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Francisco Pizarro González, Marquis of the Conquista (March 16, 1478 - June 26, 1541), known by the indigenous as Apu ("Lord") and Machu Capitán ("The Old Captain"), was the Spanish conquistador that kickstarted and mostly finished the Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire. He was a distant maternal uncle to fellow conquistador Hernán Cortés, whom he followed in the fine art of capturing indigenous emperors and assimilating their rich domains to the Spanish Empire, although Pizarro never managed to come close to matching him in relevance in modern pop culture.

Pizarro's biography is a brutal example of a Self-Made Man. The illegitimate son of a war hero, he was rejected by his father to That Thing Is Not My Child! levels, which some have speculated instigated in Francisco an obssession to prove his military worth that followed him all his life. He also grew up illiterate and in extreme poverty, to the point it's traditionally claimed he worked as a swineherd since his childhood until he could join the Spanish army, where he became an experienced soldier in the Italian Wars under Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba (his father and his half-brothers all did it at some point). After his arrival to the Indies, along with Juan Ponce de León and other future big names, Francisco added a long career in local ventures, next becoming an underling of the renowned Alonso de Ojeda and forming part of the expedition under Vasco Núñez de Balboa that discovered the Pacific Ocean. Ironically, Pizarro would also lead the soldiers who arrested Núñez on the orders of the corrupt governor Pedrarias Dávila, which concluded in Balboa's Kangaroo Court and execution. Letters sent by Balboa from jail imply Pizarro was simply an Old Soldier following orders, but Francisco never commented on this point of his career, perhaps considering the topic was better left as it was.

After the breaking news of the Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire by Hernán Cortés, Pizarro soon found his chance to do the same in Perú at the ripe age of 50, hijacking the Inca Empire from the hands of the great Atahualpa in a way that could be better described as a coup rather than a conquest. Threatened by Inca armies who outnumbered his men by several digits to one, pitted against an emperor that had lured them into a trap to enslave the bearded foreigners and capitalize on their wonderful toys,note  Pizarro became possibly the most successful cornered rat in military history and reversed the ambush by playing dirtier at the right moment, capturing Atahualpa in midst of their amusingly fruitless diplomacy. The deed earned Francisco the eternal gratitude of all of the tribes whom the good emperor had previously disfavored and/or massacred, especially the Cañaris and Chachapoyas, after which the empire and its mountains of gold were open to him. Leaving behind a tragic but seemingly genuine friendship with Atahualpa, whom he was forced to execute on the danger he posed,note  Pizarro became the governor and captain general of the whole country, as well as a marquis, until a civil war of conquistadors years later ended up with him murdered by the followers of his own sidekick turned rival, Diego de Almagro.

His facet as a Old Soldier should be stressed not only due to his relatively advanced age during his conquests, but also for his ability as both a commander and a soldier, going down in a Rasputinian Death that according to the existent chronicles was as spectacular as the rest of his life. Not less than twelve Almagrists and twenty sword wounds, as well as a hit on the skull with a heavy alcarraza, were reportedly necessary for the old Spanish Apu to stop fighting back.

Unlike the highly cultured Cortés, and unusually for a man of his rank, it's unclear whether Pizarro ever learned to read and write, which didn't impede him from becoming a Simple, yet Opulent Man of Wealth and Taste, as he always made sure to surround himself with skilled consultants. It might be a strike of irony, considering that the Inca culture never developed an alphabetic writing system either (although they had the quipu, a system of recording strings so artful that, contrary to popular belief, the Spanish Empire kept it for more than a century until writing caught on). Pizarro also turned out to be a surprisingly skilled diplomat and governor for someone with so little formation and political experience, and in spite of being a complete foreigner supported by disassembled native factions with their own agendas each.

Like Cortés, however, Pizarro can be said to be way more than the stereotypical gold-obssessed butcher. By all accounts Francisco basically fell in love with the Inca Empire after getting to see its greatest works, in especial its capital of Cusco, and issued decrees to protect the indigenous population centers and prosecute any Spaniard who mistreated the natives outside of the battlefields - which turned out to be much easier said than done, of course, due to the large amounts of gold available to those who wanted to try to pocket it. Also, although he was undoubtedly ruthless with his enemies, he achieved his conquest by wisely presenting himself to the indigenous as a liberator against the grueling reign of Atahualpa, and regardless of its veracity, his effective leadership and diplomacy ensured most tribes would indeed remain improbably loyal even whenever Inca generals revolted and tried to stir the empire against the foreigners. At the end of the day, it would be rather his own countrymen who became the reason he didn't live to see the full pacification of the lands.

Pizarro might have it even harder to get an objective portrayal than Cortés in historiography, though, as his enmity with Diego de Almagro meant he started being a target of propaganda in his own camp. Writers partisan to Almagro who desired to discredit Pizarro (and later, Cortesian chroniclers who wanted to undermine Pizarro's aura in order not to overshadow their own favorite) drew an intensely negative portrayal where Pizarro and his brothers were vicious Caligulas who threw Rape, Pillage, and Burn parties in the Inca court, an image not entirely sensical yet which pervived over the years and remains hard to extricate from his real career.note 

He was married to a noblewoman of the Inca royal family, Inés Huaylas Yupanqui, who gave birth to the first mestiza of the Inca lands, Francisca. The relationship between Pizarro and Inés later turned sour on suspicions of court intrigues,note  after which he hooked up with a rumored Femme Fatale of the Inca nobility, Angelina Yupanqui, and had two sons, Francisco and Juan, although those two were not legitimized.

The Pizarro family

As mentioned above, Pizarro was also the head of a whole clan of conquistadores, four half-brothers and a cousin who also served under accompanied him in his battles, whom we will mention there because people tend to confuse them.

  • Hernando Pizarro y Vargas (1504-1580): Francisco's older half-brother and the only legitimate son, he was arguably his Foil in all senses, being a Cultured Badass and an Insufferable Genius. He usually served as The Lancer to him, siding with Francisco against those who wanted Atahualpa dead and championing for his brother in the subsequent political wars, although he developed a personal enmity with Almagro and had him executed at the first chance against Francisco's wishes. He had a mestizo son who died young, and later married his own niece Francisca Pizarro and had five other children. Although he was banished to Spain for all the troubles in Perú, he was the only of the brothers to die comfortably and of old age.
  • Gonzalo Pizarro Alonso (1510-1548): the Black Sheep, Gonzalo was the most ambitious of the family, for good and bad, and seems to have been a douchebag even by the standards of his time. He had a distinguised military career, which earned him the reputation of being the greatest soldier of Peru (he also was a bit of an explorer, initially teaming up with their distant relative Francisco de Orellana in his expedition to the Amazonas). Less flatteringly, tradition claims he raped an Inca princess who was a high-level hostage. Later, he revolted outright against the Hispanic Monarchy when the encomienda system was abolished, rebellion during which he and his accomplice Francisco de Carvajal achieved many victories before being betrayed and executed. He left three children by another Inca noblewoman, Inquill Tupac.
  • Juan Pizarro Alonso (1511-1536): Gonzalo's blood brother and the least remarkable of the four, albeit for a change, he was seemingly a humble, grounded guy of few words. He served most of his life as a captain and was killed in action during the Siege of Lima. Left no children, and instead adopted the daughter of an Inca princess he used to sleep with.
  • Pedro Pizarro (1515-1602): a cousin to the Pizarros (though some claim he wasn't related to them by blood), he became Francisco's page-boy and accompanied him through his exploits, and after the patriarch's death, fought against the Almagrists and Gonzalo's revolt. He kept a detailed chronicle of the events that later sent to Spain. Reportedly had many children with many women, both legitimate and not.
  • Juan García Pizarro (1495-unknown): a mulatto conquistador. Originally a neighbor rather than a relative, he became part of their entourage and later added their surname to his. A do-it-all man, he served as Pizarro's soldier, accountant, piper and crier. Became quite rich, hooked up with one of his native chambermaids and returned to Spain to retire, which may have caused some drama given that he had originally left a Spanish wife and two daughters there.
  • Inés Muñoz de Ribera (1510-1594): Pizarro's sister-in-law by a maternal half-brother, Martín de Alcántara. The Iron Lady of his entourage, she stood out by her long and influential life even after her husband was killed along with Francisco, eventually becoming herself one of the richest people in Perú. She was a known philantropist who bankrolled farmlands, schools and monasteries, as well as the education of many orphans of the wars, including Francisco's children. Also introduced several kinds of western crops in South America, most notably wheat, olive and European fruits, and in turn wrote a memoir of her career and her experiences with native customs, food and herbs. Tradition has that she died at the spectacular age of 105, although modern research shows she rather died in her mid-eighties, still impressive for her time.

In fiction



Live-Action TV

  • He also appears in the TV adaptation of Inés del alma mía, where he is played by Francesc Orella.
  • He is the Big Bad of the 2008 miniseries Gabriel, amor inmortal, played by José Luis Rodríguez.
  • Pizarro is played by José Maya (ironic surname, although he is actually Roma, not Mexican) in his cameo in Carlos, rey emperador.