Biography >> Explorers for Kids
Where did Hernan Cortés grow up?
Hernan Cortés was born in Medellín, Spain in 1485. He came from a fairly famous family and his father was a captain in the Spanish army. His parents wanted him to become a lawyer and sent him to school to study law when he was fourteen. Cortés wasn't interested in becoming a lawyer and returned home when he was sixteen.
Cortés heard of Christopher Columbus' discoveries in the new world. He wanted to travel and see new lands. He also wanted to make his fortune and fame.
Going to the New World
Cortés sailed for the New World in 1504. He first arrived on the island of Hispaniola at the city of Santo Domingo. He got a job as a notary and over the next five years made a name for himself on the island.
Conquest of Cuba
In 1511, Cortés joined Diego Velazquez on an expedition to Cuba. When Velazquez conquered Cuba, he became governor. Velazquez liked Cortés and helped Cortés to rise in the government. Soon Cortés became a powerful and wealthy figure on the island of Cuba.
Conquest of Mexico
In 1518, Cortés was put in charge of an expedition to the mainland of Mexico. This was something that he had wanted to do for many years. At the last minute, Governor Velazquez became worried that Cortés would become too powerful and he ordered Cortés not to sail. Cortés disobeyed the order and set sail anyway.
Arriving in Mexico
Cortés and his men landed at the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico in April of 1519. He had 11 ships, around 500 men, some horses, and some cannon. He soon met a native woman named Dona Marina. Dona Marina spoke the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs and could help to interpret for Cortés.
Cortés heard of the gold and treasures of the Aztecs. He wanted to conquer them and take their treasure for Spain. He requested a meeting with the Aztec Emperor, Montezuma II, but was repeatedly turned down. He then decided to march to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan.
March to Tenochtitlan
Gathering his small force of 500 men, Cortés began to march to Tenochtitlan, the heart of the Aztec Empire. Along the way he met with other cities and peoples. He found out that a number of other tribes didn't like their Aztec rulers. He made alliances with them, including the powerful Tlaxcala people.
Map of Cortés' march to conquer the Aztecs
Massacre at Cholula
Cortés next arrived at the city of Cholula. It was the second largest city of Mexico and a religious center of the Aztec Empire. When Cortés found out that the people at Cholula planned to kill him in his sleep, he killed around 3,000 nobles, priests, and warriors. He also burned down a portion of the city.
Meeting Montezuma II
When Cortés arrived at Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519 he was welcomed by the Aztec Emperor Montezuma II. Although Montezuma did not trust Cortés, he thought that Cortés might be the god Quetzalcoatl in human form. Montezuma gave Cortés and his men gifts of gold. He thought that these gifts would keep Cortés from taking over the city, but they just made Cortés want more.
Montezuma II is Killed
Cortés took Montezuma captive within his own city. However, Governor Velasquez from Cuba sent another expedition under conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez to take command from Cortés. Cortés left Tenochtitlan to fight Narvaez.
After taking care of Narvaez, Cortés returned to Tenochtitlan. He found out that his men had killed King Montezuma. He decided to flee the city. On the night of June 30, 1520 Cortés and his men escaped from the city. Many of them died. The night is called La Noche Triste, or "The Sad Night".
Conquering the Aztecs
Cortés soon returned to Tenochtitlan with a large army of his allies, the Tlaxcala. He laid siege to the city and eventually conquered the city and with it the Aztec Empire.
Governor of Mexico
After conquering the Aztecs, Cortés renamed the city of Tenochtitlan to Mexico City. The city became the Spanish capital of the territory which was called New Spain. Cortés was named governor of the land by King Charles I of Spain.
Later in life Cortés fell out of favor with the King of Spain. He was forced to return to Spain to defend himself. In 1541, he participated in an unsuccessful expedition to Algiers where he nearly drowned when his ship was sunk. He died on December 2, 1547 in Spain.
Interesting Facts about Hernan Cortés
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