Juan de Cartagena Leads Mutiny Against Magellan

Juan de Cartagena arrested after defying Ferdinand Magellan.
Juan de Cartagena
(Profiles: Juan de Cartagena)

Juan de Cartagena, a native of Burgos, was the original captain of the San Antonio and one of the human obstacles Ferdinand Magellan had to overcome on the expedition. History labels Magellan and Columbus and other ship captains as “explorers” and “navigators.” Cartagena is identified as “an accountant and a ship captain” [1], not quite the swashbuckling image that inspires fifth graders in history class. 

The accountant note was important, though—Cartagena was sent to watch Magellan and possibly depose him as captain-general along the journey.

When Spain’s newly crowned King Carlos I (Charles V) agreed to back Magellan’s expedition, several Castilian officials at Valladolid set out to undermine the project. They did not want a Portuguese fleet commander for such an expedition. (Carlos was an 18-year-old from Flanders working partially with Flemish advisers.)

The day the Articles of Agreement were signed, a royal decree was also inked naming Cartagena as inspector-general of the fleet, a check on Magellan’s power. Cartagena was a confidant and “nephew” (possibly illegitimate son) of Archbishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, a relationship other officers in the armada knew of and one that Magellan was forced to respect, to a degree.

Once at sea, Cartagena openly defied Magellan’s authority, driving the captain-general to arrest him before they even crossed the Atlantic. Still a captive when the fleet reached Patagonia, Cartagena broke loose and returned to the San Antonio to lead a mutiny.

Cartagena joined the Concepción's Captain Gaspar de Quesada, its pilot, Juan Sebastián Elcano, and 30 Spanish crew members to seize control of the vessel. Quickly the mutiny pitted three ships—the San Antonio, the Concepción, and the Victoria—against Magellan’s flagship Trinidad and the Santiago.

Although outnumbered, Magellan quickly prevailed in a battle at sea that included sending Duarte Barbosa to board the Victoria and retake it by force, a decisive surprise attack.

Magellan convened a court martial onshore at Puerto San Julian. Quesada was sentenced to death by beheading (and quartering afterward). Cartagena was spared the beheading, likely because of his relationship to Archbishop Fonseca. He was sentenced instead to be marooned along with a priest, Pedro Sánchez de la Reina, who was among the mutineers.

On August 11, 1520, Juan de Cartagena and Reina were left marooned on a small island off Puerto San Julian with a small supply of sea biscuit and wine—this along a coastline where the fleet had already encountered cannibals and Patagonian “giants.”

Hill of Monte Cristo
Hill of Monte Cristo, where Magellan had a cross
installed before departing Puerto San Julian on 08/21/1520.

Later at the entrance of the strait, two other officers aboard the San Antonio mutinied again, putting the replacement captain, Álvaro de Mesquita, in chains. (Mesquita was a nephew of Magellan.)

They piloted out of the strait and sailed directly back to Spain [2] without stopping to replenish supplies or rescue Cartagena and Reina, who were never seen or heard from again.

By John Sailors

Enrique's Voyage


[1] Okay, so the wording is from Wikipedia; that’s still a step above social media memes, where too many people get their history (think pictures of eighteenth-century tall ships at sea with cheesy Magellan and Columbus quotes about the courage needed to leave shore to cross oceans and such.)

[2] Note to self: Stop writing “the Victoria was the only ship of the fleet to return to Spain.” The San Antonio did too, just in disgrace via mutiny and without circumnavigating the globe.


Top, Juan de Cartagena: De L. Bennett - Les premiers explorateurs par Jules Verne, Dominio público, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88429117.

Monte Cristo: De Fernando de Gorocica - Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 3.0, commons. wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32923586.

(C) 2022 by John Sailors. All rights reserved.

Enrique's Voyage Profile: Ferdinand Magellan

(C) 2022, by John Sailors.

Enrique's Voyage Profiles

On March 28, 1521, Enrique of Malacca became the first person to complete a linguistic circumnavigation of the globe—he traveled so far in one direction that he reached a point where his language was spoken. Enrique’s journey began a decade earlier following the sack of Malacca, when he became a slave of Ferdinand Magellan. Read more.

Pigafetta went far beyond chronicling the progress of Magellan’s fleet; his passion for learning about cultures and languages made him an early anthropologist of sorts. Antonio Pigafetta (c. 1491 – c. 1531) was the principal chronicler of the Magellan-Elcano expedition that became the first to circumnavigate the globe in 1519–1522. An Italian scholar-turned explorer, Pigafetta was among the 18 crew members who survived the journey and returned to Spain aboard the nao Victoria …  Read more.

Magellan's Real Circumnavigation, Enrique of Malacca Taken as Slave (Magellan, Part 1)

Schoolchildren around the world are taught the name Ferdinand Magellan[1]—“the first person to circumnavigate the globe”—many in grade school and again high school. But few people know Magellan's story, that he was killed in the Philippines halfway through that circumnavigation, and moreover, that he still came within 2,600 kilometers of fully circling the earth. Read more.

For Ferdinand Magellan, life moved swiftly from tropical amphibious combat in Southeast Asia to land war on horseback in North Africa. Magellan returned to Lisbon in 1512 or 1513, bringing with him Enrique, the slave he claimed at Malacca. Unfortunately, the Malay teenager was about all the fortune Magellan collected in seven years’ service in India. Magellan invested the riches he collected in a trade deal that went sour, a slap in the face he learned of on return to Lisbon … Read more.

Spain's King Charles named Magellan captain-general of the Armada de Molucca, but from the start he had to enforce his authority with an iron hand. In Asia a decade earlier Magellan had been more soldier than sailor. Now as commander of a naval fleet, Magellan relied on his military fleet background to maintain control of his own armada. Read more.

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V Backs Magellan's Armada

Ferdinand Magellan’s Armada de Molucca was financed by Carlos I (1500–1558), the newly crowned king of a unified Castile and Aragon. Carlos was an eighteen-year-old Habsburg from Flanders who barely spoke Spanish. Between the time he agreed to back Magellan's expedition and its departure, he became Charles V, Holy Roman emperor, and archduke of Austria.   Read More.

Juan de Cartagena Leads Mutiny Against Magellan

Juan de Cartagena, a native of Burgos, was the original captain of the San Antonio and one of the human obstacles Ferdinand Magellan had to overcome on the expedition. History labels Magellan and Columbus and other ship captains as “explorers” and “navigators.” Cartagena is identified as “an accountant and a ship captain” [1], not quite the swashbuckling image that inspires fifth graders in history class.   Read more.

(C) 2022 by John Sailors. All rights reserved.