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Unformatted text preview: The Conquest of Mexico The Cortez’ Cortez BACKGROUND Hernán Cortez was the son of a landed family at a time when landed families were losing inﬂuence because of the centralization of power in 15th century Spain. Cortez was born in the western Spanish province of Extremadura in 1485. At 14 he was sent to study law for two years at the University of Salamanca. But Hernán Cortez was bored with study. First intending to enlist in the Spanish army, he abandoned that plan to head for the Spanish Indies in 1502. But he was caught by his mistress’ husband saying “goodbye” and nearly died when he fell off the wall trying to escape. When he recovered enough to sail, it was 1504, and he was 19. On his arrival in Santo Domingo, he was granted the right to employ Indians as laborers (later called an encomienda). And, because of his law background was hired by the then governor as the notary. When Diego Velásquez was sent to conquer Cuba in 1511, he was invited to go as clerk of the treasury. Because of his work during the conquest of Cuba, when Diego Velásquez was made governor of Cuba, he granted Cortez more Indians and made him his clerk and notary. Cortez was fortunate in that there was some gold where he settled, and he became quite wealthy. BACKGROUND BACKGROUND TO CORTEZ’ EXPEDITION Then in 1518, Velásquez’ nephew, Juan de Grijalva, who was on a mission to explore the surrounding area, landed in what is now Veracruz and traded with the locals for gold. When de Grijalva returned, his report was sensational but he personally lacked the nerve to take on an expedition of conquest. So, Cortez sold everything an started putting together the expedition. Velásquez wanted private monies to support the expedition, but he became suspicious of Cortez. Knowing this Cortez hastened to recruit men and purchase supplies. Within four weeks he put together an expedition of 300 men, 11 ships, horses, and arms, largely ﬁnanced by selling everything he owned. The men were minor nobility and tradesmen with no special military training, but few soldiers. Velásquez began to worry the Cortez might get out of hand, and tried to dissuade him. It didn’t work. Cortez set sail immediately. It was November 1518 Because Cortez planned to stop at other Cuban ports, Velásquez sent orders ahead to arrest Cortez. But no one in Cuba would stand up to Cortez and his men, so he recruited another 250 men and set sail for Mexico. In fact among the men were a number who have been on the de Grijalva expedition. That made 550 men in 11 ships, 16 horses, a few cannon. They ﬁnally set sail for Mexico February 18, 1519. By this time, Cortez was heavily in debt. The ﬁrst night out, they were driven by a storm to Cozumel. There they met a Spaniard who had been shipwrecked in 1511 — Jerónimo de Aguilar. He had gone native, and was under the protection of the local Mayan cacique. (His shipmates who survived the wreck had all been executed.) He was delighted to be back among Spaniards so he went with Cortez and his knowledge of the language and customs proved a very valuable asset. At their next landing in Tabasco, they were attacked ﬁercely. Cortez easily defeated the attackers. And the same happened three times. In these three battles, the Spanish lost only 2 killed, while the locals lost 200. On the basis of these encounters, word started to spread that the Spanish were invincible. In consequence of those battles, they were give tribute — the MesoAmerican way. Since there were no women on the expedition, they were given young women as part of the tribute. One of these women was Malinche, who came to Cortez attention when they got close to present day Veracruz. Malinche could communicate with the locals, but de Aguilar couldn’t. She had been sold off as a young girl, so she communicated in her native Nahuatl. She would tell de Aguilar in Mayan, and he’d tell Cortez in Spanish. Malinche served Cortez as a cultural advisor throughout the conquest (and also bore him a son.) To modern-day Mexicans, Malinche is an ambiguous ﬁgure, hated by many as a traitor. Cortez’ voyage Cortez Cortez landed for the last time just north of modern Veracruz (in Antigua) on Good Friday, 1520. (Hence the name Vera Cruz ‘true cross’.) Cortez scuttled his ships so no one could desert. He didn’t actually destroy them, he simply made them so that they could not sail without repair. He resigned his commission from Velásquez. But since Spanish citizens were not allowed to go exploring on their own, he founded a town, and was elected mayor. This made him directly responsible to the King under Spanish law of the time — and allowed him the right to explore under his own authority. THE FIRST ROUND THE Cortez landing was on the day of Ce Acatl, the birthday of Quetzalcoatl, according to the Aztec calendar This fulﬁlled the prophecy regarding the return of the god-man, Topiltzin-Quetzalcoatl, who was said to be fair skinned and bearded. This presented a problem to Moctezuma II, the reigning emperor. If this really is Topiltzin, he’ll want his throne back. So Moctezuma offered apologies by messenger that he could not come, and, in good Aztec tradition, attempted to buy Cortez off with tribute. But Cortez wanted to meet the emporer. In Cempoalan, a Totonac town, there was an incident with some Aztec tribute collectors and the Cempoalans decided that the Aztecs would be angry and that supporting Cortez was their only option. At this point, a ship from Cuba arrived with 60 more men and nine horses. Then to discourage possible mutiny Cortez headed directly inland. Arriving in Tlaxcala, Cortez used his horses and guns, which the Aztecs had never seen, to convince the independent Taxcalans to join him. Moctezuma was kept abreast of the developments and invited Cortez to come to Cholula. It was a trap. Malinche was told about it and Cortez ordered a preemptive strike. Cortez men killed 6000 Cholulan warriors. This broke Moctezuma’s will, and kept alive the doubt that this might, indeed, be Quetzalcóatl. P ic tu r e h e r e So by November 8, 1519, the Spanish were set up in the palace of Axayácatl, in the heart of Tenochtitlán. But all was not good for Cortez. Velásquez had sent a ﬂeet of 11 and nine hundred men to arrest Cortez, under the command of Pánﬁlo de Narváez. So Cortez marched to Cempoala and beat Narváez, whose men in defeat agreed to join Cortez’ expedition.(One of them had smallpox.) P ic tu r e h e r e But in the meantime there was trouble in Tenochtitlán. Hearing the news Cortez brought his troops back in a forced march. A battle for the city ensued in which Moctezuma was killed, apparently by an Aztec warrior by accident. But 450 of Cortez men were killed ﬂeeing the city. It so moved Cortez that he sat under a tree and wept. This day is known in Mexican history as Noche Triste--July 1, 1520. THE FINAL THE CONQUEST P ic tu r e h e r e Cortez regrouped and, using the wood from his scuttled ships, he returned to Tlaxcala in December of 1520 and prepared to set siege to Tenochtitlán which started in April of 1521 and ended with the capture of Cuauhtémoc, Moctezuma’s ultimate successor, August 13, 1521 at Tlaltelolco Square. (Moctezuma’s immediate successor Cuitláhuac died of smallpox soon after his appointment.) THE THE ANALYSIS C o r te z s u c c e e d e d in c o n q u e r in g M e x ic o w ith a s m a ll g r o u p o f m e n b e c a u s e :
1. There was already the governmental structure present in the Aztec empire. 2. He had technological advantages: esp. steel weapons, horses and siege warfare. 3. The diseases the Europeans inadvertently brought. One of the Spaniards had smallpox and it infected tens of thousands of Aztecs. 4. He was a rallying point for the Aztec groups of the two recently conquered city states, as well as for non-Aztec opponents of the ruling Aztecs. ...
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This note was uploaded on 12/18/2009 for the course LING 155AC taught by Professor Rhodes during the Fall '09 term at University of California, Berkeley.
- Fall '09