Hernando Cortes: 1485-1547

Hernando Cortes was born at Medellin, Spain on 1485 in a middle class family. In the age of 14, he was sent to a school in Salamanca to study law. As an only son, his parents expected support from him but only after two years, he returned home. He was seeking for a more adventurous life and turned his eyes to the Western world.

He started to train in the military service and became very skillful. In the year of 1502, he joined an expedition to the West Indies led by Nicolas de Ovando and Diego Velazquez. Cortes was under a command of a man called Quintero. The Ovando expedition reached Hispaniola and Cortes proved that he was a skilled, determined soldier to Diego Velasquez. On the year of 1511, he was chosen to accompany Velazquez to the expedition to Cuba.

On the year of 1518, Velazquez decided to explore further, and chose Cortes as a captain to an expedition to Mexico. On February 19, 1519 Hernando Cortes, with a force of 600 men, and less than 20 horses he set a sail to Mexico. He landed to the land of Mexico and established the town of La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz. To prevent any retreat or desertion from Vera Cruz, he burned all his boats.

ortes discovered the fabulous riches that the Aztec Empire had and with his troops, he marched inland to discover more about the Aztecs. Cortes learned about the religions, history and custom
s of the Aztecs. One of the important things that he discovered was about a god named "Quetzalcoatl." Quetzacoatl was known as a 'Winged God - Feather Serpent,' and was light skinned, and beared. The arrival of Cortes and his troops matched coincidely with the time that "Quetzalcoatl was coming" and when he reached more to the inland, Tenochititlan, the Aztecs believe that he might be Quetzalcoatl. The Aztec King, Montezuma II did not stop Cortes and his troops from entering Tenochititlan, capital of the Aztecs, whrere thousands of Aztecs lived. Hernando Cortes set up his headquarters in Tenochititlan but in the year of 1520, Cortes and his force was f0rced out of Tenochititlan when Montezuma II was stoned to death by the Aztecs, themselves. On 1521, Cortes returned with his troops and captured the Aztec city again. By that time, Hernando Cortes had conquered 5 Millions of Aztecs with less than 1000 soldiers.

Hernando Cortes returned to Spain on 1528, and was titled as a "Conqueror and Captain Governor of New Spain, Tenochititlan." In 1530, he returned to the "New World" and and settled Cuernavaca in Mexico. Cortes's final expedition was discovering Baja in California. In 1540, Cortes finally came back to Spain and died on December 2, 1547 near Seville.

November 19, 1518

Today is a good day to sail ships. Wind is blowing gently, and the tide is not roaring.

How badly I longed this day! Finally, I am leading my own fleet to conquer the New World. The governor of Cuba, Velazquez did not let myself to go alone, but now he is ill! It is great chance for me!

Although only small part of this continent is discovered, we found numerous resources. If we find the whole part of it, our people could be fed on it for hundreds of years!

But the only thing I worry is that I have only small number of soldiers. I heard from a native that a huge empire rules the entire continent. We don’t exactly know about what we are facing. It could be too dangerous to explore with only 600 men and a dozen of horses.

February 18, 1519

We landed on Cozumel, where is very close to the continent that we could clearly see.
On this island, we found a natives' town. Unfortunately, one of my captains, Pedro de Alvarado, frightened them with his weapons and shot at them. I was incensed at his behavior, but he was good soldier. Also, we found a shipwrecked Spanish,
Jeronimo de Aguliar. He can speak both Spanish and the natives' language.

We captured two refugees, so I could explain our peaceful purpose and soothe them. And we returned everything we took from the temple and the town. They seemed like they never saw Europeans before.

They were idolaters. They worshiped several kinds of gods. And sacrificed human beings! But their temple was massively magnificent; it was made of stone and lime.

Even though they were idolaters, they had a figure that looked like a cross; it was a symbol for a god of rain. Since they know the figure of cross, it could be easy to introduce Christianity to the whole continent. But I could not bear seeing the idolatrous figures. We converted few natives to Christian.

However, we found not many profitable things from this town. But few natives were friendly to us. Some of them are willing to help us.

Today, we will sail along the coast, until we find another town. If everyone in this continent is like the Cozumel's people, it could be easy to explore.

March 25, 1519

Finally I found a city in the continent along the coast. The natives called this city Tabasco. But its residences were not as friendly as Cozumel's; they threw stones and arrows at us. Unwillingly, we had to fire them back.

They wore cotton-filled armors, which seemed very weak. But in the battle, it was more useful than it seems; it could protect themselves from some of our swords. They were fierce warriors; although we armed with steel armors and weapons, I lost my soldiers. But they were afraid of gunfire and cavaliers; we finally won and dominated the city.

Even though it was tough battle and lost my men, I promised them peace, because that was the best way to treat natives. My interpreter, Jeronimo de Aguliar was really helpful to communicate with them. At last, they promised to become citizens of King Charles.

Also we met some pretty ladies. I liked one of the ladies, Malinaltzin. I will call her Malinche. I could take her to my expedition.

April 21, 1519

We found a beach and landed on it.

The natives of this land was very friendly, unlike Tabascans. They offered us food, clothes, jewels and other supplies as well. They said to my interpreter that they belong the the empire. The name of Empire was Aztec, and also they called it Mexica.

They included a huge amount of gold and silver. This Aztec empire could be the land of gold, El Dorado! I should make the empire friend, or I have to defeat them.

Fortunately, we also met the Cempoalas, who were not friendly to Aztec, but amicable to us. Cempoalas, who were not friendly to the Aztec empire, supported us to defeat the empire! They offered us their men at arms. They build a fortress and a little town, near the coast, for us. This is the first town in the new continent! I will name it Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, the village of True Cross. It is now our fortress, headquarter, and port.

However, my men did not want to go further. They wanted to returned to Cuba. They saw the fierce warriors at Tabasco, and they also heard about the huge empire, Aztec. Unfortunately, I had to do make a decision: I burnt all the equipment and ships, except for only one.

Also, I met an ambassador from the Aztec empire. He will report us to the emperor. They think we departed from "tower on the sea" and our cavaliers are "men-beast." But they adored us as much as they worship gods. I do not know what will be happening, but this could help us to treat this entire empire.

September 23, 1519

With Cempoalas soldiers, we marched into Tlaxcalteca. It was a state belonged to the empire. We , including the native chiefs of warriors, asked them to pass through. But they refused at the first time. We had to fight with them.

Our weapons were more advanced than theirs. Our native warriors knew their strategies and skills. Although we were outnumbered, we defeated them. Like all the other natives, they feared our cavaliers and firearms.

As soon as they realized that we are willing to defeat Aztec and being helped by other natives, they decided to help us to conquer the capital of the empire. They offered us 1,000 of their men, food, and other supplies. Now, I have two strong states that are willing to help us and defeat the empire. It is more important that having steel weapons and firearms.

Also I heard the information about the empire: the Tlaxcaltecans said the emperor is very harsh to them, so they wish to protest against the empire with us. If the empire is not accepted by the natives, it will be easy to collapse them.

They are going to guide us to the Tenochtitlan, the capital and the court of the empire. The empire's ambassador seemed like he thought that I am the god that prophecy told. Even though I do not like to be, it could be a trick that I could go into the heart of the city.

November 8,1519

I finally reached to Tenochititlan, where thousands of Aztecs are living.

Tenochititlan is a big city, as I learned and heard, and I just set up my headquarters in the middle of the city. It was easy to access Tenochititlan, much easier than I thought. Or perhaps, too easy. Montezuma II, the Aztec Emperor, received me and my troops graciously, without stopping us. Malinche, my mistress and interpreter, helped me to communicate with Montezuma II. I had learned and heard from Malinche about the Aztec culture, religion and their history before I marched to inland and I had learned about the gods that the Aztecs believed, one of them, Quetzalcoatl. The "arriving of Quetzalcoatl" matched my arriving, and most of the Aztecs believe that I am the god who came back from the east. And also it was the year that Aztec prophecies told he will come. I have to keep my position here, and conquer this place, so in order for me to keep my position, I decided to capture Montezuma II, the emperor, as a hostage. We will make him pay us with gold and jewels, and all the riches that they own.

I have many plans to take over the Aztec Empire, but I heard a news about Governor Velazquez sending out Panfilo de Narvaez to Mexico. This will be a problem, but as soon as possible, I'm going to gather my troops and march to the coast. I'll make all this plan tomorrow morning, with my best and skilled soldiers.

June 30, 1520 "Noche Triste"

Noche Triste.

It is dark and rainy night. It's a very dark and a gloomy day. We will remember this night, "Noche Triste," a "Sad Night"

We marched to the coast and captured Panfillo de Narvaez easily. It was easier than I thought it would be, and we persuaded most of his troops to join ours. They were easily convinced, and followed us back to the city. We marched to the inland, Tenochititlan, but a huge problem had exploded meanwhile I was gone. The Aztecs had revolted against our Spanish troops, and Montezuma II had died. The Aztecs had realized that we had taken their riches and much of the gold, and they had gotten angry. He had been stoned to death, while he tried to calm down the Aztecs. About 600 noble Aztecs had died and also a lot of my soldiers had died and injured themselves in the revolt.

It's a dark, rainy night and we had to be out of the city. It was a bloody violent battle, and we are now in Tlaxcalan. In the way to Tlaxcalan, we defeated an Aztec army at Otumba. Then we marched to the city of Tlaxcalan. I'm planning to reorganize my troop and train them more and go back to the city of Tenochititlan. I'm planning to seize back the city of the Aztecs and conquer the Aztec Empire back.

August 13, 1521

We finally came back to Tenochititlan. And Finally, the Aztecs surrendered today.

I reorganized and trained with my soldiers for a year, and we attacked the Aztecs. I learned
that being an Empire was nothing more than a collection of smaller groups of people who were tied all together by one thing: membership in the society. Many of these communities wanted freedom themselves, and the revolt of them was a huge collaboration for my conquest of Tenochititlan. Luckily, a plague, small pox, had striked the city and wiped almost the half of the population. With the help of all other revolts from different communities, and from the plague, I gathered up about 150,000 native Aztecs and 9,000 of my soldiers to completely seize back the city. Also, I gained power over the many Aztecs that were revolting against for freedom. I planned to increase the mobility on the lake, which was my main weakness from previous battles. I ordered the construction of thirteen brigantines and I received many supplies an support from Vera Cruz. I had eighty-six horsemen, one-hundred eighteen crossbowmen and harquebusiers, and 700 Spanish foot soldiers. First, my troop marched to the inland, but it was not that easy, because over a year, the Aztecs, also, had adapted new tactics that we had not known. Cuauhtémoc was the new emperor of the Aztecs and today, we had executed him while we were keeping him as a hostage.By the end, many Aztecs lost their lives, and with less that 1,000 of my soldiers, I had conquered 5 million Aztecs.

I came a long way to conquer Mexico, the great Aztec Empire. The Aztec Empire is full of riches, jewels and gold. The history of Aztecs are interesting, and the history inside it, is mysterious. Right after the Aztec surrender, we didn't stop slaughtering the people and looting the city. Many of the Aztecs fled the city. Most of the noble class had died, and the remaining ones were all young children. The remaining of my forces consisted of 900 Spaniards, eighty horses, sixteen pieces of artillery, and my thirteen brigantines.

The year of 1523

I myself, who spent a decade of years to find the golden land, finally got the reward for that.

I have dealt peace with the natives, also dealt death and blood. Although I was the cause of the massive destruction of the empire, I remade the city, as Mexico City. It will be the honor of my country and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V.

I started this journey with only hundreds of men and a dozen of horses. But now I am the captain governor, "Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca" of the New Spain!

El Dorado, the land of gold: although I rarely found gold mines, it still as worthy as the land that is full of gold; the infinite source of labors, clear weather, and various plants!

At the age of thirty eight, I am even higher than the empire of Aztec, who ruled the entire contient!


Primary Sources

   Cortes, Hernando. 1520. Second Letter to King Charles V.

    Leon­Portilla, Miguel , ed.. 1962. The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico. Boston: Beacon Press.

    McNutt, F.A. 1908. Fernando Cortés in his five letters of Relation to the Emperor Charles V.

    Padgen, Anthony. 1986. Letters from Mexico. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Wagner, H.R. 1942. Documents and Narratives Concerning the Discovery and Conquest of Latin America.

Secondary Sources

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    Nosotro, Rit. 2007. Cortez, Hernando. Hyperhistory.net. http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/bios/b4hcortez_p1jf.htm (accessed May 23, 2007)

    Palfrey, D. H. 1998. The Spanish Conquest. Mexico History. http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/travel/dpalfrey/dpconquest.html (accessed May 23, 2007)

    Parry, John H. and Robert G. Keith. 1984. New Iberian World: Central America and Mexico, volume III. New York: Times Books

    PBS. Hernando Cortes Arrives in Mexico. The Border. http://www.pbs.org/kpbs/theborder/history/timeline/1.html. (accessed May 23, 2007)

    Pohl, John. Mesoamerica. FAMSI. http://www.famsi.org/research/pohl/pohl_meeting.html. (accessed May 23, 2007)

    Prescott, William Hickling. 1796-1859. History of the Conquest of Mexico, with a Preliminary View of Ancient Mexican Civilization, and the Life of the Conqueror, Hernando Cortes. Virginia: University of Virginia Library

    Robinson, Henry Morton. 1931. Cortez: A Biography of the Spanish Conquest. New York: The Century Company

    Sedgwick, Henry Dwight 1927. Cortés the Conqueror: The Exploits of the Earliest and Greatest of the Gentlemen Adventurers of the New World. London: John Lane