Pedro Madruga: cleric, knight and discoverer?

The character known by the name Pedro Madruga was a bastard son of the eldest son of the main noble family of Galicia, the Sotomayor. So Pedro Álvarez de Sotomayor was prepared as a child for the ecclesiastical career, entering soon as a Canon of Tuy Cathedral.

In January of 1468 his stepbrother -and first-born of the House of Sotomayor- Álvaro Paez de Sotomayor found himself besieged by his enemies and without descendants, he decided to legitimize his half brother Pedro, granting him the rights of succession. For this reason, at the age of 38, Pedro went from the cathedral to the family territory and he fought against the enemies of the Sotomayor.

In the middle of the 15th century. There were several consecutive years of bad harvests. There was aso a lot of insecurity caused by the abuses of the Galician feudal lords. These reasons put the low nobility, the villains and peasants of Betanzos, Coruña, Ferrol and Lugo against the «Great knights» of Galicia. In 1467 these groups of the cities and the countryside took advantage of the establishment of a Holy Brotherhood by King Henry IV to attack the local nobility. Endowed with this legal protection, they gathered up to 80,000 militiamen, who adopted the nickname “irmandiños” in memory of the revolt carried out by these groups thirty-six years before.

The revolt took on enormous proportions, a civil war in which as many as 130 noble castles and houses would be assaulted. Among the fortress attacked by the irmandiños was the Tuy fortress, where Álvaro Paez de Sotomayor met his death after having to give his villa to the insurgents.

That traumatic event took place in the winter of 1468 and it led to “Pedro Madruga” replacing his stepbrother in the direction of the clan, participating in the fight against the Holy Brotherhood of Galicia. In spring and summer of 1468 “Pedro Madruga” went to the Cortes of Portugal and Castilla to secure the royal recognition of naturalization and the inheritance received from his brother; he also obtained a military support with which he organized the counterattack of the nobles from the territory and with the aid of Portugal. His army, equipped with well-trained units and with companies of arquebusiers, managed to defeat the irmandiños, capturing their leaders.

Another of his characteristics as a soldier was to start the actions very early; at hours when the other nobles were still asleep. This habit motivated that he was remembered by the name of Pedro Madruga. For that reason in a very short time Pedro became a central figure of Galicia, because he had saved the cause of the nobility in front of the villains and the peasants.

Pedro Madruga would gain a reputation for his sagacity and fearlessness. To resolve with the rival clan of the Sarmientos a dispute of the borders that both families had in Ribadavia they  reached the agreement that the border should be fixed where both knights met, leaving each of their houses at sunrise. When Sarmiento left his castle he found that Pedro was already at his door; for that reason he told him: “Madruga, Pedro, madurga” (“Wake up early, Pedro, wake up early”). This anecdote made his fortune and divulged the nickname.

In 1475 the war of sucession of Castile between Juana la Beltraneja and Isabel de Castilla begins. When King Alfonso V of Portugal married his niece the Beltraneja, and Pedro Madruga was a faithful ally of Alfonso, he supported his side throughout the war. Therefore, after the defeat he was in a very bad position, being harassed by the supporters of Isabel in Galicia. His reaction was not accepting the defeat, adopting measures of pressure against the Crown as risky as kidnapping in 1485 the Bishop of Tuy. That’s why he owed it. In January of 1486 he traveled from Portugal to Castile with the intention of asking for forgiveness from Queen Isabel. He stopped at the castle of Alba de Tormes owned by his friend the Duke of Alba, perishing there in dark circumstances.

It was a strange place to die. And there were other numerous coincidences. It has given rise to a hypothesis that is gaining ground. A growing stream of historiography – Alfonso Philipot, Rodrigo Cota and Fernando Alonso – is promoting the possibility that Christopher Columbus was a name invented by Pedro de Sotomayor to start a new life. He was an outlaw and he could take advantage of his stop at his friend’s house in Alba de Tormes to start a second public life. One of the numerous indications is his writing: a Castilian with numerous Galician words and a single written in bad Italian; the coincidence of the signature of Columbus with the genealogy of Sotomayor.

Cristóbal Colón

The fact that the older Portuguese son of Pedro Madruga – Christopher de Sotomayor – was appointed governor of Puerto Rico (an island discovered by Christopher Columbus) – in a text of 1620 that person was identified with an unrecognized third son of Christopher Colon-. Cristopher de Sotomayor would also coincide in his own name with the adopted name of Christopher Columbus. Diego Colón Perestrello, the acknowledged son of Christopher Columbus, was the nephew of Izeu Perestrello, who was also the co-conspirator of Pedro de Sotomayor. The wife of Diego Colón Perestrello was the granddaughter of the Duke of Alba, the friend of Pedro de Sotomayor. The periods of Pedro’s stay in Portugal coincide with those Cristopher claims to have been in Portugal.

Text by Ignacio Suárez-Zuloaga and illustrations by Ximena Maier.

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