Spain promoted mixed marriages with indigenous people 500 years before it was legal in the USA


In 1503, Queen Elizabeth demanded Governor Nicolás Ovando, a fundamental man in the first years of European presence in America, to promote mixed marriages, “which are legitimate and recommended because the Indians are free vassals of the Spanish Crown”

The Spaniards who crossed the puddle in the 16th century, that of the great expansion in America, hardly accounted for a grain of sand on a massive continent of more than 40 million square kilometers. If the Europeans managed to subdue empires that, like the Incas or the Aztecs, had at their disposal millions of subjects, thousands of the elite warriors and found hundreds of cities it was, simply and simply, thanks to the collaboration with the peoples indigenous and through the subsequent miscegenation promoted by the Crown.

New Spain, the germ of what is now Mexico, conserved at times of independence at least 50% of the indigenous population, and 20%, mestizo. A figure that, paradoxically, has not stopped decreasing since the evil conquerors left. Only 23% of Mexicans consider themselves indigenous or descendants of indigenous people, according to an interracial survey conducted in 2015 by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi) of Mexico.

Interracial Relationships

The miscegenation between conquerors and indigenous people arose from the first years of the arrival of the Europeans. Accustomed to special treatment with the “other” after centuries of coexistence between Christians, Muslims, and Jews, the Spanish adventurers did not show any racial qualms when relating to indigenous women, in many cases coerced to gain access to these relationships.

According to Christopher Columbus, the destruction of Fort Christmas, founded on his first trip, was due to the Castilians’ habit of hanging on with up to “four women” and appropriating the natives at their pleasure. Many captains married the daughters of local caciques with the aim of inheriting land and labor.

Painting by Dióscoro Puebla on the arrival of Columbus, (National Exhibition (1862), First Class Medal)
Painting by Dióscoro Puebla on the arrival of Columbus, (National Exhibition (1862), First Class Medal)

However, there were also many women who fell in love sincerely with those men so different from everything known in their world. Over the years, mixed relationships flowed with complete normality. Tecuichpo Ixcaxochitzin, one of the daughters of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma, was baptized and named Isabel de Moctezuma by the Spanish. Up to three times she linked up with Spaniards, having with them a total of six legitimate children of both sexes and one more that she did not recognize, Leonor Cortés Moctezuma, whom she fathered with Hernán Cortés herself.

Hernán Cortés, con sus luces y sus sombras, es el padre del México ...

The conqueror of Mexico also had his first-born and dearest son Martín Cortés with Malinche, Malintzin, who was the interpreter of the conqueror. The conqueror moved heaven and earth so that Martin was declared a legitimate son by Papal Bull of Clement VII in 1528 and always watched over his rights. The conqueror of Mexico had his first-born and dearest son Martín Cortés with Malintzin with Malinche, Malintzin, who was an interpreter of the conqueror

In Peru, the inveterate bachelor Francisco Pizarro decided in Cajamarca to marry the stepsister of Emperor Atahualpa , Inés Huaylas Yupanqui, and set an example among his men. The new Peru would be mestizo or it would not be. Inés Huaylas Yupanqui, baptized with this name in honor of a sister of Pizarro, was given as a wife to the old conqueror when Atahualpa was imprisoned by the Spanish.

The Inca Garcilaso

The one from Trujillo was married by the Inca rite and, in December 1534, they had their first daughter, Francisca Pizarro Yupanqui. At the end of the following year, Inés had another son, Gonzalo, who died very young, in 1544. Both would later be recognized as legitimate children by Emperor Carlos.

Inca Garcilaso de la Vega | En Clave de Niños

The testimonies of the chroniclers support that Pizarro treated his first Indian wife with total cordiality and that the relationship seemed consolidated, both for emotional and political reasons. To say María del Carmen Martín Rubio in her biography of Pizarro “The Unknown Man”, the military help of Inés’s mother, Contarhucho, saved Lima when an Inca uprising threatened to destroy everything Pizarro conquered in 1536.

Portrait of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega
Portrait of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega

For unknown reasons the marriage ended up separating and, shortly after, they married new couples: Francisco with another Inca Princess, Angelina Yupanqui, also Atahualpa’s sister; and Ines with a handsome conqueror named Francisco de Ampuero, this time for the Christian religious rite.

Another case of blatant miscegenation was the one starring the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega . Born in Cuzco, Gómez Suárez de Figueroa received this name by the decision of his parents, a couple formed by an Extremaduran conqueror, Sebastián Garcilaso de la Vega, and a princess from the extinct Inca Empire, Isabel Chimpu Ocllo. The position of corregidor of the father, however, prevented them from marrying so as not to harm his political career.

The Inca sat as a soldier, traveled to Spain and spent the rest of his life writing, with great brilliance, about the worlds of his father and his mother. His literary work is also proof of the great miscegenation between continents. At the Spanish Court, where the beauty of the India ignited the highest praise among the chroniclers, Ojeda presented her as his full wife.

One of the first outstanding conquerors to take an indigenous woman as his wife was Alonso de Ojeda, famous for giving Venezuela his name and already present on the second voyage of Christopher Columbus to America. The explorer from Cuenca found an indigenous woman named Guaricha, whom he named Isabel, on the shores of Lake Maracaibo during an exploration trip in the spring of 1499. His original plan was to incorporate the young woman into the service of her home, but finally, the persistence of her, who manifested herself in love with her master, prompted him to marry and have three children with her.

At the Spanish Court, where the beauty of the Indian woman garnered the highest praise among the chroniclers, Ojeda presented her as his full wife. During his last five years of life, Ojeda lived locked up in the Franciscan convent in Santo Domingo and refused to see more with his wife. Isabel’s love was so great despite the attitude of her husband that, according to chronicles, she was found dead on Ojeda’s grave a few days after his death.

Laws to promote marriages

According to the British historian Hugh Thomas, it is estimated that already in the early sixteenth century half of the Castilian colonists of Hispaniola were married in some way to indigenous women. The problem is that, even at that time, there were large legal gaps regarding the situation of indigenous people and the type of marriage authorized by the Crown. Fray Bartolomé de las Casas criticized that the degree of marriage was such that the colonists referred to their partners with the term “maids”, hence the King Ferdinand the Catholic, governor of Castile, approved in 1514 a royal certificate that validated any marriage between Castilian men and indigenous women.

Memorial de fray Bartolomé de las Casas al Consejo de Indias |

The law gave true legal status to something that, likewise, had been promoting the Crown for years as a method to facilitate the evangelizing task. Already in 1503, Queen Elizabeth demanded Governor Nicolás Ovando, a fundamental man in the first years of European presence in America, to promote mixed marriages, “which are legitimate and recommended because the Indians are free vassals of the Spanish Crown.”

It must be remembered that interracial marriages in the US were not declared fully legal in all its states until 1967 when the Supreme Court considered the “anti-miscegenical” laws that still survived in some parts of the country to be unconstitutional.

Interracial Relationships that Changed History


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