Mutiny and sodomyMagellan’s tactic to avoid Dom Manuel’s warships took him into the doldrums where the breeze grew fitful and then petered out. The tropical Sun reflected off the shimmering sea so the same furnace twice scorched the gasping sailors. Sails and running rigging slatted against the masts with a maddening, irregular rhythm. The pitch in the deck seams melted and stuck to their feet. Brief, furious squalls screamed out of nowhere, whipping the sea to spray, thrashing sails to ribbons before they could be secured.
At the height of these storms a glow like a halo hovered over the mastheads. Led by the chaplain, Padre Valderrama, men fell to their knees and offered thanks to God for this portent of their deliverance. This was the spirit of St Elmo, a sign of grace from Our Saviour. When the storm passed, the wind fell calm and the fleet drifted again, lost and aimless it seemed to the crew and especially to the pilot, Gomez. Concepción,Victoria and San Antonio lowered their longboats and Magellan watched sourly as his captains made social calls on one another. He knew the talk in those great cabins would turn to treachery and mutiny.
It was important to keep the men occupied in longboats towing the ships. One day a boat pulled across from Victoria to Trinidad with Captain Mendoza in her stern sheets. He climbed aboard to a trumpet salute befitting his rank and crossed himself before the shrine of the Virgin Mary.
Magellan must have wondered whether this was the next move on behalf of the conspirators but it was a different matter that brought Mendoza aboard: a foul, unnatural act of bestiality in breach of the king’s regulations and teaching of the Church. Two of his men had been found in the very act of sodomy and Mendoza requested a court martial be convened to award appropriate punishment. A court martial required at least three captains and the thought crossed Magellan’s mind that this was merely a ruse to further their plot. He agreed to the request, promising himself to be well-prepared.
When Mendoza left, Magellan instructed Espinosa to erect two sets of stocks by the foremast to accommodate the criminals. The big, burly master-at-arms inspired confidence with the way he went about his duties but it was not necessary to tell him any more than the bare facts. When the court convened, Magellan instructed him to stand by outside the great cabin with half a dozen of his men while the court martial was in progress. He was to hold himself in readiness to intervene in any unruly behaviour, not specified.
The court consisted of Magellan, Cartagena and Quesada. Mendoza, as the accused men’s captain, was prosecutor. There was no counsel for the defence and the trial was brief. Victoria’s quartermaster and one of the ship’s boys were brought in with hands bound behind their backs, bare-chested and wearing sarongs as affected by men in the tropics. Even had there been counsel for the defence there was no denying the evidence of several witnesses to naked bodies and erect penises when the upturned boat under which they were conducting their disgusting deed was lifted. The guilty verdict was inevitable and sodomy, like mutiny, being a capital offence, the boys were marched off and locked in the stocks to await their execution.
Barely had they been taken away when Cartagena raised the matter of the course alteration to south by west leading them into the doldrums. Everyone knew Columbus had had no wind in this area. Was Magellan so stupid, Cartagena wanted to know, that he didn’t know this most basic fact of seamanship? By ignoring the advice of his captains in Tenerife, Cartagena asserted, Magellan had exceeded his authority. Cartagena and the other captains had no intention of following his orders any more.
These were the words Magellan was waiting to hear. “Rebel,” he cried, whipping out his short sword and grabbing Cartagena by the shirt front, “this is mutiny. In the name of the king you are my prisoner. Espinosa,” he shouted, “arrest these traitors.”
Espinosa and his men burst into the cabin with drawn swords as Cartagena babbled “Mendoza. Quesada. Kill him. Kill him as we agreed.”
But Cartagena’s accomplices deserted him and threw down their weapons before the onslaught of the master-at-arms. They were frogmarched from the cabin out on deck , where Trinidad’s astonished crew watched the spectacle of their captain general manhandling the captain of San Antonio up to the foremast, where one of the sodomites was released from the stocks and Cartagena installed in his place. Mendoza and Quesada, cowards that they were, begged mercy from the furious captain general.
“Not us, captain general. Not us. It was all his idea.”
Magellan had nothing but contempt for them but first the homosexual lovers had to be despatched and then he would take care of Cartagena.