History is fortunate in having a man like Pigafetta to document the most famous of all sea voyages. Urbane, well-educated, inquisitive and conscientious, his diary reveals humanity, shrewdness and a sense of humour. Ferdinand Magellan was his hero. At the conclusion of the voyage he dedicated a copy of his journal to Don Carlos so that, as he said in the royal court at Valladolid, the fame of so noble a captain shall not perish in our time.
He was engaged as a supernumerary on the paltry salary of a thousand maravedis a month, less than that of Magellan’s slave, Henrique, on fifteen hundred. He soon became an integral part of the crew and a personal assistant to the captain general as well as the ship’s scribe. Magellan was in many ways a prickly character and reading between the lines we see that Pigafetta may have had a moderating influence upon him.
Having spent some time in the Vatican’s diplomatic service and the Spanish court, he was no stranger to political intrigue. He understood the many factors hostile to Magellan. Dom Manuel, the king of Portugal, regarded Magellan as a traitor and harassed his family remaining in Portugal. The ancestral estate was vandalised and his relatives abused and even stoned until they fled for their lives.
Dom Manuel’s spies infiltrated the Casa de Contratatión and inflamed hatreds already seething. The captains of San Antonio, Concepción and Victoria were hand-picked by Bishop Fonseca and included his own bastard son Juan de Cartagena who would prove to be a serious trouble-maker. Even before the fleet sailed, Pigafetta noted in his journal that these captains did not love the captain general.
The Armada de Maluku was set up from the start to fail. In a way it was fortunate that Don Carlos, the 18 year old king, was surrounded by minders like Cardinal Adrian of Utrecht, Chancellor Sauvage and Guillaume de Croy who were distant from the feud between Spain and Portugal. The king had been born and raised in the Low Countries and didn’t even speak Spanish. Without their support, it is doubtful that Magellan would have gained command of the expedition.