Letters between King Philip III and Don Pedro de Zúñiga (1609–1610)

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In the following excerpts, translated from the Spanish, King Philip III of Spain and his ambassador to London, Don Pedro de Zúñiga, exchange communiqués, many of them originally encoded, about the English colony at Jamestown. Zúñiga keeps the king informed of a frustrated English baron who may be interested in spying for Spain, of the activity surrounding the Second Charter, and of a huge English resupply mission—led by Sir Thomas Gates aboard the flagship Sea Venture—that appears to have been lost at sea. Zúñiga even provides the king regular updates on the situation of Sir Walter Raleigh.


Zúñiga to Philip III (March 5, 1609)

The Genesis of the United States


On December 12th I wrote to Y. M. how two vessels left here for Virginia, and afterwards I

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heard that they carried up to 150 men most of whom were men of distinction. And likewise I wrote to Y. M. on Jan’ 17th how they would make still greater efforts, and spoke of sending the Baron de Arundel with a number of people, who has told me that they have excluded him, because in order to go, he asked this King for a Patent and for money, and likewise he tells me he had asked that liberty of conscience should be given in that country. This is what he asserts; but the truth is that they have failed to send him out because he is suspected of being a Catholic. He is dissatisfied and has told me that if Y. M. would do him the favor to reward him for the services in Flanders, he would be of particular usefulness in this affair. It seems to me he is all jealousy, that they have made the Varon de la Warte [Thomas West, baron De La Warr] general and Governor of Virginia, who is a Kinsman of Don Antonio Sirley [Sherley]. They assure me, he has said that Y. M. pays no attention, so far, to the people who go there and this has made them so reckless that they no longer send their little by little as heretofore, but they command that Captain Gacht [Sir Thomas Gates] go there, who is a very special soldier and has seen service among the Rebels. He takes 4. to 500 men and 100 women, and all who go have first to take the oath of the supremacy of the King [James I]. He will sail within a month or a month and a half, and as soon as the news of his arrival is received here the Varon de la Warte is to sail with 600 or 700 men, and a large part of them principal men and a few women, and when he gets there, the Gacht [Gates] will return here to take more men. They have offered him, that all the pirates who are outside of this Kingdom, will be pardoned by the King, if they will take refuge there, and the thing is so perfect—according to what they say—for making use of these pirates, that Y. M. will not be able to get the silver from the Indies, unless a

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very large force should be kept there, and that they will make Y. M.’s vassals lose their trade, since this is the design with which they go.

The Baron de Arondel offers to leave here, whenever Y. M. may command, under the pretext of a voyage of discovery, and that in the Canaries or in Porto Rico he will take on board his ship the person whom Y. M. will send to him, as a man who is fleeing from Spain, and will carry him to Virginia and instruct him as to the mouth of the river, the posts which the English hold and the fortifications which they have, and that soon he will tell Y. M. by what means those people can be driven out without violence in arms. I am of the opinion that the business is very far advanced and that Y. M. ought not to apprehend much on account of these chances, since during the time of these goings and comings they will place there a large number of people, because they have too many of them and do not know what to do for them; and the time may come when this King will take a hand in this business openly, and Y. M. might find it very difficult to drive them out from there, and it might come to breaking all these treaties on this ground, which is largely asserted. Hence Y. M. will command that they should be destroyed with the utmost possible promptness, and when this news arrives here, altho’ they may resent it, they will say that they ought not to have been there, because when I spoke with the King about their going to the Indies and to those countries he said to me, that he could not hold them otherwise than according to the Treaty, if they gathered together there they were liable to be punished. I send Y. M. a ‘placarte’, [a broadside advertisement] which has been issued to all officials, showing what they give them for going; and there has been gotten together in 20 days a

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sum of money for this voyage which amazes one; among fourteen Counts and Barons they have given 40.000 ducats, the Merchants give much more, and there is no poor, little man, nor woman, who is not willing to subscribe something for this enterprise,—Three counties have pledged themselves that they will give a good sum of money, and they are negotiating with the Prince [of Wales] that he shall make himself Protector of Virginia, and in this manner they will go deeper and deeper into the business, if Y. M. does not order them to be stopped very promptly. They have printed a book which I also send Y. M., in which they call that country New Britain and in which they publish that for the increase of their religion and that it may extend over the whole world, it is right that all should support this Colony with their person and their property. It would be a service rendered to God, that Y. M. should cut short a swindle and a robbery like this, and one which is so very important to Y. M.’s royal service. If they go on far with this they must needs get proud of it and disregard what they owe here, and if Y. M. chastises them, he puts a bridle upon them and thus will make them see to it before they undertake anything against the King’s service. I confess to Y. M. that I write this with indignation, because I see the people are mad [crazy, wild] about this affair and shameless. I have also seen a letter written by a gentleman who is over there in Virginia, to another friend of his, who is known to me, and has shown it to me. He says that from Captain Newport, who is the bearer of it, he will learn in detail how matters are there, and that all he can say is that there has been found a moderate mine of silver and that the best part of England cannot be compared with that country. He says furthermore, that they have deceived the King of that part of the country by means of an English boy [Thomas Savage], whom they have given him saying that he is a son of

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this King, and he treats him very handsomely; he has sent a present to this King.

I understand that as soon as they are well fortified they will kill that King and the savages, so as to obtain possession of everything. I send Y. M. the chart which the Members of the Council of Virginia have; they have told me that the numbers are marked, and that they count them, as well as the others which are at the top, in such a way that they go up to 39. I have also drawn a line where the entrance to the river is and there will be seen the depth of it. I mark where the English are, and all the rest till below, are dwellings of the Savages. They say that they cannot disembark at any other part of the river with a vessel. I have thought it my duty to report this to Y. M. by this Courier; because Y. M. ought very promptly to give orders to make an end of this. I have also been told that two vessels are leaving Plymouth with men to people that country which they have taken, which is farther of.

Zúñiga to the King of Spain (April 12, 1609)

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Much as I have written to Y. M. of the determination they have formed here to go to Virginia, it seems to me that I still fall short of the reality, since the preparations which are made here, are the most energetic that can be made here, for they have actually made the ministers in their sermons dwell upon the importance of filling the

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world with their religion and demand that all make an effort to give what they have for such a grand enterprise. Thus they are getting together a good sum of money and make a great effort to carry masters and workmen there, to build ships. They send eight great masters by force and more than 40 workmen. I understand they have there timber cut and ready, and that they will leave the place where they first fortified themselves, because it is very unhealthy and many of them had died there, and that farther up the river they had found a good site. A man whom I can trust, altho’ he is a heretic, has told me that speaking the other day with the High Chancellor, (Thomas Egerton Lord Ellesmere &c) he asked him what all this excitement meant that was being seen here about going to Virginia to have fortifications there, he replied to him: We always thought at first we would send people there little by little, and now we see that the proper thing is to fortify ourselves all at once, because when they will open their eyes in Spain they will not be able to help it, and even tho’ they may hear it, they are just now so poor that they will have no means to prevent us from carrying out our plan. Y. M. will see the great importance of this matter for your Royal service and thus, I hope, will give orders to have these insolent people quickly annihilated.

Philip III to Zúñiga (May 25, 1609)

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Concerning what you say of the progress made there in fortifying Virginia, and the great number of people whom they wish to send there, you must be on the look out, to report when those will depart who are to settle that country, with what forces they go, and what route they will have to take in their voyage thither—so that here, such orders may be given as will be necessary.

Zúñiga to Philip III (July 5, 1609)

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Captain Gach [Gates] has sailed for Virginia [on the Sea Venture] with the men and women of whom I wrote to Y. M. and apparatus for building ships and forts; and the Lord de la ‘Wari’ [De La Warr] will sail with a goodly number of people in the Spring. I have a paper which ‘Vata ralas’ [Sir Walter Raleigh] wrote, who is a prisoner in the Tower, and it is he who discovered that land and whom they consider here a very great personage. The Members of the Council of Virginia follow this paper; it ought to be translated because it is the original which he had and when it is finished we shall compare it with the chart which they have caused to be made, and by it, the way which they take will be understood; where they are fortifying themselves and all the rest that Y. M. commands to be known. The Lord of Arundel may be held in suspicion on account of the mean satisfaction which he has given, but in this I think he speaks with a desire that they should order those people to go away from there, because to him, as a Catholic, they did not confide this business. May God preserve Y. M.

Zúñiga to Philip III (November 23, 1609)

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The vessel of a fisherman [Captain Samuel Argall] has arrived here from Virginia and he says that there the English took from him his fish, because they were short of provisions; and that of the nine ships which I reported to Y. M. as having sailed from here, seven had arrived [in Virginia], but that they heard the Admiral’s ship and the Captain’s ship have been lost. He also says that the cattle which they have sent there have increased very much. Those who here maintain that Colony wait for some of the ships that are over there to return and then, I think, they will send more.

‘Watawales’ [Raleigh] who is in the Tower

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has left his fortune so that the King may give it to a Scotchman, who thereupon will give him 1.200 ducats. Thus he expects to regain his liberty and that the King will banish him to Guiana, where he left some people and wishes to send more.

Zúñiga to Philip III (December 10, 1609)

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From Dover I have received a letter in which I am told that three vessels of those which sailed from here to Virginia have returned to the Downs. They confirm what I have written Y. M. that the Captain’s ship was lost with the most distinguished people who went, and the orders [commissions] according to which they were to govern in that part. They tell me that the sailors are not well pleased

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because they suffer much from hunger there, and do not bring a thing of importance in their ships. After all I think they will have to send again people because no doubt, the one reason why they wish to hold that place is because it appears to them well suited to send out pirates. I shall continue to give an account of all I may hear to Y. M., whose Catholic Person Our Lord preserve as all Christendom needeth.

Zúñiga to Philip III (December 31, 1609)

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I have reported to Y. M. that two [three ?] vessels had come from Virginia, and that they did not come well satisfied. Since then four others have come, and in a storm the two others have been lost on the French coast, with which I think they will have to be quiet for the present. But now they hasten the Lord de la Ware to take his departure, and they tell me he will do so in a month or a month and a half. And they have assured him, that after him they will send this summer a thousand men.

In like manner there will sail for Guiana two small vessels with small crews, but I hear that if any of the people which ‘Watawales’ [Walter Raleigh] left there, should be found, they will send more, because they praise that country very much and say that Gold and Silver are found there, and it is thought that they will take ‘Watawales’ out of

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the Tower, that he may go there. May our Lord preserve and guard the Catholic Person of Y. M. as all Christendom needeth.

Zúñiga to Philip III (March 11, 1610)

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Within three weeks Lord de la Ware will sail for Virginia. He takes three ships laden with supplies, and also a hundred old soldiers, good people, and a few knights. Two months later four more ships will follow him, with a larger number of people.

May our Lord guard the Catholic Person of Y. M. as all Christendom needeth.

APA Citation:
King Philip III of Spain. Letters between King Philip III and Don Pedro de Zúñiga (1609–1610). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
King Philip III of Spain. "Letters between King Philip III and Don Pedro de Zúñiga (1609–1610)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 24 May. 2024
Last updated: 2021, January 29
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