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Lope de Aguirre (1511 - October 27, 1561) was a Spanish conquistador and explorer, one (in)famous for basically going crazy in the South American jungle and starting a not less crazy rebellion against the Spanish Empire. He is one of the most known conquistadores in pop culture, not only due to the popular belief that his bloodthirst and egolatry represented the average of his class, but also to the cult film Aguirre, the Wrath of God, which immortalized him as a codifier of those colorful attributes.

Born in Oñate, Castile, the young Aguirre traveled to the Indies attracted by the untold riches of the Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire. Initially a strong loyalist of the Hispanic Monarchy, he participated in the royal contingent under Cristóbal Vaca de Castro tasked with ending the Pizarro-Almagro conflict in 1544, and later was in the army of Viceroy Blasco Núñez Vela when Gonzalo Pizarro and Francisco de Carvajal rose up against the empire. Núñez was defeated despite Aguirre's Guile Hero efforts, forcing the latter to flee, but the rebellion was crushed anyways in the 1548 Battle of Jaquijahuana. The future seemed tranquil for Aguirre, but he then got in a feud with Judge Francisco de Esquivel, who had him flogged on the charge of having supposedly mistreated indigenous (an increasingly heinous crime in an empire where the School of Salamanca had left a mark on this field). Undaunted, Aguirre pursued the judge for years until finally murdering him.

Aguirre was an outlaw for little time, however, as one of his royalist superiores, Alonso de Alvarado, was offering free pardons for people to fight against another rebellious encomendero, Francisco Hernández Girón. However, although Hernández would be ultimately put down, the campaign's fights left Aguirre crippled, wrecking his right foot forever and leaving his hands burned. As many other conquistadores were in a similar state after so much warring and conquering, Viceroy Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza decided to gather and pack them into an expedition through the Amazon forest in the search of the fabulous El Dorado, likely meant to be a Xanatos Gambit where, in the case of succeeding, there would be gold and glory for everybody, and in the case of failing, the troublesome vets would be hopefully all killed by the Hungry Jungle. What Hurtado failed to see is that tossing conquistadores of dubious sanity to an even more maddening environment was a plan that could Take a Third Option, a much crazier and wilder one.

Aguirre and his young mestiza daughter Elvira aboarded the expedition, which was commanded by Pedro de Ursúa and formed by 300 Spaniards, 500 indigenous auxiliaries and some black slaves, all sailing off in a small fleet through the Marañón river in 1560. Unfortunately, Ursúa was more preoccupied with banging his lover, another mestiza named Inés de Atienza, than controlling his dangerous crewmembers, and this resulted in Ursúa being betrayed and executed, with Aguirre ending up as the new leader. When the fleet reached the Atlantic Ocean, likely through the Orinoco river, Aguirre decided to go full Colonel Kurtz and started laying waste to all the indigenous populations of the zone, not without sending a quirky letter to King Philip II to declare officially that he was going rogue and appointing himself prince of the nearby lands. He also executed Atienza, by the way, because his men passed too much time brawling each other for her.

Aguirre and his rebels, nicknamed the Marañones, captured by deception Isla de Margarita (in modern Venezuela) in 1561, although they were expelled by the local Hero of Another Story, the conquistador mestizo Francisco de Fajardo, after which Aguirre and company retreated to mainland. The Marañones then ravaged the cities of Borburata, Nueva Valencia del Rey and Barquisimeto, and another attempt to suffocate the rebellion failed when the man in charge, Juan Rodríguez Suárez, was killed by unrelated indigenous. Aguirre's luck, however, would finally run out later into the year, as one of his men deserted and warned the nearest Spanish governors, Diego García de Paredes (the son of the legendary Diego García de Paredes) and Hernando Cerrada Martín, who managed to corner the Marañones. Recognizing defeat, Aguirre murdered his daughter so his enemies would never lay hands on her, and afterwards he was killed himself by other deserters, with a tradition claiming that he taunted his enemies until the very end. His corpse was mutilated and fed to the dogs, a fate that also fell over his men for their rebellion.

In fiction:



  • Plenty of novels have been written about him, such as:
    • Ciro Bayo's 1913 Los Marañones.
    • Arturo Uslar Pietri's 1947 El camino de El Dorado (1947).
    • Ramón J. Sender's 1968 La aventura equinoccial de Lope de Aguirre.
    • Abel Posse's 1978 Daimón.
    • Miguel Otero Silva's 1979 Lope de Aguirre, príncipe de la libertad.
    • Ángela Reyes's 2004 Adiós a las amazonas.
    • William Ospina's 2012 La serpiente sin ojos.

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