Hernan Cortez

Hernan Cortez

(c. 1485-1547)

Hernan Cortez was born in Medellin, Spain. In 1504, he crossed the Atlantic and became a notary and gentleman farmer on the island of Hispaniola (present-day Haiti and Dominican Republic). Cortez participated in the Spanish conquest of Cuba (1511) and married Catalina Xuarez, the sister-in-law of Cuba’s new governor. In 1518, he was named commander of an expedition intended to veri¬ fy or disprove the rumors of an immensely wealthy Indian civilization on the mainland of Mexico.

Leaving Cuba with 11 ships and 600 men, Cortez landed at pres¬ ent-day Veracruz on Good Friday in 1519. He marched inland and met and defeated the Tlaxacan tribe.

Many of the Tlaxacans then joined Cortez, because of their hatred of the Aztec tribe. Cortez and his Spanish- Indian army arrived at the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519.All the Spanish reports of that day describe it as a stun¬ ningly beautiful city, more than equal to the great European cities of that time.

The Aztec ruler Montezuma greeted the Spaniards in friendship. He was overawed by their firearms, swords and horses, none of which he had ever seen before. Seeing that the Aztecs feared his force, Cortez abducted Montezuma and held him as a hostage to guarantee the good behavior of the Aztecs. Cortez had to leave the city early in 1520 to meet and defeat a Spanish force sent to arrest

him (the governor of Cuba had become suspi¬ cious of Cortez’s ambition). Cortez then has¬ tened back to Tenochtitlan and found open warfare between his men and the Aztec war¬ riors. The Spaniards evacuated the city on the noche triste (night of sadness) of June 30, 1520, during which many soldiers on both sides were killed.

Cortez recruited more Indian allies and besieged the city from May-August 1521.The Spaniards and their allies won the final battles and conquered the city. Cortez then set up the government of New Spain, and Tenochtitlan was renamed Mexico City.Cortez built a great house at Cuernavaca and had some 20,000 Indians serve him as vassals.

Cortez went to Spain in 1528 and returned with the title of Marquis, but not Viceroy as he had hoped. He made an abortive attempt to colo¬ nize in present- day California before he returned to Spain for good in 1540.

Though he had received many honors since his conquests, Cortez never gained satisfaction from King Charles V. It is said that the desperate old soldier hung on to the resplendent coach of the king and begged him for recognition of his servic¬ es. Cortez died near Seville. His remains were later shipped to Mexico and buried in the land of New Spain, which he had done so much to create.