Francis of Vitoria

A brief biography.


Francis of Gamboa, - commonly named of Vitoria or Victoria and Vittoria -, was born in the Vitoria in the  Basque province of Álava, 1480/81 His parents, Peter of Vitoria and Catherine of Compuldo, were well off courtiers of the Spanish Catholic Kings. 

He entered the Dominican order in Burgos in 1504, and was sent to the University of Paris (1506-1523), where he was to remain as student of Juan Fenario and Peter Crockaert and then lecturer for nearly 16 years.

He returned to Spain in 1523 to lecture in the Colegio San Gregorio at Valladolid, and he had already begun his investigation of the morality of colonization when he was elected in September 1526, by an enthusiastic majority of students, to the prime chair of theology at the university of Salamanca till 1540.


At Salamanca Vitoria addressed himself to most of the critical debates of his time. In lecturing on the wars between France and Spain, he did not adopt the common Spanish view that the French king must be guilty because he refused to take either heresy or the Turkish menace seriously. Instead, he saw faults on both sides and warned that the Franco-Spanish feud would be the ruin of Christianity.

Vitoria's anticolonial views.

Vitoria was doubtful of the justice of the Spanish conquest of the New World. As a Dominican, he refused to agree that war might be made on people simply because they were pagans or because they refused conversion--for belief was an act of the will and could not be forced.

The pope had no right to give European rulers dominion over primitive peoples; the most he could do was to allocate spheres for missionary work. Pagans had a right to their property and to their own rulers; they were not irrational. One could not speak of discovery as if the lands had been previously uninhabited; thus the only possible justification for conquest might be the protection of the innocent from cannibalism and human sacrifice. If a Christian ruler presumed to rule over a colony, it was his duty to give it benefits equal to those of the home country and to send efficient ministers to see just laws observed. The Indians were as much subjects of the king of Spain "as any man in Seville."

At Salamanca, Vitoria revived the study of the works of Thomas Aquinas. He rewrote his lectures annually, even after 26 years of lecturing, telling his students that lecture notes from the previous year would not be useful. He answered questions both during and after class, and his style is said to have been lively and witty.


Vitoria means:  In principle, war was not justified except as defence against aggression or to right a very great wrong. In any case, the declaration of war should be preceded by efforts at conciliation and arbitration.

Vitoria's arguments, involving the application of moral principles, led to his being often consulted by the emperor Charles V.

In 1530 the Empress wrote to ask him about the divorce of King Henry VIII of England, and this led him to give a course of lectures on matrimony.
In 1539 the Emperor himself wrote to inquire about the possibility of sending 12 "learned and pious friars" to Mexico to found a university, and a second time to ask for some of Vitoria's pupils. Vitoria's open criticism did not affect Charles' friendly attitude; in 1541 he wrote to Vitoria twice on the subject of the Indians. In 1545 Prince Philip (later Philip II of Spain) wrote in his father's behalf to invite Vitoria to the Council of Trent. Vitoria declined, saying he was "more likely to go to the other world."

He died in the priory of Salamanbca on 12 August 1546 at the age of 60.





Portal of the University of Salamanca and  the signature of Francis
of Vitoria (ca. 1436-12.08.1546).


Spain 1946, Mi 939, Sc 745.





Francis of Vitoria (1480/81-12.08.1546), famous professor at the University of Salamanca from September 1526 till 1540.
He died in the priory of Salamanca on 12.08.1546.

He was the teacher of thousands of young Spanish men and
Dominican missionaries and founder of international law.
 This portrait by Vera Fajardo.


Spain 1987, Mi 2763, Sc 2508.




Spain 1987,
postmark Madrid 11.02.1987.



                                 Spain 1987,
       postmark Vitoria 11.-2.1987.






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