- Hernando de los Ríos Coronel and the Spanish Philippines in the Golden Age by John Newsome Crossley
I strongly recommend this exemplary, first full-length study of Hernando de los Ríos Coronel, whom John Crossley proves was highly important to the early history of his adopted community, and thus rescues from oblivion. The study's scholarly foundations, and the fields which it bears upon befit their subject's own diverse talents, duties, and roles; for Hernando de los Ríos Coronel, a 28-year-old former soldier, reached the Philippines 'as a private man ... in 1588 ... only 24 years after the first Spanish settlement of the Philippines' (p. xii), and, once there, served as hospital administrator, captain of infantry, navigator, inventor, and priest. He also became, for two extended periods - including his last seven years - the colony's sole advocate at the Spanish Court, where he represented both Spaniards and Indigenes (p. [End Page 322] 3). It is, indeed, appropriate that Crossley should call him 'the single most important person of his time from the Philippines' (p. xii).
Examples, encompassing over thirty years, concerning science, religion, administration, shipbuilding, trade, diplomacy, and other matters, illustrate for the reader a selfless, even fearless individual, prepared to stop the abuses of superiors and protect Indigenes from arbitrary exploitation (pp. 80, 156); Crossley, thus, sheds light on the problems that beset Spain's 'colony too far'.
One of these was the Dutch threat, not simply to occasional cargo ships, but to Spain's very survival in the Philippines, as demonstrated when the Dutch raided the Spanish fleet anchored in Manila Bay in 1617, at the Battle of Playa Honda, which the Spanish barely survived, fighting the enemy off 'with great difficulty' (p. 149).
The journey from Manila to Spain - sailing west, via Mexico - took two years, commencing with a five-month Pacific-crossing (p. 3) - in which 'as many as half the people' on a ship would die, with scurvy being the major cause (p. 1). Yet, characteristically, as advocate for the colony, the dutiful De los Ríos embarked on his second and final journey to Spain when already far from young, in 1617 - years after his original 1605-10 journey back - one of the main concerns that he had being 'the urgent need for a relief fleet to protect Manila and the Philippines, against the Dutch' (p. 149). Indeed, the urgency of his mission could not be overstated, because, in 1619, when he arrived in Madrid to plead to the king for military support for the Philippines, the Junta de Guerra (High Command) heatedly 'argued ... as to whether the Philippines should be abandoned' (p. 149).
Thus, Crossley says of De los Ríos in the conclusion to this book: 'without him the Philippines might well have been lost to the Dutch or swapped for Brazil, or, even worse perhaps, the Islands could have been completely forgotten by Spain. But they were not. What mattered most to him, and he was quite explicit about this, was that he had always done his duty, to king and to God, and thereby to his fellows, without fear or favour' (p. 181).
This is the biography of a fascinating individual, brought back to life through the archive. It is, in addition, a biographical study which succeeds remarkably well in conjuring up the complex, tragic age, and the places in which that subject lived his life - from Colonial Manila to Mexico, and to the Imperial Court in Golden Age Madrid, the seat of empire. [End Page 323]