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Sunday, 20 July 2014

Hernando Cortés

Hernando Cortés (1485-1547)  was born in Medellin in the South East of Estremadura, South West Spain.

He was the only child of Martín Cortés, a military captain in the infantry.and Catalina Pizarro Altamirano.

Through his mother, he was second cousin to Francisco Pizarro, who later conquered the Inca empire of modern-day Peru.

Cortés studied at Salamanca but in 1501 he abandoned his law studies to take up a life of adventure.

Cortés was a soldier and farmer until 1511 when he sailed under Diego Velasquez to help conquer Cuba.

He was elected in 1511 alcalde, a sort of mayor/judge of Santiago the then capital of Cuba.

In 1519 he was sent by the governor of Cuba to look for a relative of his whom had not yet returned from a voyage to the Gulf. But Cortés had other ideas.

On his first expedition to Mexico in 1519,  he landed with only 650 men and 16 horses, 13 muskets and seven small cannons, Cortés and his men burnt their ships on landing.

They gained support from the Tlaxcalan people who were enemies of the Aztecs. The Tlaxcalans provided Cortés with most of his troops.

Armour, crossbows, guns, cannons and horses were all unknown to the Aztecs.

When the Aztecs first saw Cortés with his black beard and pale skin, they weren't sure if he was a man or a god.


When Cortés arrived in Tenochtitlan, Mexico in November 8, 1519, the Aztec Emperor, Montezuma, received him as a god. (Their god, Zalcoati, had disappeared across the Atlantic and was due to return in 1519.) Cortés told the emperor that he came as an ambassador from the King of Spain with instructions to preach true religion and end their cannibalistic practices.

Cortés destroyed the Aztec fashion industry of jaguar skins and feather cloaks.

He brought silkworm eggs and mulberry trees to Mexico from Spain thus introducing silk to America.

The Spanish conquistador introduced vine growing to Mexico, which then slowly spread north via the Spanish missions.

His first wife the Cuban Catalina Suárez Marcaida, died at Coyoacán in 1522 without issue.

Cortés took numerous captives, one of whom, Malinche (baptised Marina), became his mistress; out of loyalty to him she acted as the interpreter, guide, and counsellor for the Spaniards.

Cortés married his second wife doña Juana Ramírez de Arellano de Zúñiga in 1529. She was the daughter of don Carlos Ramírez de Arellano, 2nd Count of Aguilar and wife the Countess doña Juana de Zúñiga.

Cortés left his many Indian and white children well cared for in his will, along with every one of their mothers.

In 1521, after four months of siege Cortés captured the flower-covered Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan which was five times larger than London at the time. Cortés replaced it with Mexico City.

In 1522 Cortés was promoted to Governor and Captain-General of Mexico after the sacking of Tenochtitlan.

He lived  in the broad fertile plains of the South of Mexico where he called himself the Marquis of the Valley of Oaxacha.

Portrait of Cortés at Museo del Prado.

In 1526 Cortés was sacked as governor of Mexico so ruthless were his methods and he spent the remainder of his life pleading his cause.

After Cortés bought back chocolate from Mexico, it became a profitable industry for Spain, which planted cocoa trees in its overseas colonies.

Cortés always kept a chocolate pot on his desk.

Cortés was devoted to the Virgin Mary, always keeping a statuette of her upon his person. He said his prayers and attended Mass daily.

Cortés returned to Mexico in 1530 with new titles and honors, but with diminished power.

In 1536, Cortés explored the northwestern part of Mexico and discovered the Baja California peninsula.

Cortés served as a volunteer in 1541 in the unsuccessful Spanish expedition against Algiers, lost a large part of his remaining fortune, and was shipwrecked.



He died in Castilleja de la Cuesta, Seville province, on December 2, 1547, from a case of pleurisy at the age of 62.

Cortés conquered 315,000 square miles in total, defeating the Aztecs, seizing southern and central Mexico and later subjugating Guatemala and Honduras to Spanish rule.

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