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Biography of Hernando Pizarro

Hernando Pizarro was born in the city of Trujillo, in Extremadura, Spain, between 1502 and 1503. He was the only legitimate son of Captain Gonzalo Pizarro and Rodríguez de Aguilar, and Isabel de Vargas and Rodríguez de Aguilar, who were cousins. On his father’s side, he was the half-brother of Francisco, Gonzalo and Juan Pizarro. Being very young he participated in the wars in Italy and Navarra, receiving the rank of captain in the latter. When his father died in 1522, he received the testamentary order to watch over the education of his younger brothers, Juan and Gonzalo. He participated together with his brothers in the expedition commanded by his older brother, Francisco Pizarro, who was key in the conquest of the Inca empire, in present-day Peru. Hernando was the most important lieutenant of his brother Francisco and as such received a large part of the profits from the conquest. He then he participated in the civil wars between the conquerors. He also personally defeated and executedDiego de Almagro, for which he was imprisoned in Spain.

Your trip to the Americas

When his older brother Francisco returned to Spain in 1528 seeking to recruit men for a conquest expedition, Hernando joined his brothers Gonzalo and Juan, and his illegitimate half-brother Francisco Martín de Alcántara. Francisco had already made a name for himself in the New World and was one of Panama’s leading Spanish citizens; however, he dreamed of a great campaign of conquest like that of Hernán Cortés in Mexico.

The Pizarro brothers traveled to the Americas and organized an expedition leaving Panama in December 1530. They disembarked on what is now the coast of Ecuador and began their activities moving south along the coast, towards present-day Peru; On their way, they observed the expressions of a rich and powerful culture. In November 1532 the conquistadors entered the continent arriving at the city of Cajamarca, where they had a stroke of luck. The ruler of the Inca Empire, Atahualpa, had just defeated his brother Huáscar in a civil war and was in Cajamarca. The Spanish persuaded Atahualpa to grant them an audience; they betrayed and captured him on November 16, killing many of his men and servants.

The looting of the Incas

The Spanish began the looting by holding Atahualpa captive and asking him for an extravagant ransom that the Inca ruler accepted: filling rooms with gold and silver. At that time, Hernando was the most trusted lieutenant of his brother; other lieutenants were Hernando de Soto and Sebastián de Benalcázar.

During these days, the Spanish conquistadors heard stories of great wealth in the temple of Pachacamac, located relatively close to present-day Lima. Francisco Pizarro assigned Hernando the task of finding the temple. Hernando and a group of horsemen found the temple in three weeks, but were disappointed to find that there was not much gold there. On the way back Hernando convinced Chalcuchima, one of Atahualpa’s top generals, to accompany him back to Cajamarca; thus Chalcuchima was captured, an act that neutralized the great threat of rebellion.

In June 1533 the Spanish had made an enormous fortune in gold and silver by looting the Incas; they were quantities of precious metals that had not been seen before. It was then that Hernando Pizarro, under the orders of the royal governor, went to Seville to bring the fifth real, which was the share of the crown in the profits of the conquerors: a fifth of everything obtained. He left on June 13, 1533 and arrived in Spain on January 9, 1534. King Carlos V received him personally and granted generous concessions to the Pizarro brothers. Some of the treasure pieces had not yet been melted down to extract the gold and silver and there were original Inca artworks that were on public display for a while.

Hernando recruited more conquistadors and returned to Peru.

The greed of the conquerors

In the following years, Hernando continued to be the most loyal lieutenant of his brother Francisco. As a result of conflicts in the division of the booty and the conquered lands, the Pizarro brothers had a violent confrontation with Diego de Almagro, who had been an important part of the first expedition. And then a civil war broke out between the supporters of the Pizarro brothers and those of Diego de Almagro. In April 1537 Almagro captured Cuzco, where Hernando and Gonzalo Pizarro were. Gonzalo escaped and Hernando was later released as part of negotiations to end the fighting. Once again, Francisco assigned Hernando a sensitive task, giving him a large contingent of the conquistador army to fight against Almagro. Hernando defeated Diego de Almagro at the Battle of Salinas on April 26, 1538.

In April 1539 Hernando Pizarro returned to Spain to deliver the royal fifth to the crown and to give explanations about the execution of Diego de Almagro, who was the governor of Nueva Toledo. When he arrived in Spain, his problems with the law began, exacerbated by his lack of money, since a large part of the repatriated money had been seized. The almagristas accused him of being the cause of the rebellions of Manco Cápac and Diego de Almagro, as well as the execution of Almagro.

Three months later, Hernando’s situation worsened as a result of the murder of his brother Francisco in his palace in Lima, together with Francisco Martín de Alcántara (Juan Pizarro had already died fighting in 1536 and Gonzalo Pizarro was executed for treason against the Spanish crown in 1548). The crown imprisoned Hernando Pizarro, who spent almost two decades in prison, from 1540 to 1559; the first years in Madrid and the rest in the castle of Medina del Campo.

On April 20, 1562, after more than two decades of lawsuits and appeals, the final sentence was issued, forcing him to pay various compensations, including 2,000 ducats to hospitals in Peru. In any case, Hernando had a privileged situation of confinement that allowed him to manage his assets and even have a lover. Hernando was the executor of his brother Francisco’s and kept most of the loot by marrying her niece Francisca, Francisco’s only surviving daughter, with whom he had five children. King Felipe II freed Hernando and he moved with Francisca to the city of Trujillo, where he built a palace that is now a museum. Hernando Pizarro died in 1578.

The historical importance of Hernando Pizarro

Hernando Pizarro was a relevant actor in two great historical events in Peru: the conquest of the Inca Empire and the brutal civil wars between the conquerors. As his brother Francisco’s right-hand man, Hernando helped the Pizarro brothers become the most powerful family in the New World in 1540. He was considered the kindest of the Pizarro brothers; it was for this reason that he was sent to the Spanish court to secure privileges for the Pizarro family. He had better relations with the Peruvian natives than his brothers; Manco Inca, a puppet ruler installed by the Spanish, trusted Hernando Pizarro, even though he despised Gonzalo and Juan Pizarro.

In the civil wars between the conquistadors, Hernando won the crucial victory against Diego de Almagro, thus defeating the greatest enemy of the Pizarro family. Almagro’s execution was probably a mistake, as the king had elevated Almagro to the status of a nobleman. Hernando paid for his mistake by spending 20 years in prison.


Esteban Mira Horses. Hernando Pizarro and the perpetuation of his lineage. An unknown will from 1557 – CHDE Trujillo Historical Colloquiums of Extremadura, 2014.

John Hemming. The Conquest of the Inca. Bread Books, London, 2004.

Thomas C. Patterson. The Inca Empire: The Formation and Disintegration of a Pre-Capitalist State. Berg Publishers, New York, 1991.