Even though the story of a Christopher Columbus son of the people, by his brilliant intuition making the geographical discovery that changed the course of history, fascinates everyone, it contains some inconsistencies. It seems rather unlikely that the son of a humble Genoese wool carder, without connections, would be able to study at the University of Pavia, marry a woman from the aristocracy and persuade the royals of Portugal and Spain to entrust him with the most adventurous expedition of all time.
The hypothesis that he may have come from a high-ranking family, with contacts and friends in the European courts, seems much more convincing. Apparently, the issue has been discussed since 1608, when the Spanish Colonial Council of the Indies, the most important administrative body of the Spanish Empire, with jurisdiction over most of the two Americas, was called upon by one Don Baldassarre Colombo, from Cuccaro Monferrato, to determine who was entitled to the immense legacy of the famous explorer.
The Admiralty of the Indies, with important properties in the Americas – including the island of Jamaica and the State of Veragua (now Panama) - had been inherited by his son Diego and then by his grandson Louis, who had had to fight over it with the Spanish Court. The story, however, had become really complicated in 1572, with Louis’s childless death.
By the express will of the great seafarer, in fact, his inheritance could only be bequeathed to a male heir and after Louis’s death only female descendants remained. For this reason, nobleman Baldassarre Colombo left for Spain in order to prove, through a lawsuit lasting more than 20 years, not only that he was the last male descendant of Christopher Columbus, but also that the great explorer had been born and had lived in the town of Cuccaro Monferrato.
The outcome of the long investigation, however, was that the inheritance was given to Pedro Nuño Colón de Portugal, a descendant of the great explorer through the female line. Despite this, Baldassarre’s kinship with Christopher Columbus was officially recognised. In fact, he was granted the title of Count and an annuity of two thousand ducats from the State of Veragua.
Thanks to the official records from this interminable legal dispute, it is now possible to reconstruct Columbus’s family tree with greater precision. Christopher was apparently the son of Domenico Colombo, lord of Cuccaro, and Marietta, from the family of the Marquis of Ceva. It seems that his unusual name had been given to him in honour of his maternal grandfather and that he had close family relations with the Piedmontese Aleramic families of the Saluzzo, Ceva and del Carretto and that he was also related to the Monferrato, the Savoy and the powerful Genoese Spinola and Fieschi families. This would actually explain the fact that, before becoming famous, he had married Felipa Muñiz Pierestelo, belonging to one of the most important aristocratic families in Portugal, thus having the opportunity to access and be treated with respect at the courts of Portugal and Castile.
Today the small village of Cuccaro Monferrato, located in a beautiful, panoramic spot on the hills of the Monferrato, in the province of Alessandria, houses a museum dedicated to the great explorer and to the reconstruction of all these events. The castle (not open to visitors) of the Colombo di Cuccaro family can still be found in the village, with a painting from the late seventeenth century depicting the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World. The museum can be visited by prior booking: https://www.beniculturali.it/luogo/museo-cristoforo-colombo.
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