Christopher Columbus and the New World HTML version

Crisis In The Admiral's Life
Columbus was not far wrong in his estimate of the effect likely to be produced by his
manacles, and when the ships of Villegio arrived at Cadiz in October, the spectacle of an
Admiral in chains produced a degree of commiseration which must have exceeded his
highest hopes. He was now in his fiftieth year and of an extremely venerable appearance,
his kindling eye looking forth from under brows of white, his hair and beard snow-white,
his face lined and spiritualised with suffering and sorrow. It must be remembered that
before the Spanish people he had always appeared in more or less state. They had not that
intimacy with him, an intimacy which perhaps brought contempt, which the people in
Espanola enjoyed; and in Spain, therefore, the contrast between his former grandeur and
this condition of shame and degradation was the more striking. It was a fact that the
people of Spain could not neglect. It touched their sense of the dramatic and picturesque,
touched their hearts also perhaps—hearts quick to burn, quick to forget. They had
forgotten him before, now they burned with indignation at the picture of this venerable
and much-suffering man arriving in disgrace.
His letter to Dofia Juana, hastily despatched by him, probably through the office of some
friendly soul on board, immediately on his arrival at Cadiz, was the first news from the
ship received by the King and Queen, and naturally it caused them a shock of surprise. It
was followed by the despatches from Bobadilla and by a letter from the Alcalde of Cadiz
announcing that Columbus and his brothers were in his custody awaiting the royal orders.
Perhaps Ferdinand and Isabella had already repented their drastic action and had
entertained some misgivings as to its results; but it is more probable that they had put it
out of their heads altogether, and that their hasty action now was prompted as much by
the shock of being recalled to a consciousness of the troubled state of affairs in the New
World as by any real regret for what they had done. Moreover they had sent out
Bobadilla to quiet things down; and the first result of it was that Spain was ringing with
the scandal of the Admiral's treatment. In that Spanish world, unsteadfast and unstable,
when one end of the see-saw was up the other must be down; and it was Columbus who
now found himself high up in the heavens of favour, and Bobadilla who was seated in the
dust. Equipoise any kind was apparently a thing impossible; if one man was right the
other man must be wrong; no excuses for Bobadilla; every excuse for the Admiral.
The first official act, therefore, was an order for the immediate release of the Admiral and
his brothers, followed by an invitation for him to proceed without delay to the Court at
Granada, and an order for the immediate payment to him of the sum of 2000 ducats
[perhaps $250,000 in the year 2000 D.W.] this last no ungenerous gift to a Viceroy whose
pearl accounts were in something less than order. Perhaps Columbus had cherished the
idea of appearing dramatically before the very Court in his rags and chains; but the
cordiality of their letter as well as the gift of money made this impossible. Instead, not
being a man to do things by halves, he equipped himself in his richest and most splendid
garments, got together the requisite number of squires and pages, and duly presented