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Juan Ponce de Leon landed in the Charlotte Harbor area in and contributed to the first settlements in the area. Yet, there was little here to commemorate his discovery and actions. Originally, the primary mission was purely social. As time passed, the scope of activities expanded, and the Club began to promote Charlotte County, both at home and in nearby communities. Where they reckless adventurers or simply paid mercenaries of the Spanish crown?
Well, the answer is far more simple — they were soldiers, more specifically disfranchised, professional soldiers. Essentially, most of them were the remnants of the veritable standing army of 16th century Spain — men who were unexpectedly unemployed by the periodic lulls in the Italian Wars, and consequently, motivated men who restlessly craved for more riches and sometimes glory. Their opportunity came in the form of the Age of Exploration , which paved the way route to the Americas.
And thus some of the professional but disfranchised soldiers banded together to form their own companies and set out in mostly self-financed, small expeditions to not only brave the sea, the weather, the jungles, and the diseases, but also to battle foreign cultures hitherto unknown to them. Interestingly enough, while popular history tends to represent the romanticized riches accumulated by these Spanish Conquistadors, the truth is that most of the adventurers were relegated in favor of direct Spanish intervention in the Americas once its jaw-dropping resources were discovered — thus essentially allowing the crown and its government to take over the revenues generated by the newly conquered lands.
Talking of riches and revenues, it would be an understatement to say that the expeditions undertaken by the Conquistadors were simply profitable ventures. Furthermore, the Spaniards had to rely on battle-hardened professionals and mercenaries backed by well-trained citizen militia who could counter the powerful albeit slightly feudal military machine of France under the House of Valois.
But the predicament, as we mentioned before, related to the availability of money — since professional soldiers needed to be paid often in a timely fashion , while costs were also stretched by advancements in military technology, like cannon foundries and gunsmith factories.
The unexpected solution came forth from the exploits of the Spanish Conquistadors in the various realms across the Americas.
Just to provide a context as sourced from The Conquistadores By Terence Wise , gold in itself was a rare metal in contemporary Europe, with scholarly estimates suggesting a measly figure of 88 tons for the entire store of gold in 15th century Europe that could be easily made into a small 6x6x6 ft cube. By circa AD, Spain alone accounted for 99 tons of gold shipped from the New World, and the crown had a virtual monopoly on this ritzy route across the Atlantic. But beyond gold and adventurous spirit, it was the sheer motivation of the Spanish Conquistadors that fueled their military successes often against overwhelming odds in the Americas.
Well, the answer once again boils down to the Italian Wars, comprising a series of encounters from to AD. Moreover, these engagements were preceded by the Reconquista of the 15th century, where well-drilled citizen-soldiers formed the backbone of the reorganized Spanish army that defeated the Moors. In essence, these battles were the crucibles that forged the professionalism and ruthlessness of the 16th-century Spanish army — when Spain reached its peak. Thus we can always assume that there was a certain element of arrogance in the way the Conquistadors infiltrated the New World with their paltry numbers for example, Pizarro just had infantrymen and 62 cavalrymen, when he invaded Peru.
Simply put, while being audacious and self-confident, the Spanish Conquistadors were also tempered by years of valuable experience in both gritty warfare and manageable logistics.
At times, it has been argued that while the Spanish Conquistadors were faced with chronic manpower shortages, they had their advantages in gunpowder and crossbows — technologies that were not yet available to the Mesoamericans and the Inca. Now theoretically, this hypothesis does sound credible enough but practicality suggests otherwise. As historian Terence Wise noted, the early 16th-century arquebus, while being a handy weapon in the open battlefields of Europe against other approaching formations, also proved its unwieldiness in the cramped jungles of Yucatan against foes indulging in unconventional, guerrilla tactics.
To that end, given its bulky proportions, the gun needed to have a rest for the barrel end, along with a lighted match for ignition.
The latter had its predicament in the humid weather of the Americas. Similarly, the crossbow, in spite of its armor penetrating power, was slow to reload — essentially making it ineffectual in the face of mostly unarmored yet numerically superior opponents. And the predicament for the Spanish Conquistadors was rather exacerbated by the lack of ammunition replenishment. Consequently, the query still hangs in the air — how were the Spanish Conquistadors militarily successful in the Americas in spite of the relative ineffectiveness of their preferred weapons and that too against overwhelming numbers?
The answer perhaps pertains to an often-overlooked factor — the advantage of horses and the related cavalry tradition.
Simply put, the native Americans of Mesoamerica and Peru had never encountered horses before their contact with the Spaniards. The following excerpt sourced from The Conquistadores By Terence Wise sort of points to their awe when it came to these animals —.
soilstones.com/wp-content/2020-04-27/4277.php These stags snort and bellow. They sweat a very great deal, the sweat pours from their bodies as streams.
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