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Encyclopedia > Hernán Cortés
Hernán Cortés

Hernán Cortés (1485December 2, 1547) (who was known as Hernando or Fernando Cortés during his lifetime and signed all his letters Fernán Cortés) was the conquistador who conquered Mexico for Spain. Download high resolution version (424x640, 44 KB) Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... Download high resolution version (424x640, 44 KB) Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... Events August 22 - Battle of Bosworth Field is fought between the armies of King Richard III of England and rival claimant to the throne of England Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond. ... December 2 is the 336th day (337th on leap years) of the year in the Gregorian calendar. ... Events January 16 - Grand Duke Ivan IV of Muscovy becomes the first Tsar of Russia. ... Conquistador (meaning Conqueror in the Spanish language) is the term used to refer to the soldiers, explorers, and adventurers who brought much of the Americas and Asia Pacific under Spanish rule between the 15th and 17th centuries. ...


Early life

Cortés was born in Medellín, Extremadura province, in the Kingdom of Castile in Spain, the only child of Martín Cortés and Catalina Pizarro Altamirano. Through his mother, he was second cousin to Francisco Pizarro, who later conquered the Inca empire of modern-day Peru (not to be confused with another Francisco Pizarro who joined Cortés in conquering the Aztecs). Medellín is the capital city of Antioquia, a province in Colombia (South America). ... Capital Mérida Area  – Total  – % of Spain Ranked 5th  41 634 km²  8,2% Population  – Total (2003)  – % of Spain  – Density Ranked 13th  1 073 050  2,6%  25,77/km² Demonym  – English  – Spanish  —  extremeño/a Statute of Autonomy February 26, 1983 ISO 3166-2 EX Parliamentary representation  – Congress seats  – Senate seats... A former kingdom of Spain, Castile comprises the two regions of Old Castile in north-western Spain, and New Castile in the centre of the country. ... Francisco Pizarro ( 1475–June 26, 1541) was a Spanish conquistador, conqueror of the Inca Empire and founder of the city of Lima. ... For other meanings of Inca, see Inca (disambiguation). ... The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican people of central Mexico in the 14th, 15th and 16th century. ...

Cortés took classes at Salamanca but bitterly disappointed his parents by returning home in 1501 at age 17, rather than studying law like his grandfather. He had a choice between seeking fame and glory in a war in Italy, or trying his luck in the Spanish colonies of the New World. Salamanca: Plaza Mayor Salamanca (population 156,006 (2002)) is a city in central Spain, the capital of the province of Salamanca in the autonomous community of Castile-Leon. ... Events Alexander becomes King of Poland. ... The New World is one of the names used for the continents of North and South America and adjacent islands collectively, in use since the 16th century. ...

Arrival in the New World

Due to several setbacks, Cortés did not arrive in the New World until 1506. He took part in the conquest of Hispaniola and Cuba and was granted a large estate of land and Indian slaves for his efforts. This was the encomienda that had worked so well in the conquest of the Canaries (eliminating the indigenous Guanches) but would prove devastating in the New World. The brutality of the Cuba campaign and the subsequent extinction of the Indian population from disease, overwork and despair would later influence Cortés's more careful treatment of the Mexicans as Captain-General of New Spain, making possible, ironically, the survival of so many "genotypically" full-blooded Indians, Indian tribes, and Indian languages in Mexico today. Events Leonardo da Vinci completes the Mona Lisa. ... Hispaniola (from Spanish, La Española) is the second-largest island of the Antilles, lying east of Cuba. ... The Encomienda system is a trusteeship system, by which conquistadors were granted the towns of the indigenous people they conquered. ... Canaries Capitals Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Santa Cruz de Tenerife Area  – Total  – % of Spain Ranked 13th  7 447 km²  1,5% Population  – Total (2003)  – % of Spain  – Density Ranked 8th  1 843 755  4,4%  247,58/km² Demonym  – English  – Spanish  Canary Islander  canario/a Statute of Autonomy August 16... Guanches (also: Guanchis or Guanchos) (native Guanchinet; Guan=person, Chinet=Teneriffe, man of Teneriffe, corrupted, according to Núñez de la Peña, by Spaniards into Guanchos), were the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands. ... Flag of New Spain New Spain (in the Spanish language Nueva España) was the name given to the Spanish colonial territory in North America from c. ...

Expeditions to Yucatán by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba in 1517 and Juan de Grijalva in 1518 had returned to Cuba with small amounts of gold, and tales of a more distant land where gold was said to be abundant. Cortés eagerly sold or mortgaged all his lands to buy ships and supplies and arranged with the Governor of Cuba, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, another distant relative and his father-in-law, to lead an expedition, officially to explore and trade with the rumored new lands to the west. He was forbidden to colonize, but calling upon what law he had studied and his famous powers of persuasion, he tricked Governor Velázquez into inserting a clause about emergency measures that might have to be taken without prior authorization, "in the true interests of the realm". At the last minute, the Governor changed his mind, sensing that Cortés was too ambitious for his own good. The Yucatán Peninsula separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico. ... Francisco Hernández de Córdoba (died 1517) was a Spanish conquistador, known to history mainly for the ill-fated expedition he led in 1517, in the course of which the Yucatán Peninsula was discovered by Europeans for the first time. ... Events January 22 - Battle of Ridanieh. ... Juan de Grijalva (born around 1489 in Cuéllar - January 21, 1527) was a Spanish conquistador. ... Events A plague of tropical fire ants devastates crops on Hispaniola. ... Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar ( 1465 - 1524), Spanish Conquistador, conqueror and governor of Cuba for Spain. ...

Beginning his campaign

Hernán Cortés Landing in Veracruz

In 1519 Cortés fled Cuba with 11 ships, 500 men, and 15 horses. After short stops in Yucatán where there was little gold but the priceless gift of two translators, one "La Malinche" later made legendary even if not quite an Aztec princess sold into Mayan slavery, another a shipwrecked Spaniard who had also learned a Mayan dialect during seven years of slavery, Cortés landed his party in a location he named Veracruz ("True Cross") on March 4. By establishing a municipality, he could "reluctantly" proceed to claim land for king Charles V of Spain by popular mandate of the city magistrates he had appointed, his friends. Download high resolution version (747x640, 132 KB)Cortes landing in Veracruz This work is presumed to be copyrighted, but its source has not been determined. ... Download high resolution version (747x640, 132 KB)Cortes landing in Veracruz This work is presumed to be copyrighted, but its source has not been determined. ... Events March 4 - Hernán Cortés lands in Mexico. ... La Malinche (c. ... The word Maya or maya can refer to: The Maya – a Native American people of southern Mexico and northern Central America the modern Maya people the pre-Columbian Maya civilization the Maya language Maya – a concept in Hindu/Vedic philosophy a state of misperception of reality the inherent force of... Veracruz is the name of a city and a state in Mexico. ... March 4 is the 63rd day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (64th in leap years). ... Charles V Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain Charles V (Spanish: Carlos V) (24 February 1500–21 September 1558) was effectively (the first) King of Spain from 1516 to 1556 (in principle, he was from 1516 king of Aragon and from 1516 guardian of his insane mother, queen of...

The local Totonac from Cempoala greeted him with gifts of food, feathers, gold – and women, who always had to be baptized before the eager Spanish soldiers were allowed to let them "fix supper for them" ("grind their corn"). He learned that the land was ruled by the great lord in the city of Tenochtitlán. Soon ambassadors from the Mexica/Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II arrived with additional gifts, apparently hoping to keep him at a distance by satisfying him with gold. It had the opposite effect, of course. Cortés learned that he was suspected of being Quetzalcoatl or an emissary of Quetzalcoatl, a legendary man-god who was predicted to one day return to reclaim his city in a One-Reed year on the cyclical calendar. (One-Reed was, in this particular 52-year "century", 1519, adding to the extraordinary luck of this conquistador.) Aided by the advice of his native translator, La Malinche, he took full advantage of the Quetzalcoatl myth, inflicting Moctezuma with what writer Octavio Paz described as "sacred vertigo". The Totonac are a Native American people in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. ... Cempoala (or Zempoala was an important MesoAmerican city as the largest city on the Gulf of Mexico and the capital of the kingdom of Totnicapan occupied by the Totonac people. ... Plan of Tenochtitlan ( Dr Atl) Mexico City statue commemorating the foundation of Tenochtitlan Tenochtitlan (pronounced ) or, alternatively, Mexico-Tenochtitlan, was the capital of the Aztec empire, which was built on an island in Lake Texcoco in what is now central Mexico. ... Moctezuma II (also Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin) (1466-1520) was an Aztec ruler or huey tlatoani, c. ... Quetzalcoatl (feathered snake) is the Aztec name for the Feathered-Serpent deity of ancient Mesoamerica, one of the main gods of many Mexican and northern Central American civilizations. ... Octavio Paz (March 31, 1914 – April 19, 1998) was a Mexican writer and diplomat. ...

While some of the expedition wanted to get such gold as they could quickly by trade or theft and then return to Cuba, Cortés had seen the results of this sort of plunder and had plans to build a working empire of his own. He ordered all his fleet scuttled (not burned as legend has it), except for one small ship with which to communicate with Spain, effectively stranding the expedition in Mexico and ending all thoughts of loyalty to the Governor of Cuba. Cortés then led his band inland towards the fabled Tenochtitlán. Scuttling is the act of deliberately sinking a ship, either to dispose of an old vessel or to prevent the vehicle from being captured by an enemy force. ...

Cortés arrived at Tlaxcala, a small independent state within the empire's sphere of influence. The Tlaxcaltecas attacked his troops, but Spanish crossbows, broadswords, battle axes, horses, war dogs and firearms quickly won the battle. Cortés said that if the men of Tlaxcala would accept Christianity, become his allies and vassals to his lord, he would forgive their disrespect and overthrow their nemesis, Emperor Moctezuma. Cortés's "lord" was Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, to whom he made his case by letters, over the head of Velázquez, who, in turn, was trying to make a case over the head of Diego Colón, son of Christopher Columbus and thus Admiral of the Ocean Sea. Otherwise, Cortés threatened, he would kill everyone in their entire nation. The Tlaxcaltecas agreed; Cortés then continued his march with some 2,000 Tlaxcalteca warriors and perhaps as many more porters. He also purchased cotton armour, seeing how much more effective than chainmail it was against Indian arrows. Tlaxcala is the name of a city and a state in Mexico. ... Charles (February 24, 1500 – September 21, 1558) was Holy Roman Emperor (as Charles V) from 1519-1558; he was also King of Spain from 1516-1556, officially as Charles I of Spain, although often referred to as Charles V (Carlos Quinto or Carlos V) in Spain and Latin America. ... Diego Colón (1479/1480 Porto Santo - February 23, 1526, Montalbán) was the son of Christopher Columbus and viceroy of the Indies. ... Christopher Columbus For information about the director, see the article on Chris Columbus. ...

After Cortés arrived in Cholula, the second largest city of the Empire, La Malinche relayed a rumor that the locals planned to murder the Spaniards in their sleep. Although he did not know if this was true or not, Cortés ordered a preventive strike to serve as a lesson: the Spaniards seized and killed the local nobles, set fire to the city and killed an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 of the inhabitants. Cortés then sent a message ahead to Moctezuma that the lords of Cholula had treated him with disrespect and had to be punished, but if Moctezuma treated him with respect and gifts of gold, the Aztecs need not fear his wrath. Terror was one of his many powerful tools, though much of his military genius can be ascribed to La Malinche, who had her own motives for revenge. The Roman Catholic church of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios overlooks the town of Cholula from atop the Great Pyramid. ...

Meeting place of Moctezuma and Hernan Cortes

When the Spaniards saw the island city of Tenochtitlán for the first time, from the ring of volcanoes around the Valley of Mexico, they asked each other if they were dreaming. Surely it was the most magnificent city in the world. How could God allow heathens such splendor? The expedition arrived in the Mexica-Aztec capital on November 8, 1519. Moctezuma welcomed Cortés to Tenochtitlán on the Great Causeway into the "Venice of the West", probably the largest city on earth, and many people mark this moment – when two high civilizations met after 40,000 years of isolation – as the true discovery of the New World. The two halves of the planet had found one another. Download high resolution version (1024x768, 443 KB)Place of encounter of Mocetezuma Xocoyotzin and the Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes on the 8 day of November 1519. ... Download high resolution version (1024x768, 443 KB)Place of encounter of Mocetezuma Xocoyotzin and the Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes on the 8 day of November 1519. ... November 8 is the 312th day of the year (313th in leap years) in the Gregorian Calendar, with 53 days remaining. ... Events March 4 - Hernán Cortés lands in Mexico. ... The New World is one of the names used for the continents of North and South America and adjacent islands collectively, in use since the 16th century. ...

Relations with the last Aztec emperors

Moctezuma had the palace of his father Axayacatl prepared to house the Spanish and their Indian allies. Cortés asked for more gifts of gold as a vassal of Charles V. He also demanded that the two large idols be removed from the main temple pyramid in the city, the human blood scrubbed off, and shrines to the Virgin Mary and St. Christopher be set up in their place. All his demands were met. Cortés then seized Moctezuma in his own palace and made him his prisoner as insurance against Aztec revolt, and demanded an enormous ransom of gold, which was duly delivered. Axayacatl was an Aztec ruler (Tlatoani) of the city of Tenochtitlán from 1469 to 1481. ... Blessed Virgin Mary A traditional Catholic picture sometimes displayed in homes. ... This article is about the Christian saint known as Christopher. ...

After some weeks in Tenochtitlán, knowing their leader was in chains and having to feed not just a band of Spaniards but thousands of their Tlaxcalteca allies, the strain began to weigh on the city. At the worst possible moment, news from the coast reached Cortés that a much larger party of Spaniards had been sent by the Velázquez to arrest Cortés for insubordination. He left Tenochtitlán in the care of his trusted lieutenant Pedro de Alvarado, marched to the coast and defeated the Cuban expedition led by Pánfilo de Narváez. When Cortés told the defeated soldiers about the city of gold, Tenochtitlán, they agreed to join him. (Narváez lost an eye, but worse awaited this great loser of the conquest in Florida.) Plan of Tenochtitlan ( Dr Atl) Mexico City statue commemorating the foundation of Tenochtitlan Tenochtitlan (pronounced ) or, alternatively, Mexico-Tenochtitlan, was the capital of the Aztec empire, which was built on an island in Lake Texcoco in what is now central Mexico. ... Pedro de Alvarado (Badajoz, c. ... Pánfilo de Narváez (1480? - 1528) was a Spanish conqueror and soldier in the Americas. ...

The arduous trek back over the Sierra Madre Oriental began. Years later, when asked what the new land was like, Cortés crumpled up a piece of parchment, then spread it out: "Like this," he said.

When Cortés returned to the palace, however, he found that Alvarado and his men had massacred the Aztec nobility and the survivors had elected a new emperor, Cuitláhuac. Cuitláhuac ordered his soldiers to besiege the palace housing the Spaniards and Moctezuma. Cortés ordered Moctezuma to speak to his people from a palace balcony and persuade them to let the Spanish return to the coast in peace. Moctezuma was jeered and stones were thrown at him injuring him badly, and Moctezuma died a few days later. Cuitláhuac was the Aztec ruler (Tlatoani) of the city of Tenochtitlán from June to October 1520. ...

On the night of July 1, 1520, Cortés decided to try to break out by muffling the horses' hooves and carrying boards to fill in one of the causeways (which had been opened to prevent escape), but a woman saw them and alerted the city. The fighting was ferocious, and many of the Spaniards were hindered by having loaded themselves down with as much gold as they could carry. Cortés only survived because the Mexica-Aztecs wanted him alive to sacrifice to their god of war. Surely the offering of the heart of such a warrior would win back their god of war, Huitzilopochtli. The gap in the causeway, removed to prevent their escape, was so filled with bodies the fugitives just ran across. Over 400 Spaniards and some 2,000 Indian allies were killed, but Cortés, Alvarado and the most skilled of the men managed to fight their way out of Tenochtitlán and escape. The women survivors included La Malinche, ten conquistadors, Alvarado's lover and two of Moctezuma's daughters in Cortés's harem. (A third died, apparently leaving behind her infant by Cortés, the mysterious second "María" named in his will.) This major Aztec victory is still remembered as "La Noche Triste", the Night of Sorrow. July 1 is the 182nd day of the year (183rd in leap years) in the Gregorian Calendar, with 183 days remaining. ... Events January 18 - King Christian II of Denmark and Norway defeats the Swedes at Lake Asunde. ... In Aztec mythology, Huitzilopochtli, also spelled Uitzilopochtli (hummingbird of the south or he of the south or hummingbird on the left), was a god of war and a sun god and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlán. ... La Malinche (c. ...

Cortés ordered his master shipwright, Martín López, a Basque who was arguably his most critical survivor, to build 12 brigantines for a siege of the city. Indian porters brought all the supplies stripped from the original fleet over the mountains from the coast, while Cortés and his allies secured all the towns around the Tenochtitlán lake system. The Mexica-Aztecs had been dominating other Aztec city-states for over a century, demanding ever more sacrificial victims and other tribute. Still, this phase of the campaign was arduous and brutal. The Tlaxcaltecas subsisted on the flesh of their massacred enemies while the "Christians" looked the other way, living on dogs and corn. Spanish foot soldiers helped kill Indians for their allies to "dress out", but also rescued many of the women Cortés planned to brand on the face as slaves. They hid the pretty ones in the bushes, sleeping with them during the night, and setting them free in the morning (or marrying them, now that their husbands had been devoured).

The siege of Tenochtitlán began at a time when smallpox struck with a vengeance. Cortés's Indian allies suffered as well, with an estimated 40% mortality, but the effect on morale in Tenochtitlán, as they began to starve as well, must have been horrendous. Still, they fought on long after a European city would have surrendered. Cortés genuinely wanted to spare the beautiful city, but with so many Mexica attacking them from the roofs, they were forced to pull houses down street by street. In the end, almost the entire city of Tenochtitlán was destroyed and some 120,000 to 240,000 Aztecs killed. The last Aztec emperor, Cuauhtémoc, surrendered to Cortés on August 13, 1521. Cuauhtémoc (also Cuauhtemotzin or Guatimozin; also written Cuauhtemoc without the diacritical mark) was the last Aztec ruler ( Tlatoani) of Tenochtitlán and the last Aztec Emperor. The name means descending eagle, from Nahuatl cuauhtli (eagle) and temoc (descent); by extension it can be interpreted as setting sun. He lived... August 13 is the 225th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (226th in leap years), with 140 days remaining. ... Events January 3 - Pope Leo X excommunicates Martin Luther. ...

Cortés famously put Cuauhtémoc's feet to the fire to find the gold lost on La Noche Triste, but notarized testimony at his many subsequent trials (for murdering his legal wife, etc.) has abundant testimony from friends and enemies alike that this crime ruined Cortés. He never forgave himself and seems to have gone somewhat mad. He took off on a senseless, death-defying expedition through Guatemala to Honduras to punish a fellow Spaniard who had betrayed him, and with his departure all shadow of personal authority left Mexico. He became paranoid as well, having Cuauhtémoc hanged over the strong objections of his men. Perhaps he could no longer bear to see him limp from his disfigured feet.

Later life

When Cortés returned from Honduras, barely alive, he was greeted with joy by a desperate, lawless population. He served a term as Governor-General of "New Spain of the Ocean Sea" (as Juan de Grijalva had named Mexico before Cortés ever saw it), bringing stability and surprising civil rights to the country. But the Castilian bureaucrats began to arrive, undoing all his work, and he left with his eldest and favorite son, La Malinche's child Martín Cortés, to find China, eventually returning to Europe to fight in Italy with the same son, a mestizo. Cortés died in Castilleja de la Cuesta, Seville province, in 1547. Like Columbus, he died a wealthy but embittered man; he had not become the great Caesar of Charles V's Western Empire. Flag of New Spain New Spain (in the Spanish language Nueva España) was the name given to the Spanish colonial territory in North America from c. ... Juan de Grijalva (born around 1489 in Cuéllar - January 21, 1527) was a Spanish conquistador. ... La Malinche (c. ... Hernán Cortés, the conquistador who brought the Aztec Empire under the sway of the Spanish crown, named two of his sons Martín Cortés (presumably after his own father). ... Mestizo (Portuguese, Mestiço; Canadian French, Métis: from Late Latin mixtcius, from Latin mixtus, past participle of miscere, to mix) is a term of Spanish origin used to designate the peoples of mixed European and Amerindian racial strain inhabiting the region spanning the Americas, from the Canadian prairies in the north... The Giralda Tower Seville (Spanish: Sevilla) is the artistic, cultural, and financial capital of southern Spain, crossed by the river Guadalquivir. ...

He left his many Indian and white children well cared for in his will, along with every one of their mothers. It is extremely difficult to characterize this particular conquistador – his unspeakable atrocities, the brilliant military strategies, his desperate maneuvers to keep the ruinous plantation economy out of Mexico, the rewards for his Tlaxcalteca allies along with the rehabilitation of the nobility (including a castle for Moctezuma's heirs in Spain that still stands), his respect for Indians as worthy adversaries and family members. In Mexico today he is condemned as a modern-day damnatio memoriae, Orwell's "Unperson", with only one statue – but half a million descendants, and one of the most remarkable stories in history. Damnatio memoriae (Latin for damnation of memory, in the sense of removed from the remembrance) was a form of dishonor which could be passed by the Roman Senate upon traitors or others who brought discredit to the Roman Empire. ...

Cortés told the Aztecs that he and his men "suffered from a disease of the heart which is only cured by gold." Pedro de Cieza de León was inspired to sail to Peru after seeing the Inca gold unloaded in Seville. "As long as I live I cannot get it out of my mind," he said. All of which perplexed – and, in the end, disgusted – the native peoples. The half-Inca historian, Waman Poma, portrayed an Indian asking a Spaniard: "Do you actually eat this gold?" And the Spaniard replies: "Yes, we certainly do!" The last of the great Incas, Manco himself, bitterly remarked, "Even if the snows of the Andes turned to gold still they would not be satisfied." Source unknown

Further reading

Primary sources

  • Hernan Cortés, Letters – available as Letters from Mexico translated by Anthony Pagden (1986) ISBN 0300090943
  • Bernal Díaz del Castillo, The Conquest of New Spain – available as The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico: 1517-1521 ISBN 030681319X
  • The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico by Miguel Leon-Portilla ISBN 0807055018

Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1492 or 1493 - 1581) was a conquistador, who wrote an eyewitness account of the conquest of Mexico under Hernán Cortés. ...

Secondary sources

  • Conquest: Cortés, Montezuma, and the Fall of Old Mexico by Hugh Thomas (1993) ISBN 0671511041
  • Cortés and the Downfall of the Aztec Empire by Jon Manchip White (1971) ISBN 0786702710
  • History of the Conquest of Mexico. by William H. Prescott ISBN 0375758038
  • The Rain God cries over Mexico by László Passuth

Hugh Thomas (born 1931), now Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, is a British historian. ... William Hickling Prescott (May 4, 1796 - January 29, 1859) was a historian. ...

See also

  • History of Mexico

Pre-Columbian Mexico Hunter-Gatherer peoples are thought to have inhabited Mexico more than 20,000 years ago. ...

External links

  • Hernando Cortes on the Web (http://www.isidore-of-seville.com/cortes/) – web directory with thumbnail galleries
  • Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04397a.htm) (1911)
  • Conquistadors, with Michael Wood (http://www.pbs.org/conquistadors/cortes/cortes_flat.html) – website for 2001 PBS documentary



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