Very Early Edition of the “First History of Mexico Printed” (Wagner)

The Conquistador in California—Early Printed Material on California

Click thumbnails to open zoomable images.

219. LÓPEZ DE GÓMARA, Francisco. Historia de México, con el descvbrimiento de la Nueua España, conquistada por el muy illustre [sic] y valeroso Principe don Fernando Cortes, Marques del Valle, Escrita por Francisco Lopez de Gomara, clerigo. Añadiose de la nueuo descripcion y traça de todas las Indias, con vna Tabla Alphabetica de las materias, y hazañas memorables en ella contenidas. En Anvers [Antwerp]: En casa de Iuan Steelsio, Con privilegio, [colophon: Impresso en Anvers por Iuan Lacio. 1554], 1554. [1-2] 3-97, 97-349 folios, [23] pp. (text complete; title page is a cancel), wood-engraved arms of Cortés on title. Small 8vo (14.2 x 10 cm), eighteenth-century full tan calf gilt-ruled and decorated, spine with gilt compartments, raised bands, and red gilt-lettered morocco label, edges sprinkled (recased). Head of spine slightly chipped, minor cracks to spine, upper joint weak, hinges slightly cracked but firm. Endpapers stained and with early twentieth-century printed book labels on front pastedown. Interior fine.

     The first edition of this work appeared in Zaragoza in 1552 (Wagner 2); the present edition is from the same setting of type as Bellero’s 1554 edition (Wagner 2g). According to Wagner’s listings, the present work is the eighth printing in Spanish—this despite “almost all historians and bibliographers assert that when this work appeared, it was suppressed” (Wagner, Vol. 1, p. 81). Apparently this unsuccessfully suppressed work was among the bestsellers of the age, and enough editions were printed to make rag pickers and paper makers rich. Gómara organized his Historia general de las Indias y Conquista de México in two parts, the first of which contains a dissertation on world geography, location of the Indies, Columbus’ discoveries, colonization of Hispaniola, Peru, etc. The second part presents Cortés’ biography, the Conquest of Mexico, Cortés’ travels to Cuba, Santo Domingo, Honduras, and his trips back to Mexico. The second part also includes descriptions of life in Mesoamerica at the time of the Conquest, vocabularies, and other invaluable ethnic material. Parts one and two each stand alone as distinct works. The present edition is the second part, including all the material on Mexico as well as all the known information on California and the Southwest at that early date (the latter material is found in leaves 287 to 293; see Mathes following for specifics on California material). Of the several similar Antwerp editions of 1554 of Gómara’s works, only the edition of 287 leaves (Wagner 2f) is recorded as containing a map.

     Adams L1480. Barrett, Baja California 1506n. JCB (to 1599) I, pp. 180-181. European Americana 1554/32 (not distinguishing issues). Mathes, California Colonial Bibliography 1n (citing first edition): “Including the expeditions of Cortés in 1535, Francisco de Ulloa in 1539, and Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542.” Medina, Hispano-Americana 168. Palau 141143. Pilling 1558g (p. 959). Sabin 27731. Streit II:657 & 65n. Wagner, Spanish Southwest 2i. J. Benedict Warren, “An Introductory Survey of Secular Writings in the European Tradition on Colonial Middle America, 1503-1818, #54, pp. 69-70 in Handbook of Middle American Indians, Vol. 13, Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, Part 2 (University of Texas Press, 1973):

Hernando Cortés was an outstanding leader of men, no matter how one feels about the results of his leadership. His chaplain in his later years, Francisco López de Gómara, looked upon him as a hero and wrote of him as such. While Bernal Díaz would later insist that Cortés was only the first among many equally valiant men, López de Gómara wrote of him as one who stood head and shoulders above his fellows.... López de Gómara’s principal contribution to the historiography of the New World was his chronicle of the conquest of Mexico by Cortés.... The book was almost immediately suppressed by an order of the Crown, dated November 17, 1553, possibly because of the strong opposition of the claims of Cortés family regarding their rights in Mexico. But the work became widely known in spite of royal opposition.

     López de Gómara (1511-ca. 1559) served as Cortés’ chaplain and secretary from 1540, when the Conquistador returned to Spain. Although he himself had never been to the Americas, the author had ready access to original source materials from his patron and others. “Gómara’s history is a good history; he derived his information from the highest sources, and he wrote with an elegant brevity and a sense of arrangement that contrasted favorably with the rambling incoherencies of many of his contemporaries. Small wonder it was a favorite book of the time” (Boies Penrose).

     Wagner also notes (Vol. I, p. 87: “It is generally stated that Gómara’s object was to recount the feats of Cortés, in whose employ he is said to have been for some time; but it is forgotten that he also composed a history of conquest of Peru, which Cortés had nothing to do. As a matter of fact, the book is a general account of the conquest of Peru and Mexico and was the first history of Mexico printed.”

     As Wagner notes, the present work is of exceptional Southwest and California interest as it records Cortés’ expeditions to the western coast; the discovery and naming of California; the Ulloa voyages along the coast of Upper California; the preliminary journey to Cíbola of Fray Marcos de Niza; and the expedition to the fabled Seven Cities by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado. For more on the California section, see Mathes, The Conquistador in California: 1535, the Voyage of Fernando Cortés to Baja California in Chronicles and Documents (Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1973).

     See also Cristián A. Roa-de-la-Carrera, Histories of Infamy: Francisco López de Gómara and the Ethics of Spanish Imperialism (University of Colorado Press, 2005), pp. 1-2:

Gómara’s book became the most comprehensive and frequently cited treatment of the history of the American territories colonized by Spain.... Gómara was one of the most despised apologists of Spanish imperialism in the sixteenth century.... Gómara illuminates the rhetorical environment in which he produced an ethically persuasive argument in favor of Spanish imperialism.... The broad intellectual scope and concise elegant style...have made it a hallmark within the culture of Spanish imperialism.” On p. 11 Roa quotes Michel de Montaigne: “So many towns razed, so many nations exterminated, so many millions of people put to the blade of the sword, and the richest and most beautiful part of the world turned upside down, for the transaction of pearls and pepper: mechanical victories.


Sold. Hammer: $1,000.00; Price Realized: $1,225.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

Click thumbnails to open zoomable images.

DSRB Home | e-mail: