Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro,
1st Marqués del Valle de
Oaxaca ( ; 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
Cortés was part of
the generation of Spanish colonizers that began the first phase of
colonization of the Americas
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
, 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
, 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.
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.
returned to Spain in 1541 where he died peacefully but
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
( ), in his time he called himself
or Fernando Cortés
( ). 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.
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.
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
, 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
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' studies, his later writings and actions suggest he
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.
Departure for the New World
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
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.
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.
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.
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
In 1511, Cortés had recovered from syphilis
and accompanied Diego Velázquez de
, 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
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
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
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
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.
the first two expeditions, under the orders of
Francisco Hernández de Córdoba and then Juan de Grijalva, sent by Diego Velázquez
to Mexico in
Conquest of Mexico
Map depicting Cortés' invasion
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
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
Among these women was La
, his future mistress and mother of his child Martín.
Malinche knew both the (Aztec) Nahuatl
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.
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
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
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' lieutenants Pedro de
, 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
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
managed to reach Tlaxcala, after having lost 870 men. With the assistance
of their allies, Cortés' 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
, 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
Appointment to governorship of Mexico and internal
Many historical sources have conveyed an impression that Cortés was
unjustly treated by the Spanish
, and that he received nothing but ingratitude for his
role in establishing New Spain
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' own greed and vanity may have played a
part in his deteriorating position with the king
- "Cortés personally was not ungenerously rewarded, but he
speedily complained of insufficient compensation to himself and his
comrades. Thinking himself beyond reach of restraint, he
disobeyed many of the orders of the Crown, and, what was more
imprudent, said so in a letter to the emperor, dated October 15,
1524 (Ycazbalceta, "Documentos para la Historia de México", Mexico,
1858, I). In this letter Cortés, besides recalling in a
rather abrupt manner that the conquest of Mexico was due to him
alone, deliberately acknowledges his disobedience in terms which
could not fail to create a most unfavourable impression."
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
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
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
In 1523, the Crown (possibly influenced by Cortés' enemy, Bishop Fonseca
), sent a
military force under the command of Juan
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
, Diego Columbus
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.
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
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' rising power.
The crest awarded to Cortés, by
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
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
, Luis Ponce de
), 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
A few days after Cortés' 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
. 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.
First return to Spain (1528)
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
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.
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 Indians in a lawsuit. The Indians documented the
abuses in the Huexotzinco
Return to Mexico
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
On returning to Mexico, Cortés found the country in a state of
. 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.
reasserting his position and reestablishing some sort of order,
Cortés retired to his estates at Cuernavaca, about 30 miles (48 km) south of Mexico
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
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.
was the last major expedition by Cortés.
Later life and death
Second return to Spain
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."
Expedition against Algiers
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
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
a second time after the 1538 Battle of
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.
, 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
hischildren (legitimizing them in the eyes of the church),
, the son he
had with Doña Marina (also known as La Malinche), said to be his
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
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
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:
- doña Catalina Pizarro, born between
1514 and 1515 in Santiago
de Cuba or maybe later in Nueva España, daughter of doña
Leonor Pizarro, perhaps relative of Cortés.
- don Martín Cortés, born in Coyoacán in 1522, son of doña Marina (La Malinche),
called the First Mestizo; about him was written The
New World of Martín Cortés; married doña Bernaldina
de Porras and had two children:
- doña Ana Cortés
- don Fernando Cortés, Principal
Judge of Veracruz. Descendants of this line are alive today in
- don Luis Cortés, born in 1525, son of doña
Antonia or Elvira Hermosillo.
- doña Leonor Cortés de Moctezuma,
born in 1527 in Ciudad de
Mexico, daughter of Aztec princess Tecuichpotzin (baptized Isabel), born in
Tenochtitlan on July 11, 1510 and died
on July 9, 1550, the eldest legitimate daughter of Moctezuma II
Xocoyotzin and wife doña María Miahuaxuchitl; married to
Juan de Tolosa, a miner.
- doña María Cortés de Moctezuma, daughter of an Aztec
princess; nothing more is know about her except that she probably
was born with some deformity.
- don Luis Cortés y Ramírez de
Arellano, born in Texcoco in 1530 and died shortly after his
- doña Catalina Cortés de Zúñiga,
born in Cuernavaca in 1531 and died shortly after her
- don Martín Cortés y Ramírez de
Arellano, 2nd Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca, born in Cuernavaca in 1532, married at Nalda on February
24, 1548 his twice cousin once removed doña Ana Ramírez de
Arellano y Ramírez de Arellano and had issue, currently extinct in
- doña María Cortés de Zúñiga, born
in Cuernavaca between 1533 and 1536, married to don Luis
de Quiñones y Pimentel, 5th Count of Luna
- doña Catalina Cortés de Zúñiga,
born in Cuernavaca between 1533 and 1536, died unmarried in Sevilla after the funeral of her father
- doña Juana Cortés de Zúñiga, born
in Cuernavaca between 1533 and 1536, married Don Fernando Enríquez de Ribera y
Portocarrero, 2nd Duke of Alcalá de los Gazules, 3rd Marquess of Tarifa and 6th
Count of Los
Molares, and had issue
Disputed interpretation of his life
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' 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
not paint Cortés as a romantic hero but rather tries to emphasize
that also Cortés' 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
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
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' personality and a tendency
to describe him as either a vicious and ruthless person or a noble
and honorable cavalier.
Representations in México
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.
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
The muralist Diego
painted several representation of him but the most
famous, depicts him as a naked, powerful and ominous figure along
with Malinche in a mural in the National Palace in México
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.
Monument in Mexico City known as
"Monumento al Mestizaje
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
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.
Writings - The Cartas de Relación
Cortés' 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'
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
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
Even there he uses comparatives only, judging from
outward appearances and from impressions.
, 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
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
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
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
Ycazbalceta. There are a number of reprints and translations of
Cortés's writings into various languages.
Ancestors of Hernán Cortés de Monroy y
Pizarro, 1st Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca
- For example, the English language version of his letters is
called "Hernán Cortés: Letters from Mexico", etc.
- Machado, J. T. Montalvão, Dos Pizarros de Espanha aos de
Portugal e Brasil, Author's Edition, 1st Edition, Lisbon,
- The Latin Library, Hernan Cortés
- Crow, John A. The Epic of Latin America. Los Angeles,
California: University of California Press, 1992. 4th ed. p.73
- Sanderson Beck, "Cortès in Mexico"
- Bernard Grunberg, "La folle aventure d'Hernan Cortés",
in L'Histoire n°322, July-August 2007
- Crowe, John A. The Epic of Latin America. Los Angeles,
California: University of California Press, 1992. 4th ed. p.75
- Restall, Matthew (2003). Seven Myths of the Spanish
Conquest. Oxford University Press; Townsend, Camilla (2003).
"Burying the White Gods: New Perspectives on the Conquest of
Mexico." American Historical Review 108, no. 3: 659-687.
- Catholic Encyclopedia, Hernan
- p30-31 of J.H. Elliot, introductory essay to Anthony Pagdens
translation of Cortés' letters "Hernan Cortés" letters from Mexico"
2001 (1971, 1986) Yale University NotaBene books
- p34 of J.H. Elliot, introductory essay to Anthony Pagdens
translation of Cortés' letters "Hernan Cortés" letters from Mexico"
2001 (1971, 1986) Yale University NotaBene books
- Cortés, Hernán. Letters – available as Letters
from Mexico translated by Anthony Pagden. Yale University
Press, 1986. ISBN 0300090943. Available online in spanish from a 1866 edition.
- Díaz del Castillo,
Bernal. The Conquest of New Spain – available as
The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico: 1517-1521 ISBN
- López de Gómara, Francisco. Hispania Victrix; First and
Second Parts of the General History of the Indies, with the whole
discovery and notable things that have happened since they were
acquired until the year 1551, with the conquest of Mexico and New
Spain University of California Press, 1966
- Prescott, William H. History of the Conquest of Mexico, with a Preliminary
View of Ancient Mexican Civilization, and the Life of the
Conqueror, Hernando Cortes
- Last Will and Testament of Hernán
- Myth and Reality: The Legacy of Spain in America by
Jesus J. Chao. Culture/Society Opinion. February 12, 1992. The
Institute of Hispanic Culture of Houston
- Crow, John A. The Epic of Latin America. 4th ed. New York:
University of California P, 1992.
- Hernando Cortés by Jacobs, W.J., New York,
N.Y.:Franklin Watts, Inc. 1974.
- The World’s Greatest Explorers: Hernando Cortés.
Chicago, by Stein, R.C., Illinois: Chicago Press Inc. 1991.
- Maura, Juan Francisco. “Cobardía, falsedad y opportunismo español: algunas
consideraciones sobre la “verdadera” historia de la conquista de la
Nueva España” Lemir (Revista de literatura medieval y del
Renacimiento) 7 (2003): 1-29.
- Passuth, László. The Rain God cries over Mexico
- Restall, Matthew. Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest
Oxford University Press (2003) ISBN 0195160770
- Hernando Cortés by Fisher, M. & Richardson K.
- Hernando Cortés Crossroads Resource Online.
- The Conquest of America by Tzvetan Todorov (1996) ISBN 0061320951
- Thomas, Hugh (1993).
Conquest: Cortés, Montezuma, and the Fall of Old Mexico
- White, Jon Manchip. (1971)
Cortés and the Downfall of the Aztec Empire ISBN