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by Bryan Pavlovic
Who was Hernando Cortez? Cortez was the Spanish conqueror of Mexico. He also wiped out the Aztec Empire.
Cortez was born in 1485 in Medellin, Extremadura. His parents were of small Spanish nobility. In 1499, when Cortez was 14 he attended the University of Salamanca, at this university he studied law. Two years later in 1501 he gave up on his education and started to drift around.
In 1504 he set sail for what is now the Dominican Republic to try his luck in the New World. In 1511, when he was 18, he joined an army under the command of Spanish soldier named Diego Velázquez and played a part the conquest of Cuba. Velázquez became the governor of Cuba, and Cortez was elected Mayor-Judge of Santiago.
In 1518, Juan de Grijavlva discovered Mexico. Cortez convinced Velázquez to give command of an expedition to establish a colony in Mexico to him. But this expedition was canceled on suspicions of Cortez having intentions other than his orders. However, on February 19, 1519, with a force of 600 men, and less than 20 horses Cortez set sail for Mexico. He sailed up the coast of the Yucatán. In March 1519, Cortez landed in Mexico, and suppressed the town of Tabasco. This was where Cortez met his soon to be mistress Malinche. She became a guide and interpreter. After finding a better harbor north of San Juan, Cortez and his small force sailed there and established a town, La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz. To prevent any thought of retreat he burned his ships.
Cortez soon after this learned about the Aztec Empire. He marched his troops inland and forced an alliance with the Indians of Tlaxcala. Cortez began to impersonate Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl was an ancient god who the Aztecs believed would eventually return. In November 1519, Montezuma II, the Aztec king, unable to organize resistance and curious of their intentions, failed to stop Cortez and his force from entering Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital. Cortez established a headquarters inside Tenochtitlan.
To keep his position he seized Montezuma as hostage and forced him to swear allegiance to Charles V, King of Spain.
Cortez hearing word that Velasquez had sent 1,400 soldiers to arrest him decided to march with his force to the coast to do battle with the invaders. He succeeded in catching them by surprise and then convinced the soldiers sent to arrest him to join him.
Upon his return to the Aztec capital, Cortez was attacked by thousands of Aztec warriors. This attack was caused by the slaughter of 600 Aztec nobles while Cortez was gone. To calm the Aztecs, Montezuma was brought out, but his own people threw stones at him and he later died of his wounds. Cortez was forced to withdraw. But Cortez returned in 1521 to lay waste to Tenochtitlan. On August 13, 1521 it fell, but only because a plague killed many Aztecs.
In 1528, Cortez went home to Spain and was given the title "Marques del Valle de Oaxaca." When Cortez returned to the New World, he explored California for a year in 1534.
The only other things he did before he died were he fought against the Pirates of Algiers in Africa during 1541, and later that year back in the New World, he led a force against the Mayas. Cortez died on December 2, 1547 near Seville.
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