Hernando Cortés (1485-1547)

Hernando Cortés

1485 During this year, in Medellin, Extremadura Provence, Kingdom of Castile, Spain, Hernan Cortes or Hernando Cortes was born, within a poor family. He was a Spanish explorer who led a small army and together they conquered the Aztec Empire from Mexico. His courage and daring inspired other people to conquer territories in Central and Southern America to search new riches. He studied the Law within Salamanca University but he left school before graduating and decided, like many other Spanish young adventurer, to search his luck in the New World.

1504 Cortes was only 19 when he boarded towards Hispaniola Island (Santo Domingo nowadays) of the New World where he got land and Indian slaves and was called a notary.

1511 He took part in Cuba’s conquer under the command of Diego Velasquez, an influent soldier, who became governor of Cuba. Cortes was elected mayor of the capital, Santiago of Cuba, for the second time.

1518 Cortes convinced Velasquez to appoint him for an expedition’s leading to continental Mexico, that had been discovered short time before.

1519 On February, Cortes left Cuba with 11 ships, 600-soldier army and 16 horses.  He landed to Yucatan Island and conquered Tabasco City. Primitive Indians who were living on the peninsula’s coasts thought that the ships were “floating mountains” and were terrified to see the white people.  The arrival of Cortes coincided with their prophecy, terrified the natives and Cortes exploited their belief; he was considered their god’s reincarnation and they peacefully accepted him and his people. Tabasco’s citizens told to Cortes about the amazing and the rich Aztec Empire and about the great king-warrior Montemuza.  They gave food and women to Spanish people and one of them, Malinche, was baptized and became the lover of Cortes.  Her services as a guide and a translator and also the duplicity she proved, were crucial for the expedition’s success.

The Spanish went toward the North from Tabasco and Cortes founded the fortified port called Vera Cruz. Here, as an act of courage, Cortes sank the entire fleet excepting only one ship; his men must have followed him or had to die.

Aztecs were strong owners but they had not done anything to assimilate people of the conquered provinces. Cortes ruthless exploited these dissensions inside Aztec Empire. He forged alliances with different peoples who hated Aztecs or were afraid of them, especially Tlaxcalans, wining thousand of local allied.

1519 On the 8th of November, ignoring the threatens he had got from Montemuza, Cortes led his army and the local allied to the capital, Tenochtitlan, a city built on floating island (Mexico City nowadays). Montemuza peacefully received the Spanish, but Cortes, anticipating his following intentions, took him hostage and obliged him to oath loyalty to King of Spain.  During this time, governor Velasquez, jealous on Cortes’ success, sent a small army to Mexico, under the command of Narvaez in order to recall Cortes, accusing him of insubordination. Cortes let Pedro of Alvarado to lead Tenochtitlan because he left to meet the army of Narvaez, army that was bigger than Cortes’ at that time. Creeping into Spanish camp during night, Cortes captured Narvaez and forced his soldiers to join his army.

1520 He came back to Aztec capital that was in a chaos. Alvarado’s small garrison had been attacked. He had killed hundreds of Aztecs during a festival, fact that got birth to a bloody uprising.  Montemuza was killed – probably stoned to death; information about the way he died are various – and Spanish people and their allies were driven away of the city during the night of July, 30th (“Pain Night”), but Cortes joined the army that was withdrawing, crushed the Aztec counterattack and returned to siege the city few days later.

1521 On the 13th of August, Aztecs were conquered. This time Cortes used brigantines, attacking the city directly from the lake it was built on. After long and bloody fights, Tenochtitlan fell prey to the gunpowder, to steel and Cortes’ horses; Aztecs’ heroic resistance was finished.

On the former Aztec capital’s ruins Mexico City was built and Mexico’s colonization went on very quickly. Cortes was now the absolute leader of these wide territories and was appointed Governor and General Captain of the new Spain, as Mexico was called at that time.

But his great power had started its decline; Spanish Court had started to be afraid that he would declare himself independent ruler and in this way Cortes made strong enemies, especially Velasquez who organized a political campaign against him in Spain. Cortes counterattacked sending to Spanish King, Charles V, five letters. He continued to lead expeditions, but none of them had such a success like Aztecs’ conquest.

1524 He led the expedition from Honduras.

1528 He returned to Spain in order to defend himself in front of the King for all accusations of cruelty against natives.

1530 He came back to Mexico retiring on his estate near Mexico City.

1540 A new Viceroy was sent to rule Mexico; disappointed, Cortes moved again to Spain.

1547 On the 2nd of December, Fernando Cortes died at Sevilla, Spain.[1]




1 - Hernando Cortés (1485-1547), ro.biography.name