The sources of a 16th-century Castilian cosmographer

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página 148 recto

página 148 versopágina 148 recto

Pages of the second part of Andrés García de Céspedes‘s Regimiento de Navegación where he transcribed the text by  Pedro Ruiz de Villegas; downloaded from Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico.

Pedro Ruiz de Villegas, Castilian “astrologer and cosmographer” of the sixteenth century, was a member of the  delegation sent by King Charles of Castile to the Badajoz Junta in 1524 to discuss with Portugal the position of the demarcation line of the Treaty of Tordesillas and the location of the Moluccas.

Ruiz de Villegas wrote afterwards a report in which he attempted to prove that said islands lay within the Castilian hemisphere and not in the Portuguese one. The interest of that document is not its predictable conclusion but a long list of maps, globes, tables of coordinates and itineraries that Ruiz de Villegas claims to have checked so as to back his argument. Many of the cartographic works he cited have disappeared and in a few cases this document is the only known mention of their existence. His manuscript itself was lost too but fortunately it was transcribed by Andrés García de Céspedes in his Regimiento de Navegación, printed in Madrid in 1606 (part 2, pages 148r to 149r).

I provide here a translation of Ruiz de Villegas’s list with some explanatory footnotes. The original old Spanish text can be found at the end of this entry.

Chapter VIII. Where it is written what [was written by] Pedro Ruiz de Villegas, born in Burgos, and one of the six judges named for the determination of the differences between Castile and Portugal regarding the longitude of the Moluccas.


What follows corroborates that this is necessarily so because of the navigations made from the island of San Antonio, and from cap Vert, to the cape of Good Hope, and from there to cape Guardafui, where the Red Sea begins.

Firstly, because it is like that in the Chart that many years ago was made in Portugal by the most famous [mapmaker] of that time, which I saw in the possession of Francisco de Lerma[1], neighbor of Burgos, and [had been] one of the first ones to be made when India was discovered, and kept simply to the truth, without any of today’s’ accretions.

It is like that too in Guispuche’s [work?], who at that time had the patterns that could be had; and such a wise man can be presumed to have had true patterns from Portugal.

It is like that in the patterns of every Chart made in Castile, especially by Nuño García[2], who was a great officer of making them, and tried to have the best patterns he could; and when he made them [the charts] and had the patterns this issue [of the Moluccas] did not exist. And he only followed the patterns from Portugal, as here they never thought about this [issue] until the year of 1516, when this difference started to be discussed between Castile and Portugal.

It is like that in the Chart that I saw of [=made by or belonging to?] the Portuguese Esteban Gomez[3]. It is like that in the Chart that I saw in the possession of Simon de Alcaçaba[4], made in Portugal.

It is like that in the Chart made by that Hector, from Coimbra I believe, made in India in one pig parchment. Is it like that in fray Tomas’s patterns.

There are accounts from all these Portuguese and many other navigators [with whom?] I communicated and got informed, and many other Charts and figures that I saw about this business that is being discussed.

It is like that in the small globe that was made in Portugal by that great pilot who used to get drunk, whose name I do not remember but for that sign, and [for] being very famous, he was very well known.

It is like that in the Apples [= terrestrial globes] of the bishop of Burgos, Fonseca[5]; and [in those] of the Licenciado Vargas[6], and in infinite others, made long before any of these things was suspected or there was issue about them.

This is further proved because the Charts of the Mediterranean Sea match what was said about the Ocean, as is apparent from all old and new Charts of the Levant [=the Mediterranean] made in Majorca, Genoa, in Biscay[7] and in Venice, of which I have seen more than 200 and had and measured many; especially three, one from Biscay, and that of Nuño, and that of the Count of Salamanca, that of Juan de Bejar[8], that of fray Antonio de Logroño[9], and above all the old one that I have, and another printed one, that it may be presumed they looked for the best available pattern in order to print it.

All the printed Italian [charts] match too, as well as a thousand other Cosmographies[10]; the two charts in Arabic that belonged to the archdeacon of Toledo[11], and innumerable others that have been seen.

It is above all proved with Ptolemy’s indisputable authority in what he may have known, and living in Alexandria he puts it to the letter, neither more nor less than these marine Charts.

It is also checked with all the astrologers’ tables [of coordinates], which locate Alexandria the same as the Charts; which [tables] are King don Alfonso[12], Ali Aben Ragel[13], Zacuto[14], the Almanachs of Germany[15], Juan de Sacrobosco[16], and all the tables in the world.

It is confirmed, and further corroborated, because Ptolemy locates Ormuz, a city very well known to the Portuguese that cannot be mistaken because it is in the narrowness of the Persian Sea, passing there to the East next to the Strait [?]; which [city] he locates adequately the same as the above mentioned navigations. Those who will notice it will be astounded by Ptolemy’s diligence; he alone, in what was close to him, is of more authority and credit than a hundred other authors.

It is further confirmed with a Map in globe [“Mapa en globo” in the original], which belonged to the King of Naples don Alfonso[17], which is as has been said.

It is also confirmed with another flat Map [“Mapa en plano” in the original], of round figure, made in London[18]. Besides this, with many navigations to the Holy Land, that it would be very prolix to say.

For it is as clear as the Sun, they subtract 16 degrees that there must be from the beginning of the Red Sea to cape Comorin, and from there to Gamispola, and from there to Malacca, and from Malacca to Maluco. And even passing in almost all of this with their patterns, does Maluco belong to Castile’s demarcation by more than 20 degrees; and amending them with old Charts from Portugal, and of those who there so say, it is more than 30 degrees within Castile’s demarcation.

There is more regarding the Mediterranean Sea: the Itineraries, all of which give the same quantity that was stated above, and that of Antonio Pio[19] is of great authority.

To prove what was said of the Mediterranean Sea, one could also bring forward stories and small aids to make more authority, which one could bring of such an unholy thing, but it superfluous to bring more than what was said of such manifest thing.

It should be noted that taking heights and latitude is very certain but, for the cosmographer who works by [geometric?] relationships, longitude is more certain: because everybody knows at what time they saw such eclipse begin, and information can be obtained from everybody; but few took the height, particularly in old times, because those who sailed did not take height as nowadays. This is brought forward in favor of Ptolemy’s longitude, to whom more credit must be given than to anybody else in what he managed to reach and was close to where he lived.

The above is confirmed, beyond any doubt, by the Itineraries that some have written of travels made to the West after the year of 1519, especially the one translated by Transilvano[20] from a Portuguese, and the one written by Antonio Gafeta[21], both of which agree with Ptolemy; locating Gilolo, which is the Catigara, in the [same] degrees from Spain by the West than [those that] Ptolemy gave by the East, which is quite remarkable.

[1] A royal document dated in Burgos on 10 April 1524, right before the beginning of the Badajoz Junta, mentions some “nautical charts that, you say you have been informed, are in the possession of Francisco de Lerma, neighbor of this city”; transcribed in Martín Fernández de Navarrete (1837), Colección de los viajes…, tomo IV, pp.330-332

[2] Nuño García de Toreno, “piloto y maestro de cartas de navegar” (pilot and master of nautical charts) of the Casa de Contratación since 1519 until his death in 1526. One map signed by him is extant, dated 1522; the anonymous so-called “Salviati planisphere” is attributed to him too. It is also known that Magellan’s expedition took with it 23 “cartas de marear” made by this cartographer.

[3] Estêvão Gomes or Esteban Gómez (ca. 1483 – 1538), Portuguese navigator and explorer at the service of the Crown of Castile. The above mentioned royal document of 10 April 1524 mentions a nautical chart “that pilot Estéban Gomez gave to colonel Espinosa”.

[4] Simón de Alcazaba y Sotomayor (1470 – 1535) was another Portuguese discoverer sailing under the flag of Castile. He was one of the delegates sent by King Charles to the Badajoz Junta but he had to leave it at the request of the Portuguese delegation.

[5] Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca (1451 – 1524), minister of the Catholic Monarchs in charge of the discovery and conquest of the Indies. Peter Martyr of Anghera claimed to have seen in his house “a solid sphere of the Universe” that showed recently discovered lands, as well as many maps. (Decade II, Book X, dated 4 December 1514)

[6] I suppose it must be Francisco de Vargas, d. 1524, advisor to the Catholic Monarchs and later to Charles I, and holder of numerous public offices.

[7] This paragraph is the first news I have ever seen of ancient maps of the Mediterranean made in Biscay.

[8] I do not know who this person may be but the Castilian consul in Florence in 1535 was called Juan de Bejar.(source).

[9] Chronicler of the Saint Paul convent in Burgos, the city where Ruiz de Villegas came from. He had previously been the confessor of Pascual de Ampudia, bishop of Burgos until his death in Rome in 1512.(source)

[10] Latin editions of Ptolemy’s Geography made in the 15th and 16th centuries used to be entitled Cosmographia.

[11] I am curious about what these two maps in Arabic may have looked like. One of the persons who held the office of archdeacon of Toledo in Pedro Ruiz’s lifetime was Francisco de Mendoza y Bobadilla, who would later become a cardinal and, at his death in 1566, would donate to the Escorial Library a great collection of codices that included manuscripts in Arabic.

[12] Alfonso X the Wise, king of Castile and of Leon (1221 – 1284) ordered an updated table of geographic coordinates to be compiled in 1272. The original is lost but a later copy of these “Alfonsine Tables” is extant (Biblioteca Nacional Ms. 4238) and lists the coordinates of 4 regions and 22 cities.

[13] Abu-l-Hassan ‘Ali ibn Abi-l-Rigal, 11th-century astrologer. One of his works was translated into old Spanish in the court of king Alfonso X. I do not know whether this translation contains a table of geographical coordinates. Later versions of that work printed in Latin do contain a table. (Edit of July 25, 2012: The Spanish version of Abi-l-Rigal’s treatise does contain a table of coordinates. The contents of both the Spanish and Latin versions of the table can be found in this separate entry.)

[14] Abraham Zacut (ca. 1450 – ca. 1515), Castilian astronomer who had to go into exile when the Catholic Monarchs expelled the Jews in 1492. He compiled two tables of coordinates for two of his works: the Hajibbur hagadol, written in Hebrew and preserved in four manuscripts; and the Almach perpetuum, printed in Latin in Portugal in 1496.

[15] Among the many works including tables of coordinates produced in German-speaking lands, the specific name used by Pedro Ruiz suggests it must be one of the almanacs made by Regiomontano (Johannes Müller von Königsberg, 1436 – 1476) and printed in Nuremberg towards the end of the 15th century.

[16] Johannes de Sacrobosco (John of Holywood), English astronomer of the 13th century.

[17] It could be either Alfonso V of Aragon and I of Naples (1396 – 1458) or Alfonso II of Naples (1448 – 1495).

[18] In 1448 the Venetian Andrea Bianco signed in London a chart of the Atlantic, probably drawn beforehand in Italy, but it is not “in round figure”. A circular mappamundi by the same author is extant, in an atlas dated 1436 with no indication of the place where it was made. The next earliest preserved map  made in England is a sketch dated 1539 (source).

[19] The Antonine Itinerary is a Roman text that describes the main roads of the Empire, naming settlements and distances between them.

[20] Maximilianus Transilvanus published in 1522 the first known chronicle of Magellan’s expedition, entitled De Moluccis Insulis.

[21] Antonio Pigafetta wrote a chronicle of Magellan’s expedition that he sent to several high-ranking people across Europe. A French-language extract of his manuscript was printed  in Paris, and then translated into Italian and printed by Ramusio in Venice in 1536.

Original text

CAP.VIII. En que se pone lo que Pedro Ruyz de Villegas natural de Burgos, y uno de los seys juezes nombrados para la determinacion de las diferencias entre Castilla y Portugal, acerca de la longitud de las Molcucas.


Corroborase ser assi de necessidad, por las nauegaciones hechas desde la isla de San Antonio, y de Cabo verde, al Cabo de Buena Esperança: y desde alli al Cabo de Guardafu, donde comiença el mar Bermejo, con lo siguiente.

Primeramente, porque assi està en la Carta que muchos años ha que se hizo en Portugal, por el mas famoso de aquel tiempo, la qual vi en poder de Francisco de Lerma, vezino de Burgos, y hecha de las primeras quando se descubrio la India, y guardada la verdad simplemente, sin arecion de nada de lo de aora.

Esta assi tambien en lo de Guispuche, que entonces huuo por padrones que se podian auer, y de vn hombre tan sabio, que se puede presumir que huuo padrones ciertos de Portugal.

Está assi en los padrones de todas las Cartas hechas en Castilla, especialmente de Nuño Garcia, que fue muy grande oficial de hazerlas, y trabajò de auer los mejores padrones que pudo, y quando las hizo y hubo los padrones, no auia esta question, ni el hazia sino segun que venian los padrones de Portugal, que aca nunca en esto pensaron, hasta el año de 1516. passado, que se començo a tratar desta diferencia entre Castilla y Portugal.

Está assi en la Carta que vi de Esteuan Gomez Portugues. Está assi en la Carta que vi en poder de Simon de Alcaçaba, hecha en Portugal.

Está assi en la Carta que hizo aquel Hector, creo que de Coimbra, hecha en la India en vn pergamino de puerco. Está assi en los padrones de fray Tomas.

Ay relaciones de todos estos Portuguesses, y otros muchos nauegantes que comuniquè, y me informè, y otras muchas Cartas y figuras que vi al proposito deste negocio, de que se va tratando.

Está assi en el globillo que hizo en Portugal aquel gran Piloto que se emborrachaua, cuyo nombre no me acuerdo, pero por aquella seña, y ser muy famoso, fue muy conocido.

Está assi en las Pomas del Obispo de Burgos, Fonseca: y del Licenciado Vargas: y en otras infinitas, hechas gran tiempo antes que se sospechasse cosa destas, ni huuiesse question dellas.

Prueuase mas esto, porque las Cartas del mar Mediterraneo concuerdan con lo dicho del Occeano, segun parece por todas las Cartas viejas y nueuas de Leuante, hechas en Mayorca, Genoua, en Vizcaya, y en Venecia, de las quales he visto mas de 200. y tenido, y medido muchas : especialmente tres, vna Vizcayna, y la de Nuño, y la del Conde de Salamanca, la de Iuan de Bejar, la de fray Antonio de Logroño, y sobre todo, la que tengo vieja, y otra de molde, que es de presumir, que para imprimirla buscaron el mejor padron que se pudo auer.

Concuerdan tambien todas las Italianas de molde, y otras mil Cosmografias: las dos cartas Arabigas que eran del Arcediano de Toledo, y otras innumerables que se han visto.

Sobre todo se prueua, con la irrefragable autoridad de Ptolomeo, en lo que el pudo saber, y morando en Alexandria lo pone a la letra, ni mas ni menos que estas Cartas marinas.

Comprueuase tambien con todas las tablas de los Astrologos, que ponen a Alexandria en lo mismo que las Cartas, que son el Rey don Alõso, Ali Auen Ragel, Zacuto, los Almanaques de Alemaña, Iuan de Sacrobosco, y todas las tablas del mundo.

Confirmase, y corroborase mas, porque Ptolomeo pone a Ormuz, ciudad muy conocida de Portuguesses, que no se puede negar ser ella, porque es en la estrechura del mar Persico, passado luego alli al Oriente, junto al Estrecho, la qual pone formadamente como las nauegaciones suso dichas: que es cosa, que quien lo notare se espantarà de la diligencia de Ptolomeo, que el solo en lo que fue propinquo a el, es de mas autoridad y credito, que cien otros autores.

Conformase mas lo dicho, con vn Mapa en globo, que fue del Rey de Napoles don Alonso, el qual està assi como està dicho.

Confirmase tambien con otro Mapa en plano, en figura redonda, hecha en Londres. Demas desto, con muchas nauegaciones a la tierra Santa, que seria prolixidad dezirlas.

Pues en cosa tan clara como el Sol, substraen 16.grados, que haran desde el principio del mar Bermejo hasta el Cabo de Comori, y de alli a Gamispola, y de alli a Malaca, y de Malaca a Maluco, y aun passando casi en todo esto con sus padrones, es Maluco con mas de 20.grados de la Demarcacion de Castilla: y enmendandolos por Cartas viejas de Portugal, y de los que de alla lo dizen, son mas de 30.grados dentro de la Demarcacion de Castilla.

Ay mas para lo del mar Mediterraneo, los Itinerarios, que todos ponen la misma cantidad que està dicha, y el de Antonio Pio es de gran autoridad.

Podrianse traer tambien para lo del mar Mediterraneo, en prueua de lo dicho, historias y adminiculos que hiziessen mas autoridad, que de cosa profana y semejante se podrian traer, pero es superfluo traer mas de lo dicho en cosa tan manifiesta.

Es de notar, que es muy cierto el tomar de las alturas y latitud, pero para el Cosmografo que haze por relaciones, mas cierto se estriba en la longitud: porque saber a que hora vieron començar tal Eclypse, todos lo saben, y de todos se pueden informar: pero tomar el altura, especial antiguamente, pocos lo hazian, porque los que nauegauan no tomauan altura como aora. Traese esto en fauor de la longitud de Ptolomeo, al qual en lo que alcançò, y cercano a donde el viuia, se le deue de dar credito antes que a otro alguno.

Lo dicho se confirma, y queda sin duda ninguna, por los Itinerarios que algunos han escrito, de algunos viajes que hàzia el Occidente se han hecho, despues del año de 1519. especialmente el que traduxo Transiluano de vn Portugues, y el que escriuio Antonio Gafeta, que concuerdan con Ptolomeo; poniendo a Gilolo, que es el Catigara en los grados de España, por el Occidente, que le puso Ptolomeo por el Oriente, que es cosa bien notable.

Un comentario en “The sources of a 16th-century Castilian cosmographer

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