Conquest of Chile

The Conquest of Chile is a period in Chilean historiography that starts with the arrival of Pedro de Valdivia to Chile in 1541 and ends with the death of Martín García Óñez de Loyola in the Battle of Curalaba in 1598, and the destruction of the Seven Cities in 1600 in the Araucanía region.

This was the period of Spanish conquest of territories, founding of cities, establishment of the Captaincy General of Chile, and defeats ending its further colonial expansion southwards. The Arauco War continued, and the Spanish were never able to recover their short control in Araucanía south of the Bío Bío River.

Pedro de Valdivia

Expedition to Chile

Pedro de Valdivia

In April 1539, Francisco Pizarro authorized Pedro de Valdivia as his lieutenant governor with orders to conquer Chile. That did not include monetary aid, which he had to procure on his own. Valdivia did so, in association with the merchant Francisco Martínez Vegaso, captain Alonso de Monroy, and Pedro Sanchez de la Hoz. Sanchez was the longtime secretary to Pizarro, who had returned from Spain with authorization from the king to explore the territories south of Viceroyalty of Peru to the Strait of Magellan, also granting Valdivia the title of governor over lands taken from the indigenous peoples.

The Juan Bautista Pastene expedition to southern Chile in 1544.

Valdivia came to the Valley of Copiapo and took possession in the name of the King of Spain and named it Nueva Extremadura, for his Spanish homeland of Extremadura. On February 12, 1541 he founded the city of Santiago de la Nueva Extremadura on Huelen hill (present day Santa Lucia Hill).


Valdivia had rejected the position and titles due him while Pizarro was alive, as it could have been seen as an act of treason. He accepted the titles after the death of Francisco Pizarro. Pedro de Valdivia was named Governor and Captain-General of the Captaincy General of Chile on June 11, 1541. He was the first Governor of Chile.

Valdivia organized the first distribution of encomiendas and of indigenous peoples among the Spanish immigrants in Santiago. The Chilean region was not as rich in minerals as Peru, so the indigenous peoples were forced to work on construction projects and placer gold mining. The "conquest" was a challenge, with the first attack of Michimalonco on September 1541, burning the new settlement to the ground.

Valdivia authorized Juan Bohon to found the city of La Serena in 1544. The Juan Bautista Pastene expedition ventured to unexplored southern Chile in 1544. Arriving at the Bio-Bio River, started the Arauco War with the Mapuche people. The epic poem La Araucana (1576) by Alonso de Ercilla describes the Spanish viewpoint.

The Spanish won several battles, such as the Andalien battle, and Penco battle in 1550. The victories allowed Valdiva to found cities on the Mapuche homelands, such as Concepcion in 1550, La Imperial, Valdivia, and Villarrica in 1552, and Los Confines in 1553.

Lautaro led the Mapuche rebellion that killed Pedro de Valdivia in the battle of Tucapel in 1553.


Spanish conquest (1541–1600)

The conquest of Chile was not carried out directly by the Spanish Crown but by Spaniards that formed enterprises for those purposes and gathered financial resources and soldiers for the enterprise by their own.[1] In 1541 an expedition (enterprise) led by Pedro de Valdivia founded Santiago initiating the conquest of Chile. The first years were harsh for the Spaniards mainly due to their poverty, indigenous rebellions and frequent conspirations.[2] The second founding of La Serena in 1549 (initially founded in 1544 but destroyed by natives) was followed by the founding of numerous new cities in southern Chile halting only after Valdivia's death in 1553.[2]

The Spanish colonization of the Americas was characterized by the establishments of cities in the middle of conquered territories. With the founding of each city a number of conquistadores became vecinos of that city being granted a solar and possibly also a chacra in the outskirts of the city, or a hacienda or estancia in more far away parts of the countryside. Apart from land natives were also distributed among Spaniards since they were considered vital for carrying out any economic activity.[3]

The cities founded, despite defeats in the Arauco War, were: Santiago (1541), La Serena (1544), Concepción (1551), La Imperial, Valdivia, Villarrica (1552), Los Confines (1553), Cañete (1557), Osorno (1558), Arauco (1566), Castro (1567), Chillán (1580), and Santa Cruz de Oñez (1595).

The destruction of the Seven Cities in 1600, and ongoing Arauco War stopped Spanish expansion southward.

Timeline of events

Year Date Event
1540 December Pedro de Valdivia takes possession of Chile in the name of the King of Spain.
1541 February 12 Santiago is founded.
September 11 Michimalonco leads a Picunche attack on Santiago, the city is severely damaged but the attack is repelled.
1544 September 4 La Serena is founded by Juan Bohón.
1549 January 11 La Serena is destroyed by natives.
August 26 La Serena is refounded.
1551 October 5 Concepción is founded.
1552 San Felipe de Rauco, La Imperial and Villarrica are founded.
February 9 The city of Valdivia is founded by Pedro de Valdivia.
1553 Los Confines is founded.
December 25 The battle of Tucapel takes place, governor Pedro de Valdivia is killed after the battle.
1554 February 23 The battle of Marihueñu takes place, Concepción is abandoned and destroyed.
October 17 Jerónimo de Alderete is appointed governor of Chile in Spain by the king but dies on his journey to Chile.
1557 April 1 Francisco de Villagra defeats the Mapuches and kills their leader Lautaro at the battle of Mataquito.
April 23 The new governor García Hurtado de Mendoza arrives in La Serena.
June García Hurtado de Mendoza arrives in the bay of Concepcion and builds a fort at Penco, then defeats the Mapuche army trying to dislodge him.
October 10 García Hurtado de Mendoza defeats the Mapuche army in the Battle of Lagunillas.
November 7 García Hurtado de Mendoza defeats Caupolicán in the Millarupe.
1558 January 11 Cañete founded by Mendoza.
February 5 Pedro de Avendaño captured the Mapuche toqui Caupolicán, later executed by impalement in Cañete.
March 27 Osorno is founded.
December 13 Battle of Quiapo, Mendoza defeats the Mapuche and San Felipe de Araucan rebuilt.
1559 January 6 Concepción is refounded.
1561 Francisco de Villagra succeeds García Hurtado de Mendoza as governor.
1563 Cañete is abandoned.
July 22 Francisco de Villagra dies and is succeeded as governor by his cousin Pedro de Villagra. San Felipe de Araucan is soon abandoned.
August 29 The territories of Tucumán are separated from the Captaincy General of Chile and transferred to the Real Audiencia of Charcas.
1564 February Concepción is unsuccessfully sieged by native Mapuches.
1565 A Real Audiencia is established in Concepción.
1566 January San Felipe de Araucan is refounded.
1567 With the founding of Castro the dominions of the Captaincy General of Chile are extended into Chiloé Archipelago.
1570 February 8 The 1570 Concepción earthquake affects all of south-central Chile.
1575 The Real Audiencia of Concepción is abolished.
December 16 The 1575 Valdivia earthquake affects all of southern Chile.
1576 April Valdivia is flooded by a Riñihuazo caused by the 1575 Valdivia earthquake.
1578 December 5 Valparaíso is plundered by Francis Drake, the first corsair in Chilean waters.
1580 June 26 Chillán is founded.
1584 March 25 Rey Don Felipe is founded in the Straits of Magellan by Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa.
1587 Thomas Cavendish finds Rey Don Felipe as a ruin city.
1594 May Fort of Santa Cruz de Oñez is founded and becomes the city of Santa Cruz de Coya the following year.
1598 December 21 The battle of Curalaba takes place, governor Martín García Óñez de Loyola is killed during the battle.
1599 Los Confines, Santa Cruz de Coya and Valdivia are destroyed.
The Real Situado, an annual payment to finance the Arauco War, is established.
1600 La Imperial is destroyed.
1602 Villarrica is destroyed.
March 13 A fort is established in the ruins of Valdivia.
1603 February 7 The last inhabitants of Villarrica surrender to the Mapuches and became captives.
1604 Arauco and Osorno are destroyed.
February 3 The fort at Valdivia is abandoned.
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See also


  1. Villalobos et al. 1974, p. 87.
  2. 1 2 Villalobos et al. 1974, pp. 97–99.
  3. Villalobos et al. 1974, pp. 109–113.


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