Christopher Columbus

The Big Idea

During the time Columbus worked as a merchant sailor, Portugal was desperately trying to find an eastern sea route to Asia. The land route had been blocked off from Western Europe by Muslim nations, and the Europeans wanted trade goods from Asia including spices and silk. The eastern sea route, around the continent of Africa, was taking a very long time to find. Bartholomew Dias had rounded the tip of Africa in 1488, but had made no further progress up the coast. Columbus came up with what he thought was a better idea Ė to sail west to get to Asia rather than to sail around Africa.

This idea was revolutionary not because most people believed the earth was flat, but because no one knew how big the earth really was. No one knew how far it would be or how long it would take to get to the other side of the world. Scholars put forth several different ideas about how large the earth was; as it turns out, Columbus underestimated the size, believing it to be much smaller than it really is.

Columbus went to the rulers of Portugal to try and get money to make his trip west. However, the Portuguese declined, believing that the trip would be far too long and dangerous, and simply not worth the money. Columbus then went to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain . It took Columbus seven years to convince the rulers of Spain to fund his trip west across the Atlantic. When he finally succeeded, about half the money was provided by the government of Spain , and the other half was provided by private citizens. Columbus demanded quite a bit of wealth and status for his trouble, including the title of Admiral of the Ocean Sea , and governorship of all lands discovered or conquered. The following document is the agreement between Columbus and Ferdinand and Isabella:

Title granted by the Catholic Sovereigns to Cristobal Colon of Admiral, Viceroy and Governor of the Islands and Mainland That May be Discovered.

Don Ferdinand and Donna Isabella, by the grace of God King and Queen of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Sicily, Granada, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, Majorca, Seville, Sardinia, Cordova, Corsica, Murcia, Jaen, Algarbe, Algeciras, Gibraltar, and the Canary Islands; Count and Countess of Barcelona; Lords of Biscay and Molina; Dukes of Athens and Neopatria; Counts of Roussilon and Cerdagne, Marquises of Oristano and Goziano; Forasmuch as you, Cristobal Colon, are going by our command, with some of our ships and with our subjects, to discover and acquire certain islands and mainland in the ocean, and it is hoped that, by the help of God, some of the said islands and mainland in the said ocean will be discovered and acquired by your pains and industry; and as it is a just and reasonable thing that since you incur the said danger for our service you should be rewarded for it, and since we desire to honor and favor you on account of what is aforesaid, it is our will and pleasure that you, the said Cristobal Colon, after you have discovered and acquired the said islands and mainland in the said ocean, or any of them whatsoever, shall be our Admiral of the said islands and mainland which you may thus discover and acquire, and shall be our Admiral and Viceroy and Governor therein, and shall be empowered from that time forward and entitle yourself Don Cristobal Colon, and that your sons and successors in the said office and charge may likewise entitle and call themselves Don, and Admiral and Viceroy and Governor thereof; and that you may have power to use and exercise the said office of Admiral, together with the said office of Viceroy and Governor of the said Islands and mainland which you may discover and acquire, by yourself or by your lieutenants, and to hear and determine all the suits and causes civil and criminal appertaining to the said offices of Admiralty, Viceroy, and Governor according as you shall find by law, and as the Admirals of our kingdoms are accustomed to use and exercise it; and may have power to punish and chastise delinquents, and exercise the said offices of Admiralty, Viceroy, and Governor, you and your said lieutenants, in all that concerns and appertains to the said offices and to each of them, according as our High Admiral in the Admiralty of our kingdoms levies and is accustomed to levy them. And by this our patent, or by the transcript thereof signed by a public scrivener, we command Prince Don Juan, our very dear and well beloved son, and the Infantes, dukes, prelates, marquises, counts, masters of orders, priors, commanders, and members of our council, and auditors of our audiencia, alcaldes, and other justices whomsoever of our household, court, and chancery, and sub-commanders, alcaldes of castles and fortified and unfortified houses, and all councilors, assistants, regidores, alcaldes, bailiffs, judges, veincuatros, jurats, knights, esquires, officers, and liege men of all the cities, towns, and places of our kingdoms and dominions, and of those which you may conquer and acquire, and the captains, masters, mates, officers, mariners, and seamen, our natural subjects who now are or hereafter shall be. And each and any of them, that upon the said islands and mainland in the said ocean being discovered and acquired by you, and the oath and formality requisite in such case having been made and done by you or by him who may have your procuration, they shall have and hold you from thenceforth for the whole of your life, and your son and successors after you, and successor after successor for ever and ever, as our Admiral of the said ocean, and as Viceroy and Governor of the said islands and mainland, which you, the said Don Cristobal Colon, may discover and acquire; and they shall treat with you, and with your said lieutenants whom you may place in the said offices of Admiral, Viceroy, and Governor, about everything appertaining thereto, and shall pay and cause to be paid you the salary, dues, and other things annexed and appertaining thereto, and shall pay and cause to be paid to you the salary, dues and other things annexed and appertaining to the said offices, and shall observe and cause to be observed toward you all the honors, graces, favors, liberties, pre-eminences, prerogatives, exemptions, immunities, and all other things, and each of them, which in virtue of the said offices of Admiral, Viceroy, and Governor you shall be entitled to have and enjoy, and which ought to be observed towards you in every respect fully and completely so that nothing may be diminished therefrom; and that neither therein nor in any part thereof shall they place or consent to place hindrance or obstacle against you; for we by this our patent from now henceforth grant to you the said offices of Admiralty, Viceroy, and Governor, by right of inheritance for ever and ever, and we give you actual and prospective possession thereof, and each of them, and power and authority to use and exercise it, and to collect the dues and salaries annexed and appertaining to them and to each of them, according to what is aforesaid. Concerning all that is aforesaid, if it should be necessary and you should require it of them, we command our chancellor and notaries and the other officers who are at the board of our seals to give, deliver, pass, and seal for you our patent of privilege with the circle of signatures, in the strongest, firmest, and most sufficient manner that you request and may find needful, and neither one nor the other of you or them shall do contrary hereto in any manner, under penalty of our displeasure and of ten thousand maravedis to our chamber, upon every one who shall do the contrary. And further we command the man who shall show them this our patent, to cite them to appear before us in our court, wheresoever we may be, within fifteen days from the day of citation, under the said penalty, under which we command every public scrivener who may be summoned for this purpose, to give the person who shall show it to him a certificate thereof signed with his signature, whereby we may know in what manner our command is executed. Given in our city of Granada, on the thirtieth day of the month of April, in the year of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ one thousand four hundred and ninety-two. I, the King, I, the Queen, I, Juan de Coloma, Secretary of the King and of the Queen, our Lords, caused this to be written by their command. Granted in form, Roderick, Doctor. Registered, Sebastian de Olano. Francisco de Madrid, Chancellor.