Hernán Cortés

gigatos | December 30, 2021


Fernando Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, better known as Fernando, Hernando, Fernán or Hernán Cortés (1485 (1485) – 2 December 1547) was a Spanish conquistador who conquered Mexico and destroyed the Aztec state. Thanks to him, vanilla and chocolate began to be used in Europe in the 1520s.

He came from a family of poor but noble hidalgoes. He studied law at the University of Salamanca for two years, but preferred a military career. In 1504 he moved to Española, in 1510-1514 participated in an expedition to conquer Cuba under the command of Diego de Velasquez. In 1519-1521 on his own initiative undertook the conquest of Mexico. In 1522-1526, he served as captain-general of the newly formed colony of New Spain, pursuing an independent policy, but because of a bitter power struggle in 1528 he returned to Europe. King Charles V granted him the title of Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca in 1529. In 1530 Cortés returned to Mexico with the rank of military governor, but no longer had any real power. In 1540 he returned permanently to Europe, taking part in the unsuccessful 1541 Algerian campaign. He died and was buried in Spain; his ashes were moved to Mexico in 1566. In the 1560s his descendants attempted to seize power in Mexico, but the coup ended in failure.

Few sources have survived about the conqueror”s life, which often contradict each other, so historians differ greatly in their assessments of his personality and legacy. The works of Bartolomé de las Casas made him one of the key characters of the Black Legend.

Cortes belonged to at least two generations of the Hidalgo family. Cortés”s lifetime biographer, his confessor Francisco López de Gomara, wrote that the Cortés, Monroes, Pizarro, and Altamirano families were ancient families of Extremadura, “of old Christians. Cervantes de Salazar, in a dedication to Cortés in 1546, even elevated his genealogy to that of the Lombard kings who had moved to Spain. On the contrary, the Dominican Bartolomé de las Casas, who never concealed his dislike of Cortés, wrote that the conquistador was “the son of a small nobleman whom I knew personally, very poor and very humble, but a good Christian and, as the rumor claimed, a hidalgo.

Diego Altamirano, Hernán”s maternal grandfather, married to Leonora Sanchez Pizarro, was the majordomo of Beatrice Pacheco, Countess of Medellín. He was among the city councilors and became an alcalde. Martin Cortes de Monroy (1449-1528), Hernán”s father, held various public offices throughout his life, including réchidor and then procurator general of the Medellín city council. In medieval Spain, these positions could only be held by a hidalgo. Martin Cortes participated in the civil war of 1475-1479 on the side of Queen Isabella”s opponents in the rank of captain of cavalry.

On his father”s side Cortés was a distant relative of Nicolás de Ovando, the first governor of Española. On his mother”s side Cortés was a third cousin of Francisco Pizarro, the conqueror of Peru; another relative, also Francisco Pizarro, accompanied Cortés in the conquest of Mexico.

Cortés himself told Gomara that his family”s fortune was modest. In 1948, Celestino Vega, a Medellín ophthalmologist, published a book in which he estimated the profitability of Martin Cortés”s property and stated that the family”s income was not great. S. Vega has been criticized because he viewed the documentary evidence in the context of reconstructed price levels of the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In 2008, a new study was presented by Mexican scholar Esteban Mira Cabayos, who concluded that the Cortes family was not rich, but its level of wealth was commensurate with social status.

Cortes” date of birth is a matter of controversy because he concealed it for unknown reasons. Gomara, according to Cortés himself, indicated the year 1485, but without elaboration. Only one anonymous biography (which breaks off at 1519) states that he was born “at the end of the month of July,” but nowhere else is this information confirmed. The Franciscan historians Geronimo de Mendeta and Juan de Torquemada gave Cortes” birth date as 1483 – that is, the year of Luther”s birth. Thus the conquest of Mexico was given an ideological basis: Cortes came to New Spain for the purpose of converting the Indians to the true church and replenishing the ranks of the Catholics, who had been thinned after the Reformation.

According to documents, Hernán Cortés de Monroy was the only son of Martin Cortés de Monroy and Catalina Pizarro Altamirano. At his baptism at St. Martin”s Church in Medellín he was named after his paternal grandfather. Fernando, Hernando, and Hernán were at that time the same name, for which there were three different spellings (Fernando, Hernando, and Hernán) in the orthography of the time, so they were used equally by contemporaries.

Cortés was educated in his native Medellín until the age of 14, and then he was assigned to the University of Salamanca. In the city he lived in the house of the jurist professor Francisco Nuñez de Valera, married to Hernán”s aunt, Martin Cortés”s half-sister. Francisco Núñez subsequently served as Cortés”s official lawyer in Spain. His studies at the university lasted only two years: in the winter of 1501 he returned to Medellín. Gomara wrote: “His parents met him unkindly, for they had placed all their hopes in their only son and dreamed that he would devote himself to the study of law, a science of which there is great honor and respect everywhere.

Cortes was a well-educated man by sixteenth-century standards, a fact acknowledged by his opponents, including las Casas. He was proficient in Latin, and his reports and letters contained many Latin quotations; according to the description of Marineo Siculo, his first biographer, he could compose poetry and rhythmic prose. Bernal Díaz del Castillo y las Casas called him “a bachelor of law.” The nineteenth-century American historian William Prescott suggested that this degree was conferred on Cortés by the university ex post facto.

The main reason Cortés left university, contemporary biographers call the desire to participate in the colonization of Santo Domingo: a distant relative of Cortés”s father, Nicolás de Ovando, was appointed governor of Española. Gomara wrote about his desire to go to the New World. However, in 1502 Ovando”s fleet sailed without Cortés. The only reason from the words of the conqueror was described by Gomara: Cortés, during a night visit to a married lady, was allegedly caught by her husband and, fleeing on the roof, fell off, injuring his leg. The next two years of Cortés” life have been described contradictorily by biographers: according to Gomara, having recovered, Cortés was about to depart for Italy under the command of Gonzalo Hernández de Cordoba. On the contrary, Juan Suárez de Peralta”s biography (1589) states that Cortés spent a year in Valladolid, where he worked in a notary”s office.

At the end of 1503, Cortés persuaded his parents to pay his passage to the New World and spent several months in Seville, waiting for an opportunity to reach Santo Domingo. He arrived there on April 6, 1504-the day before Easter. The colony was then in severe crisis, and at first Hernan thought of going on an expedition to the Pearl Coast (present-day Venezuela). However, soon the governor de Ovando returned from the inspection, who warmly received a relative and registered him as a vecino – a full-fledged colonist who received free land with the Indians working it (in return Cortes was obliged to serve on Española for at least 5 years.

The 20-year-old Cortés became a prominent figure in the colony after participating in a series of punitive campaigns in the interior of the island. After an administrative reform in 1506, Cortés was appointed notary (escribano, as the vicar was called) in the Amerindian settlement of Azua, west of Santo Domingo, and greatly improved his financial situation. He obtained a repartimento in the province of Dayago; it is possible that he attempted to cultivate sugar cane imported from the Canary Islands. However, the life of a landowner seemed to Cortés to be unbearable, and he returned to Santo Domingo. In 1507 he built a house at the intersection of El Conde and Las Damas streets, right in front of the governor”s residence, one of the first surviving houses in the New World. Since 2001, the French Embassy has been housed in the restored house.

In 1509 the governor of Ovando was recalled due to the appointment of the Grand Commander of the Order of Alcantara and was replaced by Don Diego Columbus, son of the discoverer of the Americas. Columbus changed the development strategy of the colony, betting on maritime expeditions. Cortes did not fit in with the new governor, and since his five-year contract with Ovando had expired, he could have joined any of the invading expeditions. Nevertheless, Cortés remained on Española, as Cervantes de Salazar claimed, having contracted syphilis from one of the Indian concubines.

In 1510, Governor Columbus plotted the conquest of Cuba, with Don Diego Velázquez de Cuellar, who had first arrived in the New World in 1493 on the expedition of Bartolomeo Columbus, brother of the discoverer, in charge of the campaign. Cortés managed to obtain the position of official treasurer (contador del rey) of Velázquez”s army, which numbered about 300 men.

In November 1511 Velázquez left the port of Salvatierra de la Sabana on the west coast of Española. The expedition had been carefully prepared: even on behalf of Ovando in 1509, Captain Sebastian de Ocampo sailed around Cuba, charting all the convenient bays and anchorages. The landing took place in Baracoa Bay, but Velázquez acted cautiously. On December 4, 1512, the city of Asunción de Baracoa was laid, which became the scene of conspiracies and strife as Velázquez sought to pursue a policy independent of Diego Columbus. Soon it became known that a plot against Velázquez was being prepared, and the rebels decided to report secretly to Santo Domingo the harassment by their chief and elected Cortés as their authorized representative. Cortes was seized as he was about to sail secretly to Española with the text of the denunciation, and was immediately arrested. Nevertheless, he managed to meet privately with the governor and was released. Cortés gave up his position as treasurer to Amador de Lárez, becoming the alcalde of Santiago de Cuba, then the capital, and also undertook to marry Velázquez”s sister-in-law, Catalina Xuarez Marcaida. Cortés did not wish to marry because he was living with an Indian concubine, whom he baptized as Leonora, and gave his mixed-race daughter the name of Catalina Pizarro; her godfather was Governor Velázquez.

After the final “pacification” of Cuba in 1514, Governor Velázquez had no right to conduct any activity outside the island. It was not until 1517 that Velázquez obtained the right of rescate, that is, trade with neighboring islands. This term concealed pirate raids on neighboring islands and the mainland to seize gold and Indian slaves – the native population of Cuba was rapidly dying out. In February 1517, the expedition of Francisco Hernández de Córdoba set out in deep secrecy. It resulted in the discovery of the Yucatan, which Velázquez claimed for himself the rank of adelantado and began to prepare for the conquest of the mainland states. In 1518 an expedition was sent by Velázquez”s nephew Juan Grijalva, in which many of Cortés”s future companions, Alvarado, Francisco de Montejo and Bernal Díaz, became famous. Cortes himself did not participate in these expeditions, which were equipped with the governor”s personal funds.

In the fall of 1518, Cortés began the struggle for the leadership of the campaign to conquer Mexico. To begin, he secured permission from the government of Santo Domingo to organize an expedition. On October 23, 1518, Velázquez signed a contract and instructions for Cortés, naming both Yucatán and Mexico “islands” in it. Under the contract, the governor of Cuba equipped 3 ships, the funds for the rest were given by Cortes and the treasurer of the colony Amador de Lares (it was planned to equip 10 ships). All costs of maintenance of the army and its food supply were borne solely by Cortez. Cortes spent his entire fortune to equip the expedition, mortgaged all his estates and sold slaves, as well as getting into debt.

Landing in Mexico

By November 1518 relations between Cortés and Velázquez had deteriorated, and other contenders for the post of commander-in-chief appeared. After the arrival of Grijalva”s expedition, Cortés sent Pedro de Alvarado to his squadron to persuade his men to participate in the campaign. This led to Velázquez temporarily refusing to terminate his contract with Cortés. On the night of November 17 to 18, 1518, Cortés”s squadron left the Cuban capital.

Cortes” army included only 350 men, so he transferred his squadron to Villa de la Santisima Trinidad, where Grijalva was stationed. His crew, about 200 men, went under Cortes” command. The departure was delayed because Cortes was intensively buying up food supplies. According to C. Duverger, the biographer, Cortes immediately showed that he was not planning a robbery raid, but a colonization expedition. It is also proved by the fact that the banner of Cortes carried the Latin motto in hoc signo vinces (“Under this banner you win”), borrowed from the labarum of Emperor Constantine.

Cortes” final army included 508 infantrymen, 16 mounted knights (several of whom owned one horse, like Alvarado), 13 arquebusiers, 32 crossbowmen, 100 sailors, and 200 slaves – Cuban Indians and negroes from Cortes” encomienda, as servants and porters. The equipment included 16 horses (11 stallions and 5 mares, listed by Bernal Diaz by name), 10 cannons, and four falconets. Among the officers of Cortés”s detachment stood out future conquerors of Central America: Alonso Hernández Portocarrero (he was originally assigned to Malinche), Alonso Davila, Francisco de Montejo, Francisco de Salcedo, Juan Velázquez de León (relative of the Cuban governor), Cristobal de Olide, Gonzalo de Sandoval and Pedro de Alvarado. Many of them were experienced soldiers who had fought in Italy and the Antilles. The crew and army were stationed on eleven ships. The chief helmsman was Anton de Alaminos (a member of Columbus” third expedition and those of Ponce de Leon, Francisco de Cordova, and Juan de Grijalva). In addition to these individuals, three notaries and two priests participated in the expedition.

On February 10, 1519, the expedition set out for the coast of the Yucatan. The first contact with the high civilization of the Americas took place on the island of Cozumel, where at that time there was a Mayan princedom of Ecab, the center of veneration of the fertility goddess Ish-Chel. The Spanish attempted to destroy the shrine, horrified by the rite of sacrifice. The first interpreter was a young Indian slave from whom information was obtained about Geronimo de Aguilar, a Spanish priest who had been captured by the Maya and who had learned their language. He became the chief interpreter of the expedition. In March 1519, Cortes formally annexed Yucatan to the Spanish possessions (this did not actually happen until 1535). The expedition proceeded along the coast, and on March 14 reached the mouth of the river Tabasco, which the Spaniards called Grijalva. The conquistadors attacked an Indian settlement, but found no gold. In Tabasco on March 19, Cortes received gifts from the local rulers: much gold and 20 women, among whom was Malinche, who became the official interpreter and concubine of Cortes. She was immediately baptized, the Spaniards called her “Dona Marina.

The foundation of Veracruz

On Good Thursday, 1519, the Cortes expedition landed at San Juan de Hulua harbor, discovered by Grijalva. The viceroy of the area (calpicha), Tendil, arrived at Easter. The Spaniards celebrated a solemn mass before him, after which Cortes expressed a desire to meet with Montezuma, the Aztec ruler. The request was supported by a military parade in which Lieutenant Alvarado demonstrated the art of vaulting and an artillery salute was given. Among the gifts sent by the Spaniards to Montezuma was a Spanish helmet with gilding. Bernal Diaz and other Spanish chroniclers claimed that the Indians found it to resemble the headdress of the god of war Huitzilopochtli. According to Spanish reports, Montezuma, upon seeing the helmet, was convinced that the Spaniards were messengers of the god Quetzalcoatl, who were to come from the sea and take possession of the country. Modern scholars believe that the myth was composed by the Spaniards themselves after the conquest of Mexico to justify the conquest ideologically.

Tendil arrived a week later, bringing a large number of gifts in return, including images of the sun and moon in gold and silver, military equipment, outfits of the nobility, etc. The gifts were accompanied by a categorical refusal to accept the leader of the Europeans. The soldiers almost revolted because they believed that the purpose of the campaign was accomplished and they could return to Cuba: the Spaniards suffered greatly from the heat, mosquitoes, and bad food. According to Bernal Diaz, by that time 35 men had already died of malnutrition and disease.

Two days after Tendil”s departure an embassy of the Totonacs from Sempoala arrived at Cortes, offering an alliance against the Aztecs. Cortés was thereby given a legitimate reason to remain in Mexico and even to start an expedition to Montezuma”s capital. The first act was to establish a rear base – the port of Villa Rica de la Veracruz, then 70 km north of the modern city, was founded. Elections were held for a municipal council, with Medellín notary Diego de Godoy as head and Portocarrero, Cortés” friend and oppositionist Francisco de Montejo as alcaldes. Cortés himself was elected commander-in-chief and supreme judge by popular vote, after which he immediately arrested pro-return opposition leaders.

Cortes entered Sempoala without a fight. War was declared on the Aztecs at a meeting of the chiefs of the people. Most of Cortes” army was now composed of the allied Totonac tribes. Casic presented the Spaniards with much gold and gave eight girls – all of whom were relatives of the Totonac chiefs, including the niece of the ruler, whom Cortés took for himself.

Soon a caravel arrived from Cuba (commanded by Francisco de Saucedo, left as an observer), bringing disturbing news: King Charles V granted Velázquez adelantado rights of the conquered lands with the right to found towns and a lifetime captain-general, as well as reimbursement of military expenses of 170 of the profits made. At the same time the surrender was dated November 13, 1518, which cancelled the treaty with Cortez of November 18. The caravel, however, also brought reinforcements: 70 infantrymen, a horse, and a mare. Cortes secluded himself in his quarters for a week, and on July 10 he summoned the municipal council of Veracruz and forced the alcaldes and rechidors to sign his first report of the conquest of Mexico, addressed directly to the king. In the message, Cortes described his main purpose as “the incorporation of the natives into the holy Catholic Church.” On behalf of the municipal council, the king was asked to appoint Cortés and “not to entrust these lands to Diego Velázquez, whatever title he might be bestowed, whether adelantado, governor for life, or any other title or rank. The message was accompanied by a huge parcel of jewels, which amounted to almost everything the Spaniards had managed to seize in Tabasco and in the land of the Totonacs. Bernal Diaz wrote that four Mexican Indians were also sent to Spain “for a sample” who had been freed from sacrifice at Sempoal. The leader of the opposition, Francisco de Montejo, was sent to accompany the gifts, who informed Velázquez, through a sailor, of the size of the booty, but would not surrender it.

The royal booty was dispatched on July 26, 1519; that same night Cortes, having agreed with the skippers that all crews become foot soldiers, ordered the ships sunk in the harbor of Veracruz. This act was accompanied by a trial of the remaining opposition, with two of Velázquez”s supporters being hanged, some being mutilated or flogged, and others being pardoned. Leaving 150 soldiers, 2 knights, 2 guns and 50 Cuban Indians in Veracruz, Cortes began preparing to march inland. Preparations were made at Sempoala, which the Spaniards left on August 16, 1519.

The First Hike to Tenochtitlan

Cortes” first objective was the mountainous principality of Tlaxcala, which was in constant conflict with the Triple Alliance states (the Aztecs themselves). Cortes had 300 infantrymen, 15 horsemen, and about 1,300 Totonac warriors and porters – the Spaniards went light. On the land of Tlascala they had to endure a battle with the natives, with the Tlascalans killing two horses. Soon the Tlascalan chiefs agreed among themselves, and on October 3 Cortes was solemnly received in the city. It was the 24th day of the campaign. The supreme chief of the Tlascalans, Shikotenkatl, and other rulers presented their daughters to the Spaniards to “merge with such brave and good men.” Cortes linked this act to Christianization, whereupon one of the pyramids of Tlascala was cleansed of “idols,” consecrated, and the Tlascalans were baptized there. The daughter of Chicotencatl was named Luisa de Tlascala, and Cortes personally presented her to Pedro de Alvarado, calling him his younger brother. Tlascalanchas also went to Juan Velázquez de León, Gonzalo de Sandoval, and others. The chroniclers also claimed that Cortes succeeded in christening four Tlascalan chiefs, but his own messages do not mention this.

Even during the period of hostilities an embassy of Montezuma, alarmed by Cortes” alliance with the rebellious principalities, arrived in Tlaxcala. The Spanish were ordered to go to Cholula, the second largest city-state in Central Mexico and the sacred center of the local religion. This suited Cortez”s plans, and the Tlascalans equipped an army of ten thousand with him.

On October 12, Cortés entered Cholula, and the inhabitants held a great feast with sacrifices. The chroniclers and Cortes himself wrote that a conspiracy had been hatched against the Spaniards: Montezuma”s ambassadors had promised to provide porters, who turned out to be masked warriors, to be supported by the people of Cholula. As a result, on October 18, Cortes carried out a great massacre that lasted about five hours, with orders to burn public buildings and temples. Gomara counted the greatest number of victims, about 6,000. Cortés then signed a peace treaty with the rulers of Cholula, certified by a Spanish notary public.

On their way to the Aztec capital the Spaniards saw the volcano Popocatepetl. Cortes” officer, Diego de Ordas, dared to conquer the volcano with two squires. Later King Charles V allowed the image of the volcano to be included in Ordaz”s coat of arms.

The Spaniards entered Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519 and were graciously greeted by the rulers of the vassal cities of Istapalapan and Kluacan. In the main town square Cortes was met by the Aztec stalatoani, Montezuma II. This event was recorded in the local pictographic codex in the following words:

…The 11th of November comes … The feast of the descent of the Mikitla, and the others, and therefore it is painted with military decorations, because it is in the world … This month was the first parish that Hernando Cortés, the Marquis who came from the Valley to the Mesh, carried out.

Montezuma rewarded Cortes with many pieces of gold jewelry, which only strengthened the Spanish desire to take possession of the country. The conquerors were housed in the palace of Ashayakatl, one of the former rulers. These events were also reflected in sources based on Indian information, notably the Codex Telluriano-Remensis:

In the year 1 Cane (1519) the enemies. Met the Spaniards of Motecusoma on day 1 of Eecatl . War with the Cacamacin (?). The Spaniards stationed themselves in the palace at Tenochtitlan. This took place in the months of Kecholli, Pancelistli, Atemostli, Titititl, Iscalli, and Atlcahualo.

The analysis of the correspondence between Aztec and European dates made by the historian A. Caso showed that the date of Cortes” first entry into Tenochtitlan is November 9, 1519 and corresponds to the Aztec date 8 Eecatl 9 Quecholli 1 Acatl.

The first week in Tenochtitlan passed quietly; the Spaniards marveled at the beauty and amenities of the Mexican capital, but Cortes ordered soldiers and officers to go armed day and night. When Montezuma would not allow the central temple of Tenochtitlan to be consecrated and the bloody sacrifices stopped, Cortes asked permission to build a Christian chapel in the Spanish residence. In the course of the repair work an extensive gold treasure was discovered. Soon a Tlascalan messenger brought a letter from Veracruz about an attack by the Aztec garrison, in which the commandant and senior alguacil and many allied totonacs were killed. Cortes, under these circumstances, took hostage the Aztec ruler Montezuma, who had originally offered his sons as hostages. Outwardly the ruler”s position did not change: in the Spanish residence he was surrounded by honor, and the usual ceremonial was maintained.

After six months of uncertainty, news came from Veracruz of the landing of Panfilo de Narvaez, sent by the Cuban adelantado Velázquez to conquer Mexico and subdue Cortés. His armada included 18 ships, 900 soldiers, 80 mounted knights, 90 crossbowmen, 70 arquebusmen, and 20 cannons. Narvaez”s main mistake was that he behaved toward Cortes”s men and allied Indians as a conqueror, with the result that his men complained to the government of Santo Domingo, to which Velázquez was in opposition. Cortes sent Indian spies to Veracruz, and since he knew most of the members of Narvaez”s expedition personally, he began secretly delivering letters offering to join his own campaign. Cortés also approached Narvaez directly, sending as messenger the priest Bartolomeo de Olmedo. Determined to leave Mexico City (as the Spaniards called Tenochtitlan), Cortés appointed Alvarado commandant of the capital, giving him 80 Spaniards and most of the Tlascalans. Cortes was left with no more than 70 Spaniards.

Arriving in Sempoala, Cortes organized the recruitment of Narvaez”s detachment, and on May 28, 1520, a military operation was carried out. Narvaez was captured by Gonzalo de Sandoval, the exiled governor of Veracruz. Velázquez”s commissioner and several of his closest associates were imprisoned in Veracruz, and his entire army went to Cortés. The conqueror of Mexico this time did not destroy the fleet, but ordered the sailing equipment, rudders, and compasses removed from the ships. Here Cortes probably first thought about strengthening his influence outside of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, directing Juan Velázquez de León to survey the northern regions and Diego de Ordaz to the south, assigning 200 soldiers to each. In addition, the commander-in-chief sent two ships to Jamaica to bring tribal cattle into Mexico. In the midst of preparations, the Tlascalan messengers arrived from Mexico City with reports that the Aztec capital had revolted, and the losses of the Alvarado garrison were already 7 men dead.

“Night of Sorrow.”

At the same time as Alvarado”s envoys arrived in Sempoala, Aztec ambassadors complained against the commandant of Mexico City. According to Bernal Díaz, Alvarado slaughtered many priests and Indian nobles during the celebration of the sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca. Virtually all chroniclers, not excluding Gomar, wrote that the main reason was Alvarado”s desire to rob the Indians; according to las Casas, as many as 2,000 people were killed. The attack on unarmed men angered the Mexicans, and the Spaniards and Tlascalans found themselves besieged in their residence, with Montezuma as a hostage. Cortes hurried to Tlascala, where an inspection of the army was made: he had 1,300 infantrymen, 96 mounted knights, 80 crossbowmen and 80 crossbowmen, as well as 2,000 Tlascalans. On June 24, 1520, the Spaniards entered Tenochtitlan for the second time.

By that time the Indians were actively preparing for war and had elected a new tlatoani, Quitlahuac; Montezuma had lost all value as a hostage. According to Cortes” own account, on June 25 he made one last attempt to negotiate and ordered the ruler to be taken to the roof of Ashayakatl”s palace, in the hope that he would subdue the mob. As a result, Montezuma was stoned, severely wounded, and died on June 28. Indian chroniclers claimed that he had been killed by the Spaniards themselves.

The position of the Spaniards was complicated by the fact that sixteenth-century Tenochtitlan was located on an island connected by causeways to the mainland, with the Aztecs removing the bridges that connected the channels and channels; Cortes chose the Tlacopan causeway, which was about 3 km long, to move. The bloody retreat of the Spaniards on the night of July 1 was called “Night of Sorrow” (the Indian date is 9 Ollin 19 Tekuiluitontli year 2 Tekpatl). All the artillery was lost, all the gold looted at Tenochtitlan; no uninjured were left at all. The exact scale of losses is difficult to establish: the maximum figures were given by Bernal Diaz – about 1000 Spaniards died, according to Cortes – no more than 150 people. Cortes wrote very little about the “Night of Sorrow” in his report: one gets the impression that he was uncomfortable remembering these events. Lieutenant Alvarado, the rearguard commander, was particularly heroic.

On July 7, 1520, on the way to Tlaxcala, Cortes” detachment was intercepted by the Aztecs pursuing him, and the famous Battle of Otumba took place, during which a small unit of Spaniards managed to put to flight the Aztec army of many thousands (many of the battle participants subsequently believed that they won thanks to God”s help). The Spaniards, led by the captain-general, managed to kill the commander, a Cihuacoatl (deputy Tlatoani), after which the Indians dispersed. The 440 infantry, 20 knights, 12 crossbowmen, and 7 crossbowmen arrived in Tlascala, and with them were the Indian concubines of Cortes and Alvarado, Malinche and Luisa de Tlascala. The Tlascalans and Totonacs remained loyal to the Spanish conquerors, so that Cortes had the resources to finally conquer the Aztec state. As a symbol of this, Cortés founded the fortress of Segura de la Frontera (Spanish for “Reliable City on the Frontier”) on the site of the Indian city of Tepeyac.

In his report Cortes announced to Emperor Charles that he was going to christen his conquests “New Spain. According to C. Duverger, this is a very significant detail: “…in 1520 Spain was still no more than a concept, the idea of the unity and homogeneity of the ancient territories that made up the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. This political concept was ahead of reality, for at the beginning of the sixteenth century Spain was still far from a unified state. Using the term “New Spain”, Cortés simultaneously demonstrated an advanced way of thinking and a certain tactical flair: on the one hand, he helped Charles V to instill the idea of a great, strong and united and indivisible Spain; on the other he nipped in the bud all possible creeps to divide his conquests, which would not be long in coming if his appetites were not kept in check by the firm hand of a single power. He gave political support to the emperor by recognizing the existence of Spain as a fait accompli, and guaranteed himself against the stripping of the acquired Mexican possessions.” The relays were delivered: to Spain by Diego de Ordas, to Santo Domingo by Alonso Davila. Velázquez”s former secretary Andrés de Duero was sent to Cuba, and with him Cortés delivered letters and gold for his lawful wife Catalina and the Indian concubine Leonora.

The Fall of Tenochtitlan

The siege of Tenochtitlan was preceded by a smallpox epidemic brought to Mexico by Narvaez, a black slave who died in Sempoal. The epidemic resulted in the death of the Aztec emperor Quitlahuac, who ruled for only 80 days, and Cuauhtemoc was elected as the new tlatoani.

Cortes decided to organize an assault on Mexico-Tenochtitlan from the water and began building a fleet at Tlaxcala. The ship”s carpenter Martin Lopez led the construction, laying 13 landing brigantines with oars and a small gun on the bow. They were built from materials sent from Veracruz (this work took all of March and April 1521. The Tlascalans gave a 10,000-strong army, commanded by Cacique Chichimecatecutli, besides 8,000 slaves carried the disassembled ships, 2,000 slaves carried the provisions, and 8,000 Tlascalans escorted them. An ally and a rear base in the valley of Mexico City was obtained, the city-state of Texcoco, where a dry dock and harbor for Spanish brigantines were erected. While construction was going on, Cortez”s troops occupied almost the entire eastern part of the valley of Mexico City, but for the cities of Ascapozalco and Tlacopan there were exceptionally fierce battles. In Veracruz then first came a ship directly from Spain, on which arrived the royal treasurer Julián de Alderete, as well as the Franciscan friar Pedro Melgarejo, who brought indulgences for the conquistadores, with them were another 200 soldiers and 80 horses.

On April 28, 1521, Cortes held a general review of the army, which numbered just over 700 Spanish soldiers with 85 horses, 110 crossbows and crossbows, 3 heavy cannons and 15 light field guns. The Indians, however, constituted the overwhelming majority of Cortez”s troops, with the lakeside city-states alone providing some 150,000 men and 6,000 pirogues to carry them. At the same time Cortes uncovered two conspiracies in the Spanish and Indian camps. Antonio de Villafaña, a friend of Cuban governor Velázquez, was hanged at Texcoco after trial, accused of attempting to seize power. The Tlaxcalan chief Chicotencatl, Jr. was accused of having ties to Cuauhtémoc, who was also hanged. Cortés did not appear in public after that without bodyguards. In mid-April unsuccessful negotiations were held with the Aztec ruler to surrender the city.

The storming of the city began on May 30, 1521, with Cortes stationing his troops at three points where the levees connected with the mainland; in addition, on that day the aqueduct delivering water to Mexico City was blocked. During the month of fighting, Cortes” troops managed to break into Tenochtitlan three times and reach the central square, once even managing to climb to the top of the main temple and throw off the “idols,” but they could not gain a foothold. The Spanish suffered a heavy defeat in the June 30 storming of Tlatelolco: 60 conquistadors were killed and the commander-in-chief was seriously wounded. Having failed, Cortés decided to crush Mexico City – at the end of July the city was cut off from the levees. On August 13 (1 Coatl 2 Chocotluezi Year 3 Calli) Cuauhtemoc tried to flee by pirogue, but was intercepted by García Holguín, a friend and squire of Gonzalo de Sandoval.

Cortes was greeted by Cuauhtémoc with proper honors, but legend has it that he snatched a dagger from the Spanish commander and tried to stab himself (Bernal Diaz, on the other hand, claimed that the Aztec ruler himself had asked to kill him). Cortes immediately ordered him to cleanse the city of the remains of those killed, and to restore the waterworks, dams, and buildings within two months. Very soon, however, it was discovered that the gold that had disappeared in the Night of Sorrow had disappeared without a trace. Francisco López de Gomara wrote that a week after the fall of Tenochtitlan, the conquistadors tortured Cuauhtémoc and his cousin, the ruler of Tlacopán, Tetlepanquezal, and several senior Aztec officials with fire, forcing them to reveal where the gold was hidden. Tetlepanquetzal could not endure the torment and cried out loudly, and Cuauhtemoc encouraged him with the phrase: “Hold on! For I, too, do not indulge in pleasures while in my bath.” Cristóbal de Ojeda testified that Cortés personally took part in the torture; the conqueror”s reports do not mention the episode at all.

In January 1522 the conqueror”s father, Don Martin Cortes, with three cousins, was received on the recommendation of the Duke of Behar by Charles V”s viceroy in Spain, Cardinal Archbishop Adrian of Utrecht, who had been elected a few days before as Pope. The conversation was conducted in Latin, and the de facto ruler of Spain sided with Hernán Cortés. In August 1522 King Charles V returned to Spain to establish the status of Mexico among his dominions. The king commanded a commission to reconcile Cortés and Velázquez. At the same time, Cortés”s third relay arrived in Spain, dated May 15, 1522, detailing the “Night of Sorrow” and the capture of Tenochtitlán. The letter was accompanied by a royal hedge and rich gifts to the monasteries of Castile and to influential persons in the kingdom.

On October 15, 1522, Charles V signed a decree appointing Hernán Cortés “governor, captain-general, and supreme bailiff in civil and criminal matters throughout the territory and in all the provinces of New Spain.

Cortez Coat of Arms

One of Charles V”s rewards for conquering New Spain was to grant Cortés the right to a special distinctive coat of arms “over and above what he had inherited from his ancestors by descent. It was the custom of the time for Hernan to express his wishes as to the contents of the coat of arms. On March 7, 1525, a letter sent by the royal secretary, Francisco de los Cobos, describing the heraldic composition is dated:

We desire that you may wear as your personal distinctive coat of arms a broad shield with a double-headed black eagle, which is the emblem of our empire, on a white field at the top of the left side and a golden lion on a black field below it in memory of the resourcefulness and strength you have shown in battles, and with three crowns at the top of the right side on a sand field, one higher than the others, in memory of three sovereigns of the great city Tenustitan. The first was named Muteszuma, who was killed by the Indians when he was your prisoner, the second was named Quetaoatzin, his brother, who succeeded him… And to the third the name of Guauktemucin, his successor, who showed disobedience until he was defeated by you; and at the bottom of the right side you may place the city of Tenustitan, rising above the water, in memory of his capture by your sword and inclusion in our kingdom; and around the said shield on an amarillo field the seven captains or sovereigns of the seven provinces of the Gulf, who shall be linked by a chain, closed at the end of the shield with a padlock.

Professor Javier Lopez Medellin gives a more detailed interpretation of heraldic symbolism. The double-headed Habsburg eagle, placed in the upper left part of the shield, both symbolizes major achievements of the imperial scale and indicates the relationship between suzerain and vassal. The three crowns in the upper right part of the shield symbolize the three Aztec rulers defeated by Cortés: Montezuma, Quitlauac and Cuauhtemoc. The golden lion in the lower left part of the shield symbolizes a heroic deed. Finally, on the lower right of the shield is an image of the pyramids of Tenochtitlan, with the monasteries and cathedrals of the new city, Mexico City, reflected in the waters of Lake Texcoco. The blazon is bordered by a chain linking seven Indian heads symbolizing the vassal city-states of the Mexico Valley conquered by Cortés: Tlacopan, Coyoacan, Istapalapa, Texcoco, Chalco, Chochimilco, and Tlatelolco. Because Cortes” father belonged to the Monroe family, his coat of arms is placed in the very center of the blazon. Although the motto was not included in the royal grant, Cortés introduced it as well, adding also a winged lion. The Latin text of the motto read: Judicium Domini aprehendit eos et fortitudo ejus corroboravit brachium meum – “The justice of the Lord has come upon them, and his power has strengthened my arm.

According to C. Duverger, the coat of arms of Cortes could have a second reading, rooted in the pre-Columbian Mexican culture, it can be perceived as Aztec pictography. The Hapsburg eagle and the lion in the left margin corresponded to the symbols of the sun and war – the eagle and the jaguar – the pillars of the Nahua religion. The eagle (cuautli), the symbol of day and sky, and the jaguar (ocelotl, the Spanish called it a lion), the symbol of night and the underworld, represented two incarnations of the sun. In Aztec religion the energy of the sun ceaselessly dries up, and only man, through war and sacrifice, can revive it periodically. By including the eagle and the jaguar in his coat of arms, Cortes used the concept of Native American sacred warfare. The right side of the coat of arms contains the symbols of water and fire. Water (atl) is clearly expressed in the form of Lake Texcoco, and fire (tlachinolli) is symbolized by a crown corresponding to the ideographic sign of fire in the Aztecs. To avoid ambiguity, Cortés used three crowns forming a triangle, since the number “3” is also associated with the concept of fire. Finally, the seven human heads connected by a chain along the shield refer to the pre-Hispanic symbol of the Chicomostoc caves, the mythical place of origin of the seven Nahua tribes; the Spanish chain corresponds to the Indian rope (mecatl), which in Aztec iconography always denoted the capture of a captive destined to be sacrificed.

Encomienda. Policies Toward Indians

Immediately after the conquest of Mexico, Cortes began to behave as an independent ruler. This was facilitated by the fact that by 1521 the borders of New Spain had not been established and the royal charter did not establish the territorial limits of Cortes” power, although since the first discoveries in the New World the new territories had been considered the possessions of the Castilian crown. At the same time Cortés, witnessing the demographic catastrophe in Española and Cuba, sought to preserve the indigenous social structures entirely, in effect replacing the Aztec calpicas with his fellow conquistadores, who were subordinate to him personally. The realization of these principles was the encomienda system, which had analogues both in Indian societies and in the system of spiritual-chivalric orders in Spain.

From April 1522 the captain-general of New Spain appropriated to himself the right to distribute all lands among the Spanish owners as he saw fit, and only those directly involved in the conquest could receive lands. Newcomers were given a residency requirement of eight years, which exceeded the period once set by Ovando for Santo Domingo. Because Indian agriculture was primitive compared to Spanish agriculture and the Aztecs did not know many food crops, Cortés imposed quotas on the compulsory production of a number of products, both imported – grapes and wheat – and local crops – maize, tomatoes, peppers, yams, etc. Cortes” decrees for breeding local breeds of cattle and horses show that he was striving for complete economic self-sufficiency.

In the encomiendas created, a system of rationing and government regulation was implemented: Cortes prohibited the labor of women and children under the age of 12, night work was prohibited (the work day had to end one hour before sunset), a lunch break was introduced, the workers” ration was regulated – “a pound of flatbread with salt and pepper,” and Sundays were declared a day off. Because there was no pay for the work of the Indian community, Cortes decreed that after a 20-day workday the encomender would work a 30-day period in which the Indians worked for themselves.

A characteristic feature of Cortes” policy in the first years after the conquest was the introduction of segregation (traza). The Spanish population could settle only in cities (understood as any settlement with an administrative organization), and in Mexico City the Spaniards were allocated land for residential quarters, outside the perimeter of which – the traza itself – they were forbidden to live. This was for purely political purposes: Cortes wanted to prevent the possibility of “wild” colonies, beyond his control. The Spaniards were also forbidden to trade with the local population. The Indians were given self-rule in the areas where they lived together, and the Spanish presence was limited to representatives of the authorities.

The mendicant orders, especially the Franciscans, occupied a special place in Cortes” plans. Although the owner of the encomienda was to take care of the conversion of his subjects, it was the ministers who were to play the leading role in the process. In addition, the Franciscans were to supervise the Spanish administrators and landlords, protecting the indigenous population from arbitrary rule.

The Christianization of Mexico

One of Cortes” most important goals was the conversion of the Indians to Christianity. However, for the first time there was practically no temple construction in Mexico, and instead the old pagan temples were re-equipped and consecrated. Cortes was a very liberal Christian by the standards of the sixteenth century. According to C. Duverger, he could belong to the oppositional current in Spanish Catholicism, the center of which was Extremadura, and whose bearers were the Franciscans of the church province (custody) of San Gabriel. At Cortés” request, Pope Adrian VI granted them the broadest powers of conversion in New Spain with the bull “Exponi nobis fecisti” of May 9, 1522.

The first mission sent to Mexico, on the principle of “imitating Christ,” consisted of 12 monks – the apostles of Mexico – led by Brother Martin of Valencia, former abbot of the monastery of San Francisco in Belvis – the feud of Monroes, who founded that monastery. In November 1523, 12 missionaries set sail for Seville, sailing from Sanlucar on January 25, 1524. At Santo Domingo the Franciscans encountered a rebellion at Baoruco, led by the son of a cacique trained by Spanish priests. Seeing that the Indians rejected the Spanishization policy, the Mexican missionaries concluded that they should preach to the Indians in their own language. On May 13, 1524, the mission landed at San Juan de Ulúa and proceeded on foot to Mexico City. One of the monks was Toribio de Benavente, who was nicknamed Motolinia (“He is poor”) by the Tlascala Indians. Cortés gave the mission a solemn welcome and sent an escort. At the end of June, Cortes organized the first theological debate in the New World, at which he himself presided. The exchange between the first twelve Franciscans and the chiefs of Mexico-Tenochtitlan was described by Bernardino de Sahagún.

Cortez and Spain

Cortes” relations with the Spanish authorities were highly controversial from the beginning, for his policies were at odds with the colonial mode of government proper, and his reliance on local social structures perplexed and disliked even his comrades-in-arms. In the Fourth Letter to Charles V, Cortes wrote:

If we have bishops and other prelates, they will not hesitate to transfer to us the bad habits that are common to them today. They will use church property to squander it on luxuries and other vices; they will grant majorties to their children and their relatives. And worst of all: the natives of these places knew in former times the priests of religion and services, and these persons were of integrity and unselfishness… What will they think when they see the property of the church and the service of the Lord in the hands of canons or other holinesses, who lead ignorant lives and indulge in vices, as they are in the habit today in our kingdoms? They would thereby diminish our faith and make a great mockery of it.

Such views were also due to the fact that Mexico was far superior to Spain in population and size, as well as in wealth and natural resources. Cortes immediately set out to develop the South Seas from the Mexican coast, as he notified the king in a relay dated May 15, 1522. This threatened to further separate New Spain from the Old World, after which the king took action: at the turn of 1523 and 1524 Cortes received a series of instructions, dated as early as June 26, 1523. They contradicted the whole policy of Cortes, since the king demanded free movement of Spaniards in all territories, the prohibition of mixed marriages, the introduction of freedom of trade, etc. The government sharply condemned the encomiendas and demanded the abolition of the estates. To implement the royal plans, he sent a royal audience to Veracruz under Alonso de Estrada, with the main goal of limiting Cortés”s power and increasing the amount of profits. Under these circumstances, Cortés” decision to leave Mexico City was perplexing to all contemporaries and historians.

The Case of Olid and Garay

In October 1524 Cortés, in full power, decided to leave Mexico City. The campaign to the Maya lands seemed irrational to many biographers: by the time the war began, Cortes controlled the entire territory of the former Aztec empire, in the northeast Sandoval managed to subdue the Huastecs, Francisco de Orozco conquered Oaxaca, and Cristobal de Olid conquered Michoacán, that is, lands which the Aztecs had never submitted to. Cortes” possessions reached the northern coast of Tehuantepec, the richest deposits of silver were found and the port of Acapulco was founded.

As early as 1523, Cortes sent two detachments – a naval detachment and a land detachment. Cristobal de Olide led a naval detachment with 6 ships and 370 soldiers, which was to go to Havana to equip, and then head for Honduras. The land detachment went under the command of Pedro de Alvarado, who had 135 mounted knights, 120 arquebusiers, 4 guns, 200 Tlascalans and 100 Aztecs. In a relay to Charles V stated that their main goal was to find a passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, but in reality Cortes wanted to subjugate the entire territory of Central America. However, a number of historians connected Cortes” campaign with the “Garay affair.

The search for the strait connecting the two oceans, from 1519, was carried out by the governor of Jamaica – Francisco de Garay, brother-in-law of Christopher Columbus, one of the pioneers of the exploration of America. He tried to challenge Cortez”s rights to New Spain, a challenge in which he was supported by the adelantado of Cuba Velázquez and Bishop Fonseca, Hernán”s main opponent in Spain. On July 25, 1523, Garay and Juan de Grijalva landed at Panuco with about 1,000 men. This led to a war between Cortés and Garay, for the captain-general of Mexico had a charter from Charles V, dated April 24, directing Francisco de Garay not to interfere in Mexican affairs. The armed confrontations ended in Mexico City, where Cortes invited Garay to discuss the marriage of their children. On Christmas Day 1523, Garay died suddenly, after which Cortés was accused of poisoning him.

Nevertheless, there are no hints of intentions to step down from power in the fourth report to Charles V, dated October 15, 1524. Cortes, however, complained that the royal auditors had underestimated the cost of “pacifying” Mexico. This naturally led him to declare that the king did not understand the peculiarities of the land, and Cortes was not going to carry out his instructions: “I have done what I thought was good for Your Majesty, and to do otherwise would be to allow the desolation; I urge Your Majesty to consider it and inform me of your decision. Together with the message Cortes sent to Spain a royal pentate, including gold worth 80,000 pesos, the jewels of Cuauhtémoc (Bernal Diaz wrote that there were pearls the size of walnuts) and a symbolic gift – a cannon “Phoenix” of low-grade gold with a dedication inscription: “No one has seen such a bird, no servant Cortes had; no one, like you, and the world has not owned. When melted down, it yielded another 20,000 ducats of profit. According to C. Duverger, there was a challenge in the gift: the cannon was cast by the Tarask Indians from metal mined in Michoacán. This showed that it was not Mexico that needed Castile”s riches, but quite the opposite.

Meanwhile, Cristóbal de Olide concluded an agreement with Adelantado Velázquez and began a war for sole possession of Honduras – by then there were four claimants: Francisco Hernández, sent from Panama, the self-proclaimed governor González de Avila and Pedro de Alvarado. Cortés sent his cousin Francisco de las Casas to subdue the rebellion, who had Olida executed.

The 1524-1526 campaign

Cortes set out on the march with a huge retinue of henchmen, servants, doctors, falconers, musicians, and jugglers. He was followed by virtually all the Aztec rulers, including the ex-emperor Cuauhtemoc, and took with him all his concubines. The army included more than 300 Spaniards and 3,000 Aztecs.

In Orisaba, Cortés unexpectedly married off his concubine and interpreter, Malinche, who went to Juan Jaramillo. Later the conqueror”s behavior became more and more inexplicable: he sent the officials of the Audiencia he had taken with him back to Mexico City, which nullified his power in the capital, and then he moved his army through the mangrove swamps of Tabasco. Upon reaching the Usumasinta River, Cortés accused Cuauhtemoc of conspiracy and hanged him on February 28, 1525. After an arduous trek through the jungle, the thinning army reached the Mayan state of Tayasal. After resting at the very beginning of April, Cortes reached the coast of the Caribbean Sea, where he founded several cities. Maya Indians compiled their own records of Cortes” march to Honduras:

The Castilians set out in the year 1527 , the name of their captain was Don Martin Cortes , then they entered Tanotz”ik , and they arrived in the center of the country of Sacchutte , and he came to encamp in the village of Tishakhaa . It was there that he encamped with his attendants, and he began to call the lord of Pashbolonach, of whom I have already spoken… The captain began to say: “Let the lord come, that I may see him; I do not intend to make war at all; my desire is to pass and examine the whole country. I will do him much good if he will receive us kindly.” So it was said by this man about what he intended to do in this kingdom. And they came and told it to the lord of Pashbolonach there in the village of Itzamk”anak. When all the lords arrived, he gathered them together again and began to say to them, “Here is well for me to go, that I may see and hear what the Castilian people who have arrived desire.” Thus once went the lord of Pashbolonacha, and this is how he saw and met the captain of Del Valle with many gifts: liquid honey, turkeys, maize, copal and other edibles and fruits.Thus was it said to the lord of Pashbolonacha: “Behold I have come here to your land, for I have been sent by the lord of the land Emperor, seated on the throne in Castile, to see and examine the country and settlements. I am not at war, only following my way now, and looking for the way to Ulua, where gold, valuable feathers and cocoa come from, as I have heard.” And this was the answer he gave him: “It would be well for you to go now, that you come first to my land, to my house, to my village, there we will consider what would be good, and first we will rest.

The royal officials who returned from the campaign in August 1525 announced the death of Cortés and began the extermination of his supporters, not even bothering to execute the clergy. Cortés, even after receiving news of the chaos in Mexico City, hesitated and thought of leaving Honduras to go to conquer Nicaragua. It was not until April 25, 1526, that Cortés set out for Veracruz via Havana. Arriving in Mexico on May 24, Cortés did not march on Mexico City until June 4, greeted everywhere as a liberator. On June 25 he announced his return to the duties of governor. At the same time he received a letter from King Charles, signed in October 1525, appointing a commission to investigate Cortés”s activities under Judge Luis Ponce de León.


In August 1522 the wife of Cortés, Catalina Juárez Marcaida, arrived in Mexico with her brothers and sisters and died on the eve of the feast of all saints (November 1). According to C. Duverger, there are at least two versions of the circumstances of her death. According to the first, Cortés”s wife suffered from a serious illness while in Cuba and the highlands of Mexico City aggravated her condition. According to another version, Cortes” wife came to Mexico uninvited and claimed the role of ruler and dispersed her husband”s native concubines. As a result of the quarrel, Cortes strangled her (red spots were allegedly found on her neck). According to C. Duverger, it is unlikely that she was murdered by her own hand because Cortes was very self-possessed, but the violent death of Catalina Juarez is quite probable. Shortly after Catalina”s death, Cortés had a mestizo son by Malinche, baptized Martin. Another son, Luis, was born in 1525 to Antonia (or Elvira) Hermosillo, who, following Gomar, is thought to be Spanish, but C. Duverger believes that she was probably also Indian. Cortes also had two other daughters by Aztec princesses, including the daughters of Montezuma Techuishpotsin (baptized Isabel), all of whom were recognized as the rightful heirs by the papal bull of 1529.

Power Struggle

The letter of Charles V of November 4, 1525, announced an investigation of the conquistador”s actions in New Spain and stated that a “judge for permanent residence” (Spanish: juicio de residencia) had been sent in Luis Ponce de León, son of the discoverer of Florida. The wording, however, was quite diplomatic: “As you will see, this Luis Ponce de León knows nothing about these lands, nor does he know what must be done there… It will be useful for you to instruct him in the best way to govern this land.

On June 23, 1526, Ponce de Leon arrived in Veracruz, and Cortes ordered him to be greeted with honors and given an escort in ceremonial attire to accompany the judge as far as Mexico City. Officially, Cortes explained that the judge had come to punish the rebellious officials of the Audiencia and to bring justice to the abused Indians. However, two days after his arrival in Mexico City, on July 4, Luis Ponce de León took away from Cortés the baton of the supreme judge of New Spain and simultaneously removed him from his position as governor, according to the official explanation – “for the sake of being able to conduct an unhindered judicial investigation into the conquistador”s ways of serving the king.”

Soon Ponce de Leon fell ill, Cortes attributed it to the peculiarities of the Mexican highlands; the judicial retinue also suffered. Soon Ponce de Leon himself died (July 20) and almost all of his entourage – more than 30 people. According to the judge”s will, his powers passed to one Marcos de Aguilar, a licentiate of law, who was not recognized by the city council of Mexico City; the municipality asked Cortes to take over. Cortés returned as captain-general and governor on August 1, but left Aguilar as supreme magistrate, benefiting from the approval of the king. Cortes reaffirmed his edicts of 1524 on principles of treatment of the Indians and increased penalties for Spaniards for violating the inviolability of native territories, also restricting the freedom of movement of Spaniards and imposing a monopoly on the maize trade. According to C. Duverger, in the summer of 1526 Cortez had a chance to make New Spain an independent state: Charles V was then engaged in a difficult war with the Holy See and France because of the recognition of himself as Holy Roman Emperor and did not have the means to war with Cortez. The Conquistador was even accused of secretly negotiating with France over the issue of secession.

On September 3, 1526, Cortes completed his fifth relay, in which he described the campaign to Honduras, his return to Mexico City, and the demise of Ponce de León. Cortés complained much about unjust accusations, demanded recognition of his merits and approval of his policies, recalled the amount of gold he had sent for the needs of the crown, and declared that he was returning his powers as captain-general and governor up to special orders. He understood the precariousness of his position, and on September 26 wrote to his father: “I am now as if in purgatory, and nothing would prevent the gates of hell from opening if I had no hope of escaping from it.” On March 1, 1527 Aguilar died; Cortés was accused of poisoning him, as had Ponce de León six months earlier.

Unsuccessful Expedition to the Spice Islands

After a temporary stabilization of the situation, Cortes returned to pioneering activities, with the idea of finding a direct route from Mexico to the Spice Islands, then contested by Spain and Portugal. This also gave Cortes additional resources in the struggle for power in New Spain. In Zacatula, in May 1527, the outfitting of three ships began; Cortes” cousin, Álvaro de Saavedra Cerón, was to command the detachment. Cortés sent credentials to the rulers of Cebu and Tidore, written in Latin and Spanish. In case the team made it to China, Cortés wrote a letter for the ruler of that country as well, starting with a quote from Aristotle”s Metaphysics.

On October 31, 1527, three ships sailed from Cihuatanejo Bay, with 110 crew on board. By the end of January 1528, Saavedra, with one ship saved, managed to reach Mindanao in the Philippines. He reached Tidore in March and sailed back on June 3 with 60 tons of cloves aboard. Two attempts to return to Mexico were unsuccessful; the commander died, unable to endure the hardships of the voyage. In December 1529 the crew attempted to reach Malacca, where they were all arrested by the Portuguese; only in 1534 did the five or six surviving crew members manage to return to Spain.


On August 22, 1527 the royal treasurer, Alonso de Estrada, attempted a coup in Mexico City, referring to Aguilar”s alleged will. He succeeded in expelling Cortés, who took refuge in Tlaxcala, from the capital. Estrada began an active search for gold, for which he even began to uncover the tombs of Indian rulers. Cortés” position in Spain was also shaken: an April royal decree forbade the publication and distribution of Cortés” published rulings; the ban was enforced by Panfilo de Narvaez, claiming that the conquistador had slandered him. Under these circumstances Cortes decided to return to Spain and explain himself to the king in person. According to Bernal Díaz, Cortés made active preparations for his departure: he purchased two ships, assembled a stock of gold, silver, and art objects, picked up a collection of birds unknown in Spain, took two jaguars, even Mexican jugglers, dwarfs, and freaks. At the same time he received news of his father”s death in Spain.

Almost at the same time, on April 5, 1528, Charles V placed the administration of New Spain in the hands of the Royal Audiencia of 5 men, headed by Nuño de Guzmán – adelantado Panuco, notorious for his cruelty. In the secret instructions given to him, all the properties of Cortez were to be transferred to royal ownership, and Cortez was to be eliminated: if he could not be killed at once, a show trial was to be organized.

On April 15, 1528, Cortés put to sea, accompanied by Andrés de Tapia and Gonzalo de Sandoval. After 42 days of voyage the caravan arrived in Palos, so the conqueror returned to Spain after an absence of 24 years. Immediately after his arrival Sandoval, who could not endure the voyage, died and was buried in the monastery of La Rabida. Cortés visited his native Medellín on his way to the royal residence (Spain did not have a permanent capital at the time) and found himself very popular in all walks of life. His pilgrimage to the Convent of the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe paid political dividends: he met the wife of Francisco de los Cobos, the king”s chamberlain. At the same time a marriage contract was concluded with Juana de Orellano de Zúñiga, niece of the Duke of Behar; this union had been prepared by his late father, Martin Cortés, two years before the events described. Cortés had long been reluctant to have his betrothed come to Mexico, but the marriage gave him powerful patrons at court.

Few direct accounts of the royal audience have survived. Apparently, the invitation to the court had to wait for a long time, the audience was held in Toledo in the summer of 1528 in the presence of the Duke of Behar, the Count of Aguilar – a future relative of Cortés – and Francisco de los Cobos. The conqueror was received graciously, but no direct results followed. Cortes, waiting for a second audience, became very ill, he was thought to be dying, then the king was persuaded to visit the conqueror. However, even this time it was not possible to obtain the return of the title of governor of New Spain.

The royal grant

On April 1, 1529, Cortés was granted the title of Marquis and ownership of all real estate seized during the conquest, he was also granted the title of governor. In addition, he received membership in the Order of Santiago de Compostela. At the same time the conqueror was married to Juana de Zúñiga, a wedding described by Gomar and Bernal Díaz as “the most magnificent in Spain,” and the jewels given to the bride exceeded in beauty and value Cortés” gifts to the queen. After receiving the title of marquis, Cortés sent an ambassador to Pope Clement VII, who especially liked the Indian acrobats. The pontiff recognized the conqueror”s three mestizo children as legitimate and gave his blessing for the establishment of the Hospital de la Purísima Concepcíon y de Jesús Nazareno in Mexico City at the site of Cortés” first meeting with Montezuma. For this purpose, Cortes received the right to collect tithes from his possessions for the upkeep and construction of the hospital.

On July 6, 1529, the king signed decrees in Barcelona granting Cortés all the favors promised in April, except the governorship of New Spain. In return, a margraviate was created, and Cortés became the marquis of the Oaxaca Valley. Cortes” lands totaled about 7,000,000 hectares, being geographically divided into 7 parts. He received vast holdings in the valley of Mexico City, including Coyoacán, as well as several neighborhoods in Mexico City, including the Main Plaza and the entire area between the Chapultepec Aqueduct and the Tlacopan Dam. In a petition Cortes asked to keep Texcoco, Otumba, Huexotzinco, and Chalco, but the king refused him. Cortes received the entire Toluca Valley 100 km from Mexico City and the city of Cuernavaca, also 100 km south of Mexico City, and so on, all the way to the Oaxaca Valley, which gave the name to all his possessions. Cortes himself preferred to be called Marques del Valle. On his lands he received the right to keep 23,000 vassals, over whom he had the right of civil and criminal trial. К. Duverger wrote: “These figures were obtained … arbitrarily, since few people in Old Spain were aware of the true size of Mexico. The royal advisors were not aware of the vast territory they had given to Cortés. On October 27, 1529, he additionally received the right to explore the Pacific Ocean from the Mexican coast.

At the same time as Cortés, Francisco Pizarro, the future conqueror of Peru, was in Toledo, but was never granted an audience, and he received all the documents formalizing his rights of exploration and conquest from the Council of the Indies, signed by the queen. The documentary evidence of the communication between the two conquistadors dates back to January 1530, when they were both leaving Seville for the New World.

Return to Mexico

While Cortes was in Spain, evidence of abuses by members of the Royal Audiencia leaked out. One of these was a letter from Francisco de Terrazas, Cortés” majordomo. The first bishop of Mexico, Juan de Sumarraga, also known as “defender of the Indians,” took an intransigent attitude toward the colonizers; his report of 27 August 1529 detailed the chaos that prevailed in New Spain after Cortés” departure. This gave Cortés himself an excuse to reclaim the powers of governor and captain-general. Sumarraga”s report showed that Nuño de Guzmán, head of the Audiencia, began to export Mexican slaves on a large scale to make up for the loss of labor in Cuba and Española; in two years more than 10,000 slaves were branded and exported to the islands.

King Charles departed for Italy in July 1529, where war was raging; Queen Isabella remained regent of Spain, settling in Madrid. Cortes also settled there. Around Christmas, news emerged that Nuño de Guzmán had left Mexico City and traveled to Jalisco, where he hoped to find much gold. In January 1530 the king appointed a second Audiencia to Mexico, headed by Sebastian de Fuenleal, bishop of Santo Domingo.

In early 1530 Cortés departed for Seville with a retinue of more than 400 men, including his wife and mother. After the sea crossing he spent some time in Santo Domingo. Here the conqueror communicated much with the new ruler of Mexico, Bishop Fuenleal, who was in no hurry to move to Mexico City. On July 15, 1530, Cortés landed in Veracruz.

Second Audiencia

In Veracruz Cortés received a royal letter, dated March 22, 1530: he was instructed not to enter Mexico City until the second Audiencia arrived there; in addition, he could not approach the capital closer than 10 leagues, a violation punishable by a fine of 10,000 castellanos. In addition, the residence built on the site of Montezuma”s palace was taken away from Cortés; it was to house the members of the Audiencia.

In Cortés” absence, Nuño de Guzmán began a trial against him. Since Cortes had supporters, they were physically assaulted, after which the bishop of Sumarraga imposed an interdict on the members of the first Audiencia. Cortes in 1530 essentially repeated his campaign of 11 years earlier: after a respite in Tlascala, he arrived in Texcoco, where he met with loyal Franciscans and Indian chiefs who proposed to establish a new capital there. At Texcoco, Cortés”s mother died and the firstborn in his marriage to Juana, son Luis, who lived only a few weeks. They were buried in the Franciscan monastery in Texcoco.

On January 9, 1531, the official transfer of powers to the second Audiencia took place. In addition to Fuenleal, its members included Vasco de Quiroga, Juan de Salmerón, Alonso de Maldonado, and Francisco Seinos. Cortés was unable to regain full power, moreover, he was again prosecuted. As a result, he left Mexico City and settled with his wife in an estate in Cuernavaca, where a castle was built for him, modeled on Diego Columbus”s palace in Santo Domingo.

The members of the Audiencia began an audit of Cortes” possessions and a record of his vassals granted by the king. When the Marquisate was created, twenty-two Indian cities, the pueblos, were entered in the register, each of which was assigned a thousand “vassals. Together with Mexico City, to which an additional thousand vassals were added, the number was twenty-three thousand. In fact, at least two million people were under the jurisdiction of Cortes, because by “vassal” Cortes meant the head of the family that paid the taxes. As a result of the proceedings Cortes lost the Toluca Valley and the southern part of the Mexico City Valley, and the colonial city of Antequera was founded in the center of Oaxaca, but Cortes traded for four Indian cities, Cuilapa, Oaxaca, Etla, and Tlapacoya. In March 1532 the papal decision to give Cortes a church tithe was challenged; the king demanded the return of the original bull and all copies of it.

In October 1532 Cortes had his third child with Juana, a son named Martin (his daughter Catalina died in infancy in 1531). Cortes gave his children by Juana the same names as his mestizo children. Only the sixth and last child, a daughter born about 1537, was given the mother”s name, Juana.

Exploring California

Between 1532 and 1535 Cortés mounted three expeditions to the Pacific Ocean. The main reason for these expeditions was probably to stop the expansion of Nuño de Guzmán, who, having seized the lands of Jalisco, Nayarita, and Sinaloa, was appointed adelantado of New Galicia by royal decree. In 1532, Cortés” second cousin Diego Hurtado de Mendoza explored the coasts of Michoacán, Colima, Jalisco, and Nayarita, but his crew revolted because of food shortages. The expedition ended in total failure: the commander was missing, the rest of the crew were slaughtered by Indians, and only three returned.

A month after the birth of his son, Cortés moved to Tehuantepec, where he personally supervised the construction of ships to assist Hurtado. On October 20, 1533, the expedition set out, and the two ships in it received different orders: Hernando de Grijalva was to sail west, where the Pearl Islands were supposedly located, and Diego Beserra de Mendoza (a relative of Cortes” wife) was to look for Hurtado. Grijalva, despite December storms, reached the islands of Revilla Juedo, 600 kilometers off the coast of Mexico. He then crossed Central Polynesia and Melanesia, but managed to return safely. Beserra was killed by a mutinous crew, and the Franciscans who had supported the late commander were beached in Jalisco. This crew reached California, which they mistook for the sought-after pearl island, disembarking at La Paz Bay. The name “California” was given by the navigator of the mutineers, Ortuño Jimenez, who borrowed it from the popular chivalric novel Amadis of Gali. Jimenez and most of the crew were killed by local Indians; the surviving crew members picked up some pearls and tried to make their way back. On their way back they were captured by Nuño de Guzmán.

In April 1535, Cortes personally led the third expedition, which included three ships and about 300 men. In addition to the search for pearls, the conquistador wanted to establish a new colony. Cortes also made the first map of the east coast of California from La Paz Bay and named the new land “Santa Cruz Island.” Cortes never used the name “California,” although it was already in active use by Gomara. The colony could not be established: the local Indians were belligerent, the food supply could not be established, but, as Bernal Diaz wrote, Cortés “never agreed to return … to New Spain, for he feared ridicule and mockery for the fruitlessness of the expedition.

This campaign ended at the request of Cortés” wife, who also reported that the newly appointed viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, arrived in Mexico City on November 14, 1535, demanding Cortés for himself. Cortés placed the colony in the care of Francisco de Ulloa and returned to Tehuantepec harbor in April 1536.

Cortez and Antonio de Mendoza

After the establishment of the viceroyalty, its head, Antonio de Mendoza, was given royal instructions on how to treat Cortés. He was instructed to make a new count of vassals, leaving the official twenty-three thousand, and was ordered to strip Cortés of his position as captain general “if he deemed it useful. An attack on the Franciscans also began: the right of monastic asylum was abolished, papal mail had to be opened, and the founding of new monasteries without royal permission was forbidden.

The relationship between Cortés and Mendoza was at first successful: the Mendoza family was allied to the Zuñiga family, many of its members had participated in the Comunero rebellion, so Cortés retained all possessions and authority. Even in ceremonial matters, according to Juan Suárez de Peralta, in his palace, the former home of Cortés, Mendoza never held the presidency, the Viceroy and the Captain-General sat side by side, but in Cortés” house Mendoza was always the head of the table, they participated in public ceremonies together and competed with each other in the organization of feasts and theatrical performances.

Mendoza took action against Nuño de Guzmán: in March 1536 a new governor, Diego Pérez de la Toppe, was sent to New Galicia. Guzmán was lured to Mexico City, where he was arrested. After his overthrow, Cortes” interests shifted to Peru: according to Gomar, he assisted Francisco Pizarro and even attempted to establish commercial navigation between the coast of Oaxaca and Callao. From 1537 two or three ships a year passed along this route, and permanent commercial agents were active in the ports. In 1539 Cortes tried one last time to send Francisco de Ulloa to explore California, which resulted in his discovery of the Colorado River.

In 1538 the relationship between Cortes and Mendoza broke down. The immediate causes were the viceroy”s monetary policy and the fact that he had sent the governor of New Galicia, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, to search for the legendary golden kingdom of Cibola, which violated the captain-general”s monopoly on military action. In August 1539, the Viceroy of Mendoza established a monopoly on maritime communications and confiscated Cortés” shipyards in Tehuantepec. Sending emissaries to the royal court accomplished nothing, and in November 1539 Cortes decided to return to Spain and explain himself to the king. In addition, on November 30, 1539, Don Carlos Ometochtzin, a Texcocan casino who had been brought up in the home of Cortés, was burned by sentence of the Inquisition Court; he was accused of idolatry and polygamy. Leaving his wife in Mexico, Cortés sailed for Europe in December, accompanied by his mestizo sons Luis and Martin.

Francisco López de Gomara wrote that Cortés returned “rich and with an entourage, but more modest than the last time. He was inducted into the Council of the Indies, of which Cardinal Sigüenza was president, favored by the royal chamberlain Francisco de los Cobos; the conquistador was provided with a house befitting his status in Seville. Cortés drew up a complaint in which he laid out all the claims against the viceroy Mendoza, especially the confiscation of the shipyard and port at Tehuantepec, but the case dragged on. The king”s attitude toward the conquistador is evidenced by an anecdote cited by Voltaire: eclipsed in the crowd of courtiers, Cortes broke through and jumped onto the footboard of the royal carriage. To the king”s indignant question, “Who is this man, and what does he want?” Cortes replied, “This is the same man who has given you more lands than your ancestors left you cities!”

In September 1541 Charles V decided to repeat the success of the capture of Tunisia and attacked Algeria. An armada of more than 500 ships was assembled in the Balearic Islands with 12,000 sailors and 24,000 soldiers – mostly Germans, Italians and Spaniards. The admiral of Castile, Don Henrique Henriquez – a relative of his wife and patron whose house the conqueror lived in – invited Cortes to participate in the campaign. Perhaps he hoped to win back the king”s favor with new military exploits. Cortes” participation in the expedition was described by his confessor de Gomara, who had also been on the expedition.

Despite bad weather, the armada set out to sea on October 21, 1541, and was caught in a two-day storm. It was not until October 24 that the army was able to land and lay siege to the city in incessant downpours. A counterattack by Barbarossa followed on October 26, after which the king decided to retreat, especially since the storm had sunk about 150 ships in the roadstead. Cortes asked permission to lead a Spanish detachment and take the city, but the demoralized monarch did not even invite him to a council of war. The result of the unsuccessful campaign was that the conquistador lost more than 100,000 ducats worth of emeralds during the evacuation-flee. Cortes was, however, honored with a reception in Monson attended by the king (Las Casas wrote about it).

In 1543 Charles V left Spain, passing the regency to his 16-year-old heir Philip. Before his departure, Cortes had time to file several complaints, which concerned compensation from Mendoza and his resignation, the restoration of rights to Mexican possessions and the 1529 grants in full, and the termination of the lawsuit begun as early as Nuño de Guzmán. As a result, the king agreed to send the inspector Francisco Telho de Sandoval to New Spain with a list of 39 charges drawn up by Cortés. The investigation lasted until 1547, but the question of Cortes” majorate was never resolved. Failures continued to haunt Cortés: the marriage of his eldest daughter Maria to Alvaro Perez Osoria, son of the Marquis de Astorga, was upset, although, as Bernal Díaz wrote, Hernán Cortés gave 100,000 ducats as a dowry. Nevertheless, after the departure of Charles V, Cortes spent another year at court and was invited to the wedding of the regent Philip.

On February 3, 1544, a letter from Cortés to the king is dated and was never given to him. It is a kind of summary of the conquistador”s life and deeds.

I have lived without parting with the sword, I have exposed my life to a thousand dangers, I have given my fortune and my life to the service of the Lord, to bring sheep into the fold of the sheep that do not know the Holy Scriptures far from our hemisphere. I have exalted the name of my king, and increased his dominions, bringing under his scepter the vast kingdoms of foreign nations, conquered by me, by my efforts and by my means, without any help from any one else. On the contrary, I was forced to overcome the obstacles and obstacles erected by the envious, sucking my blood, until they were torn, like a satiated leech. For the days and nights of my service to God I have received my due, for He has chosen me to do His will…

In the summer of 1547, Cortés decided to return to Mexico, which he explicitly called his home in a letter to the king. During the years of litigation and the sequestration of the entail he had gone into debt and had to mortgage some of his chattels. In August the conqueror left Madrid for Seville, but because of the noise of the city and the many visitors he moved to Castilleja de la Cuesta to the home of a distant relative, Juan Alonso Rodriguez de Medina. In October he was struck simultaneously by fever and dysentery. On October 11 and 12 he was making his will with the help of a Seville notary public. Cortés demanded that he be buried at his own estate in Coyoacán, New Spain, where the ashes of his mother and son Luis, buried in Texcoco, and of his daughter Catalina, buried in Cuahuaca, were to be transferred. The heir to the majorette, Martin Cortes, was required to provide a dowry for his brothers and sisters, as well as to free his slaves. The construction of the hospital of the Immaculate Conception and Jesus of Nazareth occupied a great deal of space in his will, and Cortes also bequeathed the founding of a university “where theology, canon law and civil law would be studied, so that New Spain might have its own men of learning.

On the night of Friday, December 2, 1547, Cortes died peacefully at the age of about 62. Ten years later, in an Indian codex, such an entry was left by a Spanish friar:

In the year VCXLVII , on December 4, Don Hernando Cortés, Marquis del Valle, died in Castilleja de la Cuesta, the one who was the leader of the .

He spent a total of 28 years in Spain and 34 years in the New World: 15 years in Española and Cuba and 19 in Mexico.

Cortez willed himself to be buried in Mexico. In all, his remains were reburied at least eight times. On Sunday, December 4, 1547, he was buried in the crypt of the Dukes of Medina Sidonia in Seville at the Convent of San Isidoro, with many members of the nobility present. Before being placed in the mausoleum, the coffin was opened so that those present could identify the Marquis. As early as 1550 the remains were moved to the Santa Catarina parish in the same monastery because there was insufficient space in the mausoleum.

In 1566 Cortes”s remains were transported to New Spain, but not to Coyoacán, as he was supposed to in his will, but to Texcoco, where they were buried with his mother and daughter Catalina in the convent of San Francisco. There the remains rested for 63 years. In 1629, the fourth Marquis del Valle, Don Pedro Cortes, died, on whom the direct male line of the Cortes family terminated. It was decided to bury him in the convent of San Francisco in Mexico City, and the then viceroy and archbishop decided to move the remains of Hernán Cortés at the same time. His coffin during 9 days was exposed in the governor”s palace, and then was placed in a niche in the wall of the chapel of the main monastery church, where he remained for the next 87 years. In 1716 the remains were transferred to the altar part of the church, where they remained until 1794. On November 8, 1794, the coffin was transferred with great pomp to the hospital of Jesus of Nazareth, founded by Cortes, where a special mausoleum was erected. On the same day, a bust of Cortés, made by Manuel Tolsa, was placed in front of the mausoleum.

In 1823, after Mexico won its independence, a campaign was launched to destroy the remains of Cortés, with the intention of ceremonially burning them in San Lazaro Square. In this setting, Minister Lucas Alaman and the hospital chaplain, Dr. Joaquin Canales, removed the remains of Cortés from the mausoleum on the night of September 15, 1823, and hid them under the floor of the main altar. The bust of Cortés and his weapons, kept at the tomb, were dismantled and sent to Palermo to the Duke de Terranova, a distant descendant of the conqueror.

In 1836 Cortes” remains were removed from under the altar and placed in a wall niche in the same place where the bust of the conqueror had stood. Lucas Alaman drew up a secret memorandum which he forwarded to the Spanish embassy; for 110 years the place of Cortes” burial remained secret. In 1946, the document was made public by scientists of the University of Mexico – Eusebio Hurtado and Daniel Rubin, who sought to open the burial site and verify its authenticity. On Sunday, November 24, 1946, the niche was opened and on November 28, the remains were transferred by presidential decree to the National Institute of Anthropology for examination. The authenticity of the remains was confirmed and much information was gained from the examination. It turned out that Cortes was a man of less than average height, but of strong build. His teeth were badly affected, especially his incisors and upper canines, and the bones of his right leg bore signs of pathological changes, probably suffering from syphilis as well. On July 9, 1947, Cortez”s remains were returned to the wall niche. His burial is marked with a 1.26 × 0.85 m brass plate with Cortes” coat of arms, his name, and dates of life.

The new King Philip II was an apologist for the Spanishization of the New World, and as a result, in the early 1560s Cortés”s relatives and supporters opposed the policies pursued by Viceroy Luis de Velasco. He was a supporter of the so-called “New Laws” (Nuevas Leyes) and on this basis quarreled with all the descendants of the first conquistadors and the Franciscans, who advocated the autonomy of the Indians under the patronage of the church, not the secular government. The political crisis was exacerbated by the king”s decision that New Spain would be governed jointly by the viceroy and the members of the Audiencia. The executive was paralyzed.

According to C. Duverger, the construction of the Quetzalcoatl myth by Franciscan missionaries, who penetrated deeply into Indian culture and identified their interests with those of the indigenous Mexicans, belongs to this period. The deification of Cortés became possible in connection with the end of the next calendar cycle (the last pre-Hispanic cycle ended in 1502, the new one began in 1559). The idea of Cortes as the incarnation of the god who came to reclaim his possessions also meant the legitimization of the position of the first generation of Mexican conquistadors. A reworked version of the myth, in which Cortés”s personality was mixed with that of Quetzalcoatl, was present in popular Mexican culture in the twentieth century.

All three of Cortes” sons had lived in Spain since the 1540s, but they returned to the New World in August 1562. Their main ally was Geronimo de Valderrama, the vizitador controller, who was to deal with the deficiencies allowed by Viceroy Velasco. Don Martin Cortes, the second Marquis del Valle, ordered the transport of his father”s remains to Mexico before his departure. In October, the Cortes brothers arrived in Campeche, where they were received by Francisco de Montejo, son of the conqueror and adelantado of Yucatán. The Marquis del Valle arrived in Mexico on January 17, 1563.

The arrival of Martin Cortés in Mexico actually led to civil war: the viceroy demanded that the marquis surrender his official seal, in response he appeared at a meeting of the controller Valderrama with his father”s standard, which the viceroy tried to take away on the grounds that no one dared to tamper with the king”s coat of arms and banner. As a result, the viceroy was removed from power and died in 1564. Power was temporarily transferred to the Audiencia, after which the municipality of Mexico City, in a letter to the king of August 31, proposed to abolish the office of viceroy and replace it with a dual structure of governor and captain-general. Valderrama was proposed as governor and supreme judge, and Don Martin Cortes as captain-general.

Martin Cortes took a wait-and-see attitude in this environment, and it ended with the withdrawal of the controller Valderrama in 1566. On April 5, 1566, Velasco”s son exposed the plot in writing, but the Audiencia behaved indecisively. On July 16, 1566, Martin was arrested by Seinos, chairman of the Audiencia, and on the same day the mestizo brothers Luis and Martin Cortes were arrested, and with them about 60 of their supporters. On August 3, the sons of Cortes were sentenced to death by beheading.

On September 17, 1566, a new viceroy, Gastón de Peralta, landed in Veracruz, who turned out to be a supporter of Cortés. He disbanded the troops of the Audiencia and stopped the trials and abolished the death sentences. The Marquis del Valle was exiled to Spain. In November 1567, a new auditor, Alonso Muñoz, arrived in Mexico City, resumed the trial and tortured the first-born mestizo Martin Cortés, his property was confiscated, and he himself was exiled to Spain. The Council of the Indies decided to liquidate the Mexican feudal estate of Cortés (retaining his title) and sentenced the Marquis to a fine of 150,000 ducats.

Geographic objects

The pass between the volcanoes Popocatepetl and Istaxihuatl is named after Cortes. The Gulf of California is still called the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.


The first voluminous biography of Cortés was written after his death by his personal confessor Francisco López de Gomara – it was History of the Conquest of Mexico, published in Zaragoza in 1552, three editions sold out within a year. On November 17, 1553 Regent Philip forbade the distribution of the book, a ban which lasted until 1808. In the 1560s, as a reaction to Gomar”s popular work, histories of the conquest of Mexico were written by Francisco Cervantes de Salazar (Mexico City, 1566), Suárez Peralta, and Bernal Díaz del Castillo. These works, however, were printed much later. The works of the Franciscan historians Toribio de Benavente (Motolinia) and Bernardino de Sahagún, reflecting an Indian view of the events, remained unpublished until the nineteenth century. It should be borne in mind that the Franciscan chroniclers fully justified Cortés” actions and, moreover, gave them a providential interpretation. It was not until 1749 that Andrés González de Barcia dared to publish Cortés”s second, third, and fourth relativities in a collection of the Original Historiographers of the East Indies.

Another attitude to Cortes was established by Bartolomé de las Casas, who knew him personally, in whose works the conqueror was presented almost as a devil, but even so, his work was not printed in Spain until the beginning of the nineteenth century. A negative approach prevailed in the “Black Legend” created in the Protestant countries of Europe. The ambivalent attitude toward Cortes persisted into the early twenty-first century. In the historiography of modern times, the American historian William Prescott expressed a benchmark attitude to the personality of Cortes. His monumental History of the Conquest of Mexico (1843) was written from the perspective of positivist historiography, that is, it was supposed to carry a moral lesson. It appeared that Europeans were able to conquer the Mexican natives because of their not only technical, but also intellectual and moral superiority. Cortes was described by Prescott as the model of the white European: harsh and when necessary, ruthless but pragmatic, a direct possessor of a strategic mind, a rationalist capable of making quick decisions. His only flaw from the point of view of a nineteenth-century American was his Catholic faith.

On the contrary, Mexican historians since the beginning of the nineteenth century have not concealed a negative attitude to Cortes, up to the point of completely denying the reliability of the information reported in his relays (this approach is characteristic, for example, of E. Guzmán and many others). In 2003 the French Americanist Christian Duverger published his biography of Cortes, in which he tried to present him as an educated Renaissance man, sincerely disposed to Native American culture and very liberal by the standards of his time. In 2005 this book was published in Russian translation in the series “Lives of Wonderful People. In 2013 he published a new book, Cortès and His Double: An Investigation into a Mystification. (fr. Cortès et son double: Enquête sur une mystification), in which he proves that Bernal Díaz”s True Story of the Conquest of New Spain was in fact written by Cortés.

Fine Art. Literature and Music

Cortes became a literary character early on, first mentioned as such in the second volume (Chapter VIII) of his novel The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel Cervantes:

…What compelled the valiant Spaniards, whose leader was the most courteous Cortes, to sink their ships and remain on a deserted shore? All these and other great and various feats were, are and will be acts of glory, and glory is presented to mortals as a kind of immortality…

Lope de Vega created the plays The Conquests of Cortés and The Marquis del Valle. In the twentieth century at least three plays about Cortés were created. In the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries Cortés was often the inspiration of poets, both Mexican and Spanish. Among many are the poems “The New World and the Conquista” by Francisco de Terrazas, “The Indian Pilgrim” by Antonio de Saavedra Guzmán (1599), “Mercury” by Arias de Villalobos (1623), and “Hernandia” by Francisco Ruiz de León (1755). During the Romantic era, Antonio Hurtado published a collection of 20 poems called The Ballads of Hernán Cortés (1847). In contrast, the image of Cortés in Heinrich Heine”s poem “Witzli Puzzly” (1851) from the collection “Romancero” is clearly influenced by the “black legend”.

According to Manuel Alcala, of all Spaniards, only Don Quixote and El Cid were more popular than Cortés with authors of operas and musical dramas and comedies. Even Antonio Vivaldi wrote the opera Montezuma (it was staged in Venice in 1783). On average, musical works dedicated to Cortés were published once in 15-20 years until the middle of the 19th century.

Monuments to Cortés exist in his native Medellín, in Madrid and in Naples, where his bust was moved from Mexico. In 1981 an attempt was made to restore the monument to Cortés at the Hospital of Jesus of Nazareth in Mexico City, but it had to be quickly removed because of protests; the same fate befell the statue of Cortés in the central square in Coyoacán in 1982, even though the conqueror was depicted with Malinche and their mestizo son. The central street in Cuernavaca, running from Cortés” castle, bears his name, but his equestrian monument is located near the shopping center. According to Leonardo Tarifeño, the equestrian statue is not associated with the image of the conqueror and is even confused with Don Quixote. In 1935, a monument to Cortés was erected in Lima”s main square, but it is now renamed in honor of Francisco Pizarro. Cortes” images in monumental painting were embodied by Diego Rivera (he also painted Cortes” palace in Cuernavaca in the 1920s) and José Clemente Orozco, but their frescoes depict the conqueror as a monster.


In 2020, a biopic about Cortez, starring Javier Bardem, will be filmed in Mexico.


  1. Кортес, Эрнан
  2. Hernán Cortés
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