On the 17th April 1492, the Catholic Monarchs of Spain – Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand – signed an agreement to support Christopher Columbus’ voyage in which he crossed the Atlantic and discovered the Americas.

The Capitulations of Santa Fe granted a number of official titles to Columbus as well as ten per cent of any treasure he was able to secure.  The Capitulations mention the possibility of pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices, and – just in case he found anything else – “other objects of whatever kind, name and sort”.

Columbus’ plan was not to reach the Americas.  He was trying to find an alternative route to the valuable spice markets of Asia by sailing West across the open Atlantic, rather than having to navigate around Africa.  The modern belief that people at the time feared he would drop off the edge of a flat earth is a myth, since people had accepted that the Earth was a sphere since the time of the Ancient Greeks.

Columbus’ fleet of three ships set off from the Canary Islands on 6th September 1492.  5 weeks later they landed in what are now the Bahamas.  Despite significant evidence against him, by the time Columbus died in 1506 he still refused to acknowledge that he had not, in fact, discovered the Western route to Asia.  However, he was made Governor of the Indies by the Catholic Monarchs, although they removed him after accusations of cruelty.  The Spanish rulers said that this cancelled the Capitulations of Santa Fe, and so refused to give him to 10% of all profits originally agreed.

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© Scott Allsop