Pedro de Alvarado was a Spanish conquistador who is credited with conquesting a large portion of Central America, including Guatemala and El Salvador. Well-known for his military prowess, he also played a significant role in Hernán Cortés’ conquest of Cuba and Mexico. Little is known about his early life prior to his reputation as an adventurous and fearless conquistador, while folk legends recount some of his early exploits that lack authenticity. He traversed the Atlantic Ocean from Badajoz, Extremadura, to land in Santo Domingo, Hispaniola. There he met another daring soul, Hernan Cortes, with whom he took part in Diego de Velázquez’s conquest of Cuba. He then commanded one of Cortes’ four forces during an expedition to Mexico and the siege of Tenochtitlan. By now an experienced and well-known military commander, he commanded the conquest of Quiché and Cakchiquel in Guatemala and created and served as governor of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala in 1524. He was well-known for his valor, but also for the horrible atrocities he inflicted on the indigenous peoples of the areas he conquered.
Childhood & Adolescence
Pedro de Alvarado was born to Gómez de Alvarado and Leonor de Contreras around 1485 in Badajoz, Extremadura. Pedro was twinned, had four biological brothers, and one illegitimate half-brother.
There is little information regarding his upbringing and early years, but there is no doubt that he matured into an adventurous young man. Around 1510, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean with his brothers on their way to the New World.
A Later Years
Pedro de Alvarado arrived in Santo Domingo, Hispaniola, shortly after meeting Hernan Cortes, a public scribe. The two men struck up a bond and joined Diego de Velázquez’s conquest of Cuba.
Diego de Velázquez was appointed governor of Cuba following the conquest. Alvarado established himself as a successful landowner. The governor, hearing stories of gold on the recently discovered Yucatán Peninsula, ordered a four-ship expedition with 260 men to examine the area. Alvarado was sent to the helm of one of these ships.
In April 1518, the expedition departed Cuba. The men affirmed to the west the existence of wealth in the Aztec Empire (modern-day Mexico) and also gathered golden trinkets as proof.
Alvarado ignored Juan de Grijalva, the expedition’s general commander, throughout the mission, which enraged him considerably. As a punishment, Grijalva returned Alvarado to Cuba to communicate the word of the treasure’s discovery.
Alvarado was warmly hailed in Cuba, and plans for other trips to the gold-rich provinces were quickly prepared.
In February 1519, a fresh expedition was organized to capture Mexico, this time with a fleet of 11 ships with 500 men and some horses. Hernan Cortes was appointed commander of the mission, which included Alvarado. Alvarado was a courageous man endowed with exceptional military abilities. Cortes saw this and entrusted him with significant leadership responsibilities.
Alvarado was instrumental in the siege of Tenochtitlan, commanding one of Cortes’ four forces. Cortes eventually despatched Alvarado to invade Guatemala with 180 cavalries, 300 infantry, enormous quantities of ammunition and gunpowder, and thousands of Mexican warriors allied with him.
Alvarado’s Spanish force quickly occupied K’iche’s kingdom and engaged in intense fights with the Kaqchikel monarchs, eventually compelling them to surrender to the Spanish. The Spaniards then defeated the Panacal Pipil. Alvarado’s army advanced east from Atiquipaque, capturing numerous other Xinca cities.
By 1523, Alvarado had conquered Guatemala’s Quiché and Cakchiquel. He then founded Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala in 1524, establishing the town as Guatemala’s first capital, which later expanded to encompass most of Central America. During this time period, he also established Spanish sovereignty over the nation of Cuzcatlán (El Salvador). In 1527, he was appointed governor of Guatemala.
Despite his popularity and fortune at the time, he craved adventure and embarked on an expedition to take Quito in 1534. However, Sebastian de Benalcazar had already seized Quito on behalf of the Pizarro brothers. He subsequently returned to Guatemala, selling his ships and armaments to Diego de Almagro, one of Francisco Pizarro’s captains.
His Significant Works
Pedro de Alvarado, a prominent conquistador who took part in several key Spanish victories, is most known for directing the conquest of Guatemala. Cortes assigned him to conquer Guatemala as part of the Spanish mission against the Aztecs. Alvarado conquered Guatemala and was appointed its ruler.
Personal History and Legacies
His first wife was Francisca de la Cueva, the niece of Francisco de Los Cobos, the Spanish king’s secretary and a member of the Albuquerque noble family. His wife was assassinated shortly after the couple arrived in America.
He later married Beatriz de la Cueva, a sister of his previous wife. He was never legally married and had no legitimate children from either of his relationships.
He was previously married to Luisa de Tlaxcala, a Nahua noblewoman and the daughter of Tlaxcallan Chief Xicotencatl the Elder. Despite the fact that she was not married to him, she was admired for her friendship with Alvarado and noble ancestry. Three children were born as a result of this union. Alvarado also fathered two additional children by other women.
In 1541, he received a letter from fellow Spanish conquistador Cristóbal de Rate appealing for assistance in defending Nochistlán from hostile Indians. He rallied his forces and rushed to aid Rate, but was mortally wounded in a bizarre horse accident and died a few days later on July 4, 1541.
Estimated Net worth