Thursday, September 13, 2012

September 13, 2012

"Massacre at Matanzas": Analyzing a Portrait Bit-By-Bit

On March 27, 2012, I stepped into the wilds of Matanzas Inlet, fourteen miles from St. Augustine, Florida, intending to honor the lives and memories of about 245 French Protestant men martyred here in September and October 1565. Though it was indeed an incredible feeling to see this marker for myself (above) I took note that there were a lot of things that did not really make sense on the portrait, things that may not be 100% accurate. So I decided to break down the image and see what was true and what was false. I apologize for the quality of the photos, as the marker is very old and at times hard to see.

What the marker shows: Every captured Frenchman except one is dressed in what appears to be dark trousers and blue shirts.

The probable truth: It is very unlikely that each man would be dressed exactly alike. Also, breeches were much more voluminous in this era, not fitted and to the knee like these appear to be. (There might have been some who wore more practical breeches, but there is nothing to suggest that these men did). While sailors might have all worn the same kind of shirts, they still would have been in various stages of disarray. 

What the marker shows: A man dressed in black kneeling in the bottom left. I do not know who this is supposed to represent. Is it one of the Catholic priests that came along on Pedro Menéndez de Avilés’ expedition? Is he praying for the men to be released or believing, as many did in those days, that the actions were justified? Is he meant to be a Protestant minister praying before his martyrdom? Is he meant to be French admiral Jean Ribault, whom I believe is wearing red and is featured up further on the portrait? If a priest, who? If a minister, there were no Protestant ministers at Matanzas.

The probable truth: Since I believe the man in red to be Jean Ribault, and the man in black standing at the top of the dunes to be Pedro Menéndez, the only logical explanation is that this was probably meant to be Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, who was indeed present at the Matanzas massacres (at least the one in September) and wrote about the event in his annals.

What the marker shows: Two men lying dead, while the rest quietly await their martyrdom.

The probable truth: This is not how Matanzas happened. Men were ferried across Matanzas Inlet by tens and maneuvered behind the sands so their fellow Frenchmen would remain in the dark about Spanish intentions. There would not have been two men already vanquished while the rest stood and looked on.

What the marker shows: A man in red standing in the center right, dressed finely.

The probable truth: This is likely meant to be Admiral Jean Ribault. I imagine that even after a shipwreck he would have found some way to make himself presentable, and though he may not have worn bright red, it is fairly obvious that the figure is meant to be Ribault.

What the marker shows: A man standing at the top of the sand dunes, holding a sword and a Spanish flag. I cannot make out the flag. A red-and-white flag below, however, is probably the banner of Castile and Leon.

The probable truth: This is almost undoubtedly Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, who “masterminded” the raid on French La Caroline and was responsible for both Matanzas massacres. He even looks ominous standing up there, waiting for more Frenchmen.

What the marker shows: Spanish soldiers carrying various weapons, as well as weapons sticking up out of the ground. Most appear to be spears. The soldier at the far bottom right carries a nasty-looking halberd
The probable truth: Conquistadors would have carried a wide range of weapons, including spears and halberds. Why exactly the artist chose to have them sticking in the ground, I am not sure.

In closing: The men were brought over in small boats, ten at a time (see small red boat in middle right of marker, and Frenchmen waiting on the other side of the inlet). They were forced to cross the Matanzas Inlet to get to the other side in the attempt of (what they thought was) surrendering. Though I am uncertain why a small “island” has been drawn in the middle of the inlet, the rest of the scenery is probably accurate . . . mostly sand, some beach grass, and plenty of water.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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