The Life Of Hernando Cortes Essay Research

The Life Of Hernando Cortes Essay, Research Paper

Hernando Cortes was born in 1485 in a town called Medellin in Extremadura Spain. During the time of Cortes youth, the town of his birth was like the setting of a carnival for a growing boy (Marks 3). Medellin was the home of an old castle from the days of the wars between the Spanish and the Moors; the young boys of the town found this castle most entertaining. Later in his life Cortes started attending the University of Salamanca in Salamanca, Spain. His law school years were cut short in 1501 when he decided to try his luck in the New World. In the spring of 1504, Cortes set sail for the land of Cuba. After arriving in Cuba in 1511, he joined the Spanish soldiers and Administrator Diego Velasquez in the conquest of the land, and there he became mayor of Santiago de Cuba. In 1518 he persuaded Velasquez to give him command to the expedition of Mexico that had recently been discovered by Juan de Grijalva, nephew of Velasquez.

Despite Velasquez s cancellation on his payment to Cortes due to suspicion that he was exploring and discovering for his own glory, Cortes set sail west from Cuba on February 19, 1519. Cortes took with him about 600 men, less than 20 horses, and 10 field pieces. Cortes sailed along the east coast of Yucatan and in March 1519 landed in Mexico and quickly neutralized the town of Tabasco. The artillery, the ships, and especially the horses had the natives captivated from the minute they landed. Quickly after Cortes had taken Tabasco, the natives began telling him the stories of the Aztecs and their ruler Montezuma. These intriguing stories struck Cortes attention, and he began asking more questions about these mysterious Aztecs.

At the beginning of Cortes search for the Aztecs, he and his men took many of the locals captive, one of which they found special, so they baptized her and renamed her Marina. Marina quickly became Cortes lover and out of loyalty to him also served as his interpreter, Translator, Guide, and Counselor. Cortes and his men quickly found a better harbor spot a little North of San Juan, this spot would be named La Villa Rica De La Vera Cruz, or The Rich Village Of The Vera Cruz. Later this name would be shortened to Vera Cruz. Just as Velasquez had predicted, Cortes went off on his own, and abandoned the authority of everyone else in the new world. Using some strategic thinking, Cortes quickly eliminated some of his less trustworthy men, for fear that they would rise up against his personal crusade in Mexico. Shortly after eliminating these men, Cortes began his historic march to inner Mexico. Despite a peace agreement with Montezuma, Cortes began his march toward the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan. On his way to Tenochtitlan, Cortes took control of a tribe of natives known as the Tlascalans. These Tlascans were quickly made allies to Spain due mostly to the fact that they were enemies of the native Aztecs.

Throughout Cortes march Montezuma had hoped for a treaty of peace. Not getting the same interest from Cortes, Montezuma stayed peaceful, was determined to wait on the Spanish, and to find out more about their purpose in Mexico. On November 8, 1519, Cortes and his men finally entered the Aztec capital and created a Spanish stronghold. Upon entering the capital city, Cortes was looked at by the Aztecs as a god, whose return had been prophesized for many generations. Cortes gave his men privilege to wander among the village on their own. Despite a friendly welcome from the Aztecs, Cortes still feared an Aztec uprising against his establishment. In order to keep himself and his troops safe, Cortes took Montezuma hostage and demanded a hefty ransom of gold and jewel s. In April of 1520, Cortes found out that another Spaniard came to Mexico, of course Cortes was very displeased with this, and he decided to leave the Aztec capital to meet his competition at the shore. Upon receiving his competition, Cortes convinced all of the opposing forces to abandon prior orders, and join his troops.

While he was away from the Aztec capital, Cortes temporary replacement was turning his rule into a tyranny. Cortes man, Pedro de Alvarado, was treating the Aztec people as animals, and the Aztecs were beginning to speak of an uprising. The rumor of revolt quickly turned into an all out Aztec revolt against Cortes troops. Cortes quickly returned to his camp in the capital city, and joined Alvarado in his battle. Shortly after joining up with Alvarado, Cortes and his men were surrounded and attacked. Cortes quickly asked Montezuma to come to his aid, and Montezuma agreed to help. The Aztec ruler pleaded with his people to end the uprisings, but his people would have none of it. Montezuma was seen as a deserter, and he was stoned to death by a group of his outraged people.

Shortly after the death of Montezuma, an Aztec by the name of Guatamztzin led a group of Aztecs in driving the Spaniards out of the Aztec capital on approximately June 30, 1520. This small force of Aztec rebels drove the Spaniards all the way to Otumba and as far back as Tlaxcala, but in July of 1520, the Spaniards overcame the Aztec force and regrouped in this village of Tlaxcala.

Cortes took some time to reorganize in Tlaxcala, and then he began his march back to the Aztec capital. Cortes took every Aztec village on his way back to the capital, making a Spanish stronghold out of each one of them. During August of 1521, after a three-month stand off between the Spanish and the Aztecs, the Aztec empire finally fell and with it went Tenochtiltlan. After the fall of the Aztec Empire, Cortes had Tenochitlan destroyed and established Mexico City on it s ruins. The march of Cortes gained much fame back in Spain, but not as much fame as the wealth Cortes brought back from the looting of the Aztecs.

After a few years of enjoying his wealth and popularity, Cortes need to conquer once again got the best of him. In 1526 Cortes began his expedition to Honduras; however, his new expedition was cut short when the Spanish rule finally decided to start investigating Cortes practices in the new world. After a short investigation, Cortes was called back to Spain, and he was ordered to give up his position of civil governor of Mexico. Soon after he gave up his civil position, Cortes married and supposedly settled down in Spain. While living in Spain, Cortes was constantly monitored and checked up on. After only a short time of being a married man, the Spanish government began taking wares from Cortes and challenging his rights as a Spanish citizen. With his popularity declining and his rights being challenged by the aristocracy, Cortes went back to his exploring ways. In 1536 Cortes began exploring the Baja peninsula in California, but his plea to continue exploring was denied. Cortes quickly returned to Spain to complain about the limitations on his exploration, but this time his argument was to no avail. In 1541 Cortes left on an expedition to Algiers, an expedition that would prove to be his most useless yet. Cortes returned to Spain only to be virtually ignored by the public and the Spanish court. Cortes retired to his estate near Seville, the place where he would remain until his death in 1547.

Cortes: The Great Adventurer and the Fate of Aztec Mexico was an elaborate and accurate portrayal of the life and times of Hernando Cortes. Richard Lee Marks did a great job of giving his audience a detailed biography of the man Cortes was, and the things he will be remembered for. Marks made it clear that in his eyes, Cortes was not the looting, plundering murderer that historians make him out to be, he was merely a man with an enormous desire to explore and discover. If Marks showed any bias at all, it was in favor of the reputation of Cortes. Especially towards the end of his work, Marks made it clear that Cortes was not a barbarian, but a man concerned with the well being of his family, and where he stood with God almighty. We have yet to discuss Hernando Cortes in class, so I cant exactly say how well Marks book will compare to the information we will cover. I can say that the book came with a rather extensive bibliography, which gives great credibility to the information included in the book.

Towards the very back of the book, I found a short passage about the author Richard Lee Marks. The passage states Richard Lee Marks has lived in Mexico, Peru, Argentina and Spain and has traveled extensively through Central America. He has written for magazines and newspapers and, in addition to writing, has been an oil-and-gas wildcatter, a theatrical producer and a school director. His most recent book is Three Men of the Beagle . He holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and now lives in Topeka, Kansas. All of this information has led me to believe that Mr. Marks is a credible author and more-so someone with first hand knowledge of some of the text (due to the time he spent in Mexico and Spain). The text of the book was put together very well, it was easy enough to read, and in-depth enough to complete a report on. There were 24 photographs and 3 maps in the book, but due to the sophistication of the grammar and the overall education level of the text, I would not recommend this book for anyone under the age of 16, unless they are reading at a higher level than an average 16 year old. The book was written in 1993, and does not appear dated. The book includes a complete bibliography, table of contents, and an index, all of which aided greatly in the overall readability of the text.

As I have previously stated, I would not recommend this book to anyone under the age of 16. I feel it is an excellent work for anyone with at least a high school degree, and an especially excellent work for anyone wanting to learn more about Hernando Cortes. Throughout this book review I learned many new and interesting things about the life and times of Hernando Cortes. Since we have yet to cover Cortes in class I cant say exactly how the material I read will track with the material we will read. It does seem fairly obvious that if we read factual information, it should track well with everything I have written and wrote about.


Marks, Richard Lee. Cortes: The Great Adventurer and the Fate of Aztec Mexico.

New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.


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