Isabella of Portugal – Safe Conduct from 1529

Isabella of Portugal Safe Conduct

Finding such a fantastic travel document from the 16th century is rare as back then, such documents were only issued for such notable people like conquistador Hernán Cortés from Spain.

Isabella of Portugal, Queen of Spain. Royal decree (safe conduct) authorizing passage for Cortés as he returned to New Spain. Letter Signed as “Yo la Reyna” (I the Queen). One page, 12 x 8 1/4 inches, with docketing on verso; partial separations and minor wear along the horizontal fold. [Spain], 13 December 1529.

Isabella of Portugal Safe Conduct
Isabella of Portugal, Queen of Spain. Royal decree authorizing passage for Cortés as he returned to New Spain. Letter Signed as “Yo la Reyna” (I the Queen). One page, 12 x 8 1/4 inches, with docketing on verso; partial separations and minor wear along the horizontal fold. [Spain], 13 December 1529

This safe conduct authorizes safe passage for the conquistador Hernán Cortés from Spain through the Caribbean on his return to Mexico. His conquest of Mexico had been controversial in its own time and was of questionable legality. Allegations regarding the death of his first wife added to his legal troubles, leading to his banishment from New Spain. He then successfully pleaded his case before King Charles V and Queen Isabela. He was granted a new title, used in this document: “Marqués del Valle [de Oaxaca].” The queen allowed him to return to Mexico, where he would oversee a large estate. Knowing that he would need to stop in the Caribbean, Isabela issued this decree, functioning as a passport of sorts, and bearing her signature. It proclaims that not only would Cortés and his new wife be allowed to stop on the island of Santo Domingo (the Dominican Republic today), “all their needs” would be taken care of during their stay–perhaps the first “all-inclusive” vacation in the New World! An essential document from a critical turning point in the life of Cortés and the early history of New Spain. Isabella of Portugal Safe Conduct

Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés (c. 1485-1547) is best known for conquering the Aztecs and claiming Mexico on behalf of Spain. Cortés (full name Don Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca) first served as a soldier in an expedition of Cuba led by Diego Velázquez in 1511. In 1519, Cortés was sent to command his expedition to Mexico when Velázquez canceled it. Cortés ignored the order and traveled to Mexico anyway, setting his sights on overthrowing ruler Montezuma II in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs eventually drove the Spanish from Tenochtitlan, but Cortés returned to defeat the natives and take the city in 1521. He spent much of his later years seeking recognition for his achievements and support from the Spanish royal court.

Cortés was born in 1485 to Martín Cortés de Monroy and Doña Catalina Pizarro Altamarino, minor nobles in Medellín, Spain. He studied in Salamanca for a time but soon grew restless and left Spain in 1504 to explore the New World. The young Cortés landed in Hispaniola or modern-day Santo Domingo. He served as a notary in the town of Azúa for a few years before joining Diego Velázquez on a 1511 expedition to Cuba, where he climbed the ranks of the local government to become mayor of Santiago. Isabella of Portugal Safe Conduct

Not content on dry land, Cortés was to set sail for Mexico in 1518, this time in command of his expedition, but Velázquez canceled the trip. Defiant, Cortés set sail for Mexico anyway with 500 men and 11 ships to seek his fortune.

Cortés and his crew reached Mexico in February of 1519. They dropped anchor at Tabasco, where he gained intelligence from locals about the land he desired to conquer. They also gave him gifts in the form of 20 women. One of them, Marina, became his interpreter, and they had a son, Martín, together. He landed in Veracruz next, where his men elected him chief justice. According to some accounts, he sunk all but one of his ships before sending the intact one back to Spain. There would be no retreat for his men, only conquest.

He used his new allies and united them against the Aztecs, who were resented by local groups for the high tributes they exacted. By the time he arrived in Mexico, the Aztecs had come to rule over 500 small states and some 5 to 6 million people. He used deadly force to conquer Mexico, fighting Tlaxacan and Cholula warriors before turning his attention on the ultimate prize: taking over the Aztec Empire.

He entered Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital home to ruler Montezuma II, on November 8, 1519. Tenochtitlán, located near today’s Mexico City, had more than 140,000 inhabitants at its height and was the most densely populated city ever to exist in Mesoamerica. Montezuma, thinking Cortés and his men were envoys from the god Quetzalcoatl who was prophesied to return that year in the Aztec calendar, treated him as an honored guest. Seizing his chance, Cortés took Montezuma hostage, and his soldiers raided the city.

When Cortés learned that a Spanish force from Cuba led by Pánfilo Narváez was arriving to strip him of his command and arrest him for disobeying orders, Cortés fled the city. He left 80 Spanish soldiers and a few hundred Tlaxcaltecs under the leadership of Pedro de Alvarado to hold Tenochtitlan until he returned. Isabella of Portugal Safe Conduct

While Cortés was away, Alvarado massacred Aztec chiefs, and Cortés returned to Tenochtitlan to find a rebellion in progress. The enraged Aztec forces eventually drove his forces from the city. During the Spanish retreat, Montezuma was killed, and much of the loot the Spanish had taken were lost. But Cortés was far from finished. His forces defeated the Aztecs in Battle of Otumba on July 7, 1520, and he regained control of Tenochtitlan by August 13, 1521. The Aztec Empire had fallen.

While Cortés was conquering Mexico, Velázquez was busy crucifying his reputation in Spain. Cortés responded by sending five now-famous letters to Spanish King Charles V of Spain about the lands he had conquered and life in Mexico. Never content for long, Cortés continued to seek opportunities to gain wealth and property. He sent more expeditions out into new areas, including what is present-day Honduras. He spent much of his later years seeking recognition for his achievements and support from the Spanish royal court. He died in Spain in 1547. This document is offered at an auction and the estimated result is set to $10.000 – $15.000.

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Isabella of Portugal Safe Conduct

FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...