Magellan’s last will and testament | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Magellan’s last will and testament

We who live in the 21st century find it hard to imagine what it was like to travel in the time of Magellan in the 16th century. You can fly from Manila to Madrid or Lisbon in less than 24 hours, compared to Magellan’s voyage which, from beginning to end, took three years by sea.

When Magellan sailed in September 1519, he didn’t know where he was going or if he was even coming back to his point of origin, so he wrote out his last will and testament in Seville on Aug. 24, 1519. Magellan’s will makes for fascinating reading, because it is a window into his world.

The will opens in the name of God and the Virgin Mary. Magellan declares that he is Ferdinand Magellan, commander and captain general of the Spanish King’s armada destined for the Spice Islands. He is a resident of Seville, the husband of Beatriz Barbosa. He commends his soul to God, trusting in the forgiveness of his sins, and states that if he dies in Seville, that he be buried in the Monastery of Santa Maria de la Victoria in Triana; but if he dies during his voyage, that he be buried in a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary closest to the spot where he died.


These instructions were not fulfilled, because after the battle where he died, Magellan’s corpse was taken to Mactan as a trophy. Later Spanish expeditions negotiated for and even offered to buy Magellan’s body to give it a proper burial, but the people of Mactan refused. In one contemporary account, the Spanish asked about the survivors of the Battle of Mactan who were still held captive, and said that they were willing to ransom the survivors at any cost. Mactan replied that some of Magellan’s men did survive the battle; they were taken to shore and their wounds attended to, but they could not be returned or ransomed because when they were well enough to walk, they were bartered or sold off to Chinese traders as slaves!


Magellan left 1,000 maravedis (Spanish metal coins) to the chapel of the Sagrario in Seville, a silver real to the Crusades, and a silver real each to the Order of the Holy Trinity and the Order of Santa Maria de la Merced in Seville, as a donation to help ransom any Christian captured by the Moors. In addition to this, he left one silver real each to the Infirmary of San Lazaro outside Sevilla, the Hospital de la Bubas, and the Casa de San Sebastian in Tablada, so that those receiving treatment would remember him and pray for his soul. For the Holy Church de la Fe, he likewise left a silver real, so that “on the day of my burial, say 30 Masses for my soul—two cantadas, or sung Masses and 28 ordinary ones.” He also requested a 30-day Mass for his soul from the Monastery of Santa Maria de la Victoria.

Reading the above shows that Magellan was very much concerned about his life after death—so much so that he requested that three poor men, on the day of his burial, be clothed with a gray cloak, a cap, a shirt and shoes. They were to be fed so that they could pray for his soul. In addition to this, a gold ducat would be donated for the souls in purgatory, who it was hoped would likewise intercede for Magellan’s soul when they crossed over to heaven.

From the spiritual, we go to the financials. Beatriz Barbosa’s dowry of 600,000 maravedis was to be returned to her together with the arras (gold or silver coins?) used at their wedding. Magellan expected, aside from the merchandise brought back from his voyage, one-fifth of the profits of the expedition. From this, one-tenth was to be distributed as follows: one-third of the one-tenth to be divided in three equal parts and given to the Monastery of Santa Maria in Montserrat, Barcelona, the Monastery of San Francisco in Aranda de Duero and the Monastery of Santo Domingo in Oporto, Portugal, and for the religious in these places to pray for his soul.

There were more in other parts of the estate dedicated for “the necessities of my soul”: He left 30,000 maravedis to his page Cristobal Robelo for services rendered and a promise to pray for his soul. To his legitimate son, Rodrigo Magellan, he left the rights to the title Adelantado, and part of the proceeds from lands discovered. If said Rodrigo died childless, the estate was to pass on to Magellan’s brother Diego de Sosa, provided he moved from Portugal to Spain and took the name and arms of Magellan. If he died childless, the estate was to be willed to his sister Isabel Magellan.

Magellan’s will sounds quaint to us, because his world was so different from ours.

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TAGS: Magellan, opinion, Philippine history, Philippnes

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