So I just watched Jungle Cruise, the newest adventure movie released by Disney and starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It was a good popcorn flick, fun for the whole family etc.
I was intrigued by its use of historical figures in the villainous roles. I guess everything below this line is technically spoilers, though they’re pretty tame in the grand scheme of things.
The two main villains (Prince Joachim of Prussia and Lope de Aguirre, the 15th century conquistador) are both real people taken straight from the history books. And most of the internet has already discussed how thoroughly-fictionalized these portrayals are. But nobody ever brings up Aguirre’s three henchmen, so I did some research to see if they were real people too. I highly doubted the screenwriters chose the names Melchor, Sancho, and Gonzalo out of a hat.
And I can say with some certainty that at least two of them were indeed named after real people in Aguirre’s life. The last one’s a bit more iffy.
But before we get into them, let’s briefly go over Aguirre’s real history. (Just ignore everything the movie claimed happened.) Don Aguirre was a Spanish adventurer who arrived in Peru in 1544. 16 years later, he joined Pedro de Ursúa on an expedition to find the legendary kingdom of El Dorado. During which he incited a rebellion, killed Ursúa, and took control of the expedition. He then declared himself Prince of Peru and led his men on several raids of Venezuelan towns, before being caught and executed by the Spaniards. By all accounts he was a man of thoroughly deplorable character, prone to cruelty and violence.
This one’s the most obvious of the three. In 1544, Melchor Verdugo (and Aguirre) were conquistadors serving Viceroy Vela in Peru. When Vela was imprisoned on the island of San Lorenzo, Melchor organized a failed plot (which Aguirre participated in) to free the viceroy and return Peru to his control. Two years later, Aguirre and Melchor sailed to Nicaragua with 33 men, though Aguirre returned to Peru in 1551 and re-immersed himself in the country politics. Considering Melchor had nothing to do with the most-famous expedition of Aguirre’s life, the movie kinda did him dirty turning him into a villain.
This one’s the least-historical of the three, as the most likely candidate (Gonzalo Pizarro) was a sworn enemy of Aguirre in real life. Another conquistador immersed in Peruvian politics, Gonzalo was the leader of the anti-viceroy faction. He briefly controlled the country in 1546 before surrendering to Spanish forces and getting beheaded. But most of this took place after Aguirre had already left. (Long before the two men met, Gonzalo commanded his own failed expedition to find El Dorado in 1540.)
Far more likely this character is named after the (equally fictional) interpretation from Werner Herzog’s film Aguirre, the Wrath of God. In this canon, Gonzalo and Ursúa’s expeditions are merged into a single event. After running low on supplies, Gonzalo sends a river party led by Ursúa (containing Aguirre) to scout the jungles ahead. These doomed men form the core characters of the movie. Kinda like Melchor, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to cast Gonzalo as Aguirre’s underling, but whatever.
There are no obvious historical figures named Sancho in Aguirre’s life. The only real candidate is Sancho Pizarro (no relation to Gonzalo), an extremely-minor participant in Aguirre’s rebellion. Sancho was a friend of Ursúa’s who he once sent ahead with a scouting party. In their absence, Aguirre staged his mutiny, killed Ursúa, and usurped command. When he returned, Sancho allied with the mutineers and even got promoted, but Aguirre never trusted him and later had him strangled. Honestly, he fits historically but I’d be blown away if Disney’s researchers actually discovered him. I only found brief mention of him in a digitized 1861 volume detailing the ill-fated expedition. Personally, I suspect the name is simply an homage to Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza, as both are comic-relief characters.
Lastly, the movie also makes mention of a cartographer among Aguirre’s men. I poked around to see if there’s any evidence of such a figure, but my search was largely inconclusive. Aguirre did not map his post-Ursúa expedition, and his exact route through the Amazon is unknown even today. (Source: The Mapmaker’s Wife page 179.) Ursúa, on the other hand, did, and his map is now on display at the Library of Congress. However, the map’s authorship is credited to Ursúa himself. If either man had a cartographer, his real identity is lost to time. (I think we all kinda assumed and expected Disney just made the character up, but it didn’t hurt to check.)
I’m not 100% sure why I wrote this, except that nobody else on the internet had and I found it interesting. Sancho in particular was such a minor figure in history that if he truly was the character’s inspiration, he should be pretty honored. Because he had by-far the most-interesting of the villainous designs in the film.