Pedro de Alvarado is best known as the right-hand man of Hernán Cortés in the conquest of Mexico (1519–21) and the ruthless conqueror of Guatemala some years later. Far less known is his intent to intrude in the conquest of Peru and lay claim to Quito, a wealthy domain in the far north of the Inca Empire. To this end, Alvarado constructed a massive fleet, which sailed south from Central America to what is now Ecuador, making landfall on 25 February 1534.
Engaging both the European and Indigenous contexts in which Alvarado operated, George Lovell illuminates this gap in the record, narrating a dramatic story of greed and hubris. Upon reaching Ecuador, Alvarado’s formidable entourage – some five hundred Spanish combatants and two thousand Indigenous conscripts – marched from the Pacific coast to the Andean sierra. Though Quito was his intended destination, he never made it. During a treacherous transit across the mountains, Alvarado’s party was engulfed by heavy snowfall and numbing cold, which proved the expedition’s undoing. Those who survived the ordeal discovered that other Spaniards – Diego de Almagro and Sebastián de Benalcázar, acting in allegiance with Francisco Pizarro – had reached Quito before them, thereby claiming first right of conquest. Believing he had no option, if strife between rival sides was to be avoided, Alvarado sold his costly machinery of war – men, horses, weaponry, and ships – to those who had beaten him to the prize. All but ruined, he returned humiliated to Central America.
Death in the Snow brings to light the delusions of one headstrong conquistador and mourns the loss of untold Indigenous lives, casualties of Alvarado’s lust for fame and fortune.
About the author
W. George Lovell is professor of geography at Queen’s University and visiting professor in Latin American history at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Seville, Spain.
“In all the annals of Spanish conquests in the Americas, there is no one to compare with Pedro de Alvarado. This brutal conquistador took a fleet, and many reluctant Guatemalan Mayas, to muscle in on Pizarro’s conquest of the Inca Empire. Defeated by forests, mountains, volcanic eruption, and adverse weather, Alvarado was bought off in a deal to rival one between modern Mafia families. George Lovell tells this lurid, little-known story with clarity and élan.” John Hemming, author of People of the Rainforest: The Villas Boas Brothers, Explorers and Humanitarians of the Amazon
“As George Lovell vividly reveals, Alvarado’s ambitions were boundless, as was his willingness to make Indigenous peoples on two continents suffer for those ambitions. How to tell such a tale of tenacity and tragedy without surrendering to the temptation to turn it into a swashbuckling adventure? Lovell pulls it off by keeping a close and careful eye on his primary sources, skillfully teasing out a history that never glorifies yet remains utterly gripping.” Matthew Restall, author of Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest and When Montezuma Met Cortés: The True Story of the Meeting That Changed History