“Magellan was a man of great character, very authoritarian and tenacious”



On August 10, 1519, five ships captained by Ferdinand of Magellan They left Seville with the aim of opening a commercial route with the spice islands to the west, seeking a passage between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Three years later, on September 8, 1522, one of those ships, only one and quite battered, returned to Seville in command of Juan Sebastian Elcano after going around the world for the first time in a nightmare journey. The first course without defeat.

The writer José Enrique Gil-Delgado (Madrid, 1944), a true survivor of life and the ocean, does not know the meaning of defeat either. Like that group of sailors without fear of myths, this television scholar and philologist embarked a few years ago on the ambitious project of going around the globe, although in his case he set out to do it through words.

After publishing in 2019 the novel «… and Magellan found the Strait», now its continuation and last part of the saga, with the title «… and Elcano circumnavigated the Earth». “The world was completely changed, the various oceans were crossed, the Earth was shown to be spherical, trade routes were opened that forever linked Asia with Europe and Spanish spread throughout the world”, Gil-Delgado recalls in an interview with ABC.

On the occasion of the Christmas campaign, this writer from Madrid has launched the project Culture and food in favor of Fesbal (Spanish Federation of Food Banks), by which he will assign the rights to his novel in favor of this solidarity cause.

– How does this great adventure begin?

– Well, it all begins when Magellan was rejected by the Portuguese court for his navigation project and he had to go to Spain. Magellan believed that the spice islands could be reached through the west after visiting the German cosmographer Martín de Bohemia in Lisbon, sick in a hospital, who told him that there was a passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific that he had traced maps, but never crossed. Martín recommended that he get hold of those maps to present to the King of Spain.

–How did the Portuguese convince Carlos I of his project?

Interview with the writer Jose Enrique Gil-Delgado Crespo at the Book Fair.
Interview with the writer Jose Enrique Gil-Delgado Crespo at the Book Fair. – DEW RUZ

–Magallanes went to Carlos I, a young man who had just arrived to the throne, at a time when Castilla was experiencing the euphoria of navigation and discoveries. Advised by his group of experts, Carlos agreed with Magellan some capitulations to launch the expedition to the Moluccas islands, which was going to have an impact, in the words of the Portuguese, in large amounts of wealth.

– A constant in the expedition is that Magellan always kept information to himself, even in the face of the royal representatives.

“He did not tell his full plans to the sailors he was with, not even to the captains of the ships under his command.” He locked up his authentic project and the maps he found in Portugal to find the passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific. He gave them partial information and simply promised that there they would obtain wealth.

– What was Magellan like on a personal level?

-Magallanes was a man of great character, very authoritarian, who was imbued with a great self-sufficiency. He was a strong man, who did not hesitate to imprison and execute some of his captains when riots broke out. He used a tremendous iron hand … He had great tenacity and that cost him his life in the Philippines, when he faced tribes that refused to submit to the Crown of Castile. He died in a very unequal and unnecessary battle.

– If he had returned to Spain, do you think they would have tried him for executing the King’s representatives?

– The captains appointed by Carlos I were in charge of Magellan. He had all the authority to do what he did. The executions were within his authority and I believe that he would not have been prosecuted later for these actions.

–Juan Sebastián Elcano is the other leg of the expedition, how did the Basque join the adventure?

– The Casa de Contratación de Sevilla put out a notice of the expedition to which an important group of Basque sailors attended, among them Elcano, who had participated in many trances in favor of the Crown of Castile during the Italian campaigns. Elcano had his own ship in the service of the Crown in these battles, but he had to sell it, which was forbidden by its royal nature. He needed the money because the Crown did not pay him what was due and he decided to go to the expedition fleeing the possible claims of justice for the illegal sale. It was a forward flight.

“Portugal and Castile were leading countries and had a knowledge very advanced to the rest of the world in naval technology”

– Why were there, in general, so many Basques in the expedition?

–The five ships that left Seville were originally for scrapping in the Basque shipyards, but it was decided to fix the fleet once the ships were transferred to another port. A large part of the Basques who embarked with Magellan were the sailors who had dragged the ships to Seville to get them ready with the best technology for perfect navigation. It should not be forgotten that Portugal and Castile were leading countries and had knowledge far ahead of the rest of the world in naval technology.

–In your novel, you remember that the expedition was made up of many nations.

–The expedition was not only made up of Spaniards, there was an Englishman, Italians, French, Germans and even people of different races such as Enrique de Malaca, a slave in the service of Magellan as an interpreter. It was a multicultural and multilingual expedition. The Basques themselves had difficulties speaking Spanish, but not Elcano, who had been sailing a lot with the Crown of Castile and knew the language well.

Cover of Gil-Delgado's latest book.
Cover of Gil-Delgado’s latest book.

– What is your opinion on the Portuguese attempts to appropriate the authorship of the expedition?

–Portugal tried at all times to torpedo the success of the expedition. Magellan had to deviate from his original journey and cost Africa to avoid the Portuguese … Now, on the 500th anniversary, Portugal has tried to claim that Magellan was Portuguese, which is true, but it is also true that he naturalized Castilian and put himself under the command of the King of Spain after his project was rejected at the Portuguese court. Not only did they reject his idea, but the Portuguese King refused to pay his debts to him and to promote him from his professional rank, despite having been lame in a battle with the Indians recently.

–Once Magellan is dead, it will be Elcano who concludes the feat. Why does the chronicler Antonio Pigafetta not even mention his name in the adventure?

–Antonio Pigafetta was a very cultured man from a large Venetian family. I think he does not mention Elcano because he probably did not consider him influential enough. The Italian embarked on the expedition after a series of love affairs in Seville. Magellan accepted him in the outstanding position, which was a somewhat versatile figure, and Pigafetta knew how to thank him for his gesture by singing his deeds and his praises.

– There are those who say that the Magellan-Elcano expedition is only comparable to the arrival of human beings on the Moon. Do you find certain similarities?

–They are characters who live four hundred years apart, but they have a great similarity in terms of their global meaning and because of the involvement of a large number of countries. To monitor the moon landing, the US had bases in Australia, Spain and America. Magellan’s expedition was, in the same way, international and demonstrated the roundness of the Earth. It was a great step for humanity. Without one, the other would have been inconceivable. They were both two expeditions of great significance for the world we live in today of communications and connection.

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