Hernando Cortéz

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Cortés, Hernán or Cortez, Hernando (1485-1547), Spanish explorer and conqueror of the Aztec Empire of Mexico. Cortés was born in Medellín, Extremadura. He studied law at the University of Salamanca, but cut short his university career in 1501 and decided to try his fortune in the New World. He sailed for Santo Domingo in the spring of 1504. In 1511 he joined the Spanish soldier and administrator Diego Velázquez in the conquest of Cuba, and subsequently became alcalde (mayor) of Santiago de Cuba. In 1518 he persuaded Velázquez, who had beco1me governor of Cuba, to give him the command of an expedition to Mexico. The mainland had been discovered the year before by the Spanish soldier and explorer Francisco Fernández de Córdoba and subsequently by Juan de Grijalva, nephew of Velázquez.

On February 19, 1519, Cortés, with a force of some 600 men, fewer than 20 horses, and 10 field pieces, set sail from Cuba, despite the cancellation of his commission by Velázquez, who had become suspicious that Cortés, once in a position to establish himself independently, would refuse to recognize his authority.

Cortés sailed along the coast of Yucatán and in March 1519 landed in Mexico, subjugating the town of Tabasco; the artillery of the Spaniards, the ships, and particularly the horses filled the natives with awe. From the natives of Tabasco Cortés learned of the Aztec Empire and its ruler, Montezuma II. Cortés took numerous captives, one of whom, Malinche (baptized Marina), became his mistress; out of loyalty to him she acted as the interpreter, guide, and counselor for the Spaniards. Finding a better harbor a little north of San Juan, the Spaniards moved there and established a town, La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz (now Veracruz). Cortés organized an independent government, and renouncing the authority...