Hernan Cortes

Hernan Cortes

Hernan Cortes - Explorer (1485 - 1547)

From a lowly beginning, Hernan Cortes earned respect and great rewards as a Spanish explorer and conquistador. He took part in several expeditions for Spain, most notably into Mexico where he conquered the Aztec Empire. He founded Veracruz and Mexico City before going on to discover California.

This page details facts about Hernan Cortes's life and the events that shaped his history.

Hernan Cortes the Explorer - Fun Facts for Kids !

1: Hernan Cortes was born in Medellin, Spain, in 1485. He was the son of Martin Cortes de Monroy, an infantry captain.

2: Little is known of his early life, however Hernan Cortes was believed to have studied Latin and law before sailing for Santo Domingo, the capital of Hispaniola in 1504.

3: In 1506 Hernan Cortes took part in the Spanish expedition to conquer Hispaniola and Cuba. The leader of the expedition gave him a large estate as a reward.

4: In 1511 Hernan Cortes joined an expedition, led by Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, to complete the conquest of Cuba. Following this expedition, Diego Velazquez became Governor of Cuba and appointed Cortes as his Secretary. He later became Alcalde (Spanish Municipal Magistrate), and married Catalina Juarez, who was Diego Velazquezís sister in law.

5: In October 1518 Governor Velazquez appointed Hernan Cortes commander of an expedition to explore Mexico, which was rumoured to hold great wealth. However, not long before the expedition was due to leave, Velazquez relieved Cortes of his command. Hernan Cortes chose to ignore the orders and, in February 1519, set off for Mexico.

6: Hernan Cortes landed on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mayan territory and, in March 1519, claimed the land for Spain. While there, he came upon Geronimo de Aguilar, a Franciscan Friar who had escaped from the Mayans after being captured following a shipwreck.

7: Shortly after, Hernan Cortes founded the first Spanish town in Mexico, Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz (modern day Veracuz). The local people offered some resistance however Hernan Cortes defeated them in battle and used one of the captured women, La Malinche, as an interpreter. Along with Geronimo de Aguilar, who had come to learn the local language, La Malinche was able to provide a way for Cortes to communicate with the Aztecs.

8: As the Aztecs were the major civilisation in the area, Cortes wanted to meet with their King, Montezuma II. Despite several requests, Montezuma II declined to meet with him so he made his way to Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. During the three month journey, he gained several allies which added to the numbers that finally arrived in Tenochtitlan.

9: Montezuma II welcomed Cortes to Tenochtitlan and presented him with opulent gifts. It is believed that he was welcomed in this way because the Aztecs considered him to be sent by a god. However Cortes heard that the Aztecs had killed several of the Spanish on the coast so he took Montezuma II hostage.

10: In April 1520, Panfilo de Narvaez arrived in Mexico. He had been sent by Diego Velazquez to oppose Cortes. Faced with this threat, Hernando Cortes left a small force at Tenochtitlan and left to face Narvaez. After defeating him, Cortes returned to Tenochtitlan to find that an uprising had occurred after many unarmed Aztecs had been massacred in the Great Temple during a festival.

11: On 1st July 1520 Hernan Cortes forced Montezuma II to face the crowds in an effort to bring the uprising under control, however Montezuma II was killed. Itís unclear how he died, as some say he was stoned by the Aztecs and others that he was murdered by the Spanish. The Spanish suffered heavy losses and were forced out of Tenochtitlan.

12: In 1521 Cortes rallied and, with the help of reinforcements from Cuba, he cut off supplies to Tenochtitlan. After a three month siege, Hernan Cortes brought the city to its knees and destroyed it.

13: By 13 August 1521, Cortes had captured the Aztec Empire and claimed it for Spain. The territory became know as New Spain and Tenochtitlan was renamed Mexico City. Cortes was appointed Governor, Captain General and Chief Justice by King Charles I.

14: In 1522 Cortesís wife Catalina arrived in New Spain and, during the night of 1 and 2 November, mysteriously died. The death caused a scandal and some believed that Cortes had murdered his wife.

15: In 1524 Hernando Cortes led an expedition to Honduras to oppose Cristobel de Olid who had claimed the land as his own. Cortes defeated Olid and issued orders for the arrest of the Cuban Governor, Diego Velazquez, as he believed him to be behind Olidís treason.

16: In 1528, following a long period of political battles, Hernan Cortes appeared before Emperor Charles V (also known as King Charles I). He was received and decorated by the Emperor, who also gave him the noble title of Don, and named him Marques del Valle de Oaxaca.

17: In 1529 Hernan Cortes married Dona Juana de Zuniga, a Spanish noblewoman with whom he would have three children.

18: In 1530 he returned to Mexico with his powers greatly reduced. His exploration of Central America continued for a while and led to his discovery of California.

19: Hernan Cortes returned to Spain in 1541 full of resentment at the many claims of power abuse and debt that had been leveled at him. In February 1544 he made a claim on the royal treasury, as he had financed many of his expeditions with his own money and was now in debt.

20: Hernan Cortes died aged 62 on 2 December 1547 just outside Seville in Spain.

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