Bernal Díaz del Castillo

Birth: 1496


Bernal Díaz del Castillo (c. 1496 – January 11, 1584) was a Spanish conquistador and historian, one of the chief chroniclers of the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. He was born at Medina del Campo, Spain, c. 1498; died after 1568. Born of poor parents, he began his military career as a common soldier.

In 1514, he went to America with Pedrarias Dávila who had shortly before been appointed governor of Darien. Thence he betook himself to Cuba and enlisted in the expedition to Yucatan under Francisco de Córdoba in 1517. He proceeded to Mexico with Grijalva in 1518 and returning to Cuba, set out a third time for Mexico under the banner of Hernando Cortés.

He took part, he tells us, in 119 battles, and was present at the surrender of the city of Mexico im 1521. As a reward for distinguished services he received a commission as regidor or governor of Santiago de los Caballeros in Guatemala, where he made his home. In 1552, Gómara, secretary and chaplain to Cortés, published at Saragossa his "Crónica de la Conquista de Nueva España", in which Díaz thought he gave undue credit to Cortés.

Díaz, therefore, in 1568 undertook to write his "Verdadera Historia de la Conquista de Nueva España", and though despairing of his ability to equal Gómara's literary polish, he determined to write a faithful narrative of the stirring events in which he had taken part, in order to correct the gross inaccuracies of Gómara, who had never even been in America, and to vindicate the valour of himself and others who had been completely overshadowed by the exaggerated reputation of Cortés.

The work lay neglected and unpublished until, in 1632, Father Alonso Remón of the Order of Our Lady of Mercy, found it in a private library and had it published at Madrid. The work is crude and devoid of style, and shows the ignorance and vanity of the author, but it will always be read with interest as being the work of an eyewitness and participant in the events described.

In 1689, Francisco de Fuentes, in his history of Guatemala, set forth his claim to be a descendant of Díaz, and gave certain facts concerning him and his work that had been until then unknown. It would seem that, although poor, the family of Díaz was noble and distinguished, for his father was regidor of the important town of Medina del Campo.

Fuentes also declared that the work was not published as written by Díaz, as it was not printed from the original manuscript but from an unauthorized copy in the library of one Ramírez del Prado which fell into the hands of Father Remón. The original manuscript, he claims, was in his own possession. "La Biblioteca de Autores Espanoles" (1848-86) of Rivadeneira contains the entire works of Díaz. A German translation by P.J. de Rehfues-Bonn-Marcas was published in 1838.

KEATINGE, Verdadera Historia de ta Conquista de Nueva España (tr. London, 1800); DIAZ DEL CASTILLO, Verdadera Historia de la Conquista de Nueva España (Madrid, 1796); LOCKHART, Memoirs of Bernal Díaz del Castillo, written by himself (London, 1844).


Ventura Fuentes, Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 4. (1913)

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