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Justifications for English Involvement in the New World
Digital History ID 69

Author:   Richard Hakluyt


Foreign propagandists seized on the writings of las Casas and Mercado and turned them to their own purposes. In one version of the Black Legend, an English writer explained that the Indians "were simple and plaine men, and lived without great labour." The Spaniards in the lust for gold, however, "forced the people (that were not used to labour) to stande all the daie in the hotte sunne gathering golde in the sande of the rivers. By this means a great nombre of them (not used to such paines) died, and a great number of them (seeing themselves brought from so quiet a life to such miserie and slaverie) of desperaction killed them selves. And many wolde not mary, bicause they wolde not have their children slaves to the Spaniards."

One English reprint of the writings of Bartolomé de las Casas bore the sensational title: "Popery Truly Display'd in its Bloody Colours: Or, a Faithful Narrative of the Horrid and Unexampled Massacres, Butcheries, and all manners of Cruelties that Hell and Malice could invent, committed by the Popish Spanish."

Religious differences and national interests contributed to the Black Legend. Dutch Protestants were rebelling against Spanish rule, while the French, Germans, and Italians were bitter over defeats at Spain's hands. England, which had become a Protestant country during the Reformation, not only aided the Dutch struggle for independence, it also encouraged English mariners like Francis Drake (1540-1596) and John Hawkins (1532-1595) to raid Spanish ships and towns in the Americas. In response, King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598) assembled an armada that tried unsuccessfully to invade England in 1588 and make it a Catholic country again.

The Black Legend provided powerful ideological sanction for English involvement in the New World. By seizing treasure from Spanish ships, staging raids on Spanish ports and cities in the Americas, and enlisting runaway slaves known as Cimarons to prey on the Spanish, Protestant England would strike a blow against Spain's aggressive Catholicism and rescue the Indians from Spanish slavery. But it is a pointed historical irony that the very English seamen, like Drake and Hawkins, who promised to rescue the Indians from Spanish bondage, also bought and enslaved Africans along the West African coast and transported them to Spanish America, where they sold them to Spanish colonists.

Richard Hakluyt (1552-1616), a London lawyer, was one of the most influential promoters of English colonization in North America. In this selection, he justifies English predations against Spanish shipping and ports in the New World. He also argues that the Pope's decision in 1494 to divide the New World between Spain and Portugal was in error.

In 1494, papal ambassadors had persuaded Spain and Portugal to accept the Treaty of Tordesillas, which established a "line of demarcation," about 1,100 miles west of the Azores. Spain received the right to all undiscovered territory west of the line, and Portugal was given all lands east of this boundary, which by the early sixteenth century included Brazil.


If you touch him [King Phillip II of Spain] in the [West] Indies, you touch the apple of his eye; for take away his treasure...[and] his old bands of soldiers will soon be dissolved, his purpose defeated, his power and strength diminished, his pride abated, and his tyranny utterly suppressed....

To confute the general claim and unlawful title of the insatiable Spaniards to...America...we...[must] answer the...most injurious and unreasonable donation granted by Pope Alexander the the great prejudice of all other Christian princes but especially to the damage of the Kings of England....

No Pope had any lawful authority to give any such donation all...our Savior Christ confessed openly to Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world....

The inducements that moved His holiness to grant those unequal donations unto Spain were, first, (as he saith) his singular desire and care to have the Christian Religion and Catholic faith exalted, and to be enlarged, and spread abroad throughout the world...and that the salvation of souls should be procured of everyone, and that the barbarous nations should be subdued....

The Kings of Spain have sent such hellhounds and wolves thither as have not converted but almost quite subverted them, and have rooted out above fifteen millions of reasonable creatures, as Bartholomew de Casas...doth write....

Richard Hakluyt, "A Discourse on Western Planting," Maine Historical Society Collections, 2nd Ser., Documentary History of the State of Maine (Cambridge, 1877), II, 36-41

Source: Richard Hakluyt, "A Discourse on Western Planting", Documentary History of the State of Maine, Maine Historical Society Collections, 2nd Ser., (Cambridge, Mass., 1877), vol. II, pp. 36-41.

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