SpeakerBarbara A. Tenenbaum

Institution Library of Congress

SubjectConfirmation Letter of the Grant of Nobility (1600)

This beautiful vellum manuscript contains illustrations in purple, green, red, blue, brown, white and yellow with some gold leaf, rare in Mexico in the early 17th century. On the first leaf we see Mary with the Baby Jesus surrounded by clouds. Below that is a depiction of Christ speaking to a male saint in a Franciscan habit. Probably the use of religious iconography was thought to help the pleading within, to show that that which followed was done by someone with religious sensibilities and appreciations. On the other side, there is a full-length portrait of the progenitor of the Martínez clan, Ferrán Martínez, in full armor looking at the family coat of arms. It also has a very beautiful binding, also unusual for that period in Mexico. It is part of a lawsuit brought by Magdalena Martínez de Orejón and her brother Francisco Martínez Orejón against Martín Lopez Arenchu. By claiming noble status, Martínez Orejón could keep himself out of jail should the verdict go against him.

All this would seem only somewhat interesting except for one salient fact. Magdalena Martínez de Orejón was the wife of Sebastián Vizcaino, a well-known merchant of Mexico City and the founder of the city of La Paz, the present-day capital of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. Vizcaino had outfitted three ships and sailed from Acapulco to Baja California at the orders of the Viceroy. Later he would outfit another expedition to that area, first arriving at Cape San Sebastián and then going all the way to cape Mendocino in what would become the state of California in the United States. Enroute, he discovered a bay that he named after the Viceroy of New Spain, the Count of Monterrey. This then is his testimony attesting to the noble status of his wife and her brother, and it is properly illuminated to reflect his own considerable status in the colony.