A controversial history

Antonio de Remesal (c. 1570–1627?)
Historia general de las Indias Ocidentales, y particvlar de la gouernacion de Chiapa, y Guatemala: escriuese juntamente los principios de la religion de nuestro glorioso padre Santo Domingo, y de las demas religiones…
En Madrid : Por Francisco de Abarcay Angulo, 1620
Trinity College Cambridge X.11.42, p. 1

Image reproduced by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge

Writing a history of Dominican missionary work could prove dangerous. Antonio de Remesal OP entered the Dominican Order in 1592 while studying at Salamanca. After his formation at Salamanca and Valladolid he went to the New World in 1613. At the end of the decade he produced first in 1619 his History of the Dominican province of Chiapas and Guatemala. A year later in 1620, he reprised this work in his magnum opus on the History of the Indies. The history is invaluable today for its account of conditions on the missions, where the friars first slept in mud huts with straw roofs, and where they later rotated at intervals between different monastic communities. It also reveals their leading role in the construction of new towns.

At the time the book was also a staunch defence of Bartolomé de Las Casas from opponents such as Bernardo de Vargas Machuca, whose Defence of the Western conquests was written in 1613. Remesal’s work is an important source for the lost contents of Las Casas’s treatise De unico vocationis modo and also for wider church history in Central America. However, the book caused a storm in the Americas, where copies were seized, and Remesal was charged with defaming the great conquistadores. Though charges were eventually dropped, he was a spent force. His own superiors silenced him and sent him to Mexico. It is thought that he died in 1627.

Extended captions