Skip to main content

Antonio De Morga and his Sucesos De Las Islas Filipinas

  • J. S. Cummins

The value of Antonio de Morga's Sucesos de las Islas has long been recognised. A first-hand account of the early Spanish colonial venture into Asia, it was published in Mexico in 1609 and has since been re-edited on a number of occasions. It attracted the attention of the Hakluyt Society in 1851, although the edition prepared for the Society by H. E. J. Stanley was not published until 1868. Morga's work is based on personal experiences, or on documentation from eye-witnesses of the events described. Moreover, as he tells us himself, survivors from Legazpi's expedition were still alive while he was preparing his book in Manila, and these too he could consult. As a lawyer, it is obvious that he would hardly fail to seek such evidence. The Sucesos is the work of an honest observer, himself a major actor in the drama of his time, a versatile bureaucrat, who knew the workings of the administration from the inside.It is also the first history of the Spanish Philippines to be written by a layman, as opposed to the religious chroniclers. Morga's book was praised, quoted, and plagiarized, by contemporaries or successors. Filipinos have found it a useful account of the state of their native culture upon the coming of the conquistadors; Spaniards have regarded it as a work to admire or condemn, according to their views and the context of their times; some other Europeans, such as Stanley, found it full of lessons and examples.

Hide All

1. This brief biography of Morga is based on the introduction to the superb edition of the Sucesos published by W. E. Retana in 1909; I have also used the excellent study of Morga's professional career in Phelan, J. L.'s Kingdom of Quito (Wisconsin, 1967).

2. She came from Uceda and was connected with powerful Sandoval family.

3. Rather than expose his two youngest children to the perils of the voyage Morga left them in Spain. Two others died before he reached Manila.

4. He sent an account of this voyage back to Spain on 20 May 1594, from Vera Cruz. (y Lanzas, P. Torres and Nayas, F., Calálogo de los documentos relativos a las islas Filipinos, III (Barcelona, 1928), 99).

5. Morga sailed in the Santiago (Navas, Torres, III, 117–18; IV, 11. Elsewhere Morga says he arrived on 10 June (Retaria, , 45*).

6. Retana, , 235–41; Blair, E. H. and Robertson, J. A., The Philippine Islands 1493–1898, IX, 154–5, 270.3.

7. Retana, 51*, 52*, 56*, 69*, 86*, 241; Torres-Navas, , IV, 120. Mania was considered an undesirable posting owing to the heat (Phelan, , Quito, 136); complaints about the effect of the climate on character are typified by a later Augustinian writer who describes a fellow-friar as ‘always good-humoured, which is miraculous in this sad land’; ‘in this warm climate all talent droops and decays’; ‘this limbo … this purgatory, this bottomless well …’ (de Castro, A.M., Osario venerable, ed. Merino, M., OSA., (Madrid, 1954), 59, 81, 115, 259, 279, 404, 424). A Dominican brother describes a colleague's love of penance; he ‘showed no longing to return to Spain, a rare thing indeed here’.

8. Tones-Navas, , III, xlv; Retana, , 405, 425; Blair, , VI, 176181.

9. MS Filipinas 340, lib. III, f.49-v, 30 August 1608, Archives of the Indies, Seville; Retana, , 423–5. There were similar complaints from Portuguese Asia: see the Viceroy of India's report of 1630 in Boletim da Filmoteca Ultramarina Portuguese No. 7 (Lisbon, 1956), 480.

10. Blair, , IX, 270–71; The audiencia, like other colonial Institutions, had its origin in Spain where it was a law-court which advised the King and helped to maintain his authority. Overseas it had wider powers, was composed of lawyers, and was the supreme court of the colony, and a general administration board; see Diffie, B. W., Latin-American Civilization (New York, 1967), 297300; Cunningham, C. H., The Audiencia in the Spanish Colonies as -illustrated by the Audiencia of Manila, 1583–1800 (Berkeley, 1919), and Parry, J. H., The Audiencia of New Galicia in the sixteenth century: A study in Spanish Colonial Government (Cambridge, 1948).

11. Schafer, E., El consejo real y supremo de las Indias, II (Seville, 1947), 92.

12. Retana, , 433–35.

13. Torres-Navas, , V, items No. 6721–45, 6916–17.

14. MS. Exciibania de Camara 410, f.58-v, Archive of the Indies, Seville.

15. Boxer, C. R., Fidalgos in the Far East 1350–1770 (The Hague, 1948), 48–9.

16. Torres-Navas, , IV, 94, No. 5823. For Morga and Van Noort see Blair, XI, passim, and Retana, , 271310; for a brief survey of the Dutch intervention in the Philippines see Zaide, G., Philippine Political and Cultural History, I, (Manila, 1957), 252–68.

17. Later, there was talk of sabotage during these preparations ‘two holes were bored in one of the ships one night, and it began to sink, and the sails were taken out and hidden in the woods. It was not discovered who did it nor was any investigation ever made.’ (Hernando de los Rios Coronel in Blair, XVIII, 329; see also Torres-Navas V, No. 7870).

18. ‘Peleando como un Cid’, fray Juan Gutierrez, OSA., in 1601 (Retana, 287).

19. Torres-Navas, , IV, 146, 148, 172; V, 59.

20. Retana, who describes Morga's first wife as being ‘as fertile as a rabbit’, estimates that there were at least 16 children by the marriage. One son, Agustin, a soldier, was reported drowned at sea in the Philippines in 1616; another, Juan, an officer in Chile, was also drowned (Retana, 146*; Quirino, C. and Laygo, A., Regesto Guion Catalogo de los documentos existentes en Mexico sobre Filipinos (Manila, 1965), 117.

21. Torres-Navas, , V, 132.

22. For instance, the comment that ‘Morga … is now Alcalde de Corte in Mexico, but he deserves a higher and better post’ (Breve et veridique relation des evenements du Cambodge par Gabriel Quiroga de San Antonio Valladolid, 1604, ed. Cabaton, A., (Paris, 1914), 14–5. He was respectable enough to have a book dedicated to him: e.g. Gordillo, Pedro Aguilar's Alivio de mercaderes (Mexico, 1610) according to Medina, J. T., La Imprenta en Mexico, 1539–1821, II (Santiago de Chile, 1907), 49.

23. Schafer, Consejo, II, 460, 511. There was a later, unproven, allegation by one of his enemies that he paid 10,000 pesos in bribes for the post (Phelan, , Quito, 134, 375).

24. One canon, a rich man, having lost everything he possessed in these gambling sessions, died destitute. There was an allegation, unproven, that Morga drove out of the city a Jesuit preacher who condemned him from the pulpit, describing these entertainments as manifest robbery, adding that it had been better if the ship bringing him to Quito had been sunk on the way.

25. Castro, , Osario, 171; Phelan, , Quito, 184).

26. Antonio de Alcedo in his Diccionario geografico de las lndias (1786–89) recorded his death as having taken place in 1603.

27. The original title of the manuscript was ‘Descubrimiento, conquista, pacification y poplacion de las Islas Philipinas’ (Retana, 172*. quoting an eighteenth-century source).

28. Green, O. H., Spain and the Western Tradition, III (Madison, 1965), 31; See also the ‘Prologo’ and ‘Discurse apologetico’ of the brothers Pinelo in the Epitome de la biblioteca oriental i occidental (Madrid, 1629).

29. Parry, J. H., The Spanish Seaborne Empire (London, 1966), 220, Cline, Howard F., The Relaciones geograficas of the Spanish Indies, 1577–86 in Hispanic American Historical Review, 44 (1964), 341–74.

30. Torres-Navas, , V, 204.

31. Colin, 's Labor evangelica claimed to supersede earlier writers because it is based on authorised and accredited reports. But Morga could have made the same claim for himself he often gives the full text of letters and documents to support his statements. (Colin, F., Labor evangelica de … la Compania de Jesus en … Filipinos, ed. Pastells, P. SJ., (Barcelona, 1904), three vols.).

32. Quoted in de la Costa, H. SJ., The Jesuits in the Philippines (Cambridge, Mass., 1961), 349.

33. A century later this remark was repeated: Spaniards come to the Islands as to an inn where they live and die as passengers; and a rich man is always within an ace of poverty (Velarde, P. Murillo, Historia de la Provincia … de Philipinas, II Pte, (Manila, 1749), 272.

34. Colin, , III, 32 ff. Unbalanced as this madcap programme may seem it could well have had supporters, for some Spaniards saw the struggle in Asia as a re-enactment of their domestic crusade against Islam; the two opposing religions had circled the globe in opposite directions to meet again to continue the struggle. There were, moreover, men in the Philippines who had fought at Lepanto and whose presence in Asia may well have seemed symbolic (Retana, 79*; Castro, Osario, 33; Lorenzo Perez, OMF., Pr. Jeronimo de Jesus', Archivum Franciscanum Historicum, XXII (1929), 204n). The Moriscos, or converted Moors, living on in Spain were suspected of being unreliable, and in 1609, the year of the publication of the Sucesos, they were expelled from the country; see Lynch, J., Spain under the Habsburgs, I (London, 1964), 1218. Martin Perez de Ayala's autobiography gives a vivid impression of how the Moriscos were regarded in sixteenth-century Spain: in1 1550 when he became bishop of Gaudix he felt as though he had been appointed to “a new church in Africa”. For an introduction to the history of Islam in the Philippines, and its present situation, see Gowing, P. G., Mosque and Moro: A Study of the Muslims in the Philippines (Manila, 1964).

35. Lach, D. F., Asia in the Making of Europe, I, (i), (Chicago, 1965), 312.

36. Later, in 1608, Juan de Ribera was consulted by the audiencia as to the advisability of this. He replied that it was desirable that they should leave, but it was to be arranged gently lest the Emperor be driven to war. Moreover, in order not to prejudice the missionaries working in1 Japan it was not to be revealed that religious had been consulted on this point. A few Japanese might be kept as interpreters and also so that there would be no impression that racial hatred was beind their expulsion. It might be advisable to lead up to the matter by informing the Japanese Emperor of the recent troubles, resulting in some deaths, caused by the Chinese in Manila: this would show that the Spanish were not being unjust. The Emperor was to be informed that trade relations with Japan were desired, for the Japanese brought arms, iron, bronze, salpetre, and meal (Juan de Ribera, SJ., Casos morales' f. 149.r, MS in archive of San Cugat college, Barcelona).

37. Quoted in Purchas his Pilgrimes, I, Bk. II (London, 1625), 75 Morga's personal help for the Franciscans' Japan mission is revealed in the letter from the martyr fray Martin de la Ascension (Sucesos, chapter vi). This interest, continued and among his goods when he died was a statute of ‘san Antonio, a martyr in Japan’ (Retana, 161*).

38. Merga's enemies made an attempt to blame him for the rising (Retana, 11*-15). Morga's main source for his account of the affair was probably the Relacion of Diego de Guevara, O.E.S.A.; see Lorenzo Perez, OFM., in Archive Iberoamericano, XXá. (1926), 147. There is a discussion of the moral scruples aroused in some Spaniards by the killing and pillaging in 1603 in Diego de Bobadilla, SJ., ‘Casos morales resueltos’, ff. 15Ov.-15r., MS in archives of San Cugat College, Barcelona.

39. Quoted in Quinn, D. B., The Roanoke Voyages, 1684–1590, II (London, Hakluyt Society, 1955), 514.

40. Blair, , XII, 176.

41. Breve relation, ed. Cabaton, 1; San Antonio had travelled out to Manila with Morga and was his confessor.

42. Stanley, , v–vi, 12; Castro, , Osario, 476, 482, 483; Blair, , XXXVI, 222.

43. Boxer, C. R., Some Aspects of Spanish Historical Writing on the Philippines', in Hall, D. G. E., ed., Historians of South East Asia (London, 1961), 201–3. Robertson, J. A., ‘Bibliography of Early Spanish Relations’, Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, XLIII, Pt. 1 (1915), 64–5.

44. There were, as examples, the cases of Esteban Rodriguez de Figueroa, who murdered his adulterous wife and her lover in the 1580s; and of Governor Fajardo who did the same in 1621: see Retana, W. E., Archivo del bibliofilo filipino, IV (Madrid, 1898), 367446.

45. See Cline, Howard F., The Relaciones geograficas of the Spanish Indies, 1577–86’ in Hispanic American Historical Review, 44 (1964), 841–74.

46. Phelan, J. L., The Hispanization of the Philippine Islands (Madison, 1959), 129, 178–9; Retana, 171*, 208, 471–5; Blair, L, 164–5; LIII, 107, 138, 163, 175, 256, LIV, 123. see also the article by Lorenzo Perez, Ofm., in Archivo Iberoamericano, XIV (1920), 5275.

47. Torres-Navas, , II, 139, Item No. 3107; III, 83, Item No. 4154; 91, Item No. 4229; 114, Item No. 4437; and Lorenzo Perez, OFM., ‘Un Codice desconocido, relative a las islas Filipinas’, Erudition Ibero-ultarmarina, Ano IV, nums. 15–16 (1933), 502529; Ano V, Num. 17 (1934), 76–108.

48. Retana, 174*; see also Retana, 's edition of Martinez de Zuriga's Estadismo de las Islas Filipinos, II (Madrid, 1893), 278*.

49. He became Duke of Cea in 1604 (de Atienza, Julio, Nobiliario espanol (Madrid, 1954), 843; Phelan, , Quito, 369).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Southeast Asian History
  • ISSN: 0217-7811
  • EISSN: 2398-7375
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-southeast-asian-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *

Related content

Powered by UNSILO


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed