THE SPANISH CONQUEST of the Indies was one of the most important events in history, leaving an ineffaceable impression on global politics, language and culture. Yet among English speakers it is a strangely neglected subject. We know about Pizarro and ‘stout Cortez’ (whom Keats confused with Balboa), and, of course, Columbus. But that is all. The Times Historical Atlas devotes only two pages to Spanish and Portuguese colonialism, though they extended throughout the world. Moreover, there is a general notion that the conquest was easy, effected by a combination of bluff, ruthlessness and cruelty.