HP005: Hernán Cortés

HP005: Hernán Cortés

500 years ago with weapons of Spanish swords Hernán Cortés would meet his adversaries the Aztecs. Who were under the command of Montezuma using primitive weapons like fragile small blades.

Born in a poor family in Spain he was trained by father in swordplay and horse riding. His formal schooling included the study of law and diplomacy, making him one of the best-educated conquistadors. Corte’s knew he had to leave his home to seek the fame and fortune he desired, so he sailed to the new world, which was a 3-month trip.

In 1504 19 yr. old Cortés landed at Hispanolia the Spanish colony now known as the Dominican Republic. At 25 Cortés became friends of a well-known conquistador by the name of Valezquez. He joined Valzques in his conquest of Cuba. Cuban natives were no match for the Spanish army. In the16 century Spaniards were the most effective military force in all of Europe.

By 1511 Cuba was conquered and Valezquez became the governor. Those who came with him like Cortés were rewarded with land. Valzquesz soon made Cortés magistrate of Santiago. This made Cortés not wealthy but a very important person on the island of Cuba.

On behalf of the king of Spain Valzquez sent expeditions from Cuba to Mexico. The first expedition left in 1517 these conquistadors returned with gold and slaves. Not to mention stories about people who ritually gave human sacrifices. In 1518 a second expedition went and never returned. Cortés saw his chance. He mortgaged everything he owned and offered to finance the expedition. Valezquez in turn named him the captain general.

His ambitions were fueled by stories of the great Aztec empire and the riches they held. Valezquez did not trust Cortés and he worried that Cortés would try to take over Mexico for himself. Valequez sent men to stop Cortés, but Cortés recruited the men into his expedition party. He departed without approval with 11 ships and over 500 men.

February 1519 they land at Cozeumel on the Yucatan coast. Where he establishes a landing for all the Spanish ships.

For Cortés to conquer Mexico he would have to conquer Montezuma.

Montezuma was born in 1466 and became emperor of the Aztecs in 1502. Descended from royalty he inspired his people through fear. They worshipped him as a deity. Common citizens were not allowed to look directly into his eyes.

For Cortés to conquer Mexico he would have to conquer Montezuma.

Cortés had canons with him. The Aztecs had never seen them. They also had crossbows and matchlock muskets. Not to mention dogs and horses.

On March 22, 1519 he arrives at Potonchan. An early expedition to this area had been given gold. Cortés was seeking similar results, but it didn’t happen.

Bull Dogs were sent in to attack the Aztecs. Horses were also brought. The natives thought these were dragons. Every psychological advantage Cortés could get he would take. Natives were terrified of horses. He was victorious at Potochan.

All of the natives had to pay taxes to Montezuma. They were not happy campers. The capital was an island in the middle of a lake. The city was very well defended. Montezuma had spy’s everywhere and he had been watching Cortés since he landed. He sent gifts to pacify Cortés and promised more if he would leave and not attack. Cortés told Montezuma’s emissaries that he would come and visit anyway. Montezuma feared Cortés even though he had 100,000 warriors to Cortés’ 500.

The Aztec calendar didn’t allow Montezuma to go to war or even plan one. It was also a sacred year when a bearded Aztec God called Ketsalquatal would return on a ship from the east and rule the land of the Aztecs. Cortés had a beard and had come from the east. Montezuma thought Cortés was a God and he feared him. The conquistadors were angry about attacking the capital, as these were not their orders, they talked of rebellion. Cortés established Vera Cruz and made himself governor. This way he would no longer be under Valezquea’s power. Now he answered only to the king of Spain. At his point Cortés burned all his ships. This was a bold move. He was telling his troops that we would win or die; there would be no retreat. But this also meant he could not re-supply his army.

At Cempoala he recruited more men and made and alliance with their chief who was angry about Montezuma’s huge taxes. The chief was honored to provide his support and gave Cortés 400 porters to carry all the weapons the Spaniards had brought for the conquest of Mexico.

Next Cortés visited the Aztecs greatest enemies. They didn’t want to talk to Cortés and sent warriors in many waves. They could not win against the cannons. Cortés had them join his army.

On October 12 1519 in Cholua Cortés’ army massacred the village and gained more recruits for his army.

In November 1519 Montezuma allows Cortés’ army to ride into the city. Montezuma showed the conquistadors how they sacrificed humans and scared many of the conquistadors. They rushed to Cortés and told him that they needed to leave immediately certain that these savages would sacrifice them. Cortés took Montezuma hostage and convinced Montezuma to do as he said. No one really knows why Montezuma went so willingly. All the accounts of this time period where written decades after the events occurred.

With his newfound power Cortés halts the sacrifices and places crosses in the temples. In April 1520 an arresting party of 900 conquistadors arrive to find Cortés and hang him. Cortés convinces them that they will gain riches if they join him.

On May 1520 Cortés is outside the city in a battle with more natives. The man Cortés left in charge of the city misunderstands a celebratory feast for an attack on his soldiers and surrounds many of the Aztecs with his men and opens fire, killing hundreds. The Aztecs fight back and the conquistadors are surrounded. Cortés arrives to find that he has to fight his way back into the city. He sends Montezuma to tell his people to stop fighting. The Aztecs attack Montezuma during his speech. Montezuma will not survive this attack and dies a few days later. The conquistadors are pushed out of the city losing half of their army.

In the summer of 1520 he regained 200 more men who had come from another expedition. Another surprise was in store for Cortés. A ship arrived that was sent by his father, which contained more supplies and horses.

Back in the capital of the Aztecs the effects of small pox, which the Spaniards brought with them, have taken a huge toll. Cortés fought his way back into the city. It took 80 days. The Aztecs could not get any food or supplies and were trapped in their own city.

From the time Cortés landed in Mexico it took 2 ½ years, but he was successful in conquering Mexico.