History remembers Hernan Cortes as the most ruthless of all Spanish conquistadors. Historians often criticize the inhumane methods of subduing the native population of Mexico and blame him for the destruction of not one or two ancient temples and monuments.
1. His Expedition to Mexico was not approved by the Governor of Cuba
Before he went on his first expedition in 1519, Hernan Cortes served as a magistrate under the Governor of Cuba, Diego Velazques. When he was elected as a captain of the future expedition, it became clear that his intentions were different than the governor’s plans.
The original purpose of the expedition was to meet the local natives and arrange terms for trade. However, Cortes had the intention to conquer which is why Velazques canceled the expedition in the last moment.
Cortes did not follow the orders and set sail with his fleet of 11 ships.
2. One of his most trusted servants was a slave from whom he had a son
Before he began his conquests in Veracruz, Cortes landed at Tabasco in an attempt to gain intelligence from the locals and possibly befriend them. Well, he apparently succeeded and in return, was given 20 women as a gift. Obviously, they were to be his slaves.
One of the girls, named Marina, knew Spanish and soon became his main interpreter and more. She gave him his first son whom they named Martin.
3. Hernan Cortes had two wives and many mistresses during his conquests
Since we already mentioned the Mexican girl Marina, we need to specify that Cortes was already married before his expedition but he never had any children with his original wife.
It is said that he had not less than 5 children from different mistresses during his conquests. Apart from that, he later had a second wife and 6 children from her alone.
4. Cortes studied law and used it during his conquests to elect himself to power
Cortes studied law in a law school in his teenage years but he genuinely never wanted to work in this branch. However, he utilized his knowledge extremely well during his conquests in order to uplift himself to power against the will of Velazques.
This is why he founded the city of Veracruz – so that his loyal men could elect him as chief justice.
5. Unpopular opinion: He did not exactly burn his ships
Cortes’s intentions were clear – he was there to conquer. With this said, there is a popular belief that he burned all of his ships apart from one as a sign of his will to conquer. This act meant that there is no turning back now and he and his men would have to survive through conquest.
However, he actually did not burn his ships but instead, dismantled them for their most important parts. This decision later saved him and his men more than once along their path.
6. Hernan Cortes convinced local tribes to join him
All the way from the beginning of the expedition, Cortes was working towards bringing locals to his side. His ultimate goal was to conquer the great Aztec Empire and he was fortunate enough to know that the smaller local tribes and people too wanted it gone.
He made great use of his new allies to consequently win battle after battle until he reached the capital home of the great ruler.
7. The Aztec Emperor Montezuma believed Hernan Cortes and his men were God’s emissaries
What a surprise it must have been to be welcomed as honored guests in the capital home of the emperor, right? Fortunately for Cortes, there was a prophecy in the Aztec calendar that predicted the return of god Quetzalcoatl in the exact year of Cortes’s expedition.
As you can probably tell already, the Emperor believed that they were envoys of the god and allowed them into the city of Tenochtitlán, which had around 150 000 citizens at that time and is known as the most densely populated city in the history of this region.
8. Cortes conquered Tenochtitlán by taking Emperor Montezuma hostage
The end of the Aztec Empire happened in the span of a few months although Cortes generally took control over the capital when he took the emperor as a hostage. This gave his men the opportunity to destroy and plunder the city.
Later on, he traveled back to the coast to fight off the forces of Velazques whom he sent to arrest Cortes. As the story goes, Cortes won the battle and went back to Tenochtitlán which was in the middle of the rebellion.
The commander he left in control of the city with not more than 200 men had massacred the majority of Aztec chiefs which lead to a fierce rebellion by the citizens. Furthermore, the Emperor was also killed.
The Aztec warriors managed to drive Cortes out of the city but their victorious feast was short-lived as the Spaniards defeated them completely in the Battle of Otumba several months later and regained control of the capital. This is when the mightly Aztec Empire fell.
9. There is a theory that Hernan Cortes killed his first wife
To his surprise, Cortes’s first wife Catalina Suarez whom he left in Cuba had decided to travel to him in Mexico. She may have accepted his mistress but she had much to say against his befriended Indians which is considered to be the reason behind her death.
After a party hosted by Cortes which had numerous Indian guests, Catalina was found dead. The original story claims that she died of a heart attack or something of this nature but it is said that her neck was bruised when her body was found.
Knowing that Catalina made mean comments about the Indians on that earlier party which made Cortes extremely angry is a good reason to believe that he could be the reason for her surprising death.
10. Cortes did all in his power to destroy the ancient Aztec culture
When the Aztec Empire fell, Cortes founded a new city built on the ruins of the old capital. It was a European city with a European high-class. He gave his fellow colonialists all the power over the local natives.
The Aztecs were to be slaves to the Europeans and they were forbidden from following their ancient traditions and culture. These methods are the reason why Cortes is now considered the most ruthless conquistador and historians often blame him for destroying one of the most ancient civilizations in human history.
11. Cortes was continuously stripped from all of his power until his final days
Although he was appointed governor of New Spain in 1521, it was the beginning of the end for him. The King of Spain, Charles V, and his royal court believed that Hernan Cortes was too powerful to be controlled and left in power.
They called him back to Spain where he was demoted to the less powerful position of general captain.
In the following years, he attempted several expeditions that were unsuccessful until he was completely removed from power in 1536. Despite his indisputable contribution to Spanish colonization, he never received any recognition for his successes in his remaining years.