An Account, Much Abbreviated, of the Destruction of the Indies, with Related Texts

An Account, Much Abbreviated, of the Destruction of the Indies, with Related Texts

An Account, Much Abbreviated, of the Destruction of the Indies, with Related Texts

An Account, Much Abbreviated, of the Destruction of the Indies, with Related Texts


Fifty years after the arrival of Columbus, at the height of Spain's conquest of the West Indies, Spanish bishop and colonist Bartolomé de las Casas dedicated his Brevésima Relación de la Destruición de las Indias to Philip II of Spain. An impassioned plea on behalf of the native peoples of the West Indies, the Brevésima Relación catalogues in horrific detail atrocities it attributes to the king's colonists in the New World. The result is a withering indictment of the conquerors that has cast a 500-year shadow over the subsequent history of that world and the European colonisation of it. Andrew Hurley's daring new translation dramatically foreshortens that 500 years by reversing the usual priority of a translation; rather than bring the Brevésima Relación to the reader, it brings the reader to the Brevésima Relación -- not as it is, but as it might have been, had it been originally written in English. The translator thus allows himself no words or devices unavailable in English by 1560, and in so doing reveals the prophetic voice, urgency and clarity of the work, qualities often obscured in modern translations. An Introduction by Franklin Knight, notes, a map, and a judicious set of Related Readings offer further aids to a fresh appreciation of this foundational historical and literary work of the New World and European engagement with it.


Dubbed “Protector of the Indians” by Spain’s Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros I only twenty-four years after Columbus first reached the New World, Bartolomé de las Casas emerged in his own lifetime as one of the most important and controversial figures of the early-modern encounter between Europeans and Native Americans. Born possibly as early as 1474 (but probably in 1484), Las Casas lived in an age of remarkable people—yet stood out like a colossus for ideas and initiatives that distinguished him not only in the eyes of his contemporaries but in those of history down to the present day.

Las Casas’ legacy arose in large part from a potent mix of polemical single-mindedness, voluminous output, and indefatigable productivity. Yet he also survived far beyond the normal life expectancy for an active individual in the 16th century. He outlived three monarchs of Castile— Isabella I (1451–1504), Philip I (1478–1506), and Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452–1516) as well as the Emperor Charles V (1500–1558). But such unusually long life was not a unique achievement for that age. Some comparisons with other luminaries of his time show a wide range of ages. Las Casas lived about as long as the eminent and long-serving Franciscan at court, Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros (1436–1517), who died at age eighty-one; or the famous Mexican Archbishop, Juan de Zumárraga (1468–1548), who died at age eighty. The great antagonist of Las Casas, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1490–1573) lived for eighty-three years. Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1492 [?]–1581), the intrepid foot soldier who accompanied Hernán Cortés to Mexico and Honduras in the 1520s and 1530s, died at an estimated eighty-nine years of age. Despite these cases, normal life expectancy was shorter

Cardinal Cisneros also conferred the title, which carried a modest stipend, on other priests beside Las Casas. See Consuelo Varela, ed., Bartolomé de las Casas: Brevísima relación de la destruición de las Indias (Madrid: Editorial Castalia, 1999), p. 16.

Technically, Ferdinand II was regent of Castile after the death of his wife, Isabella I, and the premature death—some say by poisoning—of their son, Philip I.

Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros had a long and distinguished life. A Franciscan, he was imprisoned during the period 1473–1479 by the archbishop of Toledo during the Castilian war of succession but survived to be named prelate of Sigüenza in 1482. Two

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