Essay, Research Paper
Cortes; Conquistador, Conspirator, and Christian
In 1485 Spain was finally able to relax after the recapture of their country from the Muslim Moors who had ruled for the last eight hundred years. With this victory Spain could now begin to once again re-establish its Christian monarchy. In this same year in the town of Medellin, Spain was born Hernando Cortes also (Fernando Cortes or even Hernan Cortes). Cortes was greatly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church as well as his strong sense of nationalism and would grow up to become a conquistador, some would argue perhaps the greatest conquistador who ever lived. So it came to be that Hernando Cortes would journey far beyond the shores of Spain in search of lands and treasures to claim in the name of Spain and his God and to earn his place in history as well as his fortune.
At this time Spain was not a unified country though the people were proud not only of their Spanish heritage but also of the region from which they came. In an attempt to unify the various factions within Spain, who were often at war with one another, Ferdinand of Argon who was king took Isabella of Castille as his wife and queen who together were dubbed the Catholic Kings by the Pope. The Spaniards were also very devoted to the Roman Catholic Church, it was after all by the grace of God that the Spaniards were able to drive out and defeat the much better equipped armies of the Moors (Marks 4-7).
In 1492 the Italian voyager Christopher Columbus came to Ferdinand and Isabella and asked them to finance a great voyage. Due to miscalculations by the scientists of the time Columbus believed that you could sail west across the Atlantic Ocean and uninterruptedly arrive at the shores of India (Marks 8-9). After reluctance at first, the Royal family agreed and outfitted Columbus with a crew and three. Columbus struck out on his voyage and in October of 1942 he arrived on the shores of a New World.
However, this New World was only new to the peoples of Europe. Its inhabitants had occupied the lands of this New World for thousands of years. This world, that would come to be known as the Americas, was a world that was flourishing with civilizations and populated by a variety of peoples whose cultures were as deeply rooted and as viable as any in Europe (Viola 12). In some ways the people of this New World were even more civilized than the Europeans. The Aztec people of this New World knew the importance of hygiene, they bathed regularly and even practiced oral hygiene, in contrast their European counter parts seldom engaged in such activities. (Verano and Ubelaker 222-223) The natives of the Americas were making great advances in such areas as science, math, astrology and city planning. This was the world whose proud peoples who were ruled by warrior kings that would rival any of those found in Europe. Due to Columbus belief that he had landed on the shores of India these people would come to be known as Indians. (Walsh and Sugiura 22) This world and its people would play a prominent role in the life of Hernan Cortes.
Hernando Cortes was the son of Dona Catalina Pizarro Altimarano Cortes and Martin Cortes de Monroy. While as proud as any Spaniards of their time the Cortes were of less than noble means although Martin would often refer to himself as a hidalgo, a Spanish term for a man from the lower nobility. Wanting a better life for their son, Martin and Catalina decided that even though they could not quite afford it, Hernan should attend the University at Salamanca and study the law. So at the age of fourteen, Hernan was sent off to lodge with a relative who lived near the university and begin his studies. While attending this institution of higher education young Hernan excelled at his studies. Hernan soon found that only was he extremely capable of learning the law and other fields of academia but that he was even better at learning swordplay and the other militaristic arts of warfare. However, after only two years Hernan grew tired of his studies and life at the university, and returned home much to the chagrin of his parents. (Marks 13-14). The skills of negotiating and warfare that Cortes learned while attending Salamanca would later serve Hernan well for it was his wit as well as his might that would aid him in the Conquest of Mexico.
After his return to Medellin arrangements were made for Cortes to travel in entourage of Nicolas de Ovando who was to be appointed governor of the Indies. However, due to illness Hernan missed his chance to sail with Ovando. In 1504 after recovering from his illness Hernan booked passage with a trader that was taking a load of cargo to the Indies this was a voyage Hernan was not to miss. (Marks 14-15)
Upon arrival on the island the Spaniards had named Hispaniola; Hernan promptly met with Governor Ovando. Due to his legal training at Salamanca the governor appointed young Cortes to the town council of Azua, and introduced him to a man named Don Diego Velazquez. de Cuellar. Velazquez and Cortes would soon form a friend ship and when Velazquez had obtained permission to send an army to a neighboring island the Spaniards would come to call Cuba he chose Cortes to spearhead the operation. In return for his service in securing Cuba Velazquez, after being named governor of Cuba, granted Cortes a small parcel of land and an equally small allotment of Indians. (Marks 19-20)
After the settling of Cuba was well in progress, there arrived one day a lady by the name of Suarez who was accompanied by her four young daughters and a son. The lady presented herself to Governor Velazquez who in turn gave them a small parcel of land and some Indians that that could share with the man who would guide them and help them establish themselves in this New World. This man of course was Hernan Cortes. (Marks 21)
Cortes soon became romantically involved with not one but two of the Suarez sisters, one of whom was Catalina. This did not bode well with the Governor who implored Cortes to marry Catalina. Catalina then field papers with the court to sue Cortes for failing to fulfill his promise to marry her. After hearing the testimony of others who spoke up affirming her position that Cortes had asked for her hand in marriage the Governor sided with Catalina. Refusing to proceed with a marriage the Governor had Cortes arrested and imprisoned. While in prison Cortes vowed he would get even with Velazquez. Cortes managed to escape prison not once but twice. After the second escape Cortes tracked down Velazquez and confronted him but, rather than coming to blows the two men once again renewed their friendship. Cortes after holding out for over a year finally gave in and with Velazquez as the sponsor of his wedding married Catalina Suarez (Marks 20-23). While on the surface it would appear that Velazquez and Cortes had renewed their friendship and put the differences aside time would show quite the opposite to be true.
Surprisingly it had taken the Spaniards twenty-five years after Columbus initial discovery of this New World to discover that the true riches were not in the islands of the Indies but lay waiting for them in the yet uncharted land to the west. Velazquez, wanting more Indians for his farm and more riches for his coffers, after gaining permission from the son of Columbus who had say so in such matters as the heir to his father domain, sent out expeditions to this new land. Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba headed the first of these explorations; Juan de Grijalva was captain-general of the second. Both of these men returned to Cuba with stories of new lands and Indians who would trade gold for beads. (Diaz 15-42, Marks 24)
After seeing the success of the first two journeys Velazquez began to put together a much larger fleet a fleet that would consist of ten ships. There was one very important decision that Velazquez must make, who was to be commissioned as Captain General. Who ever was chosen must be a man of honor and courage, and man who Velazquez could trust to return to Cuba with all the riches that would be gathered. After much coaxing by two his most trusted aides and much to the chagrin of his family Velazquez bestowed the commission on Cortes. The aides had agreed with Cortes that in return for exerting their influence on the Governor they would receive from Cortes a share of the treasure. (Diaz 44)
Members of the Governors family were very disappointed with the Governor s decision to give such a prestigious appointment to Cortes. Many of them felt that they were extremely more qualified for the position and would certainly be considerably more loyal to the Governor. While preparations for the voyage were underway the Governors family were constantly trying to persuade him to rethink his appointment of Cortes and revoke his commission. When it became apparent that this ceaseless pressuring was beginning to make the Governor change his mind, Cortes, in the cover of darkness gathered together his captains, pilots soldiers and sailors and told them to be prepared to leave early the next morning. Then after hearing mass on the morning of 10 February 1519 Cortes set sail. (Diaz 48-49)
Cortes being forced to leave before sufficient supplies could be stored, Cortes first set out for Trinidad and from there he would proceed on to Havana. During his visits to both these ports Cortes learned that Velazquez had revoked his commission, ordered the fleet detained and he be arrested by the authorities. However, Cortes with the promise of a share of the treasure that lay ahead, convinced the authorities, that include members of Velazquez own family, to ignore the Governors orders and allow him proceed. Cortes with his fleet now consisting of eleven ships, a crew and army of 600 men, along with seventeen horses and eleven cannons set sail and headed west. (Diaz 49-56) The art of negotiations that Cortes had learned at Salamanca proved to be useful. If the authorities in either of these ports had chose to carry out the Governors orders Cortes journey would have been short lived.
Cortes first port in this new land was on the island of Cozumel while there Cortes gained the services of a translator, a Spaniard who years earlier had washed ashore after a shipwreck and been enslaved. While his knowledge of the land was weak he had learned the natives tongue well. From Cozumel, Cortes would sail up the coast and encounter Indians in the ports of Tabasco and San Juan de Ulua. At Tabasco and again at San Juan de Ulua Cortes would enter into deadly battle with the Indians. Always severely outnumbered Cortes with his superior battle plans and weaponry were to emerge victorious. During each battle Cortes would capture some Indians who he would later use as messengers. Cortes would send back these captives to tell their chieftains that is was not war that Cortes was after but rather peace. This was a tactic that would prove quite successful to Cortes for after persistently sending back captives Cortes always was able to secure peace with the Indians. Once peace was secured Cortes would perform the ritual of marking the land and claiming it for Spain in the name of God and the King. Cortes began to leave out the name as Velazquez in his ritual there by placing himself directly under the protection and authority of only the King. This angered some of the men, who were loyal to Velazquez however, Cortes was able to use his artful tongue and bring these men into his fold. (Diaz 57-83)
While staying with the Indians Cortes would preach to them of how they should abandon their idols and begin to worship the one true God and his blessed mother Mary. Cortes would then clean out one of their temples and erect an altar on which he would place an image of Mary as well as a crucifix. Cortes would then preach to them and in turn consign the care of these sacred objects to the Indians. Cortes would also engage in trade with the Indians who in return for some glass beads would give Cortes a treasure of gold. Gold was not the only valuable that Cortes would receive from the Indians. After his battle with the Tabasco the Indians presented Cortes with twenty maidens, among them was a maiden who after being baptized into the Christian faith took the name Dona Marina. Not only would this women become very loyal to Cortes and serve him faithfully she would come to bare him a child, a son who Cortes would name Don Martin Cortes. (Diaz 77-83) This treasure would prove pivotal in Cortes conquest of Mexico.
While at San Juan de Ulua, Cortes would finally meet up with a Governor of Montezuma named Tendile. Cortes had been hearing much about this man Montezuma; he was the ruler of the Aztec Empire, and the very lands Cortes had been exploring. He was a mighty warrior who had many lords and vassals who paid him homage and his empire was rich with gold. Cortes talked with Tendile and told him of how Cortes king who lived far across the ocean knew of the great king Montezuma and his empire Mexico. This made the governor recall the story of a once great Aztec deified king called Quetzalcoatl who in shame was forced to leave his people and sail away. But Quetzalcoatl vowed that he would one-day return in the year 1 reed and resume his rightful place on the throne. Cortes expressed his desire to meet with this great king and sent back many gifts to Montezuma, which included a fine Spanish chair that Montezuma could sit during their meeting along with a Spaniard helmet that Tendile so admired. (Marks 59)
Tendile departed with Cortes message and after about ten days he returned. In a meeting with Cortes, and his official entourage Tendile presented them with fabulous treasures as a gift from Montezuma. The gifts from Montezuma sent back to Cortes were truly magnificent. There was a circle of gold as big as a wagon wheel as well as one of silver that was even larger, golden statues, priceless gems, and many other items including the helmet given to Tendile, only upon its return it was filled with gold. But along with these gifts came Montezuma s message that there would be no meeting. Furthermore the Spaniards while welcome to stay along the coast and trade with his people were to quickly finish their business and leave. Cortes made yet another plea for a meeting and sent off more gifts to the Aztec monarch. When Tendile once again returned he presented Cortes with even more gifts and relayed to Cortes that while Montezuma was pleased that such great men from so far away knew of him and his people, there would be no meeting. Cortes then gave presents back to Tendile but was disappointed that he had been shunned by Montezuma for after seeing the amount of gold he had sent Cortes was sure there were some healthy mines in this area. (Diaz 88-96)
Since Cortes refused Montezuma s request, that he conclude his business and go home, Montezuma sent orders to the local Indians that they were not to supply Cortes and his men with food nor aid them in any other way. Since food was becoming a problem many of Cortes men began to suggest that it was time for them to return to Cuba. Once there the treasure could be presented to the Governor and divided. They could also rest and begin to amass a larger fleet for another expedition. May of them believed that a venture into the Mexican highland at this time was sure to meet with disaster. Cortes knew that if he was to return to Cuba now he would be ruined. He believed that Velazquez would not only seize all the treasure but that he would be thrown into jail for his treason. So Cortes made a deal with his men, he agreed with them that is was time to leave but rather than sail back to Cuba they would sail north. If this proved to be fruitless and no port in which to trade with Indians could be found they would set sail for Cuba. (Marks 64-65)
Eventually Cortes and his men pulled into a miserable little cove where Cortes ordered the ships be anchored and unloaded of their cargo. Felling pressured by his situation Cortes knew he needed to take some action that assure him of his treasure. Cortes then called together those who were not loyal to Velazquez and once again entered into a conspiracy that would cheat the Governor. Cortes and these men drew up a charter that would establish the town of Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, translated meaning the Rich Town of the True Cross. Once again Cortes legal training would serve him well for the papers that were drawn up were in accordance with the Spanish law of the time. This Charter also provided that Cortes is named mayor of this newly founded settlement. (Diaz 97-102)
In creating this settlement Cortes completely bypassed Velazquez and he was no longer subject to the Governor. As the mayor of this newly formed town Cortes was directly responsible to only King Charles. Greed however would get the best of Cortes once again for when the town charted was drawn up Cortes knowing full well is rightful share of the treasure was one tenth made himself the beneficiary of a kings portion which by law was on fifth. When the supporters of Velazquez had found out what Cortes had done in the cover of darkness they were enraged. At first Cortes had no choice but to take them prisoner and chain them aboard ship. Once again Cortes was able to persuade these Velazquez loyalists to turn their backs on the Governor and pelage their allegiance to Cortes (Marks 66).
While establishing his settlement at Villa Rica Cortes was to encounter the people of the Totonac tribes. These were people who feared and hated the Aztecs; as they had only recently been defeated by the Aztec nation and were now being forced to pay tribute in the form of taxes. The Totonac began to provide for the material needs of Cortes and his men who were now in dire need of supplies. When Cortes asked the chiefs of the tribe how many warriors they could bring together Cortes was around one hundred thousand. They also told Cortes of a peace loving tribe called the Tlascala. The Tlascala were still holding out against the Aztecs and they could supply Cortes with many hundreds of thousands warriors if he were to lead a charge against Montezuma and his men. During Cortes stay with the Totonac there arrived Aztec tax collectors. The Totonac complained to Cortes that they were sick of paying taxes to the Aztec monarch, so Cortes devised a plan and told the Totonac to take the tax collectors prisoner. After agreeing to guard the prisoner Cortes arranged for them to escape. He instructed them to tell Montezuma how he had aided them in their time of need. Upon finding the prisoners gone the Totonac asked Cortes what had happened, Cortes merely told them that the prisoners had escaped. During their visit to the Totonac these tax collectors revealed that it was the plan of Montezuma to imprison the Spaniards and crossbreed them with the Aztecs. Cortes then proceeded to convert the Totonac to Christianity and even much to the dismay and fear of the Totonac, destroyed one of their temples and in its place created a Christian church. (Marks 67-73)
While at Villa Rica there arrived a ship that had been dispatched from Cuba. Cortes was informed by the ship s captain that Governor Velazquez had received royal permission to trade and found settlements in this land that Cortes was so desperately trying to tame. In fear that he would be brought back to answer to Velazquez, Cortes again with the promises of a share in the treasure was able secure the loyalty of these new visitors. A plan was quickly put together that the entire treasure along with the towns charter was to be sent to King Charles in hopes of securing his blessing. After the treasure ship left there arose a conspiracy against Cortes. These men planned to steal a ship and head back to Cuba where they could alert Don Velazquez of the treasure ships voyage in time to intercept it. When Cortes heard of this plan he arrested the conspirators and had them severely punished. Then to ensure that this would never happen again Cortes ordered that the ships be destroyed. (Marks 82-85). There was now no turning back. Cortes and his men had only two choices stay in Villa Rica with no treasure for their efforts or to proceed to in interior of Mexico.
On his march towards Mexico City Cortes came across the town of Xocotlan. There the chief of the town told Cortes of the splendor that was the capital of the Aztec Empire. He told Cortes of how the city was built in the middle of a lake and the only access was by three causeways. Each of these causeways had bridges built into them and when raised entry into the city was almost impossible. The chief also told Cortes and his men of the riches that Montezuma and stored in this magnificent city. Upon hearing this the men were frenzied with the thought of riches, and whatever hesitations they may have had about proceeding were quickly vanquished. (Diaz 136)
Cortes then continued his march into the interior of Mexico. However, Cortes first encounter with the Tlascala did not progress as he had hoped. The Totonac had portrayed the Tlascala as peace loving people with whom Cortes could become an ally. However, the Tlascala knew that Cortes was marching toward their city in the company of Aztec allies and instead of a peaceful people Cortes was to find out way the Tlascala were able to remain free of Aztec domination. They were fierce warriors who inflicted great casualties on Cortes men. However once again through better weaponry and tactics along with the release of captives bearing a request for peace, Cortes and his men would once again triumph and bring the Tlascala into their circle of allies. (Diaz 142-164) Cortes within the matter of only a few days was able to accomplish that which had evaded Montezuma for years; he was able to defeat and ally himself with the Tlascala.
Cortes would then spend over two weeks trading, resting and preaching in the Tlascala village. Cortes told them of the one true God asked the Tlascala people to convert to Christianity. The Tlascala leaders told Cortes that while intrigued by his God, if they were to totally abandon their idols their people would rebuff them. They told Cortes they were intrigued by his God and gave Cortes permission to convert one temple into a Christian Church. Then after receiving an invitation from Aztec messengers for Cortes to join Montezuma in Mexico City, Cortes heard mass, then marched with his new allies, which now included one thousand Tlascala warriors, to the City of Cholollan. (Diaz 180-188)
The Cholollans had convinced Cortes to ask the Tlascala to not enter the city, for they were not allies and were afraid of what the Tlascala might do. Cortes, seeing the sense in the Cholollan request asked his allies to wait for him outside the city boundaries. The Tlascala complied with Cortes wish but again advised Cortes not to trust Montezuma or his people. What Cortes did not know was that the Cholollans and the Aztec had agreed that with the aid of twenty thousand Aztec warriors the Cholollans were to entrap the Spaniards and after keeping twenty to be sacrificed to their Gods were to send the rest to Mexico. While as guests of the Cholollans Cortes and his men were treated badly, they were given water and firewood but no food. While investigating this maltreatment and with the assistance of Dona Marina and the Tlascala, Cortes learned of the Aztec conspiracy to attack them. A plan was quickly devised and the next day Cortes summoned a number of chieftains to hear his goodbye, after they arrived at Cortes house the exit were barricaded and there were told that Cortes was aware of their plan. Cortes then went outside and the signal to attack was given. The Cholollans were not warriors by nature and were easily massacred. Cortes in retribution for this act of treason allowed his army to plunder the city and act Cortes had never before permitted. (Diaz 189-200)
Cortes then summoned the Cholollan elders and asked them why they had treated him and his men so badly when they had come in peace. The Cholollans explained to Cortes that they had not wanted to take part in the Aztec plot but were forced to by Montezuma s warriors. Cortes believed the Cholollans and had them and the Tlascala make peace. This maneuver ensured Cortes of a safe route back to the coast and the town of Villa Rica. Cortes then summoned the Aztec nobles and led them to believe that he understood this attack was the fault of the Cholollans. That Cortes and Montezuma had showed no animosity toward each other and looked forward to their meeting. Cortes then let the Aztec go and rely his message to the Aztec Emperor. Cortes would spend the next two weeks resting preaching to the Cholollans and erecting a Christian temple in honor of the one true God and his holy mother as it became Cortes habit to do. After this it was on to Mexico City (Marks 114-115)
Cortes continued his march to Mexico City in the company of some Aztec ambassadors who would serve as their guide. While Cortes made friends and allies of other Indians along the way his journey to the heart of the Mexican empire was otherwise uneventful. Cortes was warned by many of the Indians he met along the way that he should not trust the Emperor Montezuma and should turn back now before it was too late. Cortes was even warned of a planned ambush by Aztec warriors who had blocked one of the two paths to Mexico City and were now lying in wait. Cortes asked the Aztecs why the road was blocked who in turn told them it was because that way was hostile and longer then the path left clear. Cortes then decided he and his men would take the road that had been blocked. One ally of the Tlascala even warned Cortes that they had learned the Aztec plan was to allow Cortes and his men into the city where they would be killed or captured and made a sacrifice to the Aztec gods. Cortes then told all that could hear that their God protected him and his men and no one including the Mexican warriors could kill them (Diaz 205-211)
Finally on 8 November 1519, Cortes and his men after being greeted and escorted by great ambassadors of Montezuma arrived at the gates to the city. During their march down the causeway Cortes and his men were mesmerized by the splendor that lay before them. For out of the water arose impressive cities with temples and house made of stone Yet Cortes and his men were well aware of what peril this causeway presented them incase of attack. The lumber that formed the crossing could easily be removed and the Spaniards egress from the city would be blocked. Ahead the Spaniards could see the procession of Montezuma s approach. Then Montezuma stood before them; he was a magnificent sight bedecked in the finest clothing of Aztec craftsmanship. (Marks 122-125) Then after Montezuma and Cortes exchanged gifts of finely adorned necklaces Montezuma greeted his visitors with a welcome speech, O our Lord, thou hast suffered fatigue; thou hast spent thyself. Thou hast arrived on earth; thou hast come to the noble city of Mexico. Thou hast come to occupy thy noble mat and seat, which for a little time I have guarded and watched for thee. For thy governors of times past have gone the rulers Itzcoatl, Montezuma the Elder, Axayacatl, Tizoc, Ahuitzotl who, not very long ago, came to guard thy mat and seat for thee and to govern the city of Mexico. Under their protection the common folk came here. Could they, perchance, now find their descendants, those left behind? O, that one of them might be a witness to marvel that to me now hath befallen what I see, who am the only descendant of our lords. For I dream not, nor start from my sleep, nor see this as in a trance. I do not dream that I see thee and look into thy face. Lo, I have been troubled for a long time. I have gazed into the unknown whence thou hast come the place of mystery. For the rulers of old have gone, saying that thou wouldst come to instruct the city, that thou wouldst descend to thy mat and seat; that thou wouldst return. And now it is fulfilled: thou hast returned; thou hast suffered fatigue; thou hast spent thyself. Arrive now in thy land. Rest lord; visit thy palace that thou mayest rest thy body. Let our lords arrive in the land. (Sahagun 42) And so upon his arrival, Montezuma greeted Cortes not as a man but as the returning deified king Quetzalcoatl, the year according to the Aztec calendar was 1 reed. Although this translation of the address is doubted by many I find it fitting and quite well supported by other interpretations of Montezuma s and Cortes initial meeting.
After his return address Cortes and his entourage including the Indians where led to their quarters in the palace of Axayacatl, there they were allowed to rest. The Aztecs ensured that all the needs of their visitors were met, they were provided women to cook their meals as well as servants to bring them dishes, even the horses, which the Aztecs were very interested in, were taken care of. After diner and relaxation Montezuma came to visit Cortes, Montezuma again express his sincere pleasure in the fact that Cortes and come to join him. Cortes in turn told Montezuma of his king Charles V and how he had sent Cortes to Montezuma to convert them to the Christian religion so that the Mexican people could give praise to the one true God. Cortes then went on to tell Montezuma that over the next few days Cortes would explain to him how this transformation could be done. Over the next few days Cortes would come to tell Montezuma of the Christian belief in how the world was created and that we are all brothers sharing Adam and Eve as common parents. Cortes went further, explaining that Montezuma and his people must give up their idols and stop their pagan practices of human sacrifice, cannibalism and sodomy. Montezuma then asked Cortes to go no further with his teachings, Montezuma and his people have worshiped their Gods from the beginning of time and they have treated the Aztec well. (Diaz 220-223)
Many more meetings would take place between Cortes and Montezuma over the course of the next couple of weeks. And after each meeting Montezuma would present the Spaniards with great gifts. The Spaniards were given tours of the city and shown the temples of the Aztecs as well as the gardens, the market and even the zoo. Cortes then received word from a messenger that Aztec warriors at the order of Montezuma had killed men at Villa Cruz. Cortes and his men soon became distrustful of the Aztecs and worried that an attack such as that planned for them in the Cholollan town might once again be planned for them here. Cortes then asked for a royal audience with Montezuma, which was granted. At this meeting Cortes confroted Montezuma with the report but Montezuma denied having any part in the attack. Not believing Montezuma, Cortes and his men took the mighty Aztec Monarch. Cortes and his men then escorted Montezuma to the palace that they were living in. Montezuma had severely underestimated Cortes and his men, for now the people whom Montezuma believed he held as hostages in his city now held him captive. (Diaz 231-247)
While a captive of the Spaniards for the next several months, Montezuma continued to carry on his stately affairs. When the people of Mexico inquired as to his health and safety, Montezuma would assure them that everything was all right. Montezuma arranged that Cortes and his men were able to visit the local provinces to see the royal gold mines, which were the sources of the Aztec riches. By early the next year Montezuma even declared himself and the Aztec nation vassals of the Spanish Monarchy. Montezuma then surrendered to Cortes and his men vast riches that were part of the Aztec treasure. Montezuma even yielded to Cortes demand that a Christian altar be erected on the Great Pyramid, which was the holiest place in all of Mexico City. Then the Spaniards ascended the stairs of the Great Pyramid erected their altar and heard mass. The Aztec people saw this as the ultimate act of disrespect and their hostilities toward the Spaniards began to grow. (Marks 144-152)
It came to a point where Montezuma told Cortes that he could no longer guarantee the safety of him and his men and Montezuma implored Cortes to leave. Cortes then struck a deal with Montezuma, Cortes would send his ship builders back to Villa Rica and once the ships were completed Cortes would load them with them with his men, supplies and the gifts they have received from the Aztec and head back to Spain. Then there came a messenger to Montezuma with wondrous news, a new fleet of Spaniards had been sighted off the east coast. Montezuma sent word that these new visitors were to be treated well and all their needs provided for. Montezuma then told Cortes the good news, he would not have to wait for ships to be built for a new fleet of eight ships were at anchorage in San Juan de Ulua. However, this was not good news for Cortes for two reasons: (1) he longer had any reason to delay his departure form Mexico and (2) surely this fleet was sent by Velazquez to bring Cortes back. (Marks 152-153)
Panfilo de Narvaez who had led the conquest of Cuba with Cortes at his side captained this new fleet. Narvaez knew of Cortes settlement at Villa Cruz and sent out three men who were to announce their authority and seize the settlement. These men were quickly captured and sent to Cortes in Mexico City. While there Cortes showed these men that he was Christianizing the natives and the treasure they had collected. Cortes was quick to win these men over to his side and sent them back with treasure to spread among those who were not loyal to Narvaez and Velazquez. Soon Narvaez and Cortes were vying for the loyalty of not only the Spanish troops but that of the Indians as well. In this matter Cortes would win while he never took anything from the Indians they did not offer as gifts Narvaez was quite the opposite. He would not only take the Indians gold but their women as well. (Marks 153-158)
Cortes sent a letter to Narvaez which asked one crucial question; Did Narvaez posses a letter from the throne that had denied Cortes establishment of Villa Cruz? For if no such letter was in Narvaez possession then he and his men had no authority here and were to leave immediately. (Marks 157)
Cortes then left a contingency of about eighty men with Pedro de Alvarado in Mexico City and prepared to march back to the coast. The men left in Mexico City were well armed and fortified for Cortes and left them all the cannons as well as five horses. Montezuma had offered to send five thousand warriors to assist Cortes but know better than to trust Montezuma, Cortes declined his offer. Cortes then asked his allies the Tlascala for support. The Tlascala told Cortes that while they would be happy to wage war against the Aztec they would not send warriors to fight against other Spaniards. Cortes would then meet up with the troops he had left in Cholollan town, combined Cortes strength was only around three hundred and he had no cannons and only eight horses. In comparison Narvaez forces would number near fourteen hundred troops, eighty horses and twenty cannons. (Marks 158)
On the trail back to the coast Cortes came upon a party sent by Narvaez to effect Cortes arrest. Among its members was Andres de Duero, one of the governor s aides who had helped Cortes secure his commission. Duero informed Cortes that Narvaez was personally selected by the Governor for this mission and could not be swayed. Cortes then sent Narvaez party back empty-handed. Nothing less than a full confrontation between these two men would settle their differences and so battle plans were made. Cortes and his battle hardened veterans would prove too much for Narvaez and his men After a hard fought battle in the dark and rain Cortes and his men would emerge victorious despite being way out manned and outgunned. The battle would not only cost Narvaez his pride but an eye as well. Cortes then proceeded to give out gold to Narvaez fallen troops and enlist them in his army. (Marks 159 161)
Meanwhile Alvarado s situation in Mexico City was quickly becoming desperate. He had learned through the Tlascala that the Aztecs were planning on ceremoniously sacrificing the Spaniards during their celebration of Toxcatl, which was coming soon. Not wanting to fall victim to these heathens Alvarado recalled the battle at Cholula, where while vastly outnumbered Cortes lead a swift surprise attack and was able to achieve victory. So Alvarado and his men devised a plan, they would initiate an attack against the Aztec at their celebration. (Marks 161-163)
On the night of the celebration Alavardo and his men struck out against the Aztec. There attack against the Aztec in the courtyard left many of Mexico s nobility lying dead in the streets. Alavardo and his men were then able to retreat to their quarters where their position was defensible. On the third day there arrived a messenger from Cortes who was able to slip in and tell Alvarado of Cortes victory against Narvaez. The messenger was quickly sent back to appraise Cortes of the situation in Mexico. Upon hearing the news of Alavardo s position Cortes put together an expedition of thirteen hundred soldiers and hastily made his way to Mexico. There he found Alavardo who relayed to Cortes the details of the massacre. This attack on the Aztec did not bode well with Cortes, not because of Alvarado s actions but because Montezuma and his warriors had plotted against Cortes and his men. (Marks163-167)
Early the next morning Cortes sent out a messenger to tell the troops he had left on the coast of his safe arrival in Mexico City. The horseman was return a short time later bloodied by a brutal attack from the Aztecs. The rider then told Cortes that the bridges on the causeway had been lifted and the city sealed from escape. Then the Spaniard stronghold was under siege not by Montezuma s warriors but by those of Cuitlahuac, Montezuma s brother whom the Aztec had chosen to replace their disgraced monarch. Luckily for Cortes it was not the habit of the Aztec to conduct attacks at night, so while the Aztec rested Cortes and his men where able to make repairs to their damaged stronghold. However, Cortes now faced not only the warriors of Mexico City but those of the entire Aztec nation. Hoping that the Aztec s would still listen to Montezuma, Cortes had his men provide cover for the fallen leader of the Aztecs and made their way to the top of the pyramid. Once their Montezuma showed himself and loudly asked the Aztec to resume their peace with the Spaniards. The Aztec s answered Montezuma s plea with a hail of rocks and the once mighty leader of the Aztec nation fell dead. (Marks 166-169)
Finally in July 1520 Cortes had to come to the realization that his position in Mexico City had grown indefensible and it was now necessary for him and his men to escape the city. Cortes had his carpenters fashion a portable bridge that could be used to cross the gaps in the causeway and a plan to evacuate the city was made. Cortes amassed what was the king s portion of the treasure and had it mounted on a mare. Foolishly man soldiers especially the new ones over loaded themselves with gold a move that would cost many their lives. Then in the cover of darkness Cortes and his men made their way to the only causeway left open, unfortunately their escape was detected after the first gap and the alarm was given. Many Spaniards lost their lives that night and anytime a Spaniard would fall due to his heavy load he was quickly carried off by the Indians. The next day in the town of Tacuba Cortes would learn the cost of his retreat from Mexico City; nearly nine hundred soldiers had lost their lives that night, along with the loss of his troops Cortes also lost the all his cannons and every single horse had been wounded. Cortes himself had received a serious wound that crushed his left hand and rendered it useless as well as a wound to his knee. (Marks 170-171)
Tacuba was a town friendly to the Aztec so Cortes and his troops began to head toward the Tlascala City where they could recover. The Aztec hounded Cortes and his troops every inch of the way. Upon entering the Otumba valley Cortes found himself confronted by an army of Indians in massive proportions to his own troops. Never one to give up Cortes rallied his men and by the grace of God was able to drive off the Indians. The Aztec then gave up their pursuit of Cortes and his men who eventually found their way back to the Tlascala city. Their Cortes learned that the Tlascala had amassed a large army that was ready to wage war against the Aztec, it warmed Cortes heart to know he had not lost his allies. It was here that Cortes and his men would be able to remove their armor and spend two weeks resting and recovering from their wounds, although many would not recover and eventually succumb to their wounds. During their stay in the Tlascala city Cortes and his captains would often wonder why the Aztec army had not pursued them any further. It was only later that Cortes would learn the answer: that an epidemic of smallpox brought by one of Narvaez sailors was wrecking havoc on the Aztec nation. (Marks 172-191)
Then after recovering from their wounds Cortes and his men decide that in order for them to retain the respect of the Tlascala and Cholollan Indians Cortes must make an example out of the Tepeca. This was a tribe that pledged their loyalty to the throne but upon hearing the news of the war in Mexico City once again aligned them selves with the Aztec and had killed some Spaniards traveling from the coast. Cortes and his allies quickly defeated the Tepenac and as punishment for their crime Cortes had them branded and enslaved, which toi the Indians enslavement was the ultimate punishment. (Marks 191 195)
Soon supply ships began to arrive at Villa Cruz, no doubt by Velazquez who had figured Narvaez had been successful in arresting Cortes and asserting his authority. With the arrival of each ship Cortes and his men were able to enlist the crew after giving them a bit of gold. One day a large merchant from Spain arrived with powder and arms and cannons to sell. Cortes and his men quickly paid the man in gold and off loaded his cargo. Soon much need supplies were making their way up line and Cortes and his army were once again gaining strength. (Marks 196-197)
During the ensuing months Cortes and his men would enter into a number of scrimmages with the Aztec and their allies. Once again has it had been before, Cortes emerged from each battle victorious. Each battle that Cortes and his men would win would also win them the respect and allegiance of their allies. But Cortes never lost track of his plan to defeat the Aztec and capture Mexico City. Mexico City was the most glorious jewel of the Aztec nation and Cortes would no rest until he possessed it. It was to this end that Cortes in the presence of the Tlascala lectured his men on the behavior he expected of them. They were to treat the Indians fairly as well as no another and to never blasphemy the name of God. And so on December 28, 1520 Cortes and his Spanish troops accompanied by twenty thousand Tlascalan warriors began to make their way to Mexico City. The Aztec knew of Cortes march to their city but were unable to stop him. Cortes first target was the city of Texcoco, which he intended to secure and use as his base. Upon entering the city Cortes found it deserted, needing its inhabitants to care for his needs Cortes installed as king a young boy who was in his entourage and was of a royal bloodline of Texcoco. Soon the people where coming out of the woods to see this young man, they would stay and take care of Cortes and his men. (Marks 197 206)
Soon other chieftains from other villages were arriving at Texcoco to reassert their loyalty to Cortes and his army. One chieftain even brought to Cortes two Aztec messengers bound to poles. Cortes would once again revert to his old ways and sent these men back to Mexico City with a message. They were to tell Guatemoc, who now ruled the city, that Cortes understood that Cutilahuac led the previous attack against him and his men and Cortes only wished to restore the peace that existed between him and his brothers the Aztec. However, Cortes received no reply from the Aztec Monarch. During his stay in Texcoco Cortes received word the brigantines being built in Tlascala were complete and that another ship with powder had found its way to Villa Cruz. Cortes ordered that both these articles were to be brought to him immediately and they were along with thousands more Tlscalans. Cortes then had the ships assembled with out wasting time and a canal was dug to effect their launching (Marks 206 211)
Then after assembling a contingent that include thirty thousand Tlscalans Cortes marched on Tacuba, where he was met with Aztec opposition. Cortes drove the Aztecs back across the causeway and they retreated to their city. Cortes then spent the next few months securing the cities and villages that surrounded the Aztec capital there by isolating the Aztec and severing her supply lines. Then after months of preparations Cortes would begin his assault on the Aztec capital. But this time Cortes would launch his assault from the ships he had erected as well as on the causeways and at the city gates. This time Cortes assault on the Aztecs was slow and methodical, Cortes wanted to ensure he would emerge victorious against these traitors. Each day Cortes and his troops would march into the city as far as they could then withdraw. The Aztecs were beginning to fell their isolation as food and water supplies were running low. And so with each new day Cortes and his troops were Able to advance further and further into the city. The Aztec had concentrated themselves in the market place and it was here they would make their final stand. (Marks 213-242)
The Aztecs were able to defend their position against a coordinated attack by Cortes. They then climbed atop the great pyramid and sent up yellow smoke to declare their victory. During this onslaught Cortes would suffer great casualties and many Spaniards were being taken alive. The Aztec then took their Spanish captives and in a lengthy ceremony sacrificed each and everyone in plain view of the Spaniards as well as their allied Indians. This spectacle carried on for thirteen days and cost seventy Spaniards their lives. After a brief round of unsuccessful peace talks the invasion of Mexico City would be resumed. This time as Cortes entered the capital it would be destroyed. Cortes then pushed through the Aztec capital making his way to the market place where the Aztec warriors had gathered once again. Cortes and his troops then launched an attack on the last strong hold of the Aztec and in that battle, twelve thousand Aztec warriors, women and children were killed. Again Cortes offered the Aztec several chances to make peace but each offer was met with refusal. Another assault of the Aztec s final stronghold was made, this time the Aztecs surrendered without condition and the fall of the Aztec empire was complete Mexico fell to the Spaniards in August of 1521. (Marks 242 255) The glory that once was the crown jewel of the Aztec empire lay in ruin.
Cortes proved to be a true soldier of not only the king but of Christ. He was a talented and artful commander that truly believed God had blessed him and his troops. He was also a crafty negotiator who could read his opponent very well and seemingly win his way every time. Cortes also proved to be a fair man who would treat his allies and his enemies with great respect as well as a man who sought peace whenever possible. Often when faced with adversity Cortes would emerge triumphant because not only was he brave but because he truly believed in his mission to conquer and Christianize Mexico. It was through his perseverance and his ability to negotiate that he and his men were able to conquer this new land and claims its soil and riches in the name of God, Spain and of course themselves. And so it was through the conquest of Mexico that Cortes would earn his spot in the pages of history, perhaps as the greatest Conquistador whom ever lived.
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