Columbus' Negotiations in Spain

Spain was the country to which Columbus looked with the greatest hope after the rejection of his scheme by Portugal. No country at that time occupied the attention of Europe so much as Spain. By the marriage of Ferdinand II of Arragon, with Isabella of Castile, the whole of the peninsula, except Portugal, had been consolidated into one powerful kingdom. Ruling separately over their distinct territories - the wise, cold, and wary Ferdinand over his subjects of Arragon, and the generous and high-souled Isabella over hers of Castile - the two made it their common endeavor to promote the glory of Spain, and raise its reputation as one of the first powers of Christendom. They were at this time engaged in a war with Granada, the last of the Moorish kingdoms in Spain; and all their energies were occupied in the accomplishment of what was then regarded a noble and chivalrous enterprise - the entire expulsion of the Moors from the peninsula. Spain, accordingly, was then the land of daring deeds, and hither our poor Italian resolved to bend his steps, with the scheme of a new world.

In Andalusia, one of the most southern of the Spanish provinces, and next to Granada, is an insignificant little seaport, of the name of Palos de Moguer. At a little distance from this village stood, and we believe still stands, a Franciscan convent, dedicated to Santa Marie de Rabido. One clay, late in the year of 1485, a stranger on foot, accompanied by a little boy, stopped at the convent gate, and begged a little bread and water for his child. The stranger was of a noble aspect, venerable from his white hairs, and interesting from his foreign accent. While the porter of the convent was supplying him with what he had asked, the prior, Juan Perez de Marchena, chanced to pass, and, struck with the stranger's appearance, he entered into conversation with him. The stranger informed him that his name was Columbus, and that, with his son, he was on his way to the neighboring town of Huelua, where his brother-in-law resided. Inviting him into the convent, the prior soon learned the rest of his story; and instantly conceiving a wonderful affection for the extraordinary man whom Providence had thus cast in his way, he insisted on his taking up his residence with him until a fit time should arrive for proceeding to the court of the Spanish sovereigns. Himself a man of information and ability, Juan Perez entered heartily into Columbus' views, and sent for such scientific persons in the neighborhood as he thought would be able to form a judgment on the matter. Here, in the midst of a little club of listeners, gathered in the evenings in the comfortable apartment of the prior, did Columbus produce his charts and expound his project in the winter of 1485-6; and long afterwards, in the height of his fame, did the great navigator remember Juan Perez, his first kind friend in Spain.

Early in the year 1486 Columbus set out for Cordova, where the Spanish court then resided, making preparations for a spring campaign against the Moors of Granada. He left his son Diego under the charge of the worthy prior, who, to add to his other kindnesses, furnished him with a letter of introduction to Fernando de Talavera, prior of Prado, and confessor of Queen Isabella - a man, therefore, of some importance, and likely to be of use to him. The letter proved of small avail; either Juan Perez had overrated his influence with so great a personage as Talavera, or Talavera was too busy to pay any attention to the poor Italian enthusiast who was introduced to him. Neither Columbus nor his project appears to have been mentioned to the Spanish sovereigns; and the campaign against the Moors having commenced, there was no hope of his obtaining an interview with them for some time. While the court was thus , shifting about, Columbus remained in Cordova, supporting himself, as before, by his skill in designing maps. Here also his worth, his noble appearance, and the modest enthusiasm of his manners, gained him many kind friends, through whom he made the acquaintance of Mendoza, archbishop of Toledo, and grand cardinal of Spain. Mendoza, after being satisfied that there was something more in Columbus' project than a mere vague fancy, procured him an audience with Ferdinand and Isabella. The able Ferdinand instantly perceived the propriety of at least inquiring into the scheme which was proposed to him; he therefore referred the matter to Fernando de Talavera, the above-mentioned prior, to whom Columbus had already been introduced: instructing him to hold a council of the most learned geographers and scientific men to examine and report on the plan submitted by Columbus.