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Elcano's miracle


Beyond the references that the chroniclers of the Indies left us of the expedition, first sent by Fernando de Magallanes and culminated by Juan Sebastián Elcano, the sources

Beyond the references that the chroniclers of the Indies left us of the expedition, first sent by Fernando de Magallanes and culminated by Juan Sebastián Elcano , the most important sources we have for the knowledge of that extraordinary trip are those that Antonio left us Pigafetta , Francisco Albo and Juan Sebastián Elcano himself. That of Pigafetta is, without a doubt, the most literary, the one that provides the greatest number of data about how those three long years (1519-1522) were lived during which the expedition was prolonged, and the most widespread. That of Albo, whose original is preserved in the Archivo de Indias is much less known, but more precise in terms of the nautical data that it provides and that allow us to follow, day by day, the defeat and position of the ships . Unlike Pigafetta, who dedicates great praises to Magellan, while silencing Elcano's name, Albo does not refer to any of them. It is limited to giving data that allows to know at all times where they are. The letter that Elcano wrote to Carlos I on September 6, 1522, upon arriving in Sanlucar de Barrameda, gives account of numerous details of the trip.

Antonio Pigafetta was a natural Italian from Vicenza, in the Veneto region, a knight of Rhodes, a name known as the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem and which would end up being called the Order of Malta. He came to Spain in the retinue of Monsignor Francesco Chieregati , when he was appointed apostolic nuncio before the court of Carlos I. He traveled in Trinidad, the captain of the expedition that Magallanes commanded, as an outstanding-titleholder who had not been assigned a specific mission, appears in the list of embarked as Antonio Lombardo- and will conclude the expedition that went around the world on board the Victory, without having a specific charge. The work he left us is entitled Relationship of the first trip around the world .

Francisco Albo was Greek. Possibly, native of the island of Chios, which, on the date the trip took place, was in the hands of the Genoese. He embarked as countermaster -in charge of controlling the state of the ship and maintaining discipline among the crew- in the Trinity and would conclude the trip as a Victory pilot. He had a remarkable nautical training, which explains the charges he held in the expedition and ratifies with the content of his work, entitled Defeat of the trip of Fernando de Magallanes in demand of the Strait, from the place of the end of San Agustín until the return to Spain from nao Victoria. He began to write it from November 29, 1519, when they were "separated from the said Cape thing of 27 leagues to the Southwest."

Juan Sebastián Elcano was a native of Guetaria. It was an experienced sailor who started the trip as a master of the Conception and would conclude as captain of the Victory. He joined the squad that Magallanes commanded by having problems with justice. He had handed over his boat to some Genoese bankers - it was then forbidden to sell boats to foreigners - having offered it as a guarantee of a loan he could not pay because the Royal Treasury had not paid the services rendered to the Crown with said ship.

In the Pigafetta Relationship there are continuous allusions of admiration for Magellan. On the contrary, the name of Elcano is not mentioned once, although it was, since the end of 1521, at the head of the expedition and sent the only ship that culminated the company. The relationship between the two was not good. When Carlos I, responding to Elcano's letter, told him to go to Valladolid, with the best witnesses, to give him a detailed account of the trip (“Because I want to inform you, very particularly of the trip you have made, and what In it happened, I command you that after you see it, you take two people from those who have come with you, the most ropes and of better reason, and you come with them where I was ... »), Elcano chose the surgeon barber Hernando de Bustamante and the Greek pilot Francisco Albo.

Pigafetta's anger, being displaced, must have been great. He was very paid for himself, as revealed by the fact that in the following months he toured various European courts. He went to Valladolid to give Carlos I a copy of his Relationship. There he lived moments of tension with Elcano, against whom he launched some accusations. He left Spain saying "I went from there the best I could . " He went to Lisbon to explain to the Portuguese monarch "everything he saw" throughout the trip, although we have no record of giving him a copy of his Relationship. He returned to Spain to go to France, where he met with the mother of Francisco I. He tells us that he made a donation "of some things from the other hemisphere to the mother of the Christian King Don Francisco I, Madame the Regent . " In the following years (1523 and 1524), already in Italy, he visited Mantua, Venice and the master of the Order of Rhodes. A propaganda tour that will turn it into the informative referent on an expedition that ignores the role it played.


The project presented by Magallanes to Carlos I and that resulted in the signing of some capitulations in Valladolid, on March 22, 1518, contemplated as objectives of the company: to find a step to go from the waters of the Atlantic to what was then He called the South Sea -after Pacific Ocean-, which Vasco Núñez de Balboa had discovered in 1513. Also, believing that the Earth was much smaller, it was contemplated to open an alternative route to which the Portuguese dominated along the coast of Africa, to reach the Spice Islands.

Carlos I made it very clear in those capitulations that the waters allocated to the Portuguese were not entered in the Treaty of Tordesillas. That is to say, once reached the islands of the Spices, it was necessary to return to Spain by the same route. The Magellan project caused outrage in Lisbon, where he was considered a traitor. King Manuel I - according to the Portuguese sailor Tristán de Menezes communicated to his compatriot Afonso de Lorosa, who informed Elcano of this - ordered that a Portuguese squad chase the fleet sent by Magellan to destroy it. He reached the estuary of Plata, but did not locate it. We also know that Lopes de Siquiera, governor of Portuguese India, was ordered to destroy the Castilian ships, but failed in his attempt.


The death of Magellan in Mactan - south of the current Philippines - in a fight against the natives, on April 27, 1521, made Elcano take a leading role in the expedition he had not had until then. His relationship with Magellan, like that of most of the Castilian officers - captains, pilots and masters - of the expedition, was tense. It is enough to read the answers of Elcano to the mayor of Casa and Corte Santiago Díaz de Leguizamo in the thirteen questions he asked after the expedition was over and while in Valladolid; he will say that many of the actions of Magellan were dictated to “make captains of Álvaro Mesquita and Duarte de Barbosa, because continuously [the Castilian captains eliminated by Magellan] had a question with Magallanes because ... having Portuguese captains [case Mesquita and Barbosa] had the people at his hand, and would do everything he wanted and so after he had them as captains they mistreated and beat the Castilians against the instruction of His Majesty .

The expedition was losing ships and men until only the Trinity and Victory remained, of the five that had sailed from Seville in 1519. Loaded with spices and fulfilled their objectives, the first of them turned out not to be able to navigate. He needed a thorough repair that would delay the expedition many more months, the Portuguese threat being very great. Gómez de Espinosa , his captain, and Elcano, who was already in charge of the Victory, made the decision that he would return to Spain alone, but he would not do so by the route they had brought. It would put the Indian Ocean, waters of the Portuguese hemisphere, and would return, if it managed to outwit the Portuguese who were on the prowl and would try to prevent it, going around the world. It was something that was not contemplated in the capitulations. That decision meant two things. The first, disobeying the orders of Carlos I not to navigate the Lusitanian hemisphere. The second, which, if arriving in Spain, Victoria, with Juan Sebastián Elcano in front of her and sending a crew of something more than fifty men, would go around the world.

In those seven months of navigation, from February to September of 1522, Elcano and his men lived an authentic odyssey. Completing the trip was something heroic that only Elcano's determined will not to surrender to the difficulty and complete the trip made it possible. They had to fight against unfavorable winds, save from the Cape of Storms, which the Portuguese had already renamed the Good Hope, fearing the attack of the Portuguese. They fought against hunger, short of supplies and running out of food because they decided not to risk landing, for fear of being discovered. The crossing of the Victoria, first through the waters of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic afterwards, was somewhat epic. They only arrived at the Cape Verde Islands, controlled by Portugal, when they could use the argument that their ship came from America and a storm had diverted it. Albo tells us that it was there that they heard that they had won a day by sailing in the same direction as the sun. He tells us, referring to the Portuguese, that on July 9 they “received them very well and gave us [sold] maintenance as many as we wanted, and this day was Wednesday and this day they have them on Thursday and so I think we were wrong in one day. .. » .


The situation changed on the 14th. That morning Elcano sent a batel to load more rice but, as he did not return to Victoria, he began to be suspicious. It was then that some Portuguese arrived in "a boat and said we should surrender ... that their lords had ordered it . " The next day, faced with the threat of being caught, the twenty-two men left aboard sails, seeing each other forced to leave prisoners of the Portuguese at 13 who had landed.They changed course several times to mislead a Portuguese ship chasing them.

The difficulties they faced and the untold penalties they endured make it less than miraculous for that company to end. Victory arrived in Sanlucar de Barrameda on September 6, 1522 with only 18 men on board . From there, Elcano would write to Carlos I, realizing the many vicissitudes experienced during the trip. The letter is a first-hand document, written by who had become the main protagonist of that company. Two days later, the nao, towed, arrived in Seville.

What happened was so extraordinary and, in some cases so serious, that Elcano, Albo and Bustamante had to depose before the mayor of house and court, Santiago Díaz de Leguizamo, answering thirteen questions to try to clarify the facts.

It is striking that the Portuguese authorities have vindicated the deed that meant going around the world for being the Portuguese Magellan, who was branded a traitor by his countrymen. The reality was that they did everything in their power to avoid that expedition.

[In the book The Infinite Route these events have been recreated and the historical framework in which they took place and that resulted in a historical deed of which we celebrated five hundred years.]

According to the criteria of The Trust Project

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