Zaragoza 1529: the Moluccas and the Straits

The Treaty of Zaragoza (5 April 1529) confirmed D. João III of Portugal in the gains of D. João II at Tordesillas: the interests of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation, outweighed those of D. Carlos I, Rey de- 95 -Castilla. Charles, deeply involved in European wars and politics and, as ever, deeply in need of hard cash, was wise to cut his losses; and in view of French piracies and menaces against Brazil and Guinea, D. João also was ready to come to terms. The major provision of the Treaty was that a line of demarcation should be adopted from Pole to Pole, defined by laying off 19° on a bearing NE by E from the Moluccas; beyond this line (which in real terms, then of course not known, gave Portugal about 187° of longitude against Spain's 173°) the King of Castile should not claim, trade, or sail. There was an escape clause, which can hardly have been meant as anything but a face-saving pro forma: should future investigation establish accurately that the Moluccas lay east of the true antimeridian of the Tordesillas line, the agreement would be void. In return, João III would immediately pay over 350,000 ducats: an advance on his starting offer of 200,000, but a substantial shortfall from the original Castilian demand of 1,000,000. Technically this was not, as it is sometimes called, a sale of rights, rather a mortgaging. Probably nobody was deceived by this aspect; in Spain the transaction was seen as an almost shameful surrender.[22] Incidentally, this was the first European treaty on claims in the Pacific.

Spanish sell-out or no, it was commonsense: as Nowell points out, in ten years fifteen ships had sailed for the Spice Islands from the Spains, Old and New; one only, del Cano's Victoria, had come home—and that only by illicitly and perilously running the Portuguese gauntlet round the Cape.[23] The costs in blood and treasure of maintaining a foothold were too great. Although, Tomé Pires notwithstanding, the voyage from Malacca (and a fortiori from Goa) could be long and hazardous, the logistic advantages were on Portugal's side, and were enhanced by a much more detailed and comprehensive knowledge of the lands and seas surrounding the Moluccas, and (not less important) of the pre-existing network of trade and political relations. That the Spaniards were able to put up so bold a front for so long, despite the extreme fragility of their lines of communication, was due as much as anything else to the extraordinary indiscipline and self-seeking of the Portuguese leaders, who except for Antonio Galvão paid scant heed to the general interest of their king and country, being more intent on personal booty.[24]

Yet in the end, despite the daring and endurance of so many men, ‘For all practical purposes, the status of the two countries in the Moluccas was again what it had been before Magellan appeared at the Spanish court.…’[25] Spain was indeed to trespass successfully over the new line, in the Philippines; but that had to wait for over thirty years, when the base in New Spain had become stronger. Even then, the Spanish presence was tenuous until the problem of the return route had been solved, and that in turn was only after two disastrous failures, those of Grijalva and Villalobos.

The real significance of the voyages of Loaysa and Saavedra lies in their dearly-bought experience. On the positive side, Saavedra did find the correct outward- 96 -course from New Spain; on the negative, his ill-starred attempts to return should have shown the folly of trying to beat back in low latitudes, where currents and winds (when there were winds) were adverse. The lesson was not immediately learnt, but even these failures doubtless contributed to the deductions of Urdaneta and others, by which the true return route, north into the Westerlies, was found.

Loaysa's was the second Spanish trans-Pacific voyage to use the Straits of Magellan—and the last for over two centuries. The navigation was too long and difficult, compared with that from New Spain, to be worthwhile. Only two more Spanish attempts at a westwards traverse of the Straits were made in the sixteenth century, and both had more limited objectives than the Moluccas. In 1535 Simon de Alcazaba penetrated the Straits with a commission for an entrada into Patagonia: of the forty-one named members of his company, nineteen (including himself) were drowned, murdered, hanged or headed, starved or marooned. Four years later the Bishop of Plasencia sent out Alonso de Camargo to open a route to Peru, judging that the longer navigation would be offset by avoiding the double break-of-bulk at the Isthmus. Of Camargo's three ships, only his own reached Valparaiso (the first ship to anchor there) and Callao, possibly sighting Juan Fernandez; one was wrecked, one returned to Spain, though it seems to have penetrated the Strait of Le Maire and wintered in the south of Tierra del Fuego.[26] But this promising if limited success was not followed up, doubtless because it would have interfered with the system of Seville and the vested interests built up at Panama. Into such disrepute did Magellan's great discovery fall that it was rumoured that his Straits had been blocked by some natural disaster.[27]

With the settlement of Zaragoza, the Moluccas, hitherto so significant as a magnet for trans-Pacific voyaging, begin to fade out of Pacific history proper, to revert as it were to a Southeast Asian allegiance. The Portuguese remained deeply suspicious of anything suggesting a new Spanish approach; but until the Union of the Crowns in 1580, such Spaniards as reached the Moluccas were strays, as were Grijalva's mutineers, or enforced by real distress, like Villalobos. With the advent of the Dutch in 1599, the Spice Islands were drawn more and more into the ambit of the Indian Ocean rather than that of the Pacific. With few exceptions, of which Drake's visit was most notable, not the Moluccas but the Philippines and the Marianas (especially Guam) became the main objective of trans-Pacific voyaging, until in the eighteenth century the role was taken over by Batavia, but with a differing function: refitting, not plunderage. Nevertheless, until 1662 the Moluccas remained indirectly involved in Pacific affairs, largely as an outreach of the Spanish presence in the Philippines.