THE ROSAS AFFAIR
A Novel Based on a True Story
His Lordship the Governor
MEXICO CITY, KINGDOM OF NEW SPAIN, JANUARY 1637
A footman, acting in place of the duke's equerry, stood on the path below the garden. “All’s ready, don Luis” he said to the man waiting on the tread of the terrace. “Do you wish for me to bring up the carriage?”
“A moment yet,” replied the governor-applicant, Luis de Rosas, glancing at the landau awaiting him in the courtyard. A moment yet, he thought to himself, one further moment.
The day was bright and clear, crisp winter weather under a brilliant sun. Behind him, the eaves of the two doors leading from a series of palatial halls onto the red-tiled terrace were bright in the morning sun. The eave's porches of blue tiles and the walls up to the open-eaved roof were decorated with azulejo tiles and chiaroscuro frescos in the Italian design of fronds and foliage spilling from two-handled vases. Before him, his view swept over the walls of the courtyard to a high church and to the huge square façade of the viceregal palace almost transparent in the dazzling light. He could have walked to the palace, but protocol required that on this, his final meeting with the viceroy, he must ride in a carriage.
Rosas, who knew the importance of symbols, bore himself with dignity. He was clad in a rose-colored doublet of rich material worked with rows of silver crescents that sparkled in the sun. In full court dress sans hat, sword, belt, and spurs, his dark, bearded face bordered in a small ruff, he showed only slightly the marks of the pox that had afflicted him as a child. He appeared handsome and rugged with the type of masculine vigor appealing to men. Although sickly in childhood, and suffering all his life with gastric troubles, he showed no outward sign of these ailments or of the tertian fevers with which he was plagued and appeared to be in the peak of health. His medical problems had perhaps impinged on the development of his personality, however. Imbued with a considerable sense of his own importance--although he was, by all accounts, only the son of a merchant--he had been difficult as a child, sullen as a young man, taciturn and stubborn as an adult. Now often rageful and filled with arrogance, his measured bearing on this occasion, would, he felt, show the curious and expectant assembly he was about to meet, that here was a governor possessing presence and energy worthy of their attention.
Rosas knew it was imperative to arrive at the appointed hour. His actions would be observed from the instant his carriage entered the viceregal grounds. And when it did, as the lone occupant of the vehicle, he must appear to be in complete command of the moment. It was early, and, therefore, he waited. He stood at the top of the stairs examining the trappings of his horse, a prancing charger of the finest Spanish breed, waiting impatiently for him to spring onto his back. His horse would, instead, be led behind his carriage from the ducal palace where he had been staying while in negotiation with the viceroy, to the viceregal palace from which he would ride in triumph once he had the cedula (royal decree) confirming his appointment as governor of New Mexico. The preparations for his investiture were a pantheon of symbols, the symbols required of life--and death--in Spanish service. His 15 years of military service as a captain of cuirassiers (cavalry soldiers) in Flanders had taught him the importance of symbols. His attention to these, as well as his keen mind, had assisted him in his rise through the ranks, making him now the confidant and protégé to New Spain’s new viceroy, the Marques de Cadereyta, a knight of Sant' Iago (St. James). Rosas, as one of the gentlemen in the viceroy's train, had come with the marques from Spain in 1635. Now, almost two years later--and following the payment of a considerable bribe--his patience in awaiting a lucrative assignment was finally to be rewarded. With a final survey of the duke's winter garden in which a myriad of rose bushes anticipated a welcome spring, he finished a mental tally of the preparations necessary regarding his horse and carriage.
“You may bring them up now,” he said to the footman.
The defensive courtyard of the Patio de Armas into which Luis de Rosas rode was flanked on one side by the imposing stables of the viceregal palace containing 30 of New Spain’s finest studs, horses constituting the viceroy's one obsession. In the stable among these beautiful creatures were the carriages and horses that had brought the members of the audiencia (high court). Opposite the stables, and completing two wings of the patio’s surround, were the offices of the viceroy’s staff. Making a tight circle at the center of the courtyard, Rosas’s carriage made its approach to the palace, arriving square on.
Dismounting before a stone archway in a windowless façade, the governor elect was ushered into the building through its only entrance, a covered loggia or arcade beyond which were broad, open, double-doors, thickly studded and hung with iron. The walls of this gallery were decorated with a rich cloth of raised designs, Italian broccatos (brocades), and painted frescoes whose stiff, geometric patterns reflected European inspiration. A door leading off the entrance hall was held open by two liveried pages, one of whom politely asked Rosas to stand on the threshold of the room’s carved and ornate doorway until he was announced. Waiting at the entrance as he had been asked, Luis stood beneath the doorway’s stone lintel, observing the room’s interior, and dwarfed by its majesty.
Inside the hall, amid a forest of garlanded pillars, palmers, armed with fronds of pine and willow, fanned air that was scented by sprigs of herbs and spices. Rosas admired with great interest the viceroy’s brocade baldachino, a canopy that was erected above the viceroy’s chair. This sign of royalty, the use of which had been denied preceding viceroys, was now being used to accentuate the fact that the viceroy, as the sovereign’s deputy, ruled in New Spain in the king's stead. As Luis looked at the viceroy’s banner of vermilion on a background of gold damask, he thought that he, too, would have one similarly designed and set out.
The crimson uniforms of viceregal servants, the dazzling short coats of heralds, and the violet jackets of attendants, all cast a regal glow on the walls of the reception hall. The room blazed with the brilliance of their raiments.
Standing beside the viceroy’s chair was a master of ceremonies who briefly glanced in Rosas’s direction before crying out, “Don Luis de Rosas, your Lordship!”
Rosas was ushered into the Salon de Coronas, a great reception hall distinguished by a dado (wainscoting) of azulejo tiles decorated with graceful blue and white designs, and a wooden ceiling, heavily beamed and decorated with radiant crowns. The viceroy, don Lope Diez de Armendariz, Marques de Cadereyta, a self-possessed gentleman with an animated look upon his face, rose from his chair. Twelve other men of honor, all beautifully dressed in their long black robes with ruffled sleeves, joined him in standing to receive Luis de Rosas. Rosas made a motion as to bend his knee.
The viceroy, gentle and pleasant to those with whom he had a close association, reached out with both of his hands and said, “We've no need for that, don Luis. Come. Come join us! We’ve been anxiously awaiting your arrival. May I offer you something to drink? A glass of wine perhaps?" He motioned for a servant. "It would be well to have something warm in your belly before meeting with these old men.” The viceroy chuckled at the men standing before him who joined him in his laughter.
“Your health and welfare are all I ask, your Lordship, and if God will maintain these, I shall want for nothing more.”
Elegant in bearing and comely in person, the viceroy was, as the king’s representative, magnificently clothed and jeweled having been exempted from the canon prohibiting Knights of Santiago to wear anything but unadorned rough wool, although he was still obliged to say 15 Mysteries of the Rosary, daily, an imperative which he devotedly observed. He wore the grand, white satin robes of a Knight Commander of the military order of Saint James, his body concealed by the mantle’s cumbrous plaits. With a bright, attractive face and deep-set dark eyes he had a remarkable presence. He introduced Luis de Rosas to each member of the audiencia, with special attention given to its president, Bishop don Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, royal troubleshooter and visitor general. For each member of the high court, he offered a brief resume of titles, lineage, and history in Spanish service. The viceroy then motioned for Rosas to occupy the chair of honor to his right. Rosas moved there, standing between the table and his chair awaiting the viceroy’s signal for all to sit.
The visitor general, don Juan de Palafox, whose chair was directly across from that of the governor-applicant, eyed Luis de Rosas with suspicion. Naturally hot-tempered, impatient and proud--and even, perhaps, a bit contemptuous in his manner--he was, nevertheless, one of the viceroy’s most trusted advisors, and he questioned the selection of this particular individual as New Mexico’s tenth governor. The viceroy, Bishop Palafox knew, was a Spanish grandee who, ruling in place of the king, followed the simple and ancient theory of the "hungry falcon." This was the practice of placing comparatively unknown men into positions of leadership where their ambitions, plus their reliance upon and gratitude toward the individual who had bestowed the honor, could be counted upon to keep them productive and loyal. It was a method followed by Their Catholic Majesties, Fernando and Isabella, who, upon assuming their thrones, had kept tiny notebooks with the names of individuals they met throughout their travels who might be useful to them. The Catholic sovereigns often solicited the advice of these obscure individuals, ultimately inviting some to join their court. However, the sovereigns' appointees, like those of the viceroy's, had not always responded as expected.
And had it not been so with the viceroy’s previous selection of governor of New Mexico? thought the visitor general. Was it not Francisco de Martinez de Baeza about whom the New Mexican priest, Antonio de Ibargaray, had been speaking when he wrote:
From the moment he became governor he has attended only to his own profit, causing grave damage to all these recently converted souls. He has commanded them to weave and paint great quantities of mantas and hangings. Likewise, he has made them seek out and barter for many tanned skins and haul quantities of pinon nuts. As a result, he has now loaded eight carretas with what he has amassed and is taking them and as many men from [New Mexico] to drive them to New Spain, thwarting everything His Majesty has ordered in his royal ordinance.
Stiff charges, Palafox thought. Although loath to have others render such scathing judgments regarding one in royal service, he suspected that much of what Ibargaray had written was true. Martinez has proven to be little more than a drummer, he said to himself. We cannot have a repeat of his misrule. We must do a better job in selecting the new governor.
Distrusting both the Church and his overseas officers, the king, Philip IV, who had ascended to the throne in 1621, had established in New Spain three royal bureaucracies. Designed as somewhat autonomous but interdependent entities with a complicated system of checks and balances, these branches had ill-defined and overlapping jurisdictional boundaries with little definition as to how they were to share power. The first of these entities was the viceroyalty which wielded authority through a number of provincial governors and which administered in all matters civil and military. The viceroy, therefore, in selecting the governor of New Mexico, did not require the approval of the audiencia, the second of the three entities which constituted the district court of appeals. The third entity, the episcopate, the system of church government by bishops, was charged with ecclesiastical administration. The king knew that litigation among the three resulting from petty jealousies and jurisdictional disputes would check the power of each, while keeping him informed of affairs in the most remote corners of the Spanish empire.
Kind to his friends, cruel to his enemies, the viceroy was a man of practical skills. To assure that civil and military authority remained in his control, he sought the advice of others but ruled alone. Astute and unusually accurate in his judgment of men and other matters, he had the ultimate responsibility of choosing the new governor, and he wanted Luis de Rosas.
Looking around the room at the men who were gathered there the viceroy placed his right hand on top of Rosas’s left hand and said, “Senores, as you're aware, don Luis and I have been meeting to work out the various aspects of his contract as governor of New Mexico, and I'm convinced that I have the right man for this assignment. But do not think that we're here for you merely to ratify my choice. I earnestly seek your advice and counsel in the selection of governor for New Mexico. And I especially request your assistance in the instructions he is to receive relative to the conduct of his office. In the Lord’s name,” he said, as he smiled at those before him, “I now ask for your advice and assistance.”
Don Juan de Palafox, visitor general and president of the audiencia, whose velvet stockings and matching slippers were briefly visible beneath his black cassock, gazed about the room. He knew that it was his responsibility to set the tone for the inquiry, since few of the others would question the viceroy’s choice in the selection of governor. If, therefore, his was the only voice the viceroy and governor-applicant might hear, he had to ask the questions the other members of the audiencia were reluctant to express.
The duo, Rosas and Palafox, observed one another shrewdly, each trying to deduce the thoughts of the other. The pause gave Rosas and the president time to evaluate the gap that lay between them and the audiencia members, time to advise one another as to where their advantage and security lay.
There was a long moment before the president spoke. “I wonder if you truly understand the honor and responsibility being placed upon your shoulders?” His intelligent eyes betraying his wariness of the viceroy's selection, he added in a contemptuous manner, “I wonder if a man of such meager experience can be truly aware of the difficulties he'll encounter as governor of such a remote province.” He moved to the front of his chair. "There's an oft-quoted adage regarding the physical and political climate of New Mexico that expresses it well, don Luis," he stated, looking directly at the governor applicant. " ‘Ocho meses de invierno y cuatro de infierno!’ Yes, eight months of winter and four of hell, for New Mexico is but a spare and unproductive land," he said, "blistering hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter. And although covered in abundant forests, its trees are not subject to forestation, for there are no roads or bridges. Communication is poor, and you'll be almost totally isolated, cut off from succor or aid." He paused, and then continued, "The land is colonized by an ignorant and vulgar people, don Luis, a people utterly obsessed with their rights and privileges. A vain-glorious people, bloated with a quite unjustifiable pride in the purity of their blood and in their nobility. You'll not be welcome among them, for they're uncourteous to strangers, regarding them with suspicion, if not with outright hostility. They live in mean dwellings, domesticated strong-houses with heavily gated doors reflecting a harsh way of life and built only for defense. These doors will not be opened to you, don Luis, for you'll not be welcome there," he repeated. "They're a tight-knit group," he continued, "so knotted up through intrigue and intermarriage as to form an intricate web of family relationships impossible to penetrate and difficult to unravel so that it's impossible to determine where their loyalties lie. It will be of no avail to speak to them regarding their obligations toward royal governors, for even their priests defy proper authority, administering the sacraments to the native converts--and to the faithful as well--in complete disobedience to the holy Council.1 A colony of cousins, they're a troublesome and obstinate lot, don Luis, full of animus and deception, dedicated to land and family aspirations. They feel they can only count on themselves, and so distant are they from royal authority, that they'll not easily subject themselves to central control and will not participate in governmental affairs."
Palafox waited then, waited for his pronouncements to sink in and to be fully appreciated by the governor-applicant who sat there quietly, attentive to the cleric's words. After a moment, Palafox said, "I apprise you of these things not to discourage you, but to make sure that you're aware of the extraordinary difficulties you'll encounter as governor of so remote a province. Do you think you're ready for this?"
Rosas, who knew the importance of his answers, especially in gaining the approval of those who might be wavering in their support, waited a long and painful moment before replying, his words and tone then calculated to make the greatest impact. After a bit, he said, “I have served on the frontier and have lived the life of a soldier.” Looking at Bishop Palafox straight on and then at each of the men spread about the room, he went on, “And being but a poor soldier, I consider my potential appointment as governor an exceptional honor and will accept it with justifiable pride, and with complete awareness of the burden being placed upon me."
The viceroy, who had been listening quietly, sat for a long time in silence, surveying the room. His eyes scanned the faces of the members of the audiencia looking for suggestions of approval or disapproval but seeing neither. He asked the president, “Perhaps you'd like to include questions regarding his instructions as part of your inquiry?”
His hands flat before him, Palafox pushed himself to the back of his chair. “Yes, I think that would be helpful,” he responded.
The viceroy’s instructions, previously developed in conjunction with the audiencia, filled seven pages of the book the president now laid before Rosas.
"These," the president said, "are only the most urgent. If appointed to the position of governor of New Mexico, you will be given more complete details before the departure of your train. Your primary responsibility upon assuming your post would be to re-establish royal command and authority by your personal attention to martial law,” the president said in reference to the New Mexico colonists who seemed to be holding on tenaciously to a medieval dream. “You'll have to oversee the selection of a new cabildo (town council). At present, some of the councilmen are in confederation with brigands, while other members have intimidated some. We need representatives who are willing to listen to the suggestions we might make for the improvement of our northern kingdom. And we need priests who will allow someone other than their sacred selves to suggest them.
“Equal to that,” the president continued, “is the re-establishment and expedition of Royal justice. In that regard, the governor elect will be required to conduct Martinez’s residencia, the mandatory judicial review of one's administration. I’m afraid that we'll find much there that will be of concern to us. And we, of course, look forward to the determinations you might make. Are you equal to these tasks?” the president asked.
Rosas had heard of the passion with which the New Mexican colonists asserted their rights and their independence from royal authority, attitudes exacerbated by the apparent failure of his predecessor, Martinez de Baeza, to assert his control. “I know of these people and of their kabylistic tendency to divide themselves into clans, even into different tribes," he said, echoing a sentiment previously articulated by the viceroy in reference to the relationship of the early Iberians to the people of the Kabyl tribes. "Some have expressed this tendency as a matter of race, while I see it as an artifact of our ancient times, for they, like us, are shepherds by choice when they're not soldiers. Their psychology is that of wanderers who will forever fight central authority. Their natural tendency is toward disruption and disunion, which, I believe, can only be contained by the most vigorous, if not the most restrictive, exercise of authority. For no matter their protests to the contrary," he said, gazing about the room, "New Mexico is not a seigniorial regime in which its lords rule their lands and the tenants on them. New Mexico may be a nation of shepherds and remote beyond compare, a land where sheep are used in place of money, but in one way or another, and with the help of God, I will restore order and authority there and will punish those who are causing difficulty. Your Excellencies may be certain that in anything that involves His Majesty’s service, I shall not be found wanting,” he said gravely, again scanning the faces before him. "I'll do whatever's required to clean out the Augean stable you've described. And when all is said and done, the colonists will get what they deserve."2
These were the right words and the members of the audiencia smiled and nodded their assent. The bishop, who could wield a sword with both hands, determined to give his vote to the avowedly anti-clerical Rosas, but also to keep his eye on him. Looking across the table with solemnity, his long face, sharp nose, and high forehead, reflecting his gentle birth, he spoke politely and with sentiment, saying, “I have every faith that you'll do your work well.” He then looked at the viceroy, nodded his head in agreement at the viceroy’s choice, and speaking to Rosas directly, said, “You may now wear a hat.”
The members of the audiencia stood and a great silence invaded the hall. Placed before the viceroy were the symbols of Rosas’s office, his sword, helmet, and spurs. President and Bishop Juan de Palafox, who had risen from his chair with the others, walked around the table and with much gravity grasped Rosas's sword and belt and assisted the new governor in putting them on. Kneeling before Rosas, a page affixed the governor’s long silver spurs to his high riding boots, while the governor, assisted by President Juan de Palafox, placed a small hat of crushed velvet upon his head.
After this was accomplished, the viceroy said, “Senores y Caballeros, Gentlemen, I give you don Luis de Rosas, military commander, captain-general, governor of New Mexico!”
Rosas knelt at the feet of the viceroy who had remained seated throughout his investiture. The governor’s induction completed, Rosas removed his bonnet and laid it courteously in the viceroy's hands signifying, thereby, that he was the king’s man. The viceroy accepted his hat and placed it aside. Then, putting his hands in the viceroy’s palms, and swearing to defend his lord faithfully and to protect the New Mexican kingdom from its enemies, Luis de Rosas waited for what seemed an eternity for the viceroy’s response to his gesture of vassalage.
“You'll meet with Fray Tomas Manso, procurador-general of the province, who is responsible for the missionary supply service and will proceed as he advises you,” the viceroy said to Rosas. And then to the members of the audiencia who had remained on their feet, the viceroy said, “We will honor the governor’s request to dispense with the festivities and entertainments this occasion would ordinarily require. Governor don Luis de Rosas has asked only that we share a glass of wine with him and that he be allowed to proceed with arrangements for going to his new home.” Finally releasing Rosas from his grasp, he stood, raised the governor to his feet, and embraced him most graciously and affectionately. Wine was poured for all present. Several toasts were offered.
“We wish to hear of your progress as you go along your way until you are beyond sight and sound,” the viceroy said. “Please make sure that we do so. Go with God, my dear Rosas!” He then gave the governor the kiss of peace and dismissed him from his chambers.
Several of the men with whom Luis had met followed the new governor through the heavy oaken doors of the viceregal palace and into the courtyard, ablaze in winter light. These so-called hombres ricos (the rich and powerful moguls), trim and haughty gentlemen carrying fluttering banners and Toledo blades, mounted horses that were now being brought to them. Their horses were caparisoned with silver-studded saddles, silver horseshoes, and bridles.
The governor’s friend, the duque de Segorbe, at whose home Rosas had been staying while engaged in his many meetings with the viceroy, sprang from his own horse and held the governor’s stirrup so that he could mount. Luis hesitated for a moment, his left hand grasping the pommel of his saddle, looking down at the gentleman who knelt at his feet. Theirs was friendship of convenience only, with little pretense of affection or loyalty, and the duke, Rosas knew, would throw him to the wolves if it provided the duke with an advantage. But that was all right, Luis thought, for I would do the same. However, this incredible gesture of humility, so uncharacteristic and unexpected of a royal knight, pleased him immensely. He had arrived in New Spain without position or prospects, and was now, with the duke’s assistance, to be the ninth individual to serve as governor of New Mexico. He thanked the duke for his gesture, truly gratified that Segorbe had sought to put the stamp of importance on the event, for Rosas had only Segorbe with whom to share the proud moment. There was no one else.
Rosas lifted himself into his saddle glittering with gold gaud interspersed with red. The governor’s boots were now adorned with the silver spurs, and he was girdled with a sword, its pommel of acacia wood wrapped in silver. On his head he wore the hat he had retrieved from the viceroy. Made by hand with the flora and fauna of his adobe kingdom sewed in with gold embroidery, it was one of the most important symbols of his office. He wielded a rod of holly in place of his lance as he and his small retinue clattered out of the courtyard.
On their return from the Zocalo, the central plaza around which the governor and the other members of his slight entourage had briefly ridden, Segorbe and Rosas retired to the duke’s study where they sat before his blazing fireplace. The duke smiled at the fledgling governor, a man with whom he had fought in Flanders and with whom he was now engaged in the mercantile business in New Spain. The new governor, the duke knew, was in every way excessive, headstrong, and ambitious, one of the lowest grade, who, because of his successes in battle while in Flanders, had grown so proud and arrogant that he had become insufferable to his men. Glorying in the spectacle of battle where the prize goes to the bold and the brave, he had become coarse and dogmatic, lacking any of the refinements he had pretended to when he had presented himself at the viceregal palace. He was, nevertheless, the pawn in the duke’s opening move or gambito in the duke’s attempt to gain economic advantage in Spain’s most remote Northern Kingdom. The viceroy, who had waited a long time before replacing Martinez as governor of New Mexico, had found in Luis de Rosas a ruthless soldier who would again assert civil and military control in the Northern Kingdom. This pawn, Rosas, the duke thought to himself, has reached the eighth row on the chessboard without being captured by a member of any opposing army we fought. He deserves this promotion, if not a "queening," then a governorship. Self-styled as a grandmaster in the game of political chess, Rosas might, as the king's knight’s pawn, eventually have to be sacrificed, as Martinez de Baeza had been, in the crown’s struggles with New Mexico’s recalcitrant colonists and priests. Segorbe's gloomy prediction for Rosas was that he would not long endure among the New Mexican settlers. But while he survives, the duke thought, the governor’s single-mindedness and strength of purpose, uncluttered by peripheral issues, can be counted upon to make both the governor and myself a sizeable fortune.
“Martinez is as good as dead,” the duke said to Luis while grasping and ringing the small bell that sat on his table. “You may, in conducting his residencia, appear kind and benevolent while taking whatever you damn well please.”
“I think I can do that,” Rosas said with a broad grin. “I think I feel benevolence coming on. Almost like a seizure,” he said with a satisfied smile. “Or perhaps it’s flatulence, I don’t know. I get those two mixed up,” he added laughingly, as he requested another glass of wine from the servant who had arrived at the duke’s summons.
The two men waited for the servant to leave before continuing their conversation regarding New Mexico. After a time the duke said in a more earnest tone, “You know, don Luis, the power is in your hands. Martinez will do whatever's necessary to save his worthless neck, pay whatever's required for a favorable report. He’s as good as dead,” Segorbe repeated. “And that being true, you may take the best animal in his herd." A short pause, then he went on, "The Indians of New Mexico are required to pay tribute and Martinez knows the business of maize and mantas and skins. He can be made to pass the business on to you. That’s the way it is,” he said emphatically. “You’re to be paid two thousand pesos annually for your service as governor of New Mexico, hardly enough to get you there and to support you in anything befitting your position, and certainly less than the eight thousand you paid to secure the post. And, by the way,” he added, pointing a long bony finger at the new governor, “don’t forget that you owe me four thousand of that. We have to make a profit on our investment. And both the crown and the viceroy are prepared to tolerate our business enterprises so long as the sounds of weeping and wailing and the gnashing of teeth do not reach their ears. The decade of exemption for the Pueblos has passed,” he added, “and a workforce in New Mexico, both unpaid and forced, is readily available. Your plan should be as we sketched it: to divide and conquer. It shouldn’t be difficult, Luis. The colonists and Indians there carry either a candle or a club. Your goal should be as we outlined it, to castrate the colonists while separating both the colonists and the Indians from their priests. I look forward to receiving your mantas and skins when your carretas return with the wagon train,” he said again, smiling, while reaching for a bag that he had placed beneath the table and rising to his feet. “I give you this as a token of our contract.” The duke handed the governor a velvet bag in which a chess set had been placed. “To New Mexico!” he said as he raised his glass in a toast. “May it reward us greatly!”