Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 8 >> Democratic Party to Or Kurland Courland >> or Cortez Cortes

or Cortez Cortes

mexico, charles, spaniards, emperor, gained, montezuma, received and court

CORTES, or CORTEZ, Her nando, Herman, or Fernando, Spanish con queror of Mexico: b. Medellin, Estremadura, 1485; d. Castillejo de la Castra, near Seville, 2 Dec. 1547. He entered the University of Salamanca, but his penchant for the fair sex soon led to his expulsion and the same cause led to his resolution to leave Spain and try his fortune in the New World. He went to the West Indies in 1504, where Velasquez, governor of Cnba, gave him the command of a fleet, which was sent on a voyage of discovery. Cortes quitted Santiago de Cuba 18 Nov. 1518, with 11 vessels, about 700 Spaniards, 18 horses and 10 small field-pieces, and landed on the Mexican coast. The sight of the horses on which the Spaniards were mounted; the mov able fortresses in which they had crossed the ocean; the iron which covered them; the noise of the cannon;—all these objects alarmed the natives; and the adventurer by his address gained over the Totonacs and Tlaxcalans, who were his faithful allies to the last. To keep in check another tribe he built a fort and a few houses, which formed the nucleus of the city of Vera Cruz, and in order to prevent the desertion of his soldiers, and to give them the courage of despair, he caused his little fleet to be destroyed. Cortes entered the city of Mexico 18 Nov 1519. Montezuma,. the sov ereign of the country, received him as his master; and the inhabitants, it is said, thought him a god and a child of the sun. He destroyed the idols in the temples, to whom human sacri fices were offered, and placed in their room images of the Virgin and of the saints. In the meantime he made continual progress toward getting possession of the country, forming alliances with several caciques, enemies to Montezuma, and assuring himself of the others by force or stratagem. On a general of Monte zuma attacking the Spaniards, in obedience to a secret order, Cortes repaired to the Imperial palace, had the commander and his officers burned alive, and forced the emperor, while in chains, to acknowledge publicly the sovereignty of Charles V. The unhappy monarch added to this homage a present of a large quantity of pure gold, and a number of precious stones. But the jealousy of Velasquez was so much excited by the deeds of his representative, that he sent an army numbering about 1,400 against him. Cortes, with a force not more than 250 strong, advanced to meet it, gained over the soldiers who bore arms against him, and with their assistance again made war with the Mexicans, who had also revolted against their own emperor, Montezuma, whom they accused of treachery. After Montezuma, who had hoped

to restore tranquillity by showing himself to the multitude, had fallen a victim to their rage, Guatimozin, his nephew and son-in-law, was acknowledged as emperor by the Mexicans, and gained some advantage over the Spaniards. He defended his capital during three months, but could not withstand the Spanish artillery. Cor tes again took possession of Mexico, and in 1521 the emperor, the empress, the ministers and the whole court were in his power. The unhappy Guatimozin was subjected to tortures to make him disclose the place where his treas ures were concealed, and was afterward exe cuted with a great number of his nobles. The court of Madrid now became jealous of the power of Cortes, who had been some time before appointed captain-general and governor of Mexico. Commissioners were sent to inspect and control his measures; his property was seized; his dependents were imprisoned; and he repaired to Spain. He was received with much distinction, and returned to Mexico with an increase of titles, but a diminution of power. A viceroy had charge of the civil administration, and Cortes was entrusted only with the military command and the privilege of prosecuting his discoveries. The division of powers proved a constant source of dissension; and though he discovered the peninsula of California in 1533, most of his enterprises were frustrated, his life embittered and he returned again to Spain, where he was coldly received and neglected. He followed Charles V in his unfortunate ex pedition against Algiers in 1541 and gave signal proofs of his valor, yet the monarch continued to refuse him admission to the court. It is said that one day, having forced his way through a crowd round the carriage of his king, and put his foot on the step to obtain an audience Charles coldly inquired who he was. *I am a man," replied Cortes, °who has gained you more provinces than your father left you towns." He passed the remainder of his days in solitude, leaving a character eminent for bravery and ability, but infamous for perfidy and cruelty. Consult Antonio de Solis, 'His toria de la conquista de Mijico' (Madrid 1684; and a popular edition in 5 volumes, Paris 1827) ; MacNutt, F. A., (2 vols., New York 1908) ; Ober,