Relazion que dio Pedro de Obiedo marinero natural del Condado de Nieva y Antonio de Covos Carpintero de Rivera. Personas que venian en los dos navios del Obispo de Plasencia, y dize lo siguiente por una memoria firmada de sus nombres que dejaron al Lic[encia]do Julian Gutierrez de Altamirano, Teniente General en el Reino de Chile
Relazion que dio Pedro de Obiedo marinero natural del Condado de Nieva y Antonio de Covos Carpintero de Rivera. Personas que venian en los dos navios del Obispo de Plasencia, y dize lo siguiente por una memoria firmada de sus nombres que dejaron al Lic[encia]do Julian Gutierrez de Altamirano, Teniente General en el Reino de Chile
Early Manuscript Account of a 16th-Century Shipwreck off the Coast of Patagonia
A Source of the Legend of the ‘City of Caesars’
[MANUSCRIPT] / [CITY OF THE CAESARS] / [OBIEDO, Pedro de] / [COBOS, Antonio de].
S.l. (Chile?), s.a. (c. 1600).

Relazion que dio Pedro de Obiedo marinero natural del Condado de Nieva y Antonio de Covos Carpintero de Rivera. Personas que venian en los dos navios del Obispo de Plasencia, y dize lo siguiente por una memoria firmada de sus nombres que dejaron al Lic[encia]do Julian Gutierrez de Altamirano, Teniente General en el Reino de Chile.

Folio manuscript [31.5 x 21.6 cm], 2 ff. manuscript on paper. Unbound. Neatly written in a single scribal hand, perfectly legible throughout save for a few words affected by dampstaining in lower right margin of the first leaf, “Noticia de los Cesares” written on verso of second leaf.

Extraordinary manuscript of a 16th-century relación written in Chile that provides an account of a 1540 shipwreck in the Straits of Magellan and describes the travails faced by the survivors during their long sojourn in the South American wilderness. Itself a remarkable record of an early Spanish voyage to the Americas, the relación had an (unexpected) afterlife, beginning perhaps around 1600, as a catalyst for the legend of the ‘City of the Caesars’, a mythical settlement rumored to be in Patagonia whose wealth was said to be on par with that of ‘El Dorado’ and the ‘Seven Cities of Gold’. Like these fabulous cities sought by Pizarro, Aguirre, Raleigh, Coronado and others, the ‘City of the Caesars’ became a template for romantic speculation about ‘lost cities’ in Latin America that persists to this day. The relación apparently was first composed as a sober account of an (admittedly unusual) event, but by the time the present manuscript was written out it was already being filed as evidence for this lost settlement, as evinced by the label “Noticia de los Cesares” written on the document’s verso. The present manuscript thus is an account of an early exploration of South America and an instance of the (still inextricable) tangle of fact and fable which can sometimes characterize the early descriptions of Spanish intervention in the region at the time.

The manuscript relates a voyage to the Straits of Magellan organized by Gutierre de Vargas Carvajal (1506–1559), Bishop of Plasencia, just two decades after the departure of Ferdinand Magellan on his famed journey to the region in 1519. The expedition, commanded by Francisco de Rivera, consisted of three ships which sailed from Seville in August of 1539, reaching the Straits in January of 1540. One ship, having become separated from the others, is thought to have proceeded to the South Seas, but the remaining two vessels were caught in the Straits’ notoriously strong currents, with one being driven out into the Atlantic, later to return to Spain, while the other ran aground (apparently somewhere to the north of present-day Punto Arenas). Today the Plasencia’s expedition remains relatively understudied, but it was known to contemporaries through an account written by a sailor aboard the ship that returned to Spain (see Colección de Documentos Inéditos, vol. 5, pp. 561–71) and was mentioned in early modern histories (e.g., Herrera y Tordesilla’s Décadas of 1601), and more recently the expedition has received attention for having been credited with discovering the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands (see, e.g., E. Basílico).

The present manuscript contains the account of the sailor Pedro de Oviedo and the ship’s carpenter Antonio de Cobos. It describes the events leading up to their shipwreck, the survival of 241 people on board (only 13 were lost), the party’s eventual trek through the wilderness and encounter with the indigenous inhabitants, their establishment of a settlement, and what happened to Oviedo and Cobos after their expulsion from the settlement and up to their arrival in Concepción, where their story was taken down, notarized, and at some later point supplemented and copied out into its present form.

After the shipwreck the survivors gathered provisions and were led into the wilderness by a certain Captain Sebastián de Argüello. There they encountered a native population and eventually allied themselves with a tribe, establishing a town on the shores of a lake, where they flourished, intermarrying with the locals and converting them to Catholicism. After several years, Oviedo and Cobos killed a friend of Captain Argüello and were forced to flee. They traveled north, entering the land of a local ‘Ynga’ (a native lord of the ruling class) where they were offered an abundance of silver, a material the natives valued little. The two men were provided with an escort who took them to the town of Villarica on the eastern side of the Chilean cordillera where they were seized as hostages and taken to be ransomed at the recently established Spanish town of Concepción (founded in 1550). On arrival in Concepción, Oviedo and Cobos gave an account of their adventures to the local Maestre de Campo, General Julián Gutiérrez de Altamirano (c. 1521–c. 1597), who prepared and notarized their story. According to Altamirano, Oviedo and Cobos subsequently lived in Concepción for many years, both contributing to the construction of the Church of San Francisco.

 The Oviedo-Cobos-Altamirano report lay forgotten until it was rediscovered by Altamirano’s son-in-law, Pedro Páez Castillejo (c. 1565–1630), a fact which is noted in the present manuscript in a short continuation added to the end of the original account (presumably by Páez Castillejo himself). Páez Castillejo here records that he kept the original report for himself and dispatched a copy to Spain. He also adds further news relating to Oviedo and Cobos’ story, namely that Altamirano, during an expedition to Villarica, had arranged for dispatches to be sent to Argüello in hope of contacting the lost city. Páez Castillejo also records in this coda news that an expedition led by Concepción’s Oidor, Juan de Torres de Vera, returned having heard rumors that Argüello’s settlement continued to thrive and had, in fact, expanded to include seven towns and villages in Patagonia. This story that there was a prosperous Spanish settlement in the vicinity of the Straits reinforced other stories of lost conquistadors in the area (e.g., from the 1528 voyage organized by Sebastian Cabot or the 1534 expedition of Simon de Alcazaba) and gave rise to the idea of a legendary city of untold wealth. While not named as such in the body of this relación, this city came to be called the ‘City of the Caesars’, rivaling in opulence El Dorado and was, as many believed, first established by the survivors from the Bishop of Plasencia’s expedition. This association between the shipwreck survivors from the Plasencia expedition and the founders of the fabulous ‘City of the Caesars’ is unmistakably brought together on the verso of the second leaf of this manuscript, where we find written in a contemporary hand the words “Noticia de los Cesares,” a label added as a way of classifying the subject matter of its contents  providing testimony of how this document was read and perceived already in the early 17th century.

While apparently unknown in Spain before it was published in 1889 by J. T. Medina (who notes that he transcribed the relación from a manuscript from the Parisian shop of the bookseller Dufossé), the Oviedo-Cobos-Altamirano account apparently remained a matter of discussion in Chile during the 17th-century: The contours of this story, for example, were known to the Jesuit historian Diego de Rosales (1601-1677), who may have been in possession of the present relación (or a copy of it) while preparing his Historia General del Reino de Chile, Flandes Indiano (completed 1674). Rosales, who arrived in Chile in 1629 and remained there for the rest of his life, sent the manuscript of his three-volume history to Spain for publication, but it remained unprinted for more than two centuries (until in 1877). In this chronicle, Rosales gave a summary description of Oviedo and Cobos’ account and provided further details of the Bishop of Plasencia’s expedition to the Straits, including his remarks in a chapter specifically devoted to the ‘City of the Caesars’. Rosales – interested more in civic pride than in unimaginable wealth – argued that the ‘City of the Caesars’ truly did exist and that it was, in fact, “the first [settlement] in Chile, because, although it lies outside the parameters of the three hundred leagues between Copiapó and Chiloé, which is what is generally referred to as Chile, the jurisdiction of Chile extends to the Straits of Magellan. Since the ‘City of the Caesars’ was established next to the Straits and its people settled there in the year 1540, a year before the City of Santiago de Chile was founded, it is thus the first settlement in Chile, though up to the present it is still undiscovered and it remains impossible to locate it” (p. 105). Such hope about finding the ‘lost’ city remained in full force well into the 19th century, with dozens of expeditions being devoted entirely or partially to seeking out the ‘City of the Caesars’ (for a summary account of these see, C. A. Brebbia, pp. 88-102).

The present manuscript is undated, but its handwriting is consistent with Spanish scribal hands of the early 17th century. A somewhat indistinct watermark on the first leaf (three circles stacked atop each other and surmounted by a cross, sometimes referred to as ‘tre lune’) was an especially prevalent form in paper produced in Genoa for the Spanish export market during the late 16th and 17th centuries (see, C. James, pp. 53-4).

We have been unable to locate other manuscript copies of this relación. The text of the present manuscript differs in several places (in minor matters of orthography and word choice) from Medina’s edition of the manuscript he uncovered in Paris (see below), suggesting that this is not the document Medina had in his possession in 1889.

* J. T. Medina, Colección de documentos inéditos para la historia de Chile, vol. 3, pp. 465-68; P. E. R. Couyoudmdjian, “La Ciudad de los Cesares: Origen y evolucion de una leyenda (1526-1880),” Historia, vol. 7 (1968), pp. 283-309; Pedro de Angelis, Colección de obras y documentos relativos a la historia … del Rio de la Plata, pp. 149-52; H. Steffen, “Die Anfänge der Sage von der Ciudad encantada de los Césares,” Verhandlungen des deutschen wissenschaftlichen Vereins zu Santiago, vol. 2, no. 4 (1892), pp. 219-30; Diego de Rosales, Historia General Del Reino de Chile, Flandes Indiano, Book 1, cap. xvii; Enrique de Gandía, Historia crítica de los mitos y leyendas de la conquista Americana, pp. 243-76; José Ignacio Víctor Eyzaguirre, Historia eclesiastica: politica y literaria de Chile, vol. 2 pp. 400-06; C. A. Brebbia, Patagonia, a Forgotten Land: From Magellan to Péron, pp. 88-102; C. James, et al., Old Master Prints and Drawings: A Guide to Preservation and Conservation, pp. 53-4; E. Basílico, La Armada del Obispo de Plasencia y el Descubrimiento de las Malvinas, pp. 220–21;  ‘Relación de la Navegación del Estrecho de Magallanes de la Bauda del Norte’ in Colección de Documentos Inéditos, Relativos al Descubrimiento, Conquista y Organización de las Antiguas Posesiones Españolas en América y Oceanía, sacados de los Archivos del Reino, y Muy Especialmente del de Indias, by Luis Torres de Mendoza, vol. 5, pp. 561-71; Antonio de Herrera y Tordesilla, Historia General de los Hechos de los Castellanos en las Islas y Tierra Firme del Mar Océano (1601), [Décadas], decade VII, book I, pp. 14-16.

Price: $12,500.00

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