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Alonso de Ercilla y Zuniga

Alonso de Ercilla y Zuniga , Spanish nobleman, soldier and poet.

In 1548 he was appointed page to the heir-apparent, afterwards Philip II. In this capacity Ercilla visited Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, and was present in 1554 at the marriage of his master to Mary of England. Hearing that an expedition was preparing to subdue the Araucanians of Chile, he joined the adventurers. He distinguished himself in the ensuing campaign; but, having quarrelled with a comrade, he was condemned to death in 1558 by his general, Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza, Marquis of Canete. The sentence was commuted to imprisonment, but Ercilla was speedily released and fought at the Battle of Quipeo (14th of December 1558).

He returned to Spain in 1562, visited Italy, France, Germany, Bohemia, and in 1570 married Maria de Bathn, a lady distantly connected with the Santa Cruz family; in 1571 he was made knight of the Order of Santiago, and in 1578 he was employed by Philip II. on a mission to Saragossa. He complained of living in poverty but left a modest fortune, and was obviously disappointed at not being offered the post of secretary of state. His principal work is La Araucana, a poem based on the events of the wars in which he had been engaged. It consists of three parts, of which the first, composed in Chile and published in 1569, is a versified narrative adhering strictly to historic fact; the second, published in 1578, is encumbered with visions and other romantic machinery; and the third, which appeared in 1589-1590, contains, in addition to the subject proper, a variety of episodes mostly irrelevant. Withall, many scholars consider it the most successful Renaissance epic in the Classical mode written in Spanish.


The most important work of Alonso de Ercilla is La Araucana.

In 1556 de Ercilla arrived in Peru and accompanied Hurtado de Mendoza, recently named Governor and Commander-in-chief of Chile, where the Araucanos had revolted. Apparently he remained in Chile seventeen months, between 1557 and 1559. He participated in the battles of Lagunillas, Quiapo and Millarapue, and witnessed the death of Caupolican, protagonist of [[s:es:La Araucana|La Araucana]]. This is an epic poem of military exaltation in 37 cantos, where the narrator relays the most significant facts of the Arauco War against the Araucanos (mapuches) and which he began to write during the campaign. In March 1558 Don Garci'a founded the city of Osorno and while their neighbours were preoccupied with the celebrations in the new city Don Garci'a left by a secret entrance, disguised by a helmet with closed visor, accompanied by Alonso de Ercilla and Pedro of Eyrie. They were confronted by Juan de Pineda, an old enemy of Alonso de Ercilla, and there was a fight. Don Garcia was warned of the situation.

Alonso de Ercilla ran to a church and looked for asylum. The governor imprisoned both duellists and condemned them to be executed on the following day. However, many people considered the sentence unjust and tried to persuade Don Garcia Hurtado and Mendoza to reprieve them. The preparations for the execution continued and all hope of saving them was lost. Then two women, one Spanish and another Native American, approached the house of Don Garcia, entering by the window, and managed to convince the governor to spare the lives of both. Alonso de Ercilla was imprisoned for three months and soon afterwards was exiled to Peru.

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