Hernán Cortés Biography

Hernán Cortés Pizarro (Medellín, Kingdom of Castile [present-day Spain] 1485 – Castilleja de la Cuesta, Kingdom of Castile [present-day Spain] December 2, 1547).


Spanish military leader, navigator, explorer and conqueror, recognized for having defeated the Aztec Empire, claiming Mexican territory in the name of the Spanish crown.

His legacy is ambiguous because although he achieved possession of extensive territory and great wealth for his country, his incursion into Mexico resulted in slavery and a dramatic reduction of the original population. However, his journey was crucial to foster the encounter between Spanish culture and that of the different peoples of that American region.


Early life and journey to the New World

He was born in 1485, in the city of Medellin, located in the former Kingdom of Castile, present-day territory of Spain, in the middle of a noble family, which was not rich. He was an only child, and of nature a little sick.

When Hernán Cortés turned fourteen, his father sent him to study law at the University of Salamanca. However, he was unable to adapt, and after two years he dropped out of the race, returning to his hometown.

He became interested in the fabulous stories that came about the “New World”. He enlisted as a soldier, and enrolled in an expedition, which he did not leave. Finally, in 1504, at the age of 19, he set out on an expedition under Alonso Quintero, heading to the island of Hispaniola, where he settled in the city to Azúa, serving as a notary, and playing a crucial role in the control of indigenous uprisings.

In 1511, he embarked on an expedition under Diego Velázquez, which was destined for the present territory of Cuba, where he was appointed mayor of Santiago. Soon after, he married Catalina Xuárez, sister of Diego Velázquez.

Arrival in Mexico

In 1518, when the Mexican territory had recently been discovered, Cortés was authorized to organize his own expedition to these new lands. At the last moment, however, it was cancelled, an obstacle that did not cause it to stop.

Even without permission, and in total disobedience to the Spanish kingdom, Hernán Cortés sailed for Mexico, commanding an expedition consisting of eleven ships and a crew of more than 500 men. On February 18, 1519, at the age of 34, Cortés arrived on Mexican soil, along with his expeditionaries.

The first territory conquered by Cortés was Yucatan, which claimed in the name of the Spanish crown. There he met the Franciscan priest Jerónimo Aguilar and a native – who would later become his lover – who mastered the Mayan language and Nahuatl, and would be used by Cortés to communicate with the original inhabitants.

Upon arriving in Veracruz, he declared to the few Spanish authorities of the newly conquered territory, which was sent directly by order of Charles V, unaware of the authority of the Governor, claiming for himself gold and power.

He established friendly relations with the peoples who decided to serve him as allies and fought bloodfully with those who opposed his wishes. He fought hard with the warriors Cholulas and Tlaxacan, and marched over the city of Tenochtitlán in order to invade and subdue the people of Moctezuma II, whom he kidnapped, taking control over their inhabitants.

However, he had to flee, in the face of the advance of the Spanish troops who had arrived in the territory with the mission of apprehending him.

Founding of New Spain

Eventually, along with his men, he had to face the Crown troops, managing to defeat them. After his triumph, he returned to Tenochtitlán, where he had to face again his inhabitants, who were determined to defend their lands and their freedom.

After an arduous struggle, in 1521, he managed to take full power from the Aztec metropolis. Emperor Charles V recognized his authority, and appointed him Governor of New Spain, which was built on Tenochtitlán.

During his tenure he amassed a great deal of wealth, authorized expeditions in search of gold and the construction of more cities on Mexican territory. He was an ally of the Catholic Church in his evangelizing task of the native peoples and a feared enemy of his adversaries.

However, his government had to go through several uprisings. In 1524, he had to flee to Honduras, in order to personally stop a rebellion against him. Upon returning to New Spain, in 1526, he discovered that he had been deposed from his post, by order of the Spanish empire.

After a few years, in 1528, while still holding important quotas of power, he traveled to Spain, in order to defend his authority, without regaining his position. In gratitude, he was decorated for his services.

In 1530, he returned to Mexico and devoted himself to his post as Governor. He settled in Cuernavaca, where he took advantage of his riches to build a palace. He also continued his expeditions, venturing into the peaceful shores and what is now Baja California, without gaining past success.

Final years

In 1540, when he was fifty years old, Cortés returned to Spain, in a last attempt to achieve recognition of his contributions to the Crown. On the contrary, he got a lot of open legal proceedings against him.

Trying to undertake new adventures and to be pleased with the Spanish monarchs, he joined the group of nobles and military men who in 1541 accompanied Charles I to invade Algiers. The mission proved a real failure.

Ruined and forgotten, he decided to return to Mexico. He did not succeed, on December 2, 1547 he died in the city of Castilleja de la Cuesta, in the Kingdom of Castile, in the present territory of Spain. His body was spent in Spain for a few years before being transferred to Mexico, as his will.

Image source: quien.net

Hernán Cortés Biography
Source: Education  
July 27, 2019


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