Bernal Díaz del Castillo Biography

Bernal Díaz del Castillo was born in Medina
del Campo, Spain, between 1492 and 1498
He was of humble family and received little
formal education
His first expedition to the New World was in
1514 with Piedras Dávila but that expedition
was terminated by diseases and political unrest
He arrived to Cuba where he was promised an
encomienda which he never received
In an encomienda the Spanish crown granted a
person a specified number of natives for whom
they were to take responsibility. In theory, the
receiver of the grant was to protect the natives
from warring tribes and to instruct them in the
Spanish language and in the Catholic faith: in
return they could extract tribute from the natives
in the form of labor, gold, or other products. In
practice, the difference between encomienda and
slavery could be minimal. Many natives were
forced to do hard labor and subjected to extreme
punishment and death if they resisted
In 1517, Díaz del Castillo sailed with Francisco
Hernández de Córdoba to an expedition from
Cuba to Yucatán in 21 days
This expedition was a failure and only few
Spaniards were able to return to Cuba after
sailing to Florida
Díaz del Castillo, returned to the coast of
Yucatán in 1518 with the expedition of Juan de
Grijalva who only explored the coast
“discovered” by the previous expedition.
Upon returning to Cuba, Díaz del Castillo
enlisted in Hernando Cortés’ expedition
In the Cortes’ expedition Díaz del Castillo
participated in the Conquest of Mexico
Díaz del Castillo writes The True History of the
Conquest of New Spain almost 50 years after the
events happened
The reason he gives for writing his narrative is
because the official historian Francisco López
de Gómara wrote The Conquest of Mexico using
Hernan Cortes’ letters and other documents
but López de Gómara was never in Mexico
Therefore, Díaz del Castillo writes to argue that
López de Gómara’s narrative was a fiction and
his was the one telling the true.
The two histories follow two historical genres;
one based on primary readings and the other
based on the eye witness of the historical
Even though Díaz del Castillo insists in his
narrative that he is only a soldier with no
formal education, his narrative shows a great
fluidity of style that some have compare to the
novelas de caballería medievales (Medieval novels
of chivalry)
As a reward for his service, Díaz del Castillo
was appointed governor of Santiago de los
Caballeros, present-day Antigua Guatemala.
Díaz del Castillo died in 1585 without seeing
his book published.
A manuscript was found in a Madrid library in
1632 and published, providing an eye-witness
account of the events, told from the perspective
of a common soldier.
Among the greatness of the Aztec culture,
Bernal describes a pretty well organized
market place and beautifully arranged
botanical and zoological gardens.

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