Born around 1485, Hernán Cortés was a Spanish conquistador and explorer who defeated the Aztec empire and claimed Mexico for Spain. He first set sail to the New World at the age of 19. Cortés later joined an expedition to Cuba. In 1518, he set off to explore Mexico. There he strategically aligned some native peoples against others to overthrow them. King Charles I appointed him governor of New Spain in 1522. Cortés died in Spain in 1547.
Hernán Cortés, marqués del Valle de Oaxaca, was born around 1485 in Medellín, Spain, and helped advance Spain's position in North America in the 1500s. He came from a lesser noble family in Spain. Some reports indicate that he studied at the University of Salamanca for a time.
In 1504, Cortés left Spain to seek his fortune in New World. He traveled to the island of Santo Domingo, or Hispaniola. Settling in the new town of Azúa, Cortés served as a notary for several years. He joined an expedition of Cuba led by Diego Velázquez in 1511. There, Cortés worked in the civil government and served as the mayor of Santiago for a time.
Conquered the Aztecs
In 1518, Cortés was to command his own expedition to Mexico, but Velázquez canceled it. Cortés ignored the order and set sail for Mexico with more than 500 men and 11 ships that fall. In February 1519, the expedition reached the Mexican coast.
Cortés became allies with some of the native peoples he encountered, but with others he used deadly force to conquer Mexico. He fought Tlaxacan and Cholula warriors and then set his sights on taking over the Aztec empire. He marched to Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital and home to ruler Montezuma II. Cortés took Montezuma hostage and his soldiers raided the city. Cortés left the city after learning that Spanish troops were coming to arrest him for disobeying orders.
After facing off against Spanish forces, Cortés returned to Tenochtitlán to find a rebellion in progress. The Aztecs eventually drove the Spanish from the city, but Cortés returned again to defeat them and take the city in 1521. King Charles I of Spain (also known as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) appointed him the governor of New Spain the following year.
After his victory over the Aztecs, Cortés faced challenges to his authority and position. He traveled to Honduras in 1524 to stop a rebellion against him in the area. Back in Mexico, Cortés found himself removed from power. He traveled to Spain to plead his case to the king, but he was not reappointed to his governorship.
In 1540, Cortés retired to Spain. He spent much of his later years seeking recognition for his achievements and support from the Spanish royal court. Cortés died in Spain in 1547.
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