Magellan Dies

Restocked with supplies of fish, fruit and vegetables, the fleet dropped anchor on 16 March at Samar in the Philippines, between Mindanao and Luzon. They had arrived at the edge of “the Indies” and replenished their supplies. 

Magellan may have visited the Philippines with the Portuguese navy, which could account for his insistence on remaining there while others wanted to move on. 

Rather than continue to the Moluccas, Magellan became involved in regional affairs, converting the islanders to Christianity. After having made the first Spanish-Filipino pacts with the chief of the island of Limasawa, and having declared that island a Spanish possession, he sailed on to Cebu, where he met Humabon, one of the most influential chiefs in the islands. 

Humabon demanded tribute, but when told by a visiting Thai trader about European firearms, he was quick to embrace Spanish overlordship and Christianity. Within a week relations had become so good that eight hundred Filipinos, including Humabon, were baptised in a day, but some of his subjects were not so obliging. 

Magellan’s attempt to win converts provoked rebellion on the neighbouring island of Mactan. Lapulapu, ruler of Mactan, refused all advances. At Cebu, Magellan received a message from Zula, one of the chiefs of Mactan, saying that if Magellan would send an armed force the following night, Lapulapu could be forced to submit. 

Magellan refused to listen to warnings and decided to accompany the party. On 27 April 1521, Magellan, who had appeared immune to danger and had refused to listen to advice not to become involved, was killed. With sixty untrained men, he stumbled into an ambush where they were outnumbered fifty to one. In the battle that followed, Magellan held out with his back to the surf for an hour before being killed. Only then did boats come to rescue the survivors, including Magellan’s slave and Pigafetta. 

More disaster followed when the King of Cebu renounced Christianity, turned on his unwelcome guests and attempted to massacre them at a feast. The survivors fled the Philippines.

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© Ian Hughes 2017