SPANISH CLAIM TO ALL LANDS IN "NEW WORLD"
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When Constantinople fell to the Ottomans at the close of the
Crusades in 1453, the overland trade routes to the East were
closed to Europe. The closing of this door led to the opening of
another - a sea route to the East. Portugal led the way in this
formidable venture to chart a path through unfamiliar seas to the
riches of the East. Just imagine setting out to travel an
unknown distance across never-before-charted seas. By 1486,
Portuguese explorers had probed down the west coast of Africa and
rounded the tip at the Cape of Good Hope, so named because now
there was a good hope of reaching the trading ports of India.
As we all know, Christopher Columbus convinced Ferdinand and
Isabella of Spain that he could reach China in the East by
sailing west. In 1492, Columbus indeed sailed west and
discovered a route to the Caribbean Sea and, eventually, to those
continents that separate the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans -
North and South America.
By 1493, Isabella and Ferdinand were requesting that Pope
Alexander VI, as head of the Christian World, establish a
boundary to show what area belonged to them. In 1494, the Treaty
of Tordesillas settled the question as far as Spain and Portugal
were concerned: an imaginary line was drawn along a meridian of
longitude 250 leagues west of the Azores for discoveries before
1493 and 375 leagues west for later discoveries -- everything
west of this line would belong to Spain, everything east of the
line would fall to Portugal. Where did this treaty leave the
other European countries? Out in the cold! They had absolutely
no legal rights to any lands or treasure in the New World. The
recourse of both Catholic (France) and Protestant (England, The
Netherlands) countries was to resort to illegal methods - piracy
There is a marvelous quote in Arciniegas (1946) attributed to
Francis I of France concerning the Treaty of Tordesillas: "The
sun shines on me just the same as on the other; and I should like
to see the clause in Adam's will that cuts me out of my share in
the New World!"
And with these words, piracy began in the Caribbean Sea. Perhaps
it was fitting that Jean Fleury, sailing for Francis I, captured
two Spanish treasure ships in 1523 as they were on the way to
Spain, carrying Aztec treasure taken from Montezuma by Cortes.
The two ships were brought to France instead and yielded gold
emeralds, pearls and various other valuables worth 150,000
ducats. So Francis I was correct - no treaty kept him from
sharing in the wealth of the New World.
Arciniegas, G. 1946. Caribbean Sea of the New World.
Alfred A. Knopf, New York.