Hernan Cortes

Hernan Cortes

Early Life and Journey to the New World

  • Hernan Cortes was born in Medellin, Spain in 1485. He came from a family of minor nobility.
  • In 1504, aged 19, he travelled to the New World as part of the second expedition to the region led by Nicolas de Ovando, the then governor of Hispaniola.

First Contact with the Aztecs

  • In 1518, Cortes was appointed to lead an expedition to Mexico. His goal was to explore the interior of the country and establish peaceful trade relations with the indigenous people.
  • Instead of following orders, he defied the Governor of Cuba and embarked on a self-initiated campaign of conquest against the Aztecs.
  • Cortes used alliances with certain tribes, enemies of the Aztecs, to gather intelligence and military support. His key ally was the Tlaxcala.

Conquest of the Aztec Empire

  • In November 1519, Cortes and his men, including their indigenous allies, arrived at the Aztecs’ main city, Tenochtitlán. Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II initially welcomed them, possibly because he believed Cortes was a god, as prophesied by Aztec legends.
  • Cortes took Moctezuma hostage to take control of the city but the Spanish had to escape during a revolt known as the Noche Triste.
  • Cortes returned in 1521 with a large army, including his indigenous allies. After a three-month siege, Tenochtitlán fell to Cortes.

Impact of the Conquest

  • The fall of Tenochtitlán marked the end of the independent Aztec Empire. Cortes renamed it Mexico City and it became the centre of Spanish control in the region.
  • Cortes’ conquest led to a significant cultural and genetic exchange between the Old and New Worlds.
  • However, it also led to the imposition of Spanish culture and Catholicism on the indigenous population, and the destruction of many aspects of Aztec culture. Furthermore, European diseases brought by the Spaniards, like smallpox, decimated the indigenous population.

Later Life

  • Cortes was appointed the governor and captain general of New Spain in 1522 by the Spanish King Charles I, becoming one of the richest men in the New World.
  • He returned to Spain in 1541 and spent most of his later life in a lengthy struggle for recognition and reward from the Spanish court for his role in the conquest.
  • Cortes died in 1547, near Seville, Spain. His ambivalent legacy includes his crucial role in the Spanish conquest of the Americas and the transformation of Mexico’s history.