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Andrés Urdaneta

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Augustinian, born at Villafranca, Guipúzcoa, Spain, 1498; died in the City of Mexico, 1568.

He had studied Latin and philosophy, but having been left an orphan resolved to devote himself to military life, and in the Italian wars obtained the rank of captain. Returning to Spain he took up the study of mathematics and astronomy, which gave him an inclination for a seafaring life, and induced him to accompany Jofre de Loaiza in an expedition to the Molucca Islands in 1525. He served there for eleven years. On his return to Europe he landed in Lisbon, where he was prosecuted by the Portuguese Government for having told the story of his voyage to the islands when he passed through New Spain. Charles V did not give him a very favourable reception, and, wearied by his many adventures, he returned to the City of Mexico and entered the Augustinian Order.

At the death of the viceroy, D. Luis de Velasco, in 1564, New Spain had passed under the government of the Audiencia , one of whose first cares was to equip an expedition for the conquest and colonization of the Philippine Islands . This had been ordered by Philip II in 1559, Fray Andrés de Urdaneta having been designated as the commander, and the viceroy had the matter under consideration at the time of his death. Urdaneta was considered a great navigator, and especially fitted for cruising in Indian waters. Philip II wrote urging him to join the expedition, and offering him the command. Urdaneta agreed to accompany the expedition but refused to take command, and the adelantado , Don Miguel López de Legazpi, was appointed commander. The expedition, composed of the "Capitana", which carried on board Legazpi and Urdaneta, the galleons "San Pablo" and "San Pedro", and the tenders "San Juan" and "San Lucas", set sail on 21 November, 1564.

After spending some time in the islands Legazpi determined to remain, and sent Urdaneta back for the purpose of finding a better return route and to obtain help from New Spain, for the Philippine colony. He left the Island of Cebú in July, 1565, and was obliged to sail as far as 36 degrees North latitude to obtain favourable winds. Urdaneta had to assume command in person, fourteen of his crew died, and when the ship reached the port of Acapulco on 3 October, 1565, only Urdaneta and Felipe de Salcedo, nephew of Legazpi, had strength enough to cast the anchors. From Mexico he went to Europe to make a report on the expedition, and returned to New Spain, intending to continue on to the Philippines, but he was dissuaded by his friends. He wrote two accounts of his voyages; the one giving the account of the Loaiza expedition was published; the other, which gives the account of his return voyage, is preserved in manuscript in the archives of the Indies.

[ Editor's note: Dr. J.H.F. Sollewijn Gelpke, a noted expert on the early history of New Guinea and the Moluccas, offers this supplement in 1998:

"This article contains an error where it states that in Lisbon in about 1536/7 he ran into trouble for having told about 'the islands' (apparently the Spice Islands Ternate and Tidore) 'when he passed through New Spain.'

At that time the Spaniards in the Moluccas were evacuated by the Portuguese and sent home around Africa, not by way of America. In fact, their big problem was to find the way back from the Moluccas to New Spain, and this search led to the discovery by Saavedra of the island which Ortíz de Retes baptised as New Guinea in 1545. As the entry correctly states, the North Pacific route was found only in 1564 (by Arellano on an unauthorized journey), and shortly afterwards by Urdaneta, who got the credit for this discovery.

Urdaneta being prosecuted in Lisbon for sending information to (New?) Spain, would seem to fit well in the cloak and dagger atmosphere around the Moluccas in the years 1525-1540 under the 6th and 7th Portuguese Captains Tristao de Ataíde and António Galvao. Actually, however, after Emperor Charles V had mortgaged his claim to the Moluccas in 1529 to Portugal, the Portuguese didn't any longer strictly impose the 1504 decree of secrecy on nautical information.

My field being the (proto-)history of New Guinea and the Moluccas, I regret being unable to tell you what really happened to Urdaneta in Lisbon."]

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