A Letter From Peru
Joseph T Major
To Henry, eighth of that name, by the Grace of God King of England and France
From Alfred Peters, secretary to the Great Inca Manco, Royal Son of the Sun
In the City of Cuzco, in the Inca Empire, in the year of grace 1536
May it please your most dread and sovereign lord:
The Great Inca has commanded that I write to his brother across the seas, to acquaint him with the state of affairs in this part of the world, and to acquire the fruits of the land, for which the Inca will pay well. I am, moreover, to recount the tale of how I entered the service of the Inca, so that I might be reconciled to my sovereign.
My father, George Peters, was a small landholder in Somerset. In the late war he adhered to the side of the House of York, and departed England with the remnants of Lord Lincoln's force after the Battle of Stoke. Having some small commercial relations abroad, he settled in Spain, marrying the daughter of a Spanish merchant. I grew up speaking English and Spanish, becoming skilled as an English mariner and a Spanish cavalier.
Accordingly, when the New World beckoned, and being one of a large family, I deemed it worth going forth. Indeed, I ventured upon one of the greatest adventures conceived then, going in a company to join Don Hernan Cortez.
The events of that great and tragic war I need not relate in any great detail. We had arrived after the initial defeat of the Spaniards. Don Hernan had lost the greater part of his men, and welcomed the augmentation of his strength.
What most deeply moved me, though, was the furor of the Spaniards. The City of Mexico was a vast metropolis, and a wealthy one, wealthy not only in gold but in trade, the genuine measure of wealth. Yet Don Hernan, with his many native allies and handful of Spanish soldiers, was determined to utterly destroy it, and in long and bloody strife, did so.
Yet, I also beheld that the natives of New Spain had merely exchanged one bloody master for another. True, the Spaniards would not cut out a thousand hearts, as I myself had beheld the Aztecs do in their final bloodbath, for the hope of victory. Nevertheless, I was sickened at their cruelties; as when a Spanish conqueror would, for amusement, hang up a dozen natives.
I resolved to become a soldier in the presidency of Panama, where a more pacific rule might be found. The rule that I found was not what I had expected.
In the year of grace 1526, I departed upon an expedition to the south, at the head of a company of two dozen Spanish soldiers, a priest, and perhaps a hundred native carriers. We struggled south for about a month, seeing the jungles of the New World, and watching our numbers shrink from desertion and disease. It was this final scourge that was the great change in my life.
I was struck down with the black vomit, and nigh to die. Indeed, I fear that in the records of the Spanish presidency, I am dead. Surely, the remnant of my men left me in the village which marked the southernmost extremity of our journeys to die, and to speak truth I was like to be dead anyhow.
Yet I survived. The natives were hospitable, though perhaps my gifts of the remnants of gear the dead and dying had no use for did not hurt. Perhaps from hearing two tongues in my infancy, I have ever been quick to learn new languages, and my attendants were ready to teach.
They spoke of a great kingdom to the south. When I was well, I resolved to go there . . .
The rains came to an end and my strength was at a beginning. I had resolved myself to go to the great kingdom of the south, to learn its strength, and then return to Panama, to confound the Spanish who had deserted me. With a small party of attendants, I set out to explore that land. (Pray forgive my not knowing the details of dates. With my sickness and the lack of records, I had entirely lost track of the days.)
After, I reckoned, some forty days of travel we came upon a more civilized land. My father had spoken often of the green fields of Somerset. If they are like unto the lands of the Inca, they will be greatly rich.
In one other way could I tell that this was a civilized land; the lord of the province took me into custody, dismissed my attendants, and had me questioned regarding my intent. I remained there for some months (I had begun a tally again, and so knew the order of the days, if not the exact day), learning the Inca tongue and acquainting the lords with the world as I had seen it.
The empire of the Incas was even then in great turmoil. The Great Inca Huyana Capac had fallen victim to the plague that had recently spread throughout the empire. (From those victims I myself saw, I deem it to have been the small-pock, to which in my youth I lost a sister, and gained a scar myself.) His sons, Huascar and Atauhuallpa, took it upon themselves to divide the empire in accordance with the will of their sire.
As sons will dispute a legacy be it a patch of land the size of a kerchief, or a great empire, so did the twain brothers. To speak truth, Huascar Inca possessed the better claim, for that he was born of the wedded consort of the Inca their father, while Atauhuallpa Inca was a by-blow; yet, as Abraham favored Ishmael, so did Huyana Capac Inca favor his baseborn son, and gave him the half of the empire upon his demise.
Your grace must understand that the Incas are most skilled in the arts of war. The Inca possesses an army that outnumbers the hosts of Europe, numbered in the tens of thousands. They fight with the order of the ancient Romans.
Indeed, much about the empire of the Inca calls to mind that great dominion. From one end to the other, the traveller may pass upon great, paved roads that are busy with the commerce of this empire. He may rest for the night in scrupuously maintained inns.
The number of travellers is not so great, understand, as the society of the Inca is deeply stratified. Indeed, it resembles not so much a nation as an army, under the most stringent of regiment. The Incan is born in his place in the world, set to it by his overlords, and lives contented in it till he dies.
Yet the society is indeed wealthy. Under the strict governance of the Inca, the land is intensely cultivated, and gives forth its products in abundance. No patch of land lies waste, or is neglected.
This is all the more wondrous in that the Inca people lack so many of the benefits of civilization. No cavaliers exist in this kingdom; none of the animals here are fit to ride. Even more astonishing, they had not the idea of writing; keeping tallies in strings as a prop to the memory. This works well, as long as the memory-keeper remains alive.
But I must speak of the civil war. The lord my keeper favored the cause of Atauhuallpa Inca, and went forth with his host to join in battle. Over a long course of years the two brothers strove, and in the end Atauhuallpa Inca proved victorious.
He was curious to learn of the outside world, and I became attached to his court. Thus I was summoned to attend upon him when he received some most astonishing news.
Runners from the north came, bearing garbled news; yet within this stew of news were gobbets of fact which I could pluck forth and make sensible for the Great Inca. From their terrified descriptions of creatures with six limbs and two heads I could make out that the invaders were horsemen, and acquainted the Inca and his generals with the nature of this arm.
With a mind to my experiences in New Spain, I furthermore acquainted the Great Inca with what I presumed to be the intent of this expedition; namely, to annex the mighty Inca empire and reduce its folk to subjects of the King of Spain. Over campfires and in rude taverns, the veterans of Cortez's original campaign had described in loving and grisly detail their treacherous capture of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuoma. It seemed to me that these Spanish would endeavour to do likewise; and, as the Incan Empire was so dependent upon the person of the Great Inca that were he to be made captive, the empire could be taken as if with a piece of chalk. While the Great Inca esteemed himself in greater safety than some barbarian chieftain to the north, his lords and generals did make some preparations to ward against such an eventuality.
As this expedition proceeded into the lands of the Empire, the Great Inca came north to greet it. You must understand that he had even only within the year settled his succession; yet such is the orderliness of the Inca nation that Atauhuallpa was as firmly in control as if he had peacefully succeeded his sire.
The Spanish were received in a town called Caxamarca. From courtesy, the Great Inca had commanded its population to quit the town. The Spanish commander entered it, made camp, and awaited. The Great Inca and an army occupied the heights above the place, observing their preparations. I was often pressed to describe the meaning of their weapons and baggage, and from that time forward, my esteem rose in the Great Inca's court, as the proof of my words now lay before them.
I was concealed in the litter of the Great Inca, since he desired to keep in reserve the knowledge of an independent proof of the Spaniards' words. The herald dispatched by the Spaniards was an Indian of the lands to the north of the Empire, or so I deemed him; a man most insolent in words. The Inca returned his words with courtesy, and determined to meet the Spaniards in person.
The next day, the Inca made his ceremonial entry into Caxamarca to greet the Spanish expedition. Most imposing and royal were the panoplies of the Great Inca and his lords, bright and gay with rich colors. The Spanish commander had ordered his men to be fully armed, I observed, and I was much employed explaining to the Great Inca, in a low voice, the nature and use of the arms they bore.
The parley was conducted in the manner I had expected, bearing in mind what all I had heard about the conquest of the Aztecs. The Spanish commander set forth his terms for the submission of the Inca to the King of Spain; a friar from their party commanded the submission of the Empire of the Incas to the Catholic faith. This friar proffered a Bible as proof of the holy words, which volume was conducted to the Great Inca.
As I have said, the Incas had no knowledge of even the idea of writing, and therefore the Great Inca attached no particular value to the Holy Book. The Spanish read his lack of interest as disrespect, and took that perceived blasphemous insolence as their signal to attack. The Spanish commander himself strove to take the Great Inca prisoner, while at his signal the Spanish horsemen emerged from their concealment. This attack was even more straightforward than what the Spanish had done in the City of Mexico. Its aim was similar, and to take the Inca prisoner would give them far more authority than seizing the person of the Aztec Emperor had granted Cortez.
The resultant combat was long and bloody. Had not the Incan attendants included among their numbers a great proportion of soldiers, I deem that the Spaniards might have won the day. As it was, many fell on both sides, and the toll among the Incans was grevious, with thousands dead. Yet the Spaniards resisted nigh to the last man, and from my position behind the Great Inca I beheld their commander's last glorious fight. He resisted like a Roman soldier, slaying handfuls of Incan soldiers and continuing to struggle though grievously wounded.
From questioning the few Spanish survivors I determined his name to have been Francisco Pizarro, a distant connection of the Marques Hernan Cortez. Doubtless he was inspired by the successes of his kinsman.
These survivors were much amazed to behold a Christian among these pagans. Of a great mercy there survived yet one friar, to whom I made a full confession that evening. From him, I learned that I had been six years in the land of the Incas and that this day was the sixteenth day of November in the year of our Lord 1532. This has eased my mind greatly, and I have striven to use the Christian calendar since.
Atauhuallpa Inca had been wounded in the conflict. From his sickbed he gave orders that the Spaniards were to be taken to the great capital of Cuzco; that their baggage and arms were to be carefully collected and studied; and that their animals in particular were to be most carefully tended. All this was done with the usual order and regiment of the Incan nation.
Alas, the wound of Atauhuallpa Inca festered, and proved mortal. From fear of retribution, a servant had basely slain the deposed Huascar Inca. The succession fell, therefore, to Manco, a younger brother of the two heirs, who reigns today.
Since that epochal day, the Incans have striven mightily to comprehend these new matters. Some small part of the army has been set to raising and breeding horses, and learning to ride. Others have turned to digging and smelting iron, even as they dig and smelt gold, striving to produce crude swords. Did I but know, or any man among the few remaining Spaniards know, the manufacture of gunpowder, I, or he, might be raised to the highest rank among the Incans.
The Great Inca Manco had questioned me closely about the state of Europe. He became determined to enter into intercourse with England, deeming the English nation more worthy of trust than that of the Spanish. He determined to send an embassy, even though it might prove impossible for it to gain passage upon the Spanish ships.
Again, I should state that the Incan folk knew nothing of writing. The Great Inca desired that I should give proof of this, to them, wondrous and unimaginable art. I was commanded to write a message to the Spaniards, upon his dictation; then I was removed from the court, that I might not make signal to their emissary, and the Great Inca questioned him closely upon what I had written.
By the mercy of God the surviving friar could read, even my laborious efforts at Spanish. This demonstration convinced the Great Inca. I was bid write to my king, to appraise him of this mighty realm, and its desire for goods.
The Incas, I must state, have very little need for gold, for all that they possess much of it. The least of their pagan temples possesses more gold than the mightiest church in Christendom. They would pay well for horses, for gunpowder, for the many unhappy arts of war that Christian men have devised.
And while I deem it unfitting to accept the decree of the impious Pope Alexander, who granted the lands of the Inca to the King of Spain, it grieves me deeply to behold so many souls passing away into the maw of Hell. Priests willing to proclaim the word of Christ, instead of forcing it upon the pagans, would win many souls by such an example.
This message will be borne by one Duarte Periera, a survivor of the campaign. Being a Portingall rather than a Spaniard, he may not be as eager to give this land over to them. His story may not pass the muster of the Spanish port officers, but sufficient gold will stop up the most inquiring of mouths.
Within three years, or so the Great Inca Manco has decreed, the Inca Empire will stretch to the northern sea, bordering nigh upon the Presidency of Panama. English ships then will find it easy to draw nigh, bringing the men and skills desired by the Great Inca, and nourishing the English with wealth of gold and strange animals and plants.
The Incans cultivate the local deer, which they style llama. The fleece of this animal is woven into a splendid wool, lighter than that of our sheep. I think the weavers of England can make this into wondrous cloth. For sustenance, they obtain a root from the ground which is wholesome and nourishing, capable of being grown in great numbers upon very small plots of land. To refresh themselves, and put strength into weary limbs (albeit at a later cost), they chew the leaves of a bush that grows high in the mountains. Thus we behold the providence of God, in placing near at hand the means to survive in such high places.
I pray your Grace to behold the words of the Great Inca Manco with approval, and hear my pitiful pleas with mercy.
The Portingall Edward Peiera has been most strictly questioned, and maintains the truth of his tale, describing in particular the person of Francisco Pizarro and the nature of his expedition. That he is unable to read or write English makes it unlikely that he composed this letter.
The parish records of Cranborne in the county of Somerset contain entries registering the birth of George Peters son of Alfred Peters, born in 1449. A captured muster-roll from the armies of de la Pole styled Lord Lincoln contains one "Georgg sonne of Alfred Peeters" as a man-at-arms.
Master Peiera carried much gold with him, including many goods of a fineness and delicacy equal to that of the Venetian goldsmiths. If this is a fraud, it is a most well-funded one. Your Majesty will be pleased to accept the gifts of his brother King Manco.
As for the duplicity of the Spaniard; the example of Cesare Borgia, as noted by the learned Italian Machiavel, is always before the Spaniards. The kingdom of the Inca is of the kind of the Persians, where one sovereign lord holds absolute power; making it hard to conquer but easy to hold once conquered. If this Francisco Pizarro did not read the book of Machiavel, he certainly knew it in his blood.
To open commerce with this rich land of the Dorado would be a mighty gain. It will please your Majesty to charter a company of adventurers into the land of the Dorado and Inca, and to support it yourself.
While the Spaniard does have many men and ships in New Spain, his dominion there is not absolute. It is possible for an English ship to travel to the lands described, south of Panama but west of the Portingall lands, to search for this Incan kingdom, albeit the Spanish will not welcome them. The disappearance, for so it seems to them, of don Francisco Pizarro, has been proof that richer lands are likely to be found elsewhere.
I remain your Majesty's servant in all things: