The copy of the bull, or donation, by the authority whereof Pope Alexander, the sixth of that name, gave and granted to the kings of Castile and their successors the regions and lands found in the west ocean sea by the navigations of the Spanish.

Alexander, bishop, the servant of the servants of God: To our most dearly beloved son in Christ, King Ferdinand, and to our dearly beloved daughter in Christ, Elizabeth, Queen of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Sicily, and Granada, most noble princes, greeting and apostolic benediction.

Among other works acceptable to the divine majesty and according to our hearts' desire, this certainly is the chief, that the Catholic faith and Christian religion, especially in this our time, may in all places be exalted, amplified, and enlarged, whereby the health of souls may be procured and the barbarous nations subdued and brought to the faith. And therefore, whereas by the favor of God's clemency (altho not without equal deserts), we are called to this holy seat of Peter, and understanding you to be true Catholic Princes as we have ever known you, and as your noble and worthy acts have declared in manner to the whole world, in that, with all your study, diligence, and industry, you have spared no travels, charges or perils, adventuring even the shedding of your own blood, with applying your whole minds and endeavors hereunto, as your noble expeditions achieved in recovering the kingdom of Granada from the tyranny of the Saracens in these our days, do plainly declare your acts with so great glory of the divine name. For the which, as we think you worthy, so ought we of our own free will favorably to grant you all things whereby you may daily, with more fervent minds to the honor of God and enlarging the Christian empire, prosecute your devout and laudable purpose most acceptable to the immortal God.

We are credibly informed that, whereas of late you were determined to seek and find certain islands and firm lands far remote and unknown (and not heretofore found by any other), to the intent to bring the inhabitants of the same to honor our Redeemer and to profess the Catholic faith, you have hitherto been much occupied in the expugnation and recovery of the kingdom of Granada, by reason whereof you could not bring your said laudable purpose to the end desired. Nevertheless, as it hath pleased Almighty God, the aforesaid kingdom being recovered, willing to accomplish your said desire, you have, not without great labor, perils, and charges, appointed our well-beloved son Christopher Columbus (a man very well commended as most worthy and apt for so great a matter), well furnished with men and ships and other necessaries, to seek (by the sea where hitherto no man hath sailed), such firm lands and islands far remote and hitherto unknown.

Who (by God's help), making diligent search in the ocean sea, have found certain remote islands and firm lands which were not heretofore found by any other. In the which (as is said), many nations inhabit, living peacefully and going naked, not accustomed to eat flesh. And as far as your messengers can conjecture, the nations inhabiting the aforesaid lands and islands believe that there is one God creature in heaven: and seem apt to be brought to the embracing of the Catholic faith and to be imbued with good manners: by reason whereof, we may hope that, if they be well instructed, they may easily be induced to receive the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ. We are further advertised that the aforenamed Christopher hath now builded and erected a fortress with good ammunition in one of the aforesaid principal islands, in the which he hath placed a garrison of certain of the Christian men that went thither with him: as well to the intent to defend the same, as also to search other islands and firm lands far remote and yet unknown. We also understand, that in these lands and islands lately found, is great plenty of gold and spices, with divers and many other precious things of sundry kinds and qualities.

Therefore all things diligently considered (especially the amplifying and enlarging of the Catholic faith, as it behooveth Catholic Princes following the examples of your noble progenitors of famous memory), whereas you are determined by the favor of Almighty God, to subdue and bring to the Catholic faith the inhabitants of the aforesaid lands and islands, we greatly commending this, your godly and laudable purpose in our Lord, and desirous to have the same brought to a due end, and the name of our Saviour to be known in those parts, do exhort you in our Lord and by the receiving of your holy baptism whereby you are bound to the Apostolic obedience, and earnestly require you by the bowels of mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, when you intend for the zeal of the Catholic faith to prosecute the said expedition to reduce the people of the aforesaid lands and islands to the Christian religion, you shall spare no labors at any time, or be deterred with any perils conceiving from hope and confidence that the omnipotent God will give good success to your godly attempts.

And that being authorized by the privilege of the Apostolic grace, you may the more freely and boldly take upon you the enterprise of so great a matter, we of our own motion, and not either at your request nor at the instant petition of any other person, but of our own mere liberality and certain science, and by the fulness of Apostolic power, do give, grant, and assign to you, your heirs and successors, all the firm lands and islands found or to be found, discovered or to be discovered toward the west and south, drawing a line from the pole Arctic to the pole Antarctic (that is) from the north to the south: containing in this donation, whatsoever firm lands or islands are found or to be found toward India or toward any other part whatsoever it be, being distant from, or without the aforesaid line drawn a hundred leagues toward the west and south from any of the islands which are commonly called De Los Azores and Cabo Verde. All the islands, therefore, and firm lands, found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered, from the said line toward the west and south, such as have not actually been heretofore possest by any other Christian king or prince until the day of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ last passed, from the which beginneth this present year.

We, by the authority of almighty God granted unto us in Saint Peter, and by the office which we bear on the earth in the stead of Jesus Christ, do forever, by the tenure of these presents, give, grant, assign, unto you, your heirs, and successors (the kings of Castile and Leon), all those lands and islands, with their dominions, territories, cities, castles, towers, places, and villages, with all the right and jurisdictions thereunto pertaining: constituting, assigning, and deputing, you, your heirs, and successors the lords thereof, with full and free power, authority, and jurisdiction. Decreeing nevertheless by this, our donation, grant, and assignation, that from no Christian Prince which actually hath possest the aforesaid islands and firm lands unto the day of the nativity of our Lord beforesaid, their right obtained to be understood hereby to be taken away, or that it ought to be taken away.

Furthermore, we command you in the virtue of holy obedience (as you have promised, and we doubt not you will do upon mere devotion and princely magnanimity), to send to the said firm lands and islands honest, virtuous, and learned men, such as fear God, and are able to instruct the inhabitants in the Catholic faith and good manners, applying all their possible diligence in the premises.

We furthermore straightly inhibit all manner of persons, of what state, degree, order, or condition, soever they be, altho of Imperial and regal dignity, under the pain of the sentence of excommunication which they shall incur if they do to the contrary, that they in no case presume special license of you, your heirs, and successors, to travel for merchandise or for any other cause, to the said lands or islands, found or to be found, discovered or to be discovered, toward the west and south, drawing a line from the pole Arctic to the pole Antarctic, whether the firm lands and islands found and to be found, be situated toward India or toward any other part being distant from the line drawn a hundred leagues toward the west from any of the islands commonly called De Los Azores and Cabo Verde: Notwithstanding constitutions, decrees, and apostolic ordinances, whatsoever they are to the contrary:

In him from whom empires, dominions, and all good things do procede: Trusting that almighty God directing your enterprises, if you follow your godly and laudable attempts, your labors and travels herein, shall in short time obtain a happy end, with felicity and glory of all Christian people. But forasmuch as it should be a thing of great difficulty, these letters to be carried to all such places as should be expedient, we will, and of like motion and knowledge do decree that whithersoever the same shall be sent, or where soever they shall be received with the subscription of a common notary thereunto required, with the seal of any person constituted in ecclesiastical court, or such as are authorized by the ecclesiastical court, the same faith and credit to be given thereunto in judgment or elsewhere, as should be exhibited to these presents.

It shall therefore be lawful for no man to infringe or rashly to contradict this letter of our commendation, exhortation, request, donation, grant, assignation, constitution, deputation, decree, commandment, inhibition, and determination. And if any shall presume to attempt the same, he ought to know that he shall thereby incur the indignation of Almighty God and his holy Apostles, Peter and Paul.

Given at Rome, at Saint Peter's: In the year of the incarnation of our Lord M.CCCC lxx.xxiii. The fourth day of the mouth of May; the first year of our seat.

1Dated at Rome, May 4th, 1493. It was translated into English by Richard Eden in 1555, and is printed in Old English and from black-letter type, by Hart in his "American History Told by Contemporaries." For the present work the English has been modernized.

This famous bull was the result of rival claims, made by Spain and Portugal, to lands discovered beyond the Atlantic. More than half a century before Columbus, found America, the Portuguese had secured from Pope Eugenius IV a grant in perpetuity of all heathen lands that might be discovered by them in further voyages. The grant went so far as to include "the Indies," and was confirmed by succeeding popes.

When Alexander VI issued his bull the America which Columbus had found was believed to be not a new continent, but the Indies, and the Portuguese, who had reached India by way of the Cape of Good Hope, were threatening to send an expedition across the Atlantic to take possession and dispute the Spanish claims. It was in these circumstances and for the purpose of reconciling the rival states, that Alexander issued the bull, John Fiske has said that, "As between the two rival powers the Pontiff's arrangement was made in a spirit of even-handed justice." The bull conferred on the Spanish sovereigns all the lands already discovered, or thereafter to be discovered in the western ocean, with jurisdiction and privileges in all respects similar to those formerly bestowed upon the crown of Portugal.

Alexander VI, the famous Borgia Pope, who was the father of Cæsar Borgia and Lucretia Borgia, has been accused, somewhat loosely, of committing an act of foolish audacity in making this grant. He has been represented as having partitioned the whole American continent between Spain and Portugal. The accusation is quite unjust. The bull merely granted such lands as had been discovered, or might yet be discovered, and these lauds were not understood to be those of a new continent, but parts of India not heretofore explored. As for any rights possest by other European countries, including England and France, those countries at that time had little, if any, interest in the discovery made by Columbus or, in fact, any actual knowledge of it.
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© 2002 by Lynn Waterman