The Conquest of Mexico by Hernan Cortes

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Hernan Cortes as many historians knows him was a conqueror, vividly remembered for defeating the Aztec empire in 1521 and conquering Mexico for Spain. Cortes similarly assisted in colonizing Cuba and became governor of the New Spain. Like numerous explorers, today Corte’s role in the period of exploration was essential but controversial. Many scholars claim that he was an ambitious, intelligent man who wanted to acquire new land or territory for the Spanish government, assimilate native inhabitants to Christianity, and plunder the land for riches and gold ("Hernán Cortés: Conqueror of the Aztecs," par 1). This research paper will focus on Cortes early life and how he conquered the Aztec empire. Similarly, the paper will discuss how Cortes spent his last days as an explorer.

Early life

Born in Medellin in 1945, Cortes was the only son of middle-class noble parents. At the age of fourteen, his parent sent him to the University of Salamanca where he pursued law. However, his passion was not to become a lawyer or a judge. Therefore, he was unhappy and restless at the university. His main focus or area of interest was exploration. Cortes was amused at hearing how much Christopher Columbus had achieved through his navigation of West Indies. Columbus had arrived in San Salvador and navigated the West Indies in late 1942, at this period Herman was still a young kid. Christopher had set sail believing that he will discover a route that would lead him to India or Asia ("Hernán Cortés: Conqueror of the Aztecs," par 2). At that time trade was booming since, pomander, cloves, and nutmeg from the Indonesian islands and cinnamon and pepper from India were in demand. Therefore, Columbus set sail hoping he would find these precious commodities so that he could benefit from trade. During the 15th century, Africa, Europe and Asian were at top-notch of the universal trade. Similarly, for Europeans, interests or curiosities of diverse cultures continued to arise. This Afro-Eurasian trade created a strong connection between China, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and India. Hernan was enthusiastic to be part of the vibrant movement. One way in which individuals explorers could acquire wealth is through public fame. Therefore, on a quest of acquiring public fame and at the same time wealth, Cortes decided to explore in Hispaniola which is today known as the Haiti and Dominican Republic. In 1504, at only 19 years old, Hernan began his news quest in the New World.

In the Bahamas Cortes spent 7 years dwelling in a town known as Azua and working as farmer and lawyer. However, in 1511 Hernan joined Diego Velasquez’s voyage to defeat Cuba. In Cuba, he worked as a clerk to the treasure and later on was appointed the mayor of Santiago (Townsend & Richard, 24-25). In spite of Cortes achievement, he was still thirsty for greater thrills and power. Therefore, he lured Velasquez, who was at that time the governor of Cuba to allow him to lead a voyage to Mexico. Nevertheless, Velasquez canceled the expedition at the last minute. Due to his hunger for power, fame and wealth, Cortes ignored Velasquez orders and set sail with more than 500 men sailing with 11 ships.

Arrival in Mexico

Cortes’ ship arrived at the Mexican coast of Yucatan in 1519. The Spanish navigators had however discovered Mexico in 1518, and they were anxious to settle and dwell in it. Cortes was also concerned with converting people or native inhabitants to Catholic or Christians. Cortes did not differ in thought compared with the other Europeans. He believed that the native inhabitants were inferior in technology, culture, and religion. While dwelling in Cozumel, he was surprised to know of the gruesome rituals, which incorporated human sacrifices, of the native inhabitants to their numerous gods. Hernan and his men destroyed and removed the pagan idols, and swapped them with the figures and crosses of the Virgin Mary (Townsend & Richard, 27-28).

Cortes experienced resistance while staying in Tabasco. However, he overpowered the rebels without much struggle, and the natives surrendered. The natives provided the Spaniards with twenty women, supplies, and food. Among the twenty women offered by the natives was a woman called Malintzin who was used as an interpreter and later became the wife to Cortes and sired a son named Martin. Martin was among the first offspring of Spanish and mixed indigenous heritage.

Conquering the Aztecs

Hernan had received information concerning the Aztecs and recognized the fact that they and their leader Montezuma (11) were the main force in Mexico. In 1519, Cortes arrived in the mighty Aztec city of Tenochtitlan (Thomas & Hugh, 36). Though the Aztec leader Montezuma well welcomed him, Hernan intentions were less compassionate. This is because his main aim was to overcome and rule them. Unclear to Hernan his arrival at Tenochtitlan corresponded with a crucial Aztec Prophecy. According to the prophecy, the Aztec god known as the Quetzalcoatl, who was responsible for the creation of the humans was set to return to the universe. Assuming that Hernan could be Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec emperor greeted Cortes and his men with great respect and honor.  Montezuma sent out massagers to go and meet Cortes as he came closer. The Aztecs were amused by the Spaniard's complexion and the sight of men riding horses, which they explained as beasts with six legs and two heads. Likewise, the Spaniards had guns, which amused the natives and further frightened them. Hernan entered the city, conquered it, and took Montezuma hostage. His wife Malinche assisted Hernan to control Montezuma and ruled Tenochtitlan through him (Thomas & Hugh, 39).

The Spanish forces had assistance in conquering the city. Although Hernan enslaved numerous native population, other native inhabitants were important to his achievement. Among them were the natives of Tlaxcala, who assisted Cortes reorganize and take Tenochtitlan. Moreover, the Aztecs were not often prominent rulers among their subjected towns or cities. When Hernan learned about this, he was able to utilize this to his advantage. Additionally, Xicotenga, a leader in the Tlaxcala city, saw an ally Hernan, and a chance to terminate the Aztec empire. Therefore, they found an alliance, and Hernan was provided with thousand warriors to add to his massive army. Despite the Spaniards having the superior weaponry including swords, cannons, and guns, the additional understanding on Aztec defenses and fighting styles provided by Xicotenga, plus the additional warriors, gave Hernan a helpful edge.

Later years

Governor Hernan Cortes travelled to Honduras to deal with a rebellion against him in 1954. He stayed in Honduras for 2 years, and when he travelled back to Mexico, he found another governor meaning that he had been removed from power. Therefore, he travelled to Spain with the aim of pleading to the king to regain his status. However, his attempts did not bear any fruits. In 1540, Cortes retired to Spain and lived his last years seeking rewards and recognition for his success. Embittered and frustrated, Hernan decided to return to Mexico. However, before his departure, he succumbed to death due to pleurisy in 1957 (Thomas & Hugh, 60).


Cortes is still remembered today by the Mexican because of how he treated and enslaved them. Some recognize him for ending paganism in Mexico, and other despise him for encouraging slavery. Hernan Cortes, nonetheless, played an essential role in reshaping the universe. His victory secured profitable and new lands and opportunities for the Spanish monarch. Similarly, Cortes assisted in the construction of the Mexico City, which still stands today. Furthermore, he opened the door for further conquest and exploration of Central America to the sound and finally led to the attainment of California toward the north.

Works cited

"Hernán Cortés: Conqueror of the Aztecs." Live Science, Sept. 28,

Thomas, Hugh. Conquest: Cortes, Montezuma, and the Fall of Old Mexico. Simon and Schuster, 2013.

Townsend, Richard F. The Aztecs. London: Thames and Hudson, 2000.

November 13, 2023


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