Legaspi was born in Zumarraga, Guipuzcoa in Spain in 1524. He went to New Spain (Mexico) in 1545 and worked for some years as a chief notary to the common council and the civil governor of the city of Mexico. He was later commissioned by the viceroy Luis de Velasco to lead an expedition to claim the Philippine Islands in 1564. The expedition was ordered by King Philip II, after whom the islands were named. The viceroy died in July of that year, but the audiencia, governing provisionally, completed the preparations for the expedition. On November 21, 1564, armed with four ships and a numerous force, Legaspi sailed from the port of Navidad.
Legaspi arrived in Philippine Islands in early 1565 and founded the first Spanish settlement on Cebu and called it Villa San Miguel (now a barangay in Cebu City). He was able to use his tact and diplomacy in successfully befriending the natives. In March 1565, he made a blood compact with Datu Sikatuna on Bohol as a sign of friendship between the two peoples. (See Sandugo festival.)
After conquering the island of Mindoro, he sent off one of his ships to report his progress back to Mexico, which arrived in Acapulco on August 20, 1569. Having heard of the prospering Maynilad (now Manila), a Muslim settlement on Luzon island, he dispatched two of his men, Martin de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo (Legaspi's grandson) to Maynilad where they arrived on May 8, 1570. The Spaniards were welcomed by the friendly Muslem natives. However, a battle was fought between the two groups on May 24 over some misunderstanding. The Spaniards defeated the natives and conquered Maynilad under the name of the King of Spain.
The following year, in 1571, Legaspi brought his entire force to Maynilad and and established a permanent settlement on it on June 24. (See Intramuros). He proclaimed the town as the island's capital and permanent seat of the Spanish government in the East. Manila was given the title "Ever Loyal and Distinguished City of Spain in the Orient." With the help of Spanish friars, he established a government to administer the islands. Legaspi thus became the first governor-general of the Philippines. Since then, for about 250 years, the Philippines was administered as a colony of New Spain.
Legaspi later died in Manila in 1572.
During his travels, he wrote several letters to the Spanish king about his conquest, which, under the title Cartas al Rey Don Felipe II. sobre la expedicion, conquistas y progresos de las islas Felipinas, are preserved in manuscript in the archives of the Indies at Seville, Spain.
See also: History of the Philippines