Ruy López de Villalobos


Ruy López de Villalobos (c. 1500 – 1544) led the fourth Spanish expedition across the Pacific in 1542-3 to dislodge the Portuguese from the Moluccas and establish a permanent Spanish foothold in the East Indies, near the Line of Demarcation between Spain and Portugal. 

He gave the Philippines their name, calling them Las Islas Filipinas after Philip of Austria, Prince of Asturias, who became Philip II of Spain. He also encountered a group of islands, most likely Hawaii, in the Pacific but the Spanish authorities kept the discovery secret.

His fleet of six galleons left Mexico with around four hundred men on 1 November 1542, sighted land in the Marshall Islands on Boxing Day and anchored at one of the islands until 6 January 1543. By late January they were in the Caroline Islands, and they made landfall on the eastern coast of Mindanao at the end of February.

Although Villalobos had orders to found a colony and spread Christianity, hostile receptions and a continuing shortage of food kept him moving. Eventually, he reached the Moluccas where he finally surrendered to the Portuguese in 1544. Villalobos died in a prison cell on Amboyna on 4 April 1544.

An account of the voyage based on the recollections of his pilot, Juan Gaetano, appeared in Giovanni Battista Ramusio's Navigationi et Viaggi (Navigations and Travels).

© Ian Hughes 2017