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The Conquistadors: A Very Short Introduction

Caroline Dodds Pennock considers a concise history of Spanish adventurers

Published: August 20, 2012 at 11:42 am
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Reviewed by: Caroline Dodds Pennock
Author: Matthew Restall & Felipe Fernández-Armesto
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Price (RRP): £7.99

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This sparkling little book tells the story of the conquistadors who established Spain’s American empire in the 16th century.

The authors offer an impressively fresh perspective on this well-worn subject, examining the distinctive culture that produced not only famous figures such as Cortés and Pizarro, but also many native and black-African conquistadors, as well as the ‘transvestite conquistador’ Catalina de Erauso.

More than a textbook, the account gives weight to Fernández-Armesto’s theory of the ‘stranger-effect’ as an explanation for the conquest, arguing that conquistadors benefited from an indigenous propensity to honour strangers, and took advantage of their outsider status to transcend local rivalries, becoming valuable marriage partners, arbitrators and power brokers.

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Richly packed with maps, sources and intriguing nuggets of information, this fascinating book is perhaps more suited to intellectually curious readers or students than to those looking for a basic introduction or a grand narrative of conquest.

Caroline Dodds Pennock, author of Bonds of Blood: Gender, Lifecycle and Sacrifice in Aztec Culture (Palgrave, 2008)

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