CORTES, kor-t5s', HERNAN Or HERNANDO (14S5-1547). Conqueror of Mexico. He was horn at Medellin. in Estremadura. Spain. and was sent to the University of Salamanca. but his superabundant animal spirits and Un restrained passions for the fair sex cut short his university career. The same cause made it impossible for him to remain at home, and so lie decided to try his fortune in the New World. An accident, received in scaling a tumble-down wall while on his way to a final clandestine rendezvous, postponed his departure until the spring of 1504, when he sailed for Santo Domingo. There lie joined the forces engaged in suppressing a native revolt, and quickly won promotion, so that in 1511 lie was the chief executive officer with the expedition dispatched under Velazquez for the conquest of Cuba, be (Timing subsequently Alcalde of Santiago. Min ing and stock-raising, although profitable, were not sufficiently to his taste, and he persuaded Velazquez to give him the command of an ex pedition to the mainland, made known at that time by the discoveries of Grijalva. No expense was spared in equipping a fleet of seven vessels, carrying three hundred men. Velazquez, how ever, became suspicious lest Cortes should refuse to recognize his authority when once lie was in a position to establish himself independently. Learning that he was to be superseded, Cortes gathered his forces and set sail, on November 17, 1518, before Velazquez could order him to resign the command. Stopping for supplies at the settlements 011 the coast of Cuba, lie proceeded to Cozumel Island, sailed along the Yucatan coast and fought a bloody battle with the natives at Tabasco. In the early spring of 1519 lie landed at San Juan de Ulloa. There he ob tained numerous captives, one of whom was the famous Marina, whom he made his mistress, and who, out of devotion to him, acted as the inter preter, guide, and counselor of the Spaniards. and frequently saved them from serious reverses. Finding a better harbor a little north of San Juan, Spaniards removed thither and established a town, naming it La Villa Rica de Vera Cruz. An independent government was organized by vote of the settlers, who determined to renounce their allegiance to Velazquez and to acknowl edge only the supreme control of the King in Spain. In order to prevent those who opposed this movement from deserting him and carrying the news to Cuba, Cortes dispatched one vessel to Spain with messengers to represent his cause at the Court, and then sank the rest of his fleet.
Starting on his march inland, Cortes entered the country of the Tlascalans, who fought him vigorously for a few days, but soon came to terms with the strangers and joined them against the Aztecs. by whom the Tlascalans had been subjugated not long before. From this time until 'the conquest was achieved, the tribe continued the most important and trusty of all the native allies of the Spaniards. Advancing into the country of the Cholulans, Cortes suc ceeded, after a little fighting, in persuading the people to accept a reconciliation with their traditional enemies from Tlascala and to join them in his train for the march on Mexico.
Motecubzoma. or "Montezuma, the Aztec chief tain, pursued an irresolute policy and finally determined not to oppose the Spaniards directly by force of arms. but to await their arrival and learn more of their purposes. On November S, 1519, Cortes entered the City of Mexico and established himself in one of its large com munal dtcellimgs. which had belonged to the family of Moteculizoina's predecessors. The Span iards were allowed to roam through the city at their pleasure, and found mulch gold and other treasures in the storehouses. Realizing that a party among the native leaders were talking of driving the strangers out of town. Cort•B in duced Moteenlizoma to come to his house, where lie was kept as a hostage. Shortly after, in April, 1520. messengers brought word that an expedition sent from Cuba by Velazquez, under the command of Narvaez, had landed at San Juan de Ulloa, with orders to arrest Cortes and send him to Cuba for punishment. Cortes promptly started for the coast with a small force. He found the camp of his enemies un guarded, entered oil a dark night, captured Narvaez, and the next day induced nearly all the soldiers to join his own standard. Mean while, in Alvarado, who had been left in command, had learned that the Aztecs intended to attack him at the close of a great religious ceremony tvhich was then being held. To pre vent this, Alvarado suddenly surrounded the leaders, who were all hu,y with the sacrifices in one of the large courtyards of the town, and killed most of them. Cortes, as soon as all danger from Narvaez was past, hastened back to Mexico. He was allowed to enter the city peace ably, with his followers. but was immediately surrounded and attacked. As there was no possibility of maintaining his position in the city, for lack of food or water, and as all hope of persuading the natives to desist vanished when Moteculizoma died, an immediate retreat was de eided on. Selecting a dark, rainy night—the fa mous Yoche Tristr, on June 30—the Spaniards and their native allies started out of the city. The pressed on behind them. The Spaniards were hurried along the causeways or driven into the water, where they were seized by Mexi cans in canoes and dragged off to the city for sacrifice. Some forty Europeans were captured alive, the great object of their enemies. Luckily for their fellows, the prospective sacrifices at tracted the larger part, of their assailants back into the city. Cortes retreated toward Tlascala. At Otumba lie was confronted by an overwhelm ing force of his enemies. In despair the harassed Spaniards hurled themselves upon the Aztecs and crushed them. They nevertheless continued their retreat to Tlascala, where they recuperated during the summer.