Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Cortes, Hernando (1485-1547), a Spanish soldier and statesman, born at Medellin, in Estremadura. He studied at Salamanca. He went to San Domingo in 1504, and accompanied Velazquez in an expedition to Estremadura, and was appointed alcalde in the capital. In 1518 Velazquez fitted out a trading expedition to Mexico, and gave Cortes command of the force, consisting of 550 Spaniards, 2,000 or 3,000 Indians, 15 horses, and a few guns. At Trinidad orders came to Cortes that he was superseded, but these orders he refused to obey, and persuaded his men to side with him. Having thus passed the Rubicon, he set out upon that romantic career of conquest which made him the glory of his day and a wonder for all time. Having entered Yucatan, he had his first battle with the natives at Tabasco, and was victorious. Here it was he met with his interpreter Donna Marina. The simple natives, who had never before seen horses or white men, were overwhelmed with awe, and looked on the Spaniards as gods and as children of the sun. Montezuma, the Mexican king, sent them presents, but begged them not to visit him. This, however, did not suit the plans of Cortes, who was already revolving his audacious schemes of conquest. His first step was to found Vera Cruz, and he then sent word of his doings to the Emperor Charles V. Then he burnt his ships, and marched against the republic of Tlazcala, and subdued it. As the Tlazcalans were at enmity with Montezuma, they became the faithful and valued allies of Cortes. At Chohela Montezuma made an attempt to surprise and capture the Spanish general, but failed. Cortes advanced, and soon reached the great city of Mexico, which was situated on a great salt lake communicating with a fresh-water one, and only to be approached by three causeways, protected at each end by draw-bridges. By the aid of his 300,000 Indian allies he seized Montezuma, and held him as an hostage. In the meantime a Mexican force had attacked Vera Cruz and had slain a Spaniard, which proved that the new-comers were, after all, mortal like other men. Cortes in revenge burnt to death seventeen officers, and compelled Montezuma in chains to witness their sufferings. He still retained the king in honourable captivity, and forced him to an act of vassalage to Charles V,, and to pay 100,000 ducats.

Cortes acted like the great statesman he was; he searched for mines, forbade human sacrifices, and tried to give the Mexicans some idea of eastern civilisation. Hearing that an expedition had been sent against him by Velazquez, he left his lieutenant Alvarado with 200 men, and went with the rest against his new foe, whom he conquered, and whose men he won over to his own ends. Hearing from Alvarado that he was besieged by the Mexicans, Cortes, in June, 1520, met the Mexican army under Montezuma's brother, who had taken the place of the disgraced king, who was wounded by his own subjects while he was attempting to make peace, and either died from his wounds or of a broken heart. The Spaniards were obliged to make a disastrous retreat, but Cortes soon reversed the state of affairs in the battle of Otumba, where the Mexicans were tempted into trying their fate in open ground. In December, 1520, Cortes, with 500 foot, 40 horse, 9 cannon, and 10,000 Tlazcalans, advanced against the city, and with ships that he had had built he destroyed the canoes on the lake, and after a desperate struggle of seventy-five days the city was destroyed in August, 1521. Cortes displayed much wisdom as a ruler and organiser, and employed his lieutenant Alvarado to carry his conquests towards the south. He returned to Spain, and was sent back, to his mortification, not as Governor, but only as Captain-general. Disgusted with the methods of government employed by his successor, he spent ten years in exploration, and in 1540 returned again to Spain. The Emperor treated him with some coldness, and though he took him on an expedition to Algeria, Cortes was repulsed when he offered to take Algiers. The rest of his life was passed in neglect on the part of the Emperor, whom he is said to have once reproached for his unworthy treatment of a man who had given him more countries than his ancestors had left him cities; and in sorrow caused by the repudiation of his daughter by her husband. Cortes was buried at Seville, but his body was afterwards removed to Tezcuco, in Mexico.