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The resources of Spain were at this moment tasked to the utmost by the ambitions of Ferdinand, who lavished all his revenues in warlike
expenses and subsidies. While maintaining a contest of deep and artful policy with France, with the ultimate aim of grasping the sceptres of Naples, he was laying the foundation of a wide and powerful connection by the marriages of the royal children, who were now maturing in years. At this time arose the family alliance which afterwards consolidated such an immense empire under his grandson and successor, Charles V.
While a large army was maintained in Italy under Gonsalvo of Cordova, to assist the King of Naples in recovering his throne, of which he had been suddenly dispossessed by Charles VIII. of France, other armies were required on the frontiers of Spain, which were menaced with a French invasion. Squadrons also had to be employed for the safeguard of the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of the Peninsula, while a magnificent armada of upwards of a hundred ships, having on board twenty thousand persons, many of them of the first nobility, was despatched to convoy the Princess Juan to Flanders, to be married to Philip, Archduke of Austria, and to bring back his sister Margarita, the destined bride of Prince Juan.
These widely extended operations, both of war and amity, put all the land and naval forces into requisition. They drained the royal treasury and engrossed the thoughts of the sovereigns, obliging them also to journey from place to place in their dominions. With such cares of an immediate and homefelt nature pressing upon their minds the distant enterprises of Columbus were easily neglected or postponed. They had hitherto been sources of expense instead of profit, and there were artful counsellors ever ready to whisper in the royal ear that they were likely to continue so. What, in the ambitious eyes of Ferdinand, was the acquisition of a number of wild, uncultivated, and distant islands to that of the brilliant domain of Naples; or the intercourse with naked and barbarous princes to that of an alliance with the most potent sovereigns of Christendom? Columbus had the mortification, therefore, to see armies levied and squadrons employed in idle contests about a little point of territory in Europe, and a vast armada of upwards of a hundred sail destined to the ostentatious service of convoying a royal bride ; while he vainly solicited a few caravels to prosecute his discovery of a world.
At length in the autumn six millions of maravedis were ordered to be advanced to Co
lumbus for the equipment of his promised squadron.* Just as the sum was about to be delivered a letter was received from Pedro Alonzo Niño, who had arrived at Cadiz with his three caravels on his return from the island of Hispaniola. Instead of proceeding to court in person, or forwarding the despatches of the Adelantado, he had gone to visit his family at Huelva, taking the despatches with him, and merely writing in a vaunting style that he had a great amount of gold on board his ships.t
This was triumphant intelligence to Columbus, who immediately concluded that the new mines were in operation and the treasures of Ophir about to be realized. The letter of Niño, however, was fated to have a most injurious effect on his concerns.
The King at that moment was in immediate want of money to repair the fortress of Salza in Roussillon, which had been sacked by the French; the six millions of maravedis about to be advanced to Columbus were forthwith appropriated to patch up the shattered castle, and an order was given for the amount to be paid out of the gold brought by Niño. It was not until the end of December, when Niño arrived at court and delivered the despatches of
Equivalent to 86,956 dollars of the present day. † Las Casas, Hist. Ind., lib. i., cap. 123, MS.
the Adelantado, that his boast of gold was discovered to be a mere figure of speech, and that his caravels were in fact freighted with Indian prisoners, from the sale of whom the vaunted gold was to arise.
It is difficult to describe the vexatious effects of this absurd hyperbole. The hopes of Columbus of great and immediate profit from the mines were suddenly cast down; the zeal of his few advocates was cooled ; an air of empty exaggeration was given to his enterprises ; and his enemies pointed with scorn and ridicule to the wretched cargoes of the caravels, as the boasted treasures of the New World. The report brought by Niño and his crew represented the colony as in a disastrous condition, and the despatches of the Adelantado pointed out the importance of immediate supplies ; but in proportion as the necessity of the case was urgent the measure of relief was tardy. All the unfavorable representations hitherto made seemed corroborated, and the invidious cry of “great cost and little gain” was revived by those politicians of petty, sagacity and microscopic eye, who, in all great undertakings, discern the immediate expense without having scope of vision to embrace the future profit.
PREPARATIONS FOR A THIRD VOYAGE-DISAPPOINT
MENTS AND DELAYS.
T was not until the following spring of 1497
that the concerns of Columbus and of the New World began to receive serious
attention from the sovereigns. The fleet had returned from Flanders with Princess Margarita of Austria. Her nuptials with Prince Juan, the heir-apparent, had been celebrated at Burgos, the capital of Old Castile, with extraordinary splendor. All the grandees, the dignitaries, and chivalry of Spain, together with ambassadors from the principal potentates of Christendom, were assembled on the occasion. Burgos was for some time a scene of chivalrous pageant and courtly revel, and the whole kingdom celebrated with great rejoicings this powerful alliance, which seemed to ensure to the Spanish sovereigns a continuance of their extraordinary prosperity.