Hernan Cortes Essay, Research Paper
Conquering of the Aztec Empire “There is no way but up, there is no retreat. We must go forward to Mexico and see if this great Montezuma is as great as he proclaims himself to be”(Chapter 2). Cortes told his men this when they were considering mutiny because of suffering from devastating fevers and constant Indian attacks. After Cortes’s powerful statement the men then cried out, “forward, to Mexico, to Mexico”(Chapter 2). This was not, by any means Cortes’s first exploration. He was a very experienced sailor and conquistador. He sailed to Santa Domingo in the Spring of 1504, and later in 1511 he joined with Diego Vel zquez in the conquest of Cuba where Vel zquez became the governor. Cortes wanted to return to the newly discovered land of Mexico to explore. His expedition to Mexico, as a conquistador in search of gold, resulted in the conquering of the Aztec Empire and the death of their emperor, Montezuma II. Vel zquez did not want to give him command of the mission for fear that he would refuse to remain under Cuban authority so he canceled Cortes’s commission. However, Cortes was determined to reach Mexico and set sail in spite of Vel zquez’s efforts. In the Spring of 1519 Cortes set off from Cuba on his expedition of eleven ships, five hundred and fifty soldiers, sixteen horses, and fourteen pieces of artillery. Cortes, unknowingly, was about to set off on an epic adventure with himself being the perfect Machiavellian blend of will power and good luck (Chapter 1). They reached Mexico far south of their destination so they sailed along the coast of the Yucat n. “The fleet held its course so near the shore, that the inhabitants could be seen on it; as it swept along the winding borders of the gulf, the soldiers, who had been on the former expedition with Grijalva, pointed out to their companions the memorable places on the coast”(Prescott 1). In March of 1519, the expedition reached the Mexican town of Tabasco. They learned from the native inhabitants of the all-powerful Aztec Empire and their magnificent ruler Montezuma II. Montezuma was the second grandson of the preceding monarch. He was elected to the regal dignity in 1502 over his older brothers because he processed superior qualifications as both a priest and a solider. The combination of a priest and a soldier was common for a person of power in Mexico during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Prescott 4). While in Tabasco, Cortes took many captives, including a young native girl called Malinche. Cortes and his men later baptized her and gave her the name Marina. She was born in Painalla on the south-eastern borders of the Ruling Empire. Marina acted as guide, interpreter, and mistress to Cortes. Leaving Tabasco, they set sail for a new harbor. The fleet landed a little north of San Juan, on Good Friday, where they established a town that they called La Villa Rica de La Vera Cruz. The town is now known just as Veracruz (Wilkerson 1). Cortes created an independent government and renounced authority to Vel zquez, governor of Cuba. He then only acknowledged the Spanish crown. This was a very radical act by Cortes and many of his men did not agree with him. To ensure that word did not reach back to Cuba and to keep his men from deserting he destroyed the entire fleet of eleven ships. On August 16th, 1519, they began the march northwest to Tenochtitlan. The path in which they chose to travel was a difficult one leading beyond the mighty volcanoes of Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl (Chapter 2). As they marched toward the great Aztec Empire several thousands of Indians from various tribes joined in the chance to rebel against the powerful Aztecs. Finally after Marching two hundred and fifty miles, they had realized their destination. “It was the awesome sight of the city on the lake: It seemed like an enchanted vision, this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen, or even dreamed of before.” The city was an island with beautiful homes, soaring temples, and interwoven avenues. Surrounding the city was four square miles of lake making the city only accessible by causeways. Cortes and his army followed the causeway that led into
the city. It was wide with walls on each side, and straight enough to see from on end to another. Before reaching the city they were met on the causeway by Montezuma and his two hundred lords (Pagden 1). Montezuma walked down the middle of the path with lords on each side of him walking in lines one behind the other. Montezuma shockingly greeted him “Welcome,” he said, “we have been waiting for you. This is your home.” Montezuma believed that Cortes was Quetzalcoat. The legend follows that Quetzalcoat, a legendary god-king who was light-skinned and bearded, would one day return to the East. The Aztecs mistook Cortes for this god and proclaimed him their ruler. During the weeks which Cortes ruled the Aztecs he took Montezuma II as a hostage, and forced him to swear allegiance to Charles I, the king of Spain, so the Aztecs would not follow him in cause of a revolt. Cortes began ordering Aztec symbols to be destroyed and to be replaced by Christian ones (Chapter 2). Vel zquez had reached word of Cortes’s actions, and quickly released an expedition of two hundred men to Mexico under the Spanish soldier Panfilo de Naravaez. After reaching word about Naravaez, in April of 1520, Cortes left approximately two hundred of his men at Tenochtitlan and gave command to Pedro de Alvarado. Cortes and What remained of his men journeyed back to the coast, and during the cover of the night, captured Naravaez and eventually persuaded many of the Spaniards to join them in conquering the Aztecs. While Cortes was away Alvarado was not doing well as commander. His strict rules forced the Aztecs, who greatly outnumbered the soldiers, to revolt. Upon Cortes’s return, he was allowed to enter the city before the Aztecs launched their attack. In an effort to subdue the attack Cortes convinced Montezuma to reason with the enraged Aztecs. His efforts were unsuccessful, in fact, he was stoned by his own people and died three agonizing days later. Cuauhtemoc, Montezuma’s nephew and the rightful heir, gathered the Aztec forces and easily drove out the Spanish from the city on the night of June 30, 1520 (Cortes 2). Cortes and his troops retreated back to Vera Cruz were they spent the summer organizing their army, recovering from injures suffered, and gaining reinforcements from all over Mexico. There were many vassal kings, who once owed allegiance to the Emperor, who was now died, that gave support to the Spanish. After recovering, Cortes’s army pushed their way back towards the city of Tenochtitlan defeating small groups of Aztec soldiers along their way. Finally, on August 13, 1521, after three gruesome months of battle, the sword and armor were victorious against the Aztecs who new nothing of western weapons. Cuauhtemoc, the recently appointed emperor, was captured and Tenochtitlan was conquered. The ruins of Tenochtitlan were completely leveled and Cortes built upon it Mexico City. Colonists from Spain were brought to Mexico City to begin a colony that would soon turn into a lustrous city. Cortes gained instant popularity and fame. Not only did he conquer new land, but because of him Spain gained all the riches of the Aztec Empire. In 1523 Cortes was named the Captain General and governor of New Spain. 1528 brought on an investigation of his acts and he was forced to step down as governor of Mexico (Cortes 2). He was able to remain his title as Captain General of Mexico, but nearly all his property and possessions were ceased by the Spanish crown. A few years later Cortes marries the daughter of the count of Aguilar and in 1530 they return to Mexico. He and his wife end of living in a small house in a small town, where he dies. Cortes will always be remembered as an explorer and conquistador who went to Mexico in search of gold and glory and ended up conquering the Aztec Empire.