Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva

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Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva
Born Luis de Carvajal
Circa 1537
Mogadouro, Portugal
Died 1591
Mexico City
Other names Luis de Caravajal
Known for First governor of Nuevo Reino de León

Luis de Carvajal (sometimes Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva)[1] was a Portuguese-born, Spanish-Crown officer, who was awarded a large swath of territory in New Spain, known as Nuevo Reino de León, in 1579. He was born in Mogadouro, Portugal, around 1537, but was raised in the Kingdom of León, Spain at the home of the Count of Benavente, a contemporary and friend of Philip II, who named Carvajal Governor of Nuevo Reino the León and granted him many privileges[2] on the basis of previous services to the Spanish Crown.[3]

The territory granted to Carvajal included some portions in the south that had been settled by other Spaniards who refused to accept the terms of the grant[1] and sued Carvajal before the highest court in New Spain. Although the suits were decided in favor of Carvajal time and again, the Count of Villamanrique, a viceroy of New Spain who arrived there in 1585, sided with those Spaniards, and ordered the arrest of Carvajal in 1588 arguing that Carvajal was harming Indians, a charge that was never proven. His enemies knew he was a descendant of "conversos" and bribed one of his captains to mention his name to the Inquisition in Mexico City. There, Carvajal was accused of several charges, but only the charge of covering for his relatives who practiced Judaism was upheld. Sentenced to exile, he was first sent back to the court's jail, where he died a year later.[1]


Carvajal was born circa 1537 in Mogadouro, Portugal, to Gaspar de Carvajal and Catalina de León, descendants of Jewish conversos (converts to Catholicism).[4]

When he was eight years old, his family took him to Benavente, in the Spanish Kingdom of León. There, he was placed, probably as a page, in the house of the Count of Benavente, where he learned the manners and language of a Spanish nobleman. He lived there until his maternal uncle, Duarte de León, a wealthy Portuguese contractor sent him to the Portuguese islands of Cape Verde. There Carvajal learned a variety of skills, including navigation, accounting, and probably some military skills. In 1560, D. Sebastian, king of Portugal, named him treasurer for the assets of the deceased.[1]

In 1564, Carvajal left Cape Verde and went to Seville, where he married Guiomar Nuñez or Nunes, later known as Guitar de Ribera, the oldest daughter of Miguel Nuñez or Nunes, a Portuguese merchant stationed in Santo Domingo as an agent in the slave trade.[1] By the time Carvajal married, his father-in-law was involved in the transportation of wheat, a lucrative business in those days. He joined the business for about two years, but abandoned it because of his ambitious plans.[1]

First sojourn in New Spain

In 1567, Carvajal sailed for New Spain in his own ship as Admiral of a merchant fleet that sailed from the Canary Islands. Upon his arrival in Veracruz, he purchased a cattle hacienda near Tampico, and settled in that village, become its mayor the following year.[3] In late 1568, Carabajal rounded up 78 Englishmen marooned on the Tamaulipas coast by John Hawkins, who had lost some of his ships in a fight with the Spanish fleet at Veracruz.[1][3]

In 1572, Viceroy Martín Enríquez de Almanza, he commissioned Carvajal a captain, sending him to open a road through the mountains between the Pánuco and Mazapil. This long expedition resulted in the discovery, by Carvajal, of a mountain pass that allowed him to achieve his goal and that enabled him to discover the lands that later become Nuevo Reino de León.[3] After that expedition was completed, Carabajal was sent to chastise hostile Indian bands at the mouth of the Río Bravo (Rio Grande). He claimed to have punished the natives responsible for the massacre of 400 castaways from three ships wrecked on the coast en route to and from Spain. During the campaign, he crossed the lower Rio Grande into what is now Texas, becoming the first Spanish subject to do so.[3]

Due to his reputation as a successful pacifier of rebelling Indians, Viceroy Enríquez de Almanza commissioned him in 1575 to join Capt. Francisco de Puga in the pacification of a large area north of Mexico City centered in Xalpa.[3] In the process he had a fort built there where a large number of peaceful Indians could seek refuge from those who had rebelled.

In 1578, after obtaining an endorsement from the viceroy and the Audiencia de México for his desire to be granted an important official charge by the king he went to Spain. After lengthy negotiations in the Consejo de Indias, he obtained, on 31 May 1579 he succeeded in obtaining his desired post, and was awarded a large territory that was to be named Nuevo Reino de León.[2] From South to North that territory extend from Tampico to a just below present day Dallas, Texas. A similar distance extended East to west.[2]

Among the privileges granted to Carvajal by the king was that he could recruit, in Spain, up to 100 males, sixty of whom should be married, to be the first colonizers of his Nuevo Reino. Because of time limitations, the king ordered that the requirement that each should show proof of being an Old Christian should be waved.[5] This was not the only time the king did so, but it did result in the recruitment of several New Christians, including Carvajal's sister, Francisca de Carvajal, and her family, all of whom were later found to practice Judaism and were burnt at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition in Mexico City.[1]

Second sojourn in New Spain

In 1579 Phillip II, King of Spain, granted him the title of governor and captain-general with the mission to "discover, pacify and settle" a new province in New Spain (commonly confused as modern-day Mexico, but really much larger and encompassing it, Southwestern United States, Central America, the Caribbean and the Philippines) to be called Nuevo Reino de León, 200 leagues inland from the port of Tampico.

The charter allowed the Blood Purity Laws (Pureza de sangre), which stipulated that Spanish immigrants to the New World be at least three generations of Old Christian, to be lifted in an effort to expedite the recruitment of colonizers for Nuevo Reino de León. This was not the only time that the stipulation was lifted. However, most of Carvajal's recruits originated in the area near the border between Spain and Portugal, an area where many Iberian conversos, i.e. New Christians, lived.[5] Consequently, a fair number of those recruited were, in fact, New Christians, and some of them were Judaizantes, that is Christians who continued to practice Judaism under cover. Notable among them was the family of Francisca de Carvajal, sister of the governor.

The people recruited by Carvajal in Spain and Portugal were transported to the New world in a ship, an Urca, owned by Carvajal and named La Urca de Panuco.[6] The urca left Seville on 10 June 1580 and arrived in Tampico on 24 August of the same year. The following October he went to Mexico City to present his credentials to the new viceroy, the Count of Coruña.

In consideration of the appointment of governor, Carabajal undertook to colonize the territory at his own expense, being allowed to repay himself out of the revenues. His original jurisdiction was to comprise a somewhat ill-defined territory, beginning at the port of Tampico, extending along the River Pánuco, and thence turning northward; but it was not to exceed 200 leagues either way. It would seem to have included Tamaulipas, as well as the states of Nuevo León and Coahuila, and parts of San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Durango, Chihuahua and Texas.[1]

Towards the end of 1581, Carvajal started to settle the unexplored parts of his territory, founding, as required by his capitulación with the king, several villages. On 10 December 1581, he founded Villa de la Cueva de León, no longer in existence, and in April of 1582 he founded, as a city, Ciudad de León, now Cerralvo. About the same time he ordered his captain (and later Lieutenant) Gaspar Castaño de Sosa to found Villa de San Luis, now Monterrey, the capital of the modern Mexican state Nuevo León.[1][7] Castaño de Sosa is also well known as the leader of the first attempt to colonize Nuevo México.[8]

As mentioned earlier, the territory granted to Carvajal by Philip II included lands that were contested by other Spaniards living in New Spain. These individuals sued Carvajal in the highest court in New Spain -The Audiiencia de México. Lasting more than three years these legal suits were decided, time and again in favor of Carvajal.[1] But the litigants did not give up. Taking advantage of a sympathetic prosecutor and of the arrival of a new viceroy who was not cognizant of the issues, they argued, without any evidence, that Carvajal was harming the pacified Indians. The new viceroy, Count of Villamanrique, siding with the litigants ordered, near the end of 1588, the arrest of Carvajal. He was arrested in Almaden and brought to jail of the Court in Mexico City. Seeing that no believable evidence exist to prove the charges that Carvajal was enslaving Indians, the viceroy and his prosecutor devised another plan to bring down Carvajal.

This was based on the fact that Carvajal's ancestors were New Christians. To carry it out they had Felipe Nuñez (or Nunes), a relative of Carvajal and one of his captains mention the governor`s name in the Inquisition. This was sufficient to have Carvajal transferred to the jails of the Inquisition. Although several charges against him were initially mentioned, only the charge of covering the Judain activities of his sister and her children remained. In the end he was sentenced to a six-year exile in an auto-da-fe held on 24 February 1590 in Mexico City. However, before the sentence was carried out, he was sent back to the jail of the Court, where he died, nearly one year later, on 13 February 1591.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Temkin, Samuel (2011). Luis de Carvajal: The origins of Nuevo Reino de León. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Sunstone Press. ISBN 978-0-86534-829-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Temkin, Samuel (2007). "La Capitulación de Carvajal". Revista de Humanidades: 23, 105–39. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Temkin, Samuel (2006). "Los Meritos y Services de Luis de Carvajal". Revista de Humanidades: 21, 47–185. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Temkin, Samuel (2007). "The Crypto-Jewish Ancestral Roots of Luis de Carvajal, Governor of Nuevo Reino de León,1580-1590". Colonial Latin American Historical Review. 16: 65–93. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Temkin, Samuel (2008). "Luis de Carvajal and his people". Association of Jewish Studies Review: 32, 79–100. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Temkin, Samuel (2011). "La Urca de Carvajal y sus pasajeros". Revista de Humanidades: 27–28, 179–210. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Temkin, Samuel (2015). Gaspar Castaño de Sosa: Conquistador, Explorador, Fundador. Saltillo, Coahuila, México: Universidad Autónoma de Coahuila. ISBN 978-607-9417-12-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Temkin, Samuel (2010). "Caspar Castaño de Sosa's 'Illegal' Estrada". New Mexico Historical Review, vol. 85, 259-280.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Temkin, Samuel, "Luis de Carvajal: The Origins of Nuevo Reino de León", Santa Fe, Sunstone Press, 2011
  • Cohen, Martin A., "The Martyr", Albuquerque, U of NM Press, 1973.
  • Hammond, George P. and Rey, Apapito., The Rediscovery of New Mexico, 1580-1594, Albuquerque: U of NM Press, 1966
  • Landis, C.K. Carabajal the Jew, a Legend of Monterey, Vineland, N. J., 1894.
  • Palacio, Vicente Riva. El Libro Rojo, Mexico, 1870.
  • Toro, Alfonso. La familia Carvajal: Estudio histórico sobre los judíos y la Inquisición de la Nueva España en el siglo XVI (2 vols.), Mexico City: Patria, 1944.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainCyrus Adler and George Alexander Kohut (1901–1906). "Carabajal". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). Carabajal. Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links