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Columbus strikes a deal

Confirmación de los privileges que los Reyes Católicos hicieron en favor de don Cristóbal Colón en la capitulación firmada en Santa Fe… en el año 1492... fechada en Burgos, 23 de abril de 1497.
Publication place
[Lazaro Salvago,
Publication date
  • Description

    Folio (300 by 210mm), 4pp., continuous line, headed by five lines only outlined by a capital letter "E" of casts, with a capital letter engraved with illustrations of acanthus sheets, gothic type 98 mm/20 lines.

  • Notes

    The sole surviving example of the first printed version of "The Capitulations of Santa Fe" from the Fundaçion Casa d'Alba.

    The Santa Fe Capitulations is a Royal Chancery document containing the Capitulations Christopher Columbus signed with the monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile in Santa Fe de la Vega on 17 April 1492, a few months after the capture of Granada. The Capitulations lay down the conditions under which Columbus was to set off on his first voyage, which involved the discovery of America in the same year. The Capitulations grant Columbus the titles of Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Viceroy, Governor-General and honorific Don of the Indies, and also ten percent of all riches to be obtained from his intended voyage. The agreement took three months to prepare, and was finally sealed at the Santa Fe encampment, on the outskirts of a besieged Granada. The original manuscript has not survived. The earliest surviving manuscript copy is contained in the confirmations issued by the Crown in Barcelona in 1493.

    The present work is the only known example of the first printed version of the document. Until 2014 it was thought to have been an example of a 1497 printing. However, recent research on the typography of the work by Mercedes Fernández Valladares at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid has revealed that the printer is almost certainly one Lazaro Salvago in Valladolid, and the date of publication c.1528. Ms Fernández Valladares comes to the sensible conclusion that its printing therefore relates to the so-called Pleitos colombinos ("Columbus lawsuits"). The Pleitos colombinos were a long series of lawsuits that the heirs of Christopher Columbus brought against the Crown of Castile and León in defense of the privileges obtained by Columbus for his discoveries in the New World. Most of these took place between 1508 and 1536.

    After his third voyage Columbus was arrested and stripped of many of his titles and power following complaints of poor governance by Spaniards returning from America. Upon his death in 1506, he was succeeded as Admiral of the Indies by his oldest son Diego. In 1508, King Ferdinand in his capacity as regent of Castile, gave Diego Colón the additional office of Governor of the Indies, "for the time my mercy and will would have it". Diego Colón held that this meant "in perpetuity" and initiated a lawsuit against the Crown. In 1511 the first verdict was given, in Seville. The judges recognized for the line of Columbus the position of viceroys in perpetuity and the right to ten percent of the benefits obtained from the Indies. Neither party was satisfied, and both sides appealed. In 1524 Diego Colón was deposed from his position as governor, and instituted a new suit against the Crown. He died two years later, but his widow continued the suit in the name of their son Luis, a minor at the time. The primary representative of the family at this time, if not the one with the standing for the suit, was Diego's brother, Hernando Colón. A verdict given in Valladolid 25 June 1527 declared the previous verdicts annulled, and ordered a new trial. It is, presumably, in relation to this trial that the present work was produced. It is likely that any prior attempt to print 'The Capitulations' would have been suppressed by the Crown. The new royal prosecutor attempted to demonstrate that the discovery of the West Indies had principally been achieved thanks to Martín Alonso Pinzón and not Columbus. He called as witnesses surviving members of the crew of the first voyage to America. Two verdicts were given: in la de Dueñas (1534) and Madrid (1535) but both were appealed. Both parties finally submitted to arbitration. On 28 June 1536 the following arbitration was agreed: the line of Columbus was confirmed with the title of Admiral of the Indies in perpetuity, and was granted various lands, including a seigneury in Jamaica, and a payment of 10,000 ducats annually to the heirs of Columbus as well as 500,000 maravedíes per year to each of the sisters of Luis Colón. After the arbitration of 1536, minor lawsuits between the Columbus family and the Crown continued, but they were not of comparable importance. Lawsuits occurred between 1537 and 1541, between 1555 and 1563, and sporadically until the end of the eighteenth century.

  • Provenance


    From the library of the Dukes of Alba, Fundacion Casa d'Alba, Madrid.

  • Bibliography

    Fernández Valladares, Mercedes, 'Una supuesta edición (post)incunable desenmascarada: análisis tipográfico y motivaciones procesales de la impresión de los Privilegios colombinos capitulados en Santa Fe' in 'Janus 3', pp.1-26, Madrid, 2014.