Hernán Cortés in a contemporary rendition
Medellín, Badajoz, Extremadura, Spain
|Died||December 2, 1547 (aged 61–62)
Castilleja de la Cuesta, Seville, Andalusia, Spain
Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Valle de Oaxaca (Spanish pronunciation: [erˈnan korˈtes]; 1485 – December 2, 1547) was a Spanish conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the King of Castile, in the early 16th century. Cortés was part of the generation of Spanish colonizers that began the first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas.
Born in Medellín, Spain, to a family of lesser nobility, Cortés chose to pursue a livelihood in the New World. He went to Hispaniola and later to Cuba, where he received an encomienda and, for a short time, became alcalde (magistrate) of the second Spanish town founded on the island. In 1519, he was elected captain of the third expedition to the mainland, an expedition which he partly funded. His enmity with the Governor of Cuba, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, resulted in the recall of the expedition at the last moment, an order which Cortés ignored. Arriving on the continent, Cortés executed a successful strategy of allying with some indigenous peoples against others. He also used a native woman, Doña Marina, as an interpreter; she would later bear Cortés a son. When the Governor of Cuba sent emissaries to arrest Cortés, he fought them and won, using the extra troops as reinforcements. Cortés wrote letters directly to the king asking to be acknowledged for his successes instead of punished for mutiny. After he overthrew the Aztec Empire, Cortés was awarded the title of Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca, while the more prestigious title of Viceroy was given to a high-ranking nobleman, Antonio de Mendoza. Cortés returned to Spain in 1541 where he died peacefully but embittered.
Because of the controversial undertakings of Cortés and the scarcity of reliable sources of information about him, it has become difficult to assert anything definitive about his personality and motivations. Early lionizing of the conquistadors did not encourage deep examination of Cortés. Later reconsideration of the conquistadors' character in the context of modern anti-colonial sentiment and greatly expanded concern for human rights, as typified by the Black Legend, also did little to expand understanding of Cortés as an individual. As a result of these historical trends, descriptions of Cortés tend to be simplistic, and either damning or idealizing.
While he is often now referred to as Hernán or Hernando Cortez (IPA: [korˈteθ]), in his time he called himself Hernando or Fernando Cortés ([korˈtes]). The names Hernán, Hernando and Fernando are all equally correct. The latter two were most commonly used during his lifetime, but the former shortened form has become common in both the Spanish and English languages in modern times, and is the name which many people know him by today.
Cortés was born in Medellín, in the province of Extremadura, in the Kingdom of Castile in Spain in 1485. His father, Martín Cortés de Monroy, born in 1449 to Rodrigo or Ruy Fernández de Monroy and his wife María Cortés, was an infantry captain of distinguished ancestry but slender means. Hernán's mother was Catalina Pizarro Altamirano. Through his mother, Hernán was the second cousin once removed of Francisco Pizarro, who later conquered the Inca Empire of modern-day Peru (not to be confused with another Francisco Pizarro who joined Cortés to conquer the Aztecs), through her parents Diego Altamirano and wife and cousin Leonor Sánchez Pizarro Altamirano, first cousin of Pizarro's father. Through his father, Hernán was a twice distant relative of Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres, the third Governor of Hispaniola. His paternal grandfather was a son of Rodrigo de Monroy y Almaraz, 5th Lord of Monroy, and wife Mencía de Orellana y Carvajal.
Hernán Cortés is described as a pale, sickly child by his biographer, chaplain, and friend Francisco López de Gómara. At the age of 14, Cortés was sent to study at the University of Salamanca in west-central Spain. This was Spain's great center of learning, and while accounts vary as to the nature of Cortés's studies, his later writings and actions suggest he studied Law and probably Latin.
After two years, Cortés, tired of schooling, returned home to Medellín, much to the irritation of his parents, who had hoped to see him equipped for a profitable legal career. However, those two years at Salamanca, plus his long period of training and experience as a notary, first in Seville and later in Hispaniola, would give him a close acquaintance with the legal codes of Castile that helped him to justify his unauthorized conquest of Mexico.
At this point in his life, Cortés was described by Gómara as restless, haughty and mischievous. This was probably a fair description of a 16-year-old boy who had returned home only to find himself frustrated by life in his small provincial town. By this time, news of the exciting discoveries of Columbus in the New World was streaming back to Spain.
Plans were made for Cortés to sail to the Americas with a family acquaintance and distant relative, Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres, the newly appointed governor of Hispaniola (currently Haiti and the Dominican Republic), but an injury he sustained while hurriedly escaping from the bedroom of a married woman from Medellín, prevented him from making the journey. Instead, he spent the next year wandering the country, probably spending most of his time in the heady atmosphere of Spain's southern ports of Cadiz, Palos, Sanlucai and Seville, listening to the tales of those returning from the Indies, who told of discovery and conquest, gold, Indians and strange unknown lands. He finally left for Hispaniola in 1504 where he became a colonist.
Cortés did not arrive in the "New World" until he finally succeeded in reaching Hispaniola in a ship commanded by Alonso Quintero, who tried to deceive his superiors and reach the New World before them in order to secure personal advantages. Quintero's mutinous conduct may have served as a model for Cortés in his subsequent career. The history of the conquistadores is rife with accounts of rivalry, jockeying for positions, mutiny and betrayal.
Upon his arrival in 1504 in Santo Domingo, the capital of Hispaniola, the 18-year-old Cortés registered as a citizen, which entitled him to a building plot and land to farm. Soon afterwards, Nicolás de Ovando, still the governor, gave him a repartimiento of Indians and made him a notary of the town of Azua de Compostela. His next five years seemed to help establish him in the colony; in 1506, Cortés took part in the conquest of Hispaniola and Cuba, receiving a large estate of land and Indian slaves for his efforts from the leader of the expedition.
In 1511, Cortés had recovered from syphilis and accompanied Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, an aide of the Governor of Hispaniola, in his expedition to conquer Cuba. Velázquez was appointed as governor. At the age of 26, Cortés was made clerk to the treasurer with the responsibility of ensuring that the Crown received the quinto, or customary one-fifth of the profits from the expedition.
The Governor of Cuba, Diego Velázquez, was so impressed with Cortés that he secured a high political position for him in the colony. Cortés continued to build a reputation as a daring and bold leader. He became secretary for Governor Velázquez. Cortés was twice appointed municipal magistrate (alcalde) of Santiago. In Cuba, Cortés became a man of substance with a repartimiento (gift of land and Indian slaves), mines and cattle. This new position of power also made him the new source of leadership, which opposing forces in the colony could then turn to. In 1514, Cortés led a group which demanded that more Indians be assigned to the settlers.
As time went on, relations between Cortés and Governor Velázquez became strained. This all began once news of Juan de Grijalva, establishing a colony on the mainland where there was a lot of silver and gold, reached Velázquez; it was decided to send him help. Cortés was appointed Captain-General of this new expedition in October 1518, but was advised to move fast before Velázquez changed his mind. With Cortés’experience as an administrator, knowledge gained from many failed expeditions, and his impeccable rhetoric he was able to gather six ships and 300 men, within a month. Predictably, Velázquez’s jealousy exploded and decided to place the leadership of the expedition in other hands. However, Cortés quickly gathered more men and ships in other Cuban ports.
Cortés also found time to become romantically involved with Catalina Xuárez (or Juárez), the sister-in-law of Governor Velázquez. Part of Velázquez' displeasure seems to have been based on a belief that Cortés was trifling with Catalina's affections. Cortés was temporarily distracted by one of Catalina's sisters but finally married Catalina, reluctantly, under pressure from Governor Velázquez. However, by doing so, he hoped to secure the good will of both her family and that of Velázquez.
It was not until he had been almost 15 years in the Indies, that Cortés began to look beyond his substantial status as mayor of the capital of Cuba and as a man of affairs in the thriving colony. He missed the first two expeditions, under the orders of Francisco Hernández de Córdoba and then Juan de Grijalva, sent by Diego Velázquez to Mexico in 1518.
In 1518 Velázquez put him in command of an expedition to explore and secure the interior of Mexico for colonization. At the last minute, due to the old gripe between Velázquez and Cortés, he changed his mind and revoked his charter. Cortés ignored the orders and went ahead anyway, in February 1519, in an act of open mutiny. Accompanied by about 11 ships, 500 men, 13 horses and a small number of cannons, he landed in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mayan territory. There, he met Geronimo de Aguilar, a Spaniard who had survived from a shipwreck and joined the troops. Geronimo de Aguilar, a Franciscan priest, had learned Maya during his captivity, and could thus translate for Cortés. In March 1519, Cortés formally claimed the land for the Spanish crown. He stopped in Trinidad to hire more soldiers and obtain more horses. Then he proceeded to Tabasco and won a battle against the natives, who did not want to welcome the Spaniards, during which time he received from the vanquished twenty young indigenous women and he converted them all. Among these women was La Malinche, his future mistress and mother of his child Martín. Malinche knew both the (Aztec) Nahuatl language and Maya, thus enabling Hernán Cortés to communicate in both. She became a very valuable interpreter and counselor. Through her help, Cortés learned from the Tabascans about the wealthy Aztec Empire and its riches.
In July 1519, his men took over Veracruz: by this act, Cortés dismissed the authority of the Governor of Cuba to place himself directly under the orders of Charles V. In order to eliminate any ideas of retreat, Cortés scuttled his ships. In Veracruz, he met some of Moctezuma's tributaries and asked them to arrange a meeting with Moctezuma. Moctezuma repeatedly turned down the meeting, but Cortés was determined. Leaving a hundred men in Veracruz, Cortès marched on Tenochtitlan in mid-August 1519, along with 600 men, 15 horsemen, 15 cannons, and hundreds of indigenous carriers and warriors. On the way to Tenochtitlan, Cortés made alliances with native American tribes such as the Nahuas of Tlaxcala, the Tlaxcaltec, who surrounded the Spanish and about 2,000 porters onto of a hilltop and the Totonacs of Cempoala. In October 1519, Cortés and his men, accompanied by about 3,000 Tlaxcalteca, marched to Cholula, the second largest city in central Mexico. Cortés, either in a pre-meditated effort to instill fear upon the Aztecs waiting for him at Tenochtitlan or (as he later claimed when under investigation) wishing to make an example when he feared native treachery, infamously massacred thousands of unarmed members of the nobility gathered at the central plaza, then partially burned the city.
By the time he arrived in Tenochtitlan the Spaniards had a large army. On November 8, 1519, they were peacefully received by the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II, due to Mexican tradition and diplomatic customs. Moctezuma deliberately let Cortés enter the heart of the Aztec Empire, hoping to get to know their weaknesses better and to crush them later. He gave lavish gifts in gold to the Spaniards which enticed them to plunder vast amounts of gold. In his letters to Charles V, Cortés claimed to have learned at this point that he was considered by the Aztecs to be either an emissary of the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl or Quetzalcoatl himself — a belief which has been contested by a few modern historians. But quickly Cortès learned that Spaniards on the coast had been attacked, and decided to take Moctezuma as a hostage in his own palace, requesting him to swear allegiance to Charles V.
Meanwhile, Velasquez sent another expedition, led by Pánfilo de Narváez, to oppose Cortès, arriving in Mexico in April 1520 with 1,100 men. Cortés left 200 men in Tenochtitlan and took the rest to confront Narvaez. He overcame Narváez, despite his numerical inferiority, and convinced the rest of Narvaez's men to join him. In Mexico, one of Cortés's lieutenants Pedro de Alvarado, committed a massacre in the Main Temple, triggering a local rebellion. Cortés speedily returned to Mexico and proposed an armistice, attempting to support himself on Moctezuma, but the latter was stoned to death by his subjects on July 1, 1520 and Cortés decided to flee for Tlaxcala. During the Noche Triste (30 June-1 July 1520), the Spaniards managed a narrow escape from Tenochtitlan across the causeway, while their backguard was being massacred. Much of the treasure looted by Cortés was lost (as well as his artillery) during this panicked escape from Tenochtitlán. After a battle in Otumba, they managed to reach Tlaxcala, after having lost 870 men. With the assistance of their allies, Cortés's men finally prevailed with reinforcements arriving from Cuba. Cortés began a policy of attrition towards the island city of Tenochtitlán cutting off supplies and subduing the Aztecs' allied cities thus changing the balance and organizing the siege of Tenochtitlán, destroying the city.
In January 1521, Cortés countered a conspiracy against him, headed by Villafana, who was hanged. Finally, with the capture of Cuauhtémoc, the Tlatoani (ruler) of Tenochtitlán, on 13 August 1521, the Aztec Empire disappeared, and Cortés was able to claim it for Spain, thus renaming the city Mexico City. From 1521 to 1524, Cortés personally governed Mexico.
Many historical sources have conveyed an impression that Cortés was unjustly treated by the Spanish Crown, and that he received nothing but ingratitude for his role in establishing New Spain. This picture is the one Cortés presents in his letters and in the later biography written by Gomara. However, there may be more to the picture than this. Cortés's own greed and vanity may have played a part in his deteriorating position with the king
King Charles I of Spain, who had become Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1519, appointed Cortés as governor, captain general and chief justice of the newly conquered territory, dubbed "New Spain of the Ocean Sea". But also, much to the dismay of Cortés, four royal officials were appointed at the same time to assist him in his governing — in effect submitting him to close observation and administration. Cortés initiated the construction of Mexico City, destroying Aztec temples and buildings and then rebuilding on the Aztec ruins what soon became the most important European city in the Americas. Cortés managed the founding of new cities and appointed men to extend Spanish rule to all of New Spain, imposing the encomienda land tenure system in 1524. He also supported efforts to evangelize the indigenous people to Christianity and sponsored new explorations. He then spent the next seven years establishing peace among the Indians of Mexico and developing mines and farmlands. Cortés was one of the first Spaniards to attempt to grow sugar in Mexico and one of the first to import African slaves to early colonial Mexico. At the time of his death his estate contained at least 200 slaves who were either native Africans or of African descent.
In 1523, the Crown (possibly influenced by Cortés's enemy, Bishop Fonseca), sent a military force under the command of Juan de Garay to conquer and settle the northern part of Mexico, the region of Pánuco. This was another setback for Cortés who mentioned this in his fourth letter to the King in which he describes himself as the victim of a conspiracy by his archenemies Diego Velázquez, Diego Columbus and Bishop Fonseca as well as Juan Garay. The influence of Garay was effectively stopped by this appeal to the King who sent out a decree forbidding Garay to interfere in the politics of New Spain, causing him to give up without a fight.
From 1524 to 1526, Cortés headed an expedition to Honduras where he defeated Cristóbal de Olid, who had claimed Honduras as his own under the influence of the Governor of Cuba Diego Velázquez. Fearing that Cuauhtémoc might head an insurrection in Mexico, he brought him with him in Honduras and hanged him during the journey. Raging over Olid's treason, Cortés issued a decree to arrest Velázquez, whom he was sure was behind Olid's treason. This, however, only served to further estrange the Crown of Castile and the Council of Indies, both of which were already beginning to feel anxious about Cortés's rising power.
Cortés's fifth letter to Charles V attempts to justify his conduct, concludes with a bitter attack on “various and powerful rivals and enemies” who have “obscured the eyes of your Majesty.” Unfortunately, the Holy Roman Emperor had little time for distant colonies (much of Charles's reign was taken up with wars with France, the German Protestants and the expanding Ottoman Empire), except insofar as they contributed to finance his wars. In 1521, year of the Conquest, Charles V was attending to matters in his German domains and Spain was ruled by Bishop (later Pope) Adrian of Utrecht, who functioned as regent. Velázquez and Fonseca persuaded the regent to appoint a commissioner with powers, (a Juez de residencia, Luis Ponce de León), to investigate Cortés's conduct and even arrest him. Cortés was once quoted as saying that it was "more difficult to contend against (his) own countrymen than against the Aztecs." Governor Diego Velázquez continued to be a thorn in his side, teaming up with Bishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, chief of the Spanish colonial department, to undermine him in the Council of the Indies.
A few days after Cortés's return from his expedition, Ponce de León suspended Cortés from his office of governor of New Spain. The Licentiate then fell ill and died shortly after his arrival, appointing Marcos de Aguilar as alcalde mayor. The aged Aguilar also became sick and appointed Alonso de Estrada governor, who was confirmed in his functions by a royal decree in August 1527. Cortés, suspected of poisoning them, refrained from taking over the government. Estrada sent Diego de Figueroa to the south; but de Figueroa raided graveyards and extorted contributions, meeting his end when the ship carrying these treasures sunk. Albornoz persuaded Alonso de Estrada to release Salazar and Chirinos. When Cortés complained angrily after one of his adherent's hand was cut off, Estrada ordered him exiled. Cortés sailed for Spain in 1528 to appeal to Emperor Charles V.
In 1528, Cortés returned to Spain to appeal to the justice of his master, Charles V. He presented himself with great splendor before the court. By this time Charles V had returned and Cortés forthrightly responded to his enemy's charges. Denying he had held back on gold due the crown, he showed that he had contributed more than the quinto (one-fifth) required. Indeed, he had spent lavishly to rebuild Tenochtitlán, damaged during the siege that brought down the Aztec empire.
He was received by Charles with every distinction, and decorated with the order of Santiago. In return for his efforts in expanding the still young Spanish Empire, Cortés was rewarded in 1529 by being named the "Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca" (Marquis of the Oaxaca Valley), a noble title and senorial estate which was passed down to his descendants until 1811. The Oaxaca Valley was one of the wealthiest region of New Spain, and Cortés had 23 000 vassals. Although confirmed in his land holdings and vassals, he was not reinstated as governor and was never again given any important office in the administration of New Spain. During his travel to Spain, his property was mismanaged by abusive colonial administrators. He sided with local natives in a lawsuit. The natives documented the abuses in the Huexotzinco Codex.
Cortés returned to Mexico in 1530 with new titles and honors, but with diminished power, a viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, having been entrusted in 1535 with the administration of civil affairs, although Cortés still retained military authority, with permission to continue his conquests. This division of power led to continual dissension, and caused the failure of several enterprises in which Cortés was engaged.
On returning to Mexico, Cortés found the country in a state of anarchy. There was a strong suspicion in court circles of an intended rebellion by Cortés, and a charge was brought against him that cast a fatal blight upon his character and plans. He was accused of murdering his first wife. The proceedings of the investigation were kept secret. No report, either exonerating or condemning Cortés, was published. Had the Government declared him innocent, it would have greatly increased his popularity; had it declared him a criminal, a crisis would have been precipitated by the accused and his party. Silence was the only safe policy, but that silence is suggestive that grave danger was feared from his influence.
After reasserting his position and reestablishing some sort of order, Cortés retired to his estates at Cuernavaca, about 30 miles (48 km) south of Mexico City. There he concentrated on the building of his palace and on Pacific exploration. Remaining in Mexico between 1530 and 1541, Cortés quarreled with Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán and disputed the right to explore the territory that is today California with Antonio de Mendoza, the first viceroy. In 1536, Cortés explored the northwestern part of Mexico and discovered the Baja California Peninsula. Cortés also spent time exploring the Pacific coast of Mexico. The Gulf of California was originally named the Sea of Cortes by its discoverer Francisco de Ulloa in 1539. This was the last major expedition by Cortés.
After his exploration of Baja California, Cortés returned to Spain in 1541, hoping to confound his angry civilians, who had brought many lawsuits against him (for debts, abuse of power, etc).
On his return he was utterly neglected, and could scarcely obtain an audience. On one occasion he forced his way through a crowd that surrounded the emperor's carriage, and mounted on the footstep. The emperor, astounded at such audacity, demanded of him who he was. "I am a man," replied Cortés proudly, "who has given you more provinces than your ancestors left you cities."
The emperor finally permitted Cortés to join himself and his fleet commanded by Andrea Doria at the great expedition against Algiers in the Barbary Coast in 1541, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire and was used as a base by the famous Turkish corsair Hayreddin Barbarossa who was also the Admiral-in-Chief of the Ottoman Fleet. During this unfortunate campaign, which was his last, Cortés was almost drowned in a storm that hit his fleet while he was pursuing Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, who managed to defeat the fleet of Charles V for a second time after the 1538 Battle of Preveza.
Having spent a great deal of his own money to finance expeditions, he was now heavily in debt. In February 1544 he made a claim on the royal treasury, but was given a royal runaround for the next three years. Disgusted, he decided to return to Mexico in 1547. When he reached Seville, he was stricken with dysentery. He died in Castilleja de la Cuesta, Seville province, on December 2, 1547, from a case of pleurisy at the age of 62.
Like Columbus, he died a wealthy but embittered man. He left his many mestizo and white children well cared for in his will, along with every one of their mothers. He requested in his will that his remains eventually be buried in Mexico. Before he died he had the Pope remove the "natural" status of three of his children (legitimizing them in the eyes of the church), including Martin, the son he had with Doña Marina (also known as La Malinche), said to be his favourite.
After his death his body has been moved more than eight times for several reasons. On December 4 1547 he was buried in the mausoleum of the Duke of Medina in the church of San Isidoro del Campo, Sevilla. Three years later (1550) due to the space being required by the duke, his body was moved to the altar of Santa Catarina in the same church. In his testament, Cortés asked his body to be buried in the monastery he had ordered to be built in Coyoacan in México, ten years after his death, but the monastery was never built. So in 1566, his body was sent to New Spain and buried in the church of "San Francisco de Texcoco", where his mother and one of his sisters were buried.
In 1629, Don Pedro Cortés fourth "Marquez del Valle, his last male descendant, died, so the viceroy decided to move the bones of Cortés along with those of his descendant to the Franciscan church in México. This was delayed for nine years, while his body stayed in the main room of the palace of the viceroy. Eventually it was moved the Sagrario of Franciscan church, where it stayed for 87 years. In 1716, it was moved to another place in the same church. In 1794, his bones were moved to the "Hospital de Jesus" (founded by Cortés), where a statue by Tolsa and a mausoleum were made. There was a public ceremony and all the churches in the city rang their bells.
In 1823, after the independence of México, it seemed imminent that his body would be desecrated, so the mausoleum was removed, the statue and the coat of arms were sent to Palermo in Sicily, Italy to be protected by the Duke of Terranova. The bones were hidden, and everyone thought that they had been sent out of México. In 1836, his bones were moved to another place in the same building. It was not until 1947 that they were rediscovered thanks to the discovery of a secret document by Lucas Alaman. His body put in charge of the "Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia" INAH; it was authenticated and then restored to the same place, this time with a bronze inscription and his coat of arms. In 1981, when a copy of the bust by Tolsa was put in the church, there was a failed attempt to destroy his bones.
Natural children of Hernán Cortés
He married twice: firstly in Cuba to Catalina Juárez Marcaida, who died at Coyoacán in 1522 without issue, and secondly in 1529 to doña Juana Ramírez de Arellano de Zúñiga, daughter of don Carlos Ramírez de Arellano, 2nd Count of Aguilar and wife the Countess doña Juana de Zúñiga, and had:
There are relatively few sources to the early life of Cortés; his fame arose from his participation in the conquest of Mexico and it was only after this that people became interested in reading and writing about him. Probably the best source is his letters to the king which he wrote during the campaign in Mexico, but they are written with the specific purpose of putting his efforts in a favourable light and so must be read critically. Another main source is the biography written by Cortés's private chaplain Lopez de Gómara, which was written in Spain several years after the conquest. Gómara never set foot in the Americas and knew only what Cortés had told him, and he had an affinity for knightly romantic stories which he incorporated richly in the biography. The third major source is written as a reaction to what its author calls "the lies of Gomara", the account written by the Conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo does not paint Cortés as a romantic hero but rather tries to emphasize that also Cortés's men should be remembered as important participants in the undertakings in Mexico. In the years following the conquest also more critical accounts of the Spanish arrival in Mexico were written. The Dominican friar Bartolomé de Las Casas wrote his A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies in which he raised strong accusations of brutality, and heinous violence towards the Indians against the conquistadors in general and Cortés in particular. The accounts of the conquest given in the Florentine Codex by the Franciscan Bernardino de Sahagún and his native informants are also less than flattering towards Cortés. The result of the scarce sources to the life of Cortés has been sharp divisions in the description of Cortés's personality and a tendency to describe him as either a vicious and ruthless person or a noble and honorable cavalier.
In México there are few representations of Cortés. However, many landmarks still bear his name, from the castle in the city of Cuernavaca to some street names throughout the republic.
The only authentic monuments are in Mexico City at the pass between the volcanoes Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl where Cortés took his soldiers on their march to Mexico City. It is known as the Paso de Cortés.
In 1981, president Lopez Portillo tried to bring Cortés to public recognition. First, he made public a copy of the bust of Cortés made by Manuel Tolsá in the Hospital de Jesús Nazareno with an official ceremony, but soon a nationalist group tried to destroy it, so it had to be taken out ot the public. Today the copy of bust is in the "Museo Nacional de Historia" in an obscure corner  while the original is in Nápoles, Italy, in the Villa Pignatelli.
Later, another monument, known as "Monumento al Mestizaje" by Julián Martínez y M. Maldonado (1982) was commissioned by Lopez Portillo to be put in the "Zocalo" (Main square) of Coyoacan, near the place of his country house, but it had to be removed to a little known park, the Jardín Xicoténcatl, Barrio de San Diego Churubusco. The statue depicts Cortés, Malinche and their son. 
There is another statue by Sebastián Aparicio, in Cuernavaca, was in a hotel "El casino de la selva". Cortés is barely recognizable, so it sparked little interest. The hotel was closed to made a commercial center, and the statue was put out of public display by Costco the builder of the commercial center.
Cortés's personal account of the conquest of Mexico is narrated in his five letters addressed to Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. These five letters, or cartas de relación, are Cortés's only surviving writings. See "Letters and Dispatches of Cortés," translated by George Folsom (New York, 1843); Prescott's "Conquest of Mexico" (Boston, 1843); and Sir Arthur Helps's "Life of Hernando Cortes" (London, 1871).
As one specialist describes them...
"The Cartas de relación have enjoyed an unequaled popularity among students of the Conquest of Mexico. Cortés was a good writer. His letters to the emperor, on the conquest, deserve to be classed among the best Spanish documents of the period. They are, of course, coloured so as to place his own achievements in relief, but, withal, he keeps within bounds and does not exaggerate, except in matters of Indian civilization and the numbers of population as implied by the size of the settlements. Even there he uses comparatives only, judging from outward appearances and from impressions. Historians, sociologists, and political scientists use them to glean information about the Aztec Empire and the clash between the European and Indian cultures. However, as early as the 16th century doubt has been cast on the historicity of these Conquest accounts. It is generally accepted that Cortés does not write a true “history,” but rather combines history with fiction. That is to say, in his narrative Cortés manipulates reality in order to achieve his overarching purpose of gaining the favor of the king. Cortés applies the classical rhetorical figure of evidentia as he crafts a powerful narrative full of “vividness” that moves the reader and creates a heightened sense of realism in his letters."
His first letter is lost, and the one from the municipality of Vera Cruz has to take its place. It was published for the first time in volume IV of "Documentos para la Historia de España", and subsequently reprinted. The first carta de relación is available online at 
The Segunda Carta de Relacion, bearing the date of October 30, 1520, appeared in print at Seville in 1522. The "Carta tercera", May 15, 1522, appeared at Seville in 1523. The fourth, October 20, 1524, was printed at Toledo in 1525. The fifth, on the Honduras expedition, is contained in volume IV of the Documentos para la Historia de España. The important letter mentioned in the text has been published under the heading of Carta inédita de Cortés by Ycazbalceta. A great number of minor documents, either by Cortés or others, for or against him, are dispersed through the voluminous collection above cited and through the Colección de Documentos de Indias, as well as in the Documentos para la Historia de México of Ycazbalceta. There are a number of reprints and translations of Cortés's writings into various languages.
HERNAN CORTES or Hernando (1485-1547), Spanish soldier, the conqueror of Mexico, was born at Medellin, a small town of Estremadura, in 1485. He belonged to a noble family of decayed fortune, and, being destined for the law, was sent, at fourteen years of age, to the university of Salamanca; but study was distasteful to him, and he returned home in 1501, resolved to enter upon a life of adventure. He arranged to accompany Ovando, who had been appointed to the command of San Domingo, but was prevented from joining the expedition by an accident that happened to him in a love adventure. He next sought military service under the celebrated Gonsalvo de Cordoba, but a serious illness frustrated his purpose. At last, in 1504, he set out, according to his first plan, for San Domingo, where he was kindly received by Ovando. He was then only nineteen, and remarkable for a graceful physiognomy and amiable manners, as well as for skill and address in all military exercises. He remained in San Domingo, where Ovando had successively conferred upon him several lucrative and honourable employments, until 1511, when he accompanied Diego Velazquez in his expedition to the island of Cuba. Here he became alcalde of Santiago, and displayed great ability on several trying occasions.
An opportunity was soon afforded him of showing his powers as a military leader. Juan Grijalva, lieutenant of Velazquez, had just discovered Mexico, but had not attempted to effect a settlement. This displeased the governor of Cuba, who superseded Grijalva, and entrusted the conquestof the newly discovered country to Cortes. The latter hastened his preparations, and, on the 18th of November 1518, he set out from Santiago, with io vessels, 600 or 700 Spaniards, 18 horsemen and some pieces of cannon. Scarcely had he set sail, however, when Velazquez recalled the commission which he had granted to Cortes, and even ordered him to be put under arrest; but the attachment of the troops, by whom he was greatly beloved, enabled him to persevere in spite of the governor; and on the 4th of March 1519 he landed on the coast of Mexico. Advancing along the gulf, sometimes taking measures to conciliate the natives, and sometimes spreading terror by his arms, he took possession of the town of Tobasco. The noise of the artillery, the appearance of the floating fortresses which had transported the Spaniards over the ocean, and the horses on which they fought, all new objects to the natives, inspired them with astonishment mingled with terror and admiration; they regarded the Spaniards as gods, and sent them ambassadors with presents. Cortes here learned that the native sovereign was called Montezuma; that he reigned over an extensive empire, which had lasted for three centuries; that thirty vassals, called caciques, obeyed him; and that his riches were immense and his power absolute. No more was necessary to inflame the ambition of the invader, who did not hesitate to undertake the conquest of this great empire, which could only be effected by combining stratagem and address with force and courage. He laid the foundation of the town of Vera Cruz, caused himself to be elected captain-general of the new colony, and burned his vessels to cut off the possibility of retreat and show his soldiers that they must either conquer or perish. He then penetrated into the interior of the country, drew to his camp several caciques hostile to Montezuma, and induced these native princes to facilitate his progress. The republic of Tlaxcala, which was hostile to Montezuma, opposed him; but he routed its army, which had resisted all the forces of the Mexican empire, dictated peace on moderate terms and converted the people into powerful auxiliaries. His farther advance was in vain attempted to be checked by an ambuscade laid by the inhabitants of Cholula, on whom he took signal vengeance.
Surmounting all other obstacles he arrived, with 6000 natives and a handful of Spaniards, in sight of the immense lake on which was built the city of Mexico, the capital of the empire. Montezuma received him with great pomp, and his subjects, believing Cortes to be a descendant of the sun, prostrated themselves before him. The first care of Cortes was to fortify himself in one of the beautiful palaces of the prince, and he was planning how to possess himself of the riches of so opulent an empire, when intelligence reached him that a general of the emperor, who had received secret orders, had just attacked the garrison of Vera Cruz and killed several of his soldiers. The head of one of the Spaniards was sent to the capital. This event undeceived the Mexicans, who had hitherto believed the Spaniards to be immortal, and necessarily altered the whole policy of Cortes. Struck with the greatness of the danger, surrounded by enemies, and having only a handful of soldiers, he conceived and instantly executed a most daring project. Having repaired with his officers to the palace of the emperor, he announced to Montezuma that he must either accompany him or perish. Being thus master of the person of the monarch, he next demanded that the Mexican general and his officers who had attacked the Spaniards should be delivered into his hands; and when this had been done he caused these unfortunate men, who had only obeyed the orders of their sovereign, to be burned alive before the gates of the imperial palace. During this cruel execution Cortes entered the apartment of Montezuma, and caused him to be loaded with irons, in order to force him to acknowledge himself a vassal of Charles V. The unhappy prince yielded, and was restored to a semblance of liberty on presenting the fierce conqueror with 600,000 marks of pure gold, and a prodigious quantity of precious stones. Scarcely had he reaped the fruits of his audacity, however, when he was informed of the landing of a Spanish army, under Narvaez, which had been sent by Velazquez to compel him to renounce his command. In this emergency Cortes acted with his usual decision and courage. Leaving 200 men at Mexico, under the orders of his lieutenant (Alvarado), he marched against Narvaez, whom he defeated and made prisoner, and he then enlisted under his standard the Spanish soldiers who had been sent to attack him. On his return to the capital, however, he found that the Mexicans had revolted against the emperor and the Spaniards, and that dangers thickened around him. Montezuma perished in attempting to address his revolted subjects; the latter, having chosen a new emperor, attacked the headquarters of Cortes with the utmost fury, and, in spite of the advantage of firearms, forced the Spaniards to retire, as the only means of escaping destruction. Their rear-guard, however, was cut in pieces, and they suffered severely during the retreat, which was continued during six days. Elated with their success, the Mexicans offered battle in the plain of Otumba. This was what Cortes desired, and it proved their destruction. Cortes gave the signal for battle, and, on the 7th of July 1520, gained a victory which decided the fate of Mexico. Immediately afterwards he proceeded to Tlaxcala, assembled an auxiliary army of natives, subjected the neighbouring provinces, and then marched a second time against Mexico, which, after a gallant defence of several months, was retaken on the 13th of August 1521.
These successes were entirely owing to the genius, valour and profound but unscrupulous policy of Cortes; and the account of them which he transmitted to Spain excited the admiration of his countrymen. The extent of his conquests, and the ability he had displayed, effaced the censure which he had incurred by the irregularity of his operations; and public opinion having declared in his favour, Charles V., disregarding the pretensions of Velazquez, appointed him governor and captain-general of Mexico, at the same time conferring on him the valley of Oaxaca, which was erected (1529) into a marquisate, with a considerable revenue. But although his power was thus confirmed by royal authority, and although he exerted himelf to consolidate Spanish domination throughout all Mexico, the means he employed were such that the natives, reduced to despair, took arms against the Spaniards. This revolt, however, was speedily subdued, and the Mexicans were everywhere forced to yield to the ascendancy of European discipline and valour. Guatemotzin, who had been recognized as emperor, and a great number of caciques, accused of having conspired against the conquerors, were publicly executed, with circumstances of great cruelty, by order of Cortes. Meanwhile the court of Madrid, dreading the ambition and popularity of the victorious chief, sent commissioners to watch his conduct and thwart his proceedings; and whilst he was completing the conquest of New Spain his goods were seized by the fiscal of the Council of the Indies, and his retainers imprisoned and put into irons. Indignant at the ingratitude of his sovereign, Cortes returned in person to Spain to appeal to the justice of the emperor, and appeared there with great splendour. The emperor received him with every mark of distinction, and decorated him with the order of St Iago. Cortes returned to Mexico with new titles but diminished authority, a viceroy having been entrusted with the administration of civil affairs, whilst the military department, with permission to push his conquests, was all that remained to Cortes. This division of powers became a source of continual dissension, and caused the failure of the last enterprises in which he engaged. Nevertheless, in 1536, he discovered the peninsula of Lower California, and surveyed a part of the gulf which separates it from Mexico.
At length, tired of struggling with adversaries unworthy of him, whom the court took care to multiply, he returned to Europe, hoping to confound his enemies. But Charles V. received him coldly. Cortes dissembled, redoubled the assiduity of his attendance on the emperor, accompanied him in the disastrous expedition to Algiers in 1541, served as a volunteer, and had a horse killed under him. This was his last appearance in the field, and if his advice had been followed the Spanish arms would have been saved from disgrace, and Europe delivered nearly three centuries earlier from the scourge of organized piracy. Soon afterwards he fell into neglect, and could scarcely obtain an audience. The story goes that, having forced his way through the crowd which surrounded the emperor's carriage, and mounted on the doorstep, Charles, astonished at an act of such audacity, demanded to know who he was. "I am a man," replied the conqueror of Mexico proudly, "who has given you more provinces than your ancestors left you cities." So haughty a declaration of important services ill-requited could scarcely fail to offend a monarch on whom fortune had lavished her choicest favours. Cortes, overwhelmed with disgust, withdrew from court, passed the remainder of his days in solitude, and died, near Seville, on the 2nd of December 1547.
The only writings of Cortes are five letters on the subject of his conquests, which he addressed to Charles V. The best edition of them is that of Don Francisco Antonio Lorenzana, archbishop of Mexico, entitled Historia de Nueva-Espana escrita por su esclarecido conquistador, Hernan Cortes, aumentada con otros documientos y notas (Mexico, 1770, 4to), a work the noble simplicity of which attests the truth of the recital it contains. An English translation of the letters, edited by Francis A. MacNutt, was published in 1908. The conquests of Cortes have been described with pompous elegance by Antonio de Solis in his Historia de la conquista de Mejico (1684), and with more truth and simplicity by Bernardo Diaz del Castillo in his work under the same title (1632). See also Sir Arthur Helps's Life of Hernando Cortes (2 vols., London, 1871), F. A. MacNutt's Fernando Cortes ("` Heroes of the Nations" Series, 1909), and the bibliography to Mexico.
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