Patterns of Conquest
Burning of Victims during the Inquisition
When the Spaniards entered a village in the “new world,” they followed a routine first developed in the Canary Islands called the requerimiento. The invaders read out loud, in Spanish or in an appropriate translation if they knew the native language, a formal document that announced their arrival and their intentions and then offered the natives a choice: accept Christianity and Spanish rule or suffer enslavement and/or death.
The experiences of the reconquista had led to the formulation of an elaborate code of rules about the “just war,” and the rights of the victors over the vanquished population, including the right to enslave it. These rules were extended as a matter of course to the Canary Islands. The conquerors of the Canaries used, for instance, the strange technique of the requerimiento, which was later employed in America, whereby the bewildered natives were presented before the opening of hostilities with a formal document giving them the option of accepting Christianity and Spanish rule.
It could, however, be argued that there was a difference in kind between the Canary Islanders and the Moors of South Spain, since the islanders were totally ignorant of Christianity until the arrival of the Spaniards, whereas the Moors had heard of Christianity but rejected it. Slavery would surely seem an excessively harsh punishment for mere ignorance.
J.M Elliot, Imperial Spain, 46-7, 58 in 1492: Discovery/Invasion/Encounter, 9
Much later, in American, the long speech would be read in the middle of the night, without an interpreter, some distance away from the village that would be attacked in the morning, so that the sleeping natives never knew their “options” before the surprise massacre.
Columbus bids farewell to Queen Isabella
Ferdinand and Isabella came to power because they were able to consolidate the various factions during the long war against the Moors, but they had very little economic power. They looked with longing at the riches the Mediterranean nation-states gained from commerce. In addition to the need to refocus the war machine and the desire for riches, the traditional hostility between Spain and Portugal provided another incentive to acquire possessions overseas. Portugal had already settled the Azores and Madeira, far out in the Atlantic.
Following the lead of Portugal, the Spanish monarchs launched a successful attack against one of the Canary Islands and thereby began their experience with colonization. They then used the Canaries as a sort of laboratory for practicing the techniques later used in the “new world.”
In its later stages, much of the reconquest was conducted under control of the crown with financial support from both public and private institutions. This pattern was further developed in the occupation of the Canaries in a contract between the state and a company of merchants from Seville. The combination of money from merchants and legal authority from the royal family provided a useful precedent for the later voyages of discovery. The Canaries would also be critically important as a staging point for the voyages themselves.
All of Columbus’s expeditions were launched from the Canary archipelago.
Eventually, Portugal would concentrate its efforts on finding a way to Asia eastward around Africa; Spain, in the person of Christopher Columbus, would sail west.