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Useful Notes / Francisco de Carvajal

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"Don't be intimidated that lowly people accuse of you of disloyalty. Nobody that came to be king ever received the name of traitor. Governments created by force, time will make them legitimate. Reign, and you will be honored."

Francisco López Gascón (1464 - 10 April 1548), best known as Francisco de Carvajal, or more infamously El Demonio de los Andes ("The Demon of the Andes"), was a Spanish military man, conquistador and warlord, notable for his participation as a ringleader of the Great 1544 Rebellion against the Peruvian viceroyalty of the Spanish Empire. Although Lope de Aguirre went to completely overshadow him in pop culture as the prototype of the bloodthirsty conquistador rising against his masters out of power hunger, he was never but a pale shadow of Carvajal, whom we could accurately describe as a real life Bond villain of the 16th century.

Accounts of Carvajal's character reads genuinely like a fictional character: enormously fat, improbably old, spectacularly indifferent to human life, expert in cinematic one-liners, feared by Spaniards and indigenous alike, yet at the same time an excellent soldier and general who for several years seemed invincible in anything resembling a fight he took part in. He was recruited as lieutenant consigliere of Gonzalo Pizarro, Francisco Pizarro's rebellious brother, but there are strong suspicious that Carvajal eventually became the eminence gris, acting as an Evil Mentor to the much younger conquistador and exerting a wicked influence on him. Carvajal had the merit of multiple shocking victories against the royalist forces, to the point that he was popularly believed to be a sorcerer in league with Satan, but his dream to appoint Gonzalo as King of Peru and establish their own kingdom ultimately ended up with their heads impaled in stakes.

His Extremaduran parents, biological or not, had originally wanted him to study laws at the university of Salamanca, but the young Francisco would definitely not be a future member of the eponymous school, instead spending all of his years here partying, whoring and dueling, which eventually got him dishonored and disinherited. Francisco then joined the military to go to the Italian Wars, and this time he finally found his place in the universe: cramming a brilliant 30-year military career under Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba and Fernando de Ávalos, he had outstanding participations in the battles of Ravenna, Pavia and the 1525 Sack of Rome, and he even balanced all of it with ecclesiastical studies, during which he changed his surname to Carvajal as a homage to the cardinal that mentored him, Bernardino de Carvajal.

After hearing about the Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire, and having earned a ton of money by sequestering the archive of an important Roman lawyer during the sack, the already middle-aged and plump Carvajal decided to head for America and seek for a lush retirement away from all the noise, hopefully with gold and sexy native women included and such. Once in New Spain (modern day Mexico), Carvajal lived in the entourage of Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, who was a party pal of Hernán Cortés, and married one of his fellow courtiers, the Portuguese Catalina de Leyton.

This lapse of tranquility came to its end when the Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire went awry by the rebellion of Manco Inca, after which Mendoza, knowing Carvajal was a walking military instructional, sent him to the Peru at the head of a reinforcement squad. The veteran stayed as a lieutenant to Francisco Pizarro, who gifted him an encomienda and befriended him for their similar backgrounds. Carvajal was strongly loyal to him, so when Pizarro was murdered by partisans of his executed Rival Turned Evil Diego de Almagro, the disheartened Carvajal became instrumental in crushing the remaining Almagrists and execute their leader Almagro the Younger. Carvajal gained praise and glory not only for his skill, but also for his leadership abilities and funny knack, counting an occasion in which, seeing his soldiers afraid of enemy artillery, he had his armor removed and jumped to the front lines to personally lead the assault while proclaiming that, being so fat, he risked much more physical integrity than they did.

When King Charles V issued the New Laws, which nullified the whole encomienda system, Carvajal offered himself to return to Spain as a defendant of the conquistadors, or just to get away from a viceroyalty that threatened to explode in rebellion, depending on the version, but he was obstructed from doing so, and around this time his wife died. Likely feeling mistreated by the system, with no purpose left, and with his Undying Loyalty to the Pizarro family as the last thing he had, Carvajal eventually accepted Gonzalo Pizarro's offer to join him as his second-in-command in a revolt against the king, and by doing so the Demon of the Andes was born. What came next was part military rampage and part reign of terror: waging full war, they defeated and beheaded Viceroy Blasco Núñez Vela, after which Carvajal took personally the task to execute, mutilate and rape anybody in their territories who disagreed or tried to desert from the new cause, be it man or woman, Spanish or indigenous.

Although Gonzalo Pizarro was the leader of the rebellion, Carvajal was essentially its true chieftain. Baptizing their army El Ejército de la Libertad ("The Army of Freedom"), he ran all the preparations to conquer the Viceroyalty of Peru, disengage it from the Spanish Empire and turn it into an independent kingdom, for which he tried to convince Gonzalo to declare himself king. Gonzalo refused, but the plans to secede and permanently challenge Spain were followed, and by several years it seemed a perfectly doable scenario. Few people in America had the amount or quality of military experience of Carvajal, who put in usage all the tactics and logistics he had learned in Europe, and despite being 80 by this point, he seemed supernaturally capable to endure himself all the hardships of war; it took no time for rumors to claim he was in league with demons and had superpowers, among them that of flying with his horse over the mountains.

For the next three years, Carvajal led the Gonzalists to victory after victory, after which he was said to stroll across the battlefields with two black slaves double-tapping all the wounded enemies with maces and machetes, and seasoned it by hosting mass executions of royalist citizens, deserters and even undisciplined rebels in every city they conquered. He often did it while cracking jokes, poems and proverbs with his usual nerve, like an twisted version of Sancho Panza, putting fear even in their own soldiers and those who had previously know him as Fun Personified. Those anecdotes might have gotten exaggerated by propaganda, but one can feel something was definitely up with him when many ex-rebels and witnesses were forgiving towards Gonzalo Pizarro's own nastiness, presenting him as a Noble Demon at the worst, yet not a single one tried the same with Carvajal, who was described as an absolute menace to work under.

The rebellion only started to decay when the next royalist general, Pedro de la Gasca, came carrying the Boring, but Practical solution of bringing the news of the New Laws's repeal and pardons for all rebels that voluntarily surrendered. Eventually acknowledging their nearby defeat, Carvajal advised Gonzalo for them to accept the pardon and hand themselves over, but other lieutenants convinced the Pizarro brother to keep fighting, which became his last mistake, as the rest of their army turned on their generals and did it for them. Once captured, Gonzalo was beheaded, as he was a hidalgo, while Carvajal was hanged, and according to the tradition, he laughed off his own execution to the last second, singing punny songs and helping himself to conduct the event. Their bodies were dismembered and their heads impaled, with impressionable witnesses claiming for years that demons came from Hell by night and tried to take Carvajal's head with them, only failing due to the power of the nearby cross.

In fiction

  • The Comentarios Reales by mestizo chronicler Inca Garcilaso de la Vega refer to him.
  • He appears in Manuel A. Segura's Gonzalo Pizarro.
  • He's an important character in Juan Pedro Cosano's historical novel El Rey del Perú.