father and Governor of men. The men who lived in that time obeyed that St. Peter, and took him for Lord, King, and Superior of the universe; so also have they regarded the others who after him have been elected to the Pontificate, and so it has been continued, and will continue until the end of the world. One of these Pontiffs, who succeeded that St. Peter as Lord of the world, in the dignity and seat which I have before mentioned, made donation of these isles and Terra-firma to the aforesaid King and Queen and to their successors, our lords, with all that there are in these territories, as is contained in certain writings which passed upon the subject as aforesaid, which you can see if you wish. So their Highnesses are kings and lords of these islands and land of Terra-firma by virtue of this donation.

Unsurprisingly, “Of the Voyage for Guiana” lays out a very different theory of the pope’s dominion over the world:

By God’s ordinance the believers are not the only Lords of the world, as being not able to people the 20th part thereof, but that by the gift of God, Idolaters, pagans and godless persons be intituled [entitled] to the possession, and have a dispacity [capacity] to take and an ability to hold a property in lands and goods, as well as they … it is against the rules of Justice (which giveth to every man his own) to deprive them of their goods, lands, liberties, or lives, without just title thereunto. … No Christian Prince under pretence of Christianity only and of forcing men to receive the gospel, or to renounce their impieties, may attempt the invasion of any free people not under their vassalage. For Christ gave not that power to Christians as Christians, which he himself as sovereign of all Christians, neither had nor would take.

By the law of nature and nations we agree that the Prescription of priority of possession only, giveth right unto lands or goods, against all strangers, indefesable [indefeasible?] by any but the true owners.

We ourselves hold it unreasonable that the Pope upon color of religion only, should give away, or that any prince should therefore presume to intrude upon our dominions. … The like rule in proportion is to be observed for not invading any Idolaters dominions.[15]

The text creates an intriguing equivalence between native peoples of the lower Orinoco and the English: just as it would be “unreasonable” for the pope to enter England under the auspices of spreading Catholicism, it is unreasonable to invade “any Idolaters dominions.” The passage hints at the stakes of rhetorical justifications of conquest in the New World for territorial disputes within Europe. Land belongs to its “true owners,” elsewhere termed “naturals.” In this moment the text refuses to acknowledge any just claim to dominion over foreign lands by conquest, despite its overarching goal of persuading the English government to establish dominion over Guiana by means of alliance. The translation of Las Casas I discussed earlier focuses largely on the failure of the Requerimiento as communication: how can native peoples consent to a request to submit that they have not even heard, let alone understood? “Of the Voyage for Guiana” goes a step further, engaging with and refuting the Requerimiento’s legitimacy as a justification of conquest. It does not express concern about the conditions under which the text was read aloud but rather denies the viability of religion (and specifically papal donation) as a reason for laying claim to foreign territories.

It is not remotely surprising that this English text would refute Spanish claims to possession of lands in the New World and dispute the legitimacy of the pope’s dominion over the world. What is more interesting is the fact that its argument is presented as a point-by-point rebuttal of the Requerimiento, mirroring the Spanish text in structure and in logic: both begin with a history of the world that focuses on the division of peoples and lands; both then discuss the pope’s right (or lack thereof) to allocate that land as he chooses. In a recent article on the Requerimiento as a speech act, linguistic anthropologist Paja Faudree describes the Spanish document’s “embedded temporal frames”: “Each of the text’s four sections occurs within a different time frame: originary or ‘God’s time,’ recent European history, conquest history, and the present projected onto the immediate future.”[16] The section on the Requerimiento in “Of the Voyage for Guiana” follows an identical temporal structure: it begins with God’s creation of the world; turns to history within Europe (more specifically noting that Protestants do not have the right to encroach upon “the Papists, the Muscovits, or Turks”); then moves into conquest history, arguing, “To be short all sound Christians for the semblable practice do repute the kings of Castile and Portugal, mere usurpers in Africk and America”; the section concludes by recommending a course of action for Queen Elizabeth to follow in Guiana in the immediate future.

“Of the Voyage for Guiana,” like Ralegh’s Discoverie of Guiana, describes the English as intervening in a tangled web of local alliances and rivalries. Famously, the Discoverie promises riches contained in a city that Ralegh never reached and that was in fact only a myth: the Inca lake city of Manoa, putatively presided over by the emperor Inga, descendant of emperors of Peru. His Discoverie recounts agreements with leaders among the Orenoqueponi, whom he calls “Bordurers” (or borderers), to ally with the English against both Inga and the Spanish. “Of the Voyage for Guiana” asserts that the “Bordurers, who are said to be naturals, and to whom only the Empire of Guiana doth of right appertain, are already prepared to join with us, having submitted themselves to the Queen’s protection both against the Spaniards and Emperor of Guiana who usurpeth upon them.”[17] The English appear as protectors rather than conquerors; their justification for involvement in the New World is the restoration of land to those to whom it “doth of right appertain,” in keeping with the text’s earlier emphasis (however strategic or disingenuous) of the rights of “naturals.”

Echoes of the Requerimiento return once again in one of the justifications the text cites for England’s involvement: “her majesty is already invited to take upon her the Seignorie of Guiana: by the naturals thereof, whose ancient right to that empire may be followed if it be thought convenient.”[18] The Requerimiento scripts its presumed auditors into accepting or refusing submission; this submission is described in “Of the Voyage for Guiana” as already having been accomplished. Crucially, however, England can appear as already welcomed only because of Spain’s prior (and unwelcome) presence; the “Bordurers” are represented as desiring to be vassals of the English Crown in order to guarantee protection from the Spanish. “Of the Voyage for Guiana”—like the Discoverie of Guiana—describes a complex network of relationships among the Spanish, rivaling Indigenous groups, and the English in order to legitimate an English presence in the New World. The English text advocates communication and protectorship over conquest, with the Spanish as the crucial third party in their negotiations—after all, the subject of communication and the enemy from whom the “Bordurers” need protection are the Spaniards. As it does so, the text draws on the Requerimiento to articulate the structure of that relationship, mimicking the structure of the Spanish document’s claim to possession of land in the New World even as it contests the legitimacy of that claim.[19]

Of course, the form and circulation of the Requerimiento imbue it with a very different valence than “Of the Voyage for Guiana”—particularly in the context of its nature as a speech act. Nonetheless, the rhetorical similarity of these two quite different documents provides a striking example of the mimetic practices whereby imperial claims are produced.[20] This English claim to the right to colonize Guiana emerges in dialogue with Spain’s imperial model, drawing on both religious and legal precedent to differentiate itself from presumed Spanish atrocities while mirroring the form of the Spanish document.

The discussion of Spanish imperial claims in “Of the Voyage for Guiana” then takes an interesting turn. The Requerimiento ends by presenting the example of those native people who have “received and served their highnesses, as lords and kings,” and then, famously, promising to make war against and enslave those who refuse to do so. The English text takes a different tack. After reaffirming that “Christians may not warrantably counter Infidels upon pretence only of their infidelity” (and here, again, the text emphasizes legality with the use of the term “warrantably”), it advocates sending “preachers” to offer “glad tidings of the gospel” with no strings attached. Curiously, it then suggests the circulation of what Hanke has termed a counter-Requerimiento.[21] In order to discredit the Spaniards, “Of the Voyage for Guiana” recommends sending a copy of “Bartol. De las Casas book of Spanish cruelties with fair pictures, or at least a large table of pictures expressing the particularities of the cruelties there specified (neatly wrought for the better credit of our workmanship and their easier understanding) … to the Inga, and his Caciques by some interpreters, that they may publish them among their vassals.”[22] English communication with native peoples is constructed as a response to Spanish precedent on multiple levels. Instead of reading a presumably illegible proclamation, Englishmen should circulate a legible (and originally Spanish!) text—made clear via pictures and interpreters—documenting Spanish atrocities. The text that is meant to warn native peoples of the dangers of Spanish rule is already circulating for the same purpose in Europe.

Faudree notes that the Requerimiento constitutes a particularly complex form of speech act because it is unclear to whom it is addressed: “Who did the Crown intend, ultimately, to address? The Indians? The Crown itself? The Pope? The rest of Europe? The text cannot answer those questions—cannot insist on ‘self-entextualizing’ for all participants and observers—thus leaving the matter open to debate.”[23] As different as the two English responses to the Requerimiento discussed in these pages are, each engages with this question. In the more sustained discussion of the Requerimiento in his Historia de las Indias (which was not published in his lifetime), Las Casas argues that the Requerimiento’s addressee is—must be, urgently—the native peoples to whom it explicitly speaks, and that it is particularly unjust because in most instances they are incapable of understanding it.[24] In the Brevísima relación his answer to that question is more cynical: the addressee is no one, as would-be conquistadors “proclaim” the text in darkness outside the towns they plan to invade. The English translation, as we have seen, picks up on and emphasizes this latter interpretation. The introduction makes this reading even more apparent. The words it puts into the mouths of Spaniards “crying in the night” do not even directly address the inhabitants of the New World: “There is a God, a Pope, & a King of Castile who is Lord of these Countries.” Rather than asking (or even commanding) Indigenous peoples to submit to Spanish rule, the introduction presents the conquistadors as simply describing Spanish possession of New World territories. The Requerimiento as a speech act is here shown to have no ability to interpellate native peoples as either subjects to or rebels against the Spanish Crown.

“Of the Voyage for Guiana,” by mimicking the structure of the Requerimiento and rebutting its logic point by point, initially responds to the Spanish text by putting the English government in the position of its addressee. It engages with Spain’s claims to rightful dominion in the New World as they are articulated in the Requerimiento and refutes their reasonableness and their legality as though they might be applicable in a European context: no religious group has the right to lay claim to another country on the basis of religious superiority alone; Catholics do not have rights to the New World, just as Protestants do not have rights to invade “the Muscovits” or “the Turks.” But the suggestion that the English circulate Las Casas’s text alongside pictures of Spanish atrocities opens up the possibility of engaging with native peoples as comprehending auditors, who can be enlisted as allies or vassals. Of course, despite Hanke’s description of the circulation of Las Casas’s text as a “counter-Requerimiento,” this is a completely different vision of communication between Europeans and native peoples than the summons, request, or command contained in the Requerimiento itself. And it, too, crucially, is triangulated among England, Spain, and Indigenous New World peoples. It is possible for “Of the Voyage for Guiana” to represent the English as welcome allies and protectors only within the larger context of Spain’s conquests in the New World. Strikingly, the ability of the “Bordurers” and “Guianians” to comprehend their European interlocutors is addressed only in the context of disseminating anti-Spanish propaganda.

Both the English translation of Las Casas’s Brevísima relación and “Of the Voyage for Guiana” engage with the implications of the Requerimiento for Spanish imperial claims within Europe. Indeed, the introduction to the Las Casas translation describes the text as a warning about what will happen to people in the Low Countries under Spanish rule.[25] Similarly, the Requerimiento in “Of the Voyage for Guiana” appears as a script for conquest that must be refuted, with implications outside the context of the New World. Indigenous peoples of the New World occupy a curious position in this latter interpretation of the Requerimiento. Their presence is either instrumentalized or elided, as they appear as “naturals” whose ancient rights the English should restore (obtaining a tidy profit along the way) or are conspicuous in their absence as the Requerimiento becomes an unheard “crying in the night.” 

My thanks to the organizers of and participants in “Empire and Exceptionalism: The Requerimiento at Five Hundred” for their stimulating questions and insights, and to Matt Goldmark for his helpful suggestions for revising this piece.

  1. On the Requerimiento’s troubled history, see Rolena Adorno, Polemics of Possession in Spanish American Narrative (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 265–68. ↩

  2. A detailed summary of these debates appears in Roberto A. Valdeón, Translation and the Spanish Empire in the Americas (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2014), 47. ↩

  3. See Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World, 1492–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 69–99. ↩

  4. On the translation history of Las Casas, see Jonathan Hart, Literature, Theory, History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 159–68. ↩

  5. Bartolomé de Las Casas, Historia de las Indias, vol. 4 (M. Ginesta, 1876), 162. ↩

  6. Bartolomé de Las Casas, The Spanish Colonie, or Briefe Chronicle of the Acts and Gestes of the Spaniardes in the West Indies, Called the Newe World, for the Space of Xl. Yeeres: Written in the Castilian Tongue by the Reuerend Bishop Bartholomew de Las Cases or Casaus, a Friar of the Order of S. Dominicke. And Nowe First Translated into English, by M.M.S., Early English Books, 1475–1640 / 878:09 (London: [by Thomas Dawson] for William Brome, 1583). All further citations are from this digital edition made available by Early English Books Online. ↩

  7. The Spanish text reads: “hay un Dios y un Papa y un Rey de Castilla que es señor de estas tierras: venid luego a le dar la obediencia, etc. Y si no, sabed que os haremos guerra y mataremos y cativaremos, etc.” Bartolomé de Las Casas, Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (Colombia: Editorial Universidad de Antioquia, 2006), 44. ↩

  8. Fernández de Oviedo, for example, ridiculed the Requerimiento by suggesting that it would best be read to a native already in a cage. See Adorno, Polemics of Possession, 266. ↩

  9. Seed, Ceremonies of Possession, 71–80. ↩

  10. Ibid., 71; Lewis Hanke, “The ‘Requerimiento’ and Its Interpreters,” Revista de historia de América 1 (March 1938): 29. ↩

  11. Joyce Lorimer, Sir Walter Ralegh’s “Discoverie of Guiana,” annot. ed. (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006), xxxvi. ↩

  12. Ibid. ↩

  13. Ibid., 256 ↩

  14. Hanke, “The ‘Requerimiento’ and Its Interpreters,” 26–28. ↩

  15. Lorimer, “Discoverie of Guiana,” 257. ↩

  16. Paja Faudree, “How to Say Things with Wars: Performativity and Discursive Rupture in the Requerimiento of the Spanish Conquest,” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 22, no. 3 (2012): 192. ↩

  17. Lorimer, “Discoverie of Guiana,” 254. ↩

  18. Ibid., 255. ↩

  19. On the triangulation of England, Spain, and the New World in early modern English discovery narratives, see Louis Montrose, “The Work of Gender in the Discourse of Discovery,” Representations 33 (1991): passim, esp. 14–29. ↩

  20. On the mimetic practices employed in the construction of early modern empires, see Barbara Fuchs, Mimesis and Empire: The New World, Islam, and European Identities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). ↩

  21. Hanke, “The ‘Requerimiento’ and Its Interpreters,” 29. ↩

  22. Lorimer, “Discoverie of Guiana,” 259. ↩

  23. Faudree, “How to Say Things with Wars,” 194. ↩

  24. Las Casas, Historia de las Indias, 154–68. ↩

  25. The introduction reads: “But two reasons haue moued me to publishe this preface, which I do dedicate to all the prouinces of the Lowe countreys: The one, to the end, awaking themselus out of their sleep, may begin to thinke vpon Gods iudgements: and refraine from their wickednes and vice. The other, that they may also consider with what enemie they are to deale, and so to beholde as it were in a picture or table, what stay they are like to bee at, when through their rechlesnesse, quarrels, controuersies, and partialities themselues haue opened the way to such an enemie: and what they may looke for.” ↩