A historic letter composed by Christiopher Columbus on February 15th, 1493 announcing the successful return of this first voyage

The Letter of Christopher Columbus Announcing the Discovery of the New World

Portugal — February 15, 1493

The Letter of Christopher Columbus Announcing the Discovery of the New World

The Letter of Christopher Columbus Announcing the Discovery of the New World

Portugal — February 15, 1493

  1. One copy addressed Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504) and Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452-1516)

  2. The other addressed Luis de Santángel (d. 1498), the comptroller of Ferdinand’s household

  3. Columbus account stresses the riches of what he thought were islands in Southeast Asia

The Letter of Christopher Columbus Announcing the Discovery of the New World

Alternative Titles:
  • La Carta de Colón anunciando el Descubrimiento del Nuevo Mundo
  • Brief von Christoph Kolumbus, der die Entdeckung der Neuen Welt ankündigt
La Carta de Colón anunciando el Descubrimiento del Nuevo Mundo
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

Two riders carrying letters with world-changing news set out from the port of Lisbon in search of the Catholic Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand after Christopher Columbus landed there on March 4th, 1493. They carried a report on the discovery of the “Indies” that was apparently composed by Columbus aboard the caravel Niña on February 15th, 1493. The report omits details of the harrowing 33-day journey across the Atlantic but is filled with his descriptions of the Caribbean islands that the first voyage encountered. Columbus surveys both the geography and the people, stressing how peaceful and open to conversion they were. Hispaniola and Cuba receive the most attention, and Columbus exaggerates their size and wealth in order to help encourage the funding of a second expedition.

The Letter of Christopher Columbus Announcing the Discovery of the New World

The most famous mistake in the world: in search of a short cut to the riches of India and China, Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) sailed into the Caribbean in 1492 and made the first European contact with the Americas since the Viking explorer Leif Erikson set foot there 500 years earlier. As Columbus returned from his historic first voyage, he composed a letter aboard the caravel Niña on February 15th, 1493. Two copies were made, one addressed to the Catholic Monarchs themselves, Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504) and Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452-1516), and the other to Luis de Santángel (d. 1498), the comptroller of King Ferdinand’s household and one of the most powerful men in Spain. As the holder of the royal purse strings, convincing Santángel of the necessity for a second, even larger expedition as soon as possible was extremely important. After a storm forced Columbus to land in hostile Lisbon, it was critical to get word to Santángel before the Portuguese king could discover the truth of what occurred on the first voyage and organize a competing expedition to claim it all for himself.

News for the Catholic Monarchs

Columbus’s letter skips over the harrowing 33-day journey across the Atlantic and describes the islands he discovers as being off the coast of “India beyond the Ganges”, an archaic term going back to Ptolemy that generally corresponds to Southeast Asia. He believes that mainland Cathay (China) and all its riches are very nearby, despite his disappointment at not finding any major cities or ports, just villages and nature. Of the six islands he has visited, he feels Hispaniola is lush and well-suited for the establishment of a colony. To that end, he has had a fort constructed there manned by some traders and colonists. Columbus goes on to state that not only are the islanders living in a primitive state and lacking in iron weapons, but that they are generally timid and peaceful, i.e. pliable for subjugation and conversion. Nonetheless, he relates tales of “monsters”, which he believes to be a warlike tribe, as well as a rumors of an island inhabited by a tribe of female warriors armed with copper weapons and shields. Such tales designed to inspire the imagination were balanced out by rumors of nearby islands filled with gold, spices, and slaves to entice the lust of the Catholic Monarchs for new lands and riches.

The Printing Press Spreads the Word

Printed copies of Columbus’ letter were reproduced within weeks of his return: Spanish copies began appearing in Barcelona by April, Latin copies in Rome a month later, and printing presses in eight more cities were producing it by the end of 1493. By the end of the decade, 3,000 copies were produced, which made it a best seller for the early days of printing. Suddenly it seemed as though a western route to India had been discovered, but the realization that it was in fact an entirely different continent would take some time. These printed editions are the only surviving evidence of the letter, because the originals written by Columbus have been lost to history. The first printing, in Spanish, is presented here and like other printed editions, omits Columbus’ petitions for the rights and honors due to him. Doubtless Isabella and Ferdinand wanted to keep such petty matters private.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
La Carta de Colón anunciando el Descubrimiento del Nuevo Mundo
Brief von Christoph Kolumbus, der die Entdeckung der Neuen Welt ankündigt
Origin
Portugal
Date
February 15, 1493
Language
Artist / School

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „The Letter of Christopher Columbus Announcing the Discovery of the New World“

La Carta de Colón anunciando el Descubrimiento del Nuevo Mundo
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La Carta de Colón anunciando el Descubrimiento del Nuevo Mundo

1 volume: This facsimile is not complete.
Publisher
Circulo Cientifico – Madrid, 2018
Limited Edition
525 copies
Commentary
1 volume
Language: Spanish
More Information
Reproduction of the lost original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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