English adventurers and Spanish conquistadors – one and the same
The English adventurers and the Spanish conquistadors were certainly “brothers under the skin” as they both set out to reap the rewards of the New World with little regard for the native people. Both faced the same problems in Europe. These problems include disease, poverty and overpopulation. There were simply too many people competing for the same things, whether it was money, food or land. This, combined with stories of good luck and a Northwest Passage to Asia, created a sense of hope that westward travel would solve the many problems of a continent in need. For this reason, both the English and the Spanish looked to the New World for treasure and later colonization. The idea that there was valuable land, resources, and treasure in the New World that would alleviate or solve European problems motivated both countries to try their hand at exploration.
Of course, these rewards came at a cost to the Native peoples of the Americas. As “brothers under the skin”, the English and the Spanish looked upon the natives as savages. Both believed that they had not only the right but also the duty to instruct these people in the ways of European civilization and Christianity. However, both used this as an excuse to exploit the local people. When Hernando Cortés invaded Tenochtitlan, he wrote about the attack before dawn, vowing to do his best. This included murdering women and children, leaving them to rot in the streets while the Spanish conquistadors looted the town’s homes and businesses. The Aztecs had done no great harm to Cortes; in fact, they treated him and his men as gods. However, greed drove Cortés and his men to kill thousands. Of course, that didn’t bother anyone, because the men, women, and children they killed were savages who couldn’t be saved.
Richard Hakluyt, an Englishman, wrote a letter describing an almost identical plan for England’s intervention in America. They would go under the guise of spreading Christianity, but they would make full use of the resources and advance the country’s economic interests. He talked about putting the poor in England to work in America. However, like the Spanish, the plans necessitated the exploitation of the natives. He wrote: “If we find the country thickly peopled, and willing to drive us out and offend us, seeking but a just and lawful traffic, then for the reason that we are masters of the navigation, and they are not, we are more -able to defend ourselves by reason of these great rivers, and to annoy them in many places.” (Origins of English Settlement) As you can tell from this passage, not only is there a sense of entitlement and superiority that exists in the minds of the English, but there are already plans to conquer the Indians.
For the royal governments of England and Spain, English adventurers and conquistadors served the same purpose. It is to secure a foothold in the New World from which to advance the causes of the country. Moreover, the conquistadors and adventurers were men destined to bring civilization and religion to the rude idolaters of the New World. I’m sure the leaders of England and Spain really believed they were doing the Aztecs and other Indians a favor by killing them and taking their things. Both the English and the Spanish believed that the natives were savages who, for the most part, could not be saved. For this reason, killing the many was an evil that was necessary to save the few. They believed that as stronger, more developed countries, it was their duty to rid the world of this evil. It was their duty to instruct the savages in the ways of the Lord. To them, adventurers and conquistadors were good, moral people who did God’s will. Whereas in reality they were brutal, confident thieves.
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