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Isabel Barreto, Navigator of the South Seas and Governor of the Isles of Salomon

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

Publication date8/05/2024
Host publicationEarly Modern Women’s Mobility, Authority, and Agency Across the Spanish Empire
EditorsAnne J. Cruz, Alejandra Franganillo
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (print)9789463723299, 9789048557424
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The adventures and misadventures of Isabel Barreto's early modern voyage to the South Pacific read like the script of a blockbuster film. However, not only has she been ignored as the potential protagonist of a cinematic production, but she has also been maligned, stereotyped, and censored. In addition, as this chapter will show, both the crude summaries of events on the voyage and the timid attempts to vindicate her disregard significant facts and rehearse some inaccuracies. In fact, it appears as though the scant information about Barreto (1567–1612) that has become widely available is mostly reproduced verbatim, neither documenting it nor contrasting it with contemporaneous sources. This investigation challenges those simplifications in two ways. Firstly, it will undertake a scrutiny of events on the voyage, testing what the main sources say and how they say it. Secondly, and more importantly, it will analyze and contextualize the only primary source in which Barreto's agency can be ascertained and that has been disregarded to date: her last will and testament.

On June 17, 1595, having married a seasoned explorer, Álvaro de Mendaña, the young Isabel Barreto sailed from the Peruvian port of Paita on way to settle the Solomon Islands, which her husband had “discovered” in an earlier voyage. Following Mendaña's untimely death in October of that year, Barreto inherited his property and titles, including that of governor (adelantada) of the Solomon Islands.