Ancient history

Hernan Cortes

Last updated:2022-07-25

Hernán Cortés Monroy Pizarro Altamirano, or Hernando Cortés, sometimes written Cortez, is a Spanish conquistador:he conquered part of present-day Mexico for the crown of Spain. He was born in Medellín in Extremadura (Spain), to Martín Cortés and Catalina Pizarro Altamirano in 1485 and died in Castilleja de la Cuesta, near Seville on December 2, 1546.

The only son of Martín Cortés, an Extremadurian nobleman, and Catalina Pizarro Altamirano, he is also a second cousin of Francisco Pizarro[1], who later conquered the Inca Empire. As a noble, his father sent him to Salamanca to learn. He only stayed two years at the University of Salamanca where he graduated in law, then his thirst for adventure led him to try his luck in the colonies of New Spain, in the New World.


In 1511 he accompanied Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar to Cuba, where he took part in the conquest of Hispaniola. As a reward, he was named the first mayor of Santiago de Cuba and received a large property as well as a batch of slaves. This did not prevent him from being imprisoned, some time later, for conspiracy (proven or alleged?) against Velázquez. Released, he ended up marrying the latter's sister-in-law Catalina Suárez Marcaida. At the same time, the Yucatan expeditions of Francisco Hernández de Córdoba (1517) and Juan de Grijalva (1518) returned to Cuba with small amounts of gold and stories of distant lands where gold would abound. Cortés sold his possessions to buy ships and equipment and made an agreement with Velázquez, now governor of Cuba, to lead an expedition, ostensibly to explore and trade with new lands to the west. Although Velázquez's doubts had begun to surface again.


Finally, on November 18, 1518, fearing that Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar would cancel the expedition, Cortés' armada left the port of Santiago de Cuba in a hurry. The flight, ill-prepared, forced Cortés to stop at Trinidad and other islands to stock up on provisions and acquire new boats. Finally, on February 10, 1519, Cortés left Cuba with 11 ships, 16 cavalry, 518 infantry, 13 gunners, 32 riflemen, 110 sailors, and 200 Indians and black slaves as troop auxiliaries. Besides that, they took 32 horses, 10 bronze cannons and 4 falconettes (smaller cannons). The captains of this expedition were Alonso Hernández de Portocarrero (to whom he would later introduce the Indian Doña Marina), Alonso de Ávila, Diego de Ordás, Francisco de Montejo, Francisco de Morla, Francisco de Saucedo, Juan de Escalante, Juan Velázquez de León (from the family of the governor of Cuba), Cristóbal de Olid and Pedro de Alvarado, many of whom were veterans of the Italian wars. The pilot of the expedition was none other than Antón de Alaminos.

First contact with the Indians

After a brief stopover in Yucatan where he found little gold, he landed near Veracruz on March 4. The first contact took place in Cozumel where the natives welcomed him by offering him food, feathers, gold and told that the country was ruled by the great chief in the city of Tenochtitlan. But their barbaric customs, and human sacrifice in particular, horrified Cortés and prompted him to destroy the Indian idols and replace them with a cross and an image of the Virgin Mary.

Following this, Antón de Alaminos led the fleet to the mouth of the Tabasco River, where they encountered a tribe of hostile Indians, whom he however managed to defeat, thanks to the fear that firearms and horses were talking to the Indians.

The chiefs of this tribe then offered food, jewelry, fabrics and a group of twenty slaves, who were later baptized. Among these slaves was a woman named Malintzin, whom the Spaniards called Marina, and who was to prove decisive in the conquest of Mexico. Her great intelligence, her ability to speak the Mayan and Náhuatl languages, and her knowledge of Indian psychology and customs, added to her unwavering loyalty to the Spaniards, made Marina (also known as La Malinche) one of the most extraordinary women of the sixteenth century. Without it, it is possible that the conquest would have taken ten or twenty years longer, and it would surely have been much more deadly for the Spaniards. La Malinche was the interpreter, adviser and lover of Hernán Cortés, to whom she bore a son baptized Martín, like Cortés' father. She and Gerónimo de Aguilar replaced the former interpreter Melchorejo, who had returned to the side of the Indians and encouraged them to fight against the Spaniards. Defeated again by the latter, the Indians sacrificed the interpreter to the gods.

The Aztecs

In Tabasco, the Spaniards learned of the existence of a country to the west that the Indians called Mexico. Following the coast in a northwesterly direction, the expedition soon passed a few canoes with inside the ambassadors of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma II. Cortés showed them his horses and his firearms, to impress them, but tried to remain friendly with them, speaking to them of peace. The emissaries, who had come accompanied by painters and draftsmen, had the mission of reporting the presence of the Spaniards to their master.

Shortly after, the Aztec emissaries returned with new presents, and Cortés insisted on meeting their emperor. He then hears about what they think is Quetzalcoatl, or an emissary of Quetzalcoatl (a man of gold who was to return one day) and decided on the advice of his translator, La Malinche, to take advantage of this Indian myth. Especially since the Indian ambassadors continued to refuse him to meet Moctezuma II.

It was then that other Indians came, from Zempoala, who presented themselves to Cortés as enemies of the Aztecs, and they wanted the Spaniards to help them free themselves from their yoke. The realization by Cortés that the emperor had enemies would facilitate his plans thereafter. He thought that by cultivating the rancor and hatred that existed between the different Indian peoples, and with the prestige they had acquired as teules, that is to say demi-gods, he could make himself master of the territory and of wealth, that the different presents that the ambassadors of the great emperor Moctezuma II let glimpse. For that he had to impose his will and his authority on the part of the troop loyal to the governor Velázquez de Cuéllar, who maintained that Cortés did not have the authorization to populate this territory, and that they should return to Cuba once the shipment completed. The majority of captains and troops opposed him, although all sensed the riches Tenochtitlan held.

He began by transforming the camp where the Spaniards were in town, to which he gave the name of Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, (currently Veracruz), the Spaniards having landed there on Good Friday. The new inhabitants asked Cortés to proclaim himself captain general, directly dependent on the king and no longer on Velázquez, who had no power on these coasts. Being begged, he accepted the charge. He named a mayor, stewards, gendarmes, and a treasurer. By freeing itself from the authority of the governor of Cuba, it thus constituted the first European city in America.

The destruction of the boats

In the meantime, the news of the nomination by the Cortes of Diego Velázquez, as governor of Yucatan, arrived. To counter this, he sent his faithful Montejo and Portocarrero, with the finest pieces of the loot amassed so far, in the hope of securing the appointment of Cortés in place of Velázquez. In addition, he took the decision to neutralize the ten remaining ships in order to avoid the escape of some members of the expedition who thought of making quick profits through trade or theft before returning to Cuba. Others who had remained loyal to Velázquez were beginning to get restless. But Cortés aimed bigger. He ordered the fleet to be scuttled, except for one ship, to prevent Velázquez's supporters from deserting[2]. He imposed an iron discipline on his soldiers, and harshly punished any deviation during his expedition.

On the physical form that the destruction of the boats took, the sources use the expression barrenar (literally, to drill) and dar de través (turn the boat over, put it on its side). Both processes were probably used, and it is important to note that the parts recovered from the ships were to have a determining role in the conquest of the Aztec capital to come.

From the beginning, the biographers of Cortés excessively glorified this act of sabotage, since he made his crew believe that the boats had indeed burned... Today the expression quemar las naves (to burn the ships) is always used to say that it is no longer possible to turn back. Indeed, the situation was not in favor of Cortés, after having betrayed Velázquez, the boats he destroyed could only have led him to prison back in Cuba or Hispaniola. He sank them, mainly to prevent the return of those who had not followed his mutiny. Other historians have speculated that the ships would have been unusable for the return voyage anyway, the majority of them being eaten away by salt water, and impossible for carpenters to repair.

It may be noted that Cervantes, in Chapter VIII of the second part of his Don Quixote, compares this fact to other heroic acts such as Caesar crossing the Rubicon:...¿quién barrenó los navíos y dejó en seco y aislados los valerosos Españoles guiados por el cortesísimo Cortés en el Nuevo Mundo?... (who drilled the ships and left isolated and dry the brave Spaniards guided by the very courteous Cortés in the New World?). This proves that in 1515, it was still thought that he had burned and not sunk his ships. The firing was a later hoax intended to give a more pompous aspect to the success.

The walk inwards

The march towards the interior began on August 16, 1519. The first surprise was the change of climate in the plateaus, much colder than the climate of the coast and the islands, the second was to discover the existence of fertile valleys at the inland. Cortés arrived in the state of Tlaxcala, a small independent province, rival and hereditary enemy in the heart of the Aztec Empire, whose forces attacked his troops on September 2, 1519, but Spanish crossbows, steel swords, horses and firearms brought him victory. The Spaniards were also favored by their fighting methods:they fought until they killed. In contrast, Native Americans sought more to capture for future sacrifice. Cortés told the people of Tlaxcala that if they agreed to become his allies and servants, he would forgive them for their disrespect. Otherwise, he would annihilate their people. The Tlaxcaltecs gave their agreement and after a few weeks of rest, Cortés was able to continue on his way, reinforced by 2000 Tlaxcaltec fighters and perhaps as many porters.

Upon his arrival in Cholula, a holy city of Moctezuma II's empire, the Spaniards received a grand welcome. This was a ruse because the Aztecs had prepared a plan to eliminate the Spaniards while they slept. But an old lady, eager to save La Malinche, had the indiscretion to tell her what her people were preparing. The latter hastened to inform Cortés. Without verifying the information, he decided to carry out a preemptive attack. The Spaniards first massacred the nobles, burned the city and killed 15,000 to 30,000 of its inhabitants. It was one of the greatest massacres carried out by Cortés, and Mexico still bears the scars today. Cortés then sent a message to Moctezuma justifying his action as a lack of respect on the part of the authorities of Cholula and told him that if he treated him with respect and offered him gold, he would not have to fear his wrath. .


On their march to Tenochtitlan, Cortés' troop passed the volcanoes of Popocatepetl and Ixtaccíhuatl. One of the captains of Cortés, Diego de Ordás was the first European to reach the summit of Popocatepetl, with two comrades in arms, which greatly impressed the Indians accompanying the expedition. To reward such a feat and his military merit, Charles V authorized Diego de Ordás, by the decree of October 22, 1523, to add a representation of the volcano to his coat of arms.

The entry into the Aztec capital was made on November 8, 1519. Moctezuma believed that the Spaniards were envoys of God who were also to come from the east according to legend; moreover, he was dazzled by Cortés' power of seduction. Cortés was welcomed to Tenochtitlan with the pomp required for the return of a god. Moctezuma had had his father's palace, Axayacatl, prepared for the Spaniards and their allies. For many Spaniards, Tenochtitlan was the most magnificent city they had ever seen. Cortés asked for more gold, and Moctezuma promised to offer equal amounts to Cortés and the King of Spain each year to come. Cortés also requested that a statue be removed from one of the city's two main temples so that a chapel dedicated to the Virgin could be erected in its place. All his demands were granted.

Residing in the palace of Axayacatl, the Spaniards also wanted to build a chapel there. After the emperor had given his consent, the captains began to search for the ideal place to erect it in the palace, when a soldier (who was also a carpenter) noticed the existence of a secret door, which the Aztecs had tried to camouflage shortly before. Cortés, accompanied by some captains, entered the room, and discovered a huge treasure, which Axayacatl had amassed during his reign. It was at this point that Cortés began to fear that the Aztecs would seek to assassinate them. Four captains and twelve soldiers came to find Cortés to suggest that he take the emperor hostage, so that he would answer with his life for the security of the army. No decision was taken immediately, but a news was going to precipitate the things.

Indeed, Mexican leaders stormed Veracruz, and killed Juan de Escalante, the mayor, six Spaniards and Indian allies, which would certainly mean that the Spaniards were neither invincible nor demigods. , and that therefore they could be defeated. A Spanish soldier named Argüello was taken prisoner, sacrificed, and his head sent to the emperor.

Cortés therefore decided to seize Moctezuma as a hostage to protect himself from an Aztec revolt. He also demanded that the perpetrators of the Veracruz attack be punished. Brought before Moctezuma, the latter claimed that they had acted on the orders of the emperor, and were burned at the stake. On the other hand, Cortés got Moctezuma to declare himself a vassal of Charles V.

Spanish boats

A few days later, news of the arrival of 18 Spanish ships in Veracruz reached Cortés, believing them to be reinforcements sent by the Emperor. In reality, these ships commanded by Pánfilo de Narváez had been sent by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar to punish the rebels. And to top it off, they warned Moctezuma II that Cortés was rebellious to his king, and that he could execute him. Thus, Cortés had no choice but to leave a garrison of a hundred men in Tenochtitlan, under the command of Pedro de Alvarado, and with the rest of the troops (about 300 Spaniards and several hundred Indians ) he went to meet Narváez. Eventually, Cortés succeeded in defeating and taking the latter prisoner. He told the men who had come to arrest him about the gold riches of Tenochtitlan and they agreed to join him.

The Templo Mayor massacre

Meanwhile, in Tenochtitlan, Alvarado had massacred Aztecs, taking advantage of the fact that they celebrated the feast of Tóxcatl (fifth month of the Aztec calendar, which had 20), in honor of Tezcatlipoca, although other sources evoke the cult of Huitzilopochtli. The population logically rebelled against the Spaniards who had to find refuge in the palace. It would seem that the reasons for this massacre are due to the fact that Alvarado had believed he had detected a threat against his troops and wanted to attack preemptively.

The Rebellion

On June 24, 1520, Cortés' army entered the city again. Moctezuma's brother, Cuitláhuac was released as a sign of appeasement, but the latter, far from wanting peace, joined the caciques, whose leader was Cuauhtémoc, in order to crush the Spaniards. Cuitláhuac was even elected new emperor following Moctezuma, still imprisoned, and the latter had ordered his troops to surround the palace where the Spanish forces resided. Cortés ordered Moctezuma to speak to his people from a balcony to convince them to let the Spaniards return peacefully to the coast. He also got the latter to declare himself a vassal of Charles V. Moctezuma obeyed him but he was booed and stones were thrown at him, seriously injuring him. He died a few days later.

The Aztecs contented themselves with besieging the Spaniards, waiting for hunger to make them surrender. On the Spanish side, the morale of the troops was falling at the same time as water and food. For Cortés, the only chance of salvation was to take up arms. This is what he decided to do on the rainy night of June 30 to July 1, 1520, nicknamed the Noche Triste. The struggle was terrible for the Spaniards, heavily laden with all the gold they managed to transport. More than 600 Spaniards and nearly 2000 allies were killed, leaving everything behind:horses, artillery pieces and part of the treasure they were carrying... but Cortés managed to escape with a handful of men. Pursued by the Indians, the Spaniards had to face them again on July 7, near Otumba. At the end of this battle, the Aztecs were defeated and forced to flee.

The Spaniards then returned to besiege the city of Tenochtitlan, assisted by the Tlaxcala (who had always remained faithful to them) and other allied peoples wanting to free themselves from their subjugation to the Aztecs and secure the good graces of the Spaniards.

After a long siege and terrible battles that destroyed almost the entire city, killing between 120,000 and 240,000 Aztecs, the last emperor, Cuauhtémoc, surrendered to Cortés on August 13, 1521.

Cortés' trip to Las Hibueras

Hernán Cortés had been aware of the riches that existed in Las Hibueras in the current Republic of Honduras, moreover he had heard of the existence of a strait which in the opinion of many pilots allowed the passage to the other sea ( from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean), strait whose existence had been revealed by the pilot Juan de la Cosa since the year 1500. Thus, in 1524, Cortés sent under the command of his captain Cristóbal de Olid, five ships and a brigantine in the direction of Las Hibueras, with 400 men on board, plenty of cannons, arms and ammunition, to which must be added eight thousand gold pesos to buy horses and ships in Cuba. At the same time, a land expedition commanded by Captain Pedro de Alvarado set out to conquer and explore Central America.

Sooner or later, Cortés was going to realize that Cristóbal de Olid, a man in whom he had placed all his trust, had come into contact with his main enemy, Diego Velázquez, the governor of Cuba, in order to deprive him of the new lands that were to be discoveries during the voyage of exploration and conquest which he financed himself. Annoyed, Cortés set up a second expedition in June 1524 which he entrusted to his cousin Francisco de las Casas, also composed of five ships and a hundred men, its mission was to apprehend and punish the 'unfaithful Cristóbal de Olid.

When the punitive expedition arrived in present-day Honduras, skirmishes followed. Cortés' cousin Francisco de las Casas was taken prisoner, together with Gil González de Ávila, who had arrived shortly before with the title of governor of the Doux Gulf.

Somehow De las Casas and Gil González managed to escape through the jungle, reuniting with the rest of the troupe. Then, later, the envoys of Cortés find, during a banquet, Cristóbal de Olid, take him prisoner and cut his throat, thus ending the fighting.

Without being aware of anything, Cortés will in turn set off, by land, for La Hibueras, accompanied by a large army.

Hernán Cortés discovers "California"

Las Sergas de Esplandián

"Know that to the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California very close to the edge of the earthly paradise; it is populated by black women, without any men among them, because they live like the Amazons. They had beautiful and strong bodies, fiery courage and great strength. Their isle was the strongest in the world, with its rocky shores and steep cliffs. Their weapons were all of gold, the same metal that the harnesses of beasts were made of. savages they used to train to ride them, for in all the isle there was no other metal but gold.

Las Sergas de Esplandián, (chivalric romance) by García Ordóñez de Montalvo. Published in Seville in 1510.

Hernán Cortés is currently considered the discoverer of the Baja California peninsula, although the first European to land there was the Spanish navigator Fortún Ximénez at the controls of the Concepción, a ship that belonged to Hernán Cortés. When he landed there in 1534, he thought it was an island.

In the fourth Carta de Relación, dated October 15, 1524 in México, Hernán Cortés describes to the King of Spain the preparation of boats to explore and conquer new regions on the South Sea (the Pacific Ocean), an idea that he had been pursuing for two years already. Having returned to Spain in 1529, Cortés signed an agreement with the Crown of Spain, by which it agreed to send on its own account "armies to discover islands and territories in the South Sea ".

He wanted, in addition to territorial domination and possible gains in precious metals, to find a maritime passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific, since he thought that if Ferdinand Magellan had found a strait connecting the two oceans from the south, he must also exist a passage by the north. This passage was the mythical Strait of Anián. In the agreement, it was agreed that one tenth of the land discovered would belong to the discoverer and his descendants, in perpetuity.

The first expedition

During his stay in Spain in 1529, Cortés therefore negotiated land for him. Back in Mexico, on June 30, 1532, he sent his cousin Diego Hurtado de Mendoza to explore the islands and the littoral of the Pacific Ocean, beyond the limits of New Galicia, governed by Nuño de Guzmán, fierce enemy of Hernán Cortés.

He divided the expedition in two from Tehuantepec (Oaxaca), after reaching Manzanillo (Colima) they continued to follow the coasts of Jalisco and Nayarit, then part of New Galicia, until the discovery of the Marías Islands, from there they returned to the mainland and tried to obtain a supply of water in the bay of Matanchén (Nayarit), a supply which was refused to them by Nuño de Guzmán, owner and lord of the region.

One of the ships damaged by the storm took the way back, it arrived at the coasts of Jalisco and ended up in the hands of Nuño de Guzmán; meanwhile, the other ship carrying Diego Hurtado de Mendoza headed north, none of those on board returned to New Spain, and they were never heard from again. Years later, the author of Second Narrative of Nuño de Guzmán's Trip to New Galicia (Segunda Relación anónima de la jornada que hizo Nuño de Guzmán a la Nueva Galicia), gathered some information that allows us to suppose that the ship had been shipwrecked on the northern coastline of the current state of Sinaloa, causing the death of the entire crew.

The second expedition

The Concepción led by the commander Diego de Becerra, was one of the two ships that Cortés sent in 1533, shortly after the conquest of Tenochtitlan, in the second voyage of exploration of the Pacific Ocean, the other being the San Lázaro under the orders of Captain Hernando de Grijalva.

The expedition sailed from the current port of Manzanillo (Colima), on October 30, 1533. On December 20, the ships had separated, the San Lázaro which had taken the lead waited in vain for the Concepción for three days, and not seeing him coming he began exploring the Pacific Ocean and discovered the Revillagigedo Islands. On board the Concepción everything was different, the navigator and second on board Fortún Ximénez mutinied and murdered Captain Diego de Becerra in his sleep, then he attacked the crew members who remained loyal to the late captain by abandoning them on the coast of Michoacán , in the company of the Franciscan friars who accompanied them on the crossing.

Fortún Ximénez sailed northwest, skirting the coast, then he veered west and finally came to a peaceful bay. We now know that the place where he anchored was none other than La Paz. He then thought he had arrived on an island, there he met Indians, speaking an unknown language and walking half naked, they were very different from the Indians encountered on the Mexican plateaus, who had their own culture.

The crew that accompanied him, seeing half-naked women and because of sexual abstinence, raped the Indian women present. Then they realized that in this place the pearls, which the Indians extracted from the shells, abounded in the bay, so they sacked the place. It is interesting to note that Fortún Ximénez and his men did not give any names to the places they visited, as if to hide the traces of their misdeeds. The rape of the Indians by the crew and the sacking provoked a violent confrontation with the Indians, which ended in the death of Fortún Ximénez and some of his men. The survivors fled, relaunched the Concepción with great difficulty and sailed as best they could to the shores of the present state of Jalisco, where they came across soldiers of Nuño de Guzmán who took them prisoner, and commandeered the boat.

The Third Expedition

After having financed two trips to the South Sea and without having obtained any "material result", Hernán Cortés decided to lead the third exploration trip.

Cortés was annoyed that Nuño de Guzmán, his lifelong enemy, had stolen a ship from him on the first voyage of exploration, the Concepción that Cortés had sent on the second voyage to the Pacific. So he decided to face it on his own ground and launch his third expedition from there. For this he gathered a large army, composed of infantry and cavalry, to march on the province of New Galicia.

The viceroy of New Spain asked Hernán Cortés, on September 4, 1534, "not to confront the one who had stolen his ships" which Cortés refused, claiming that he had spent a hundred thousand castellanos of gold, and that he had been appointed by His Majesty the King of Spain Philip II to discover and conquer new territories. He had even started a shipyard in Tehuantepec and had at his disposal three ships ready to go to sea:the San Lázaro (which had returned with Grijalva from the second expedition), the Santa Águeda and the Santo Tomás, which had just come from be built.

Cortés' project was ambitious, he would send the ships to Chametla (Sinaloa) (near the present city of Escuinapa) in a territory ruled by Nuño de Guzmán and there would dock the army that was under his command. To reach Chametla, Cortés had to cross the New Kingdom of New Galicia for several days. New Galicia being a province of New Spain.

Bernal Díaz del Castillo tells us that when it was known in New Spain that the Marquis of Oaxaca was setting out again on a conquest, many people offered to serve him as a horseman or crossbowman. Au total, 320 personnes et 150 chevaux prirent la mer. Il ajoute que les embarcations étaient très bien pourvues de biscottes, viande, huile, vin et vinaigre, trois forgerons avec leurs forges et deux charpentiers avec leurs outils, mais aussi des religieux, des médecins et un chirurgien. L’armée de Cortés débarqua à la ville de Santiago de Galicia de Compostela, située à l’époque dans la vallée de Matatipac (aujourd’hui ville de Tepic), où elle fut accueillie amicalement par le gouverneur Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán, son ennemi. Cortés et sa troupe restèrent seulement quatre jours dans cette ville avant de poursuivre leur voyage. On dit que Nuño de Guzmán conseilla à Cortés de ne pas continuer son exploration, mais Cortés qui se rendit compte de la pauvreté dans laquelle vivait ce dernier ne lui fit que peu de cas. Sans aucun doute, l’accueil que reçu le Conquistador du Méxique de la part de Guzmán fut en grande partie dû à l’armée qui l’accompagnait.

Après le départ de Cortés, Nuño de Guzmán envoya une lettre à la Audiencia du Mexique dans laquelle il se plaint que " le marquis de la Vallée voulait pénétrer avec ses gens dans son territoire, étant seulement Capitaine Général de la Nouvelle-Espagne".

À Chametla (Sinaloa), après avoir traversé les États de Jalisco et Nayarit, territoire faisant partie du royaume de Nouvelle-Galice à l’époque, Cortés et son cortège embarquèrent sur le Santa Águeda et le San Lázaro sur lesquels montèrent 113 soldats, 40 cavaliers avec leurs chevaux et il laissa à terre 60 cavaliers supplémentaires, selon ce que rapporta à la Audiencia le gouverneur Nuño de Guzmán.

Une fois sur le San Lázaro, Cortés prit la direction du nord-ouest, et le 3 mai 1535, il arriva à la baie de Santa Cruz actuellement La Paz, où il apprit la mort de son subalterne par les Indiens.

Une fois la baie de Santa Cruz prise, Cortés décida d’ y etablir une colonie. Il envoya chercher les soldats et pièces d’artillerie qu’il avait laissés à Sinaloa mais le mauvais temps vint s’en mêler, les navires se perdirent et un seul pu revenir à la baie de Santa Cruz, avec une cargaison de cinquante fanègues de maïs, pas assez pour alimenter la population. Cortés prit la décision de partir personnellement à la recherche de vivres, mais tout ce qu’il rapporta était encore insuffisant, c’est pourquoi il se mit en route pour la Nouvelle-Espagne, dans l’intention de pourvoir en vivres, depuis là-bas, la nouvelle colonie.

À la tête du village de Santa Cruz, il nomma Francisco de Ulloa, mais les plaintes des familles de ceux qui étaient restés sur la péninsule convaincurent le vice-roi d’ordonner l’abandon de la colonie.

La quatrième expédition

Étant donné que les trois premières expéditions dans l’océan Pacifique parrainées par Hernán Cortés avaient été des échecs retentissants, il decida d’envoyer une quatrième mission d’exploration dans la mer du Sud, qu’il confia à Francisco de Ulloa en 1539. L’expédition laissa Acapulco le 8 juillet de la même année à bord du Santo Tomás, du Santa Águeda et du Trinidad. Au niveau des îles Marías il furent obligés d’abandonner le Santo Tomás suite à une avarie, et continuèrent sur les deux navires restants.

Ils pénétrèrent dans le Golfe de Californie et s’arretèrent à l’aller comme au retour dans la colonie abandonnée de Santa Cruz. Ils attinrent l’extrême nord du golfe le 28 septembre, à l’embouchure du Colorado et nommèrent l’embouchure du fleuve "Ancón de San Andrés", un bref texte fut rédigé à cette occasion :

Moi Pedro de Palenzia, écrivain public de cette armée, donne fidèle et véritable témoignage à tous les hommes qui verraient la présente, que Dieu notre seigneur les protège de tout mal, qu’en ce vingt-huitième jour du mois de septembre de l’an mille cinq cent trente neuf, le très noble seigneur Francisco de Ulloa, lieutenant du gouverneur et capitaine de cette armée par la grâce du très illustre seigneur Marquis de la Vallée de Guajaca, pris possession à l’ancón de San Andrés et de la mer vermeille, qui est sur la côte de cette Nouvelle-Espagne vers le Nord, qui est à une hauteur de trente-trois degrés et demi, selon les ordres du Marquis de la Vallée au nom de l’Empereur notre roi de Castille, actuellement et véritablement, mettant la main à l’épée, disant que s’il était une personne pour le contredire, qu’il était prêt à le défendre, coupant avec elle des arbres, arrachant des herbes, retournant des pierres de toutes part, et sortant de l’eau de la mer; tout ceci en signe de possession.

Témoins qui furent présents à ce que je dis, les réverends pères du seigneur Saint François, le père Frère Raymundo, le père frère Antonio de Mena, Francisco de Terrazas, devant Diego de Haro, Gabriel Márquez. En date du jour, du mois et de l’année susdite. J’ai, moi, Pedro de Palenzia, écrivain publique de cette armée, écrit selon ce qui m’est arrivé; avant de faire ici ce signe mien, qui est en temps que tel, un témoignage de vérité.- Pedro de Palencia, écrivain publique. Frère Ramundus Alilius, Frère Antonius de Mena, -Gabriel Márquez. -Diego de Haro. -Francisco de Terrazas.

Après avoir débarqué et pris possession des terres de l’extrême nord de la mer Vermeille, (connue aujourd’hui comme le Golfe de Californie), dont le nom vient de la coloration rougeâtre des eaux qui se tintaient au contact des eaux venant du Colorado, il commencèrent le voyage du retour vers Santa Cruz, ils doublèrent le Cabo San Lucas et entrèrent dans l’océan Pacifique, il passèren devant la Baie Magdalena le 5 décembre sans y pénétrer, Ulloa ayant été blessé lors d’une escarmouche avec les Indiens. Le 5 avril 1540, il adressa à Cortés un récit des succès de l’exploration, depuis les îles de Cedros que l’on connaît grace à l’exemplaire présent dans le Santa Águeda. En effet, il continua l’exploration avec le Trinidad, mais jamais plus on entendrait parler de Francisco de Ulloa et de ses compagnons.

Le côté obscur de Cortés

Dans le but de lui ôter de son prestige, au travers de la légende noire - véhiculée par les ennemis de l’Espagne impériale, tels que l’Angleterre et la Hollande - Cortés fut qualifié de sanguinaire lors de ses conquêtes, décimant les population et assassinant de manière massive des milliers de personnes.

Rien de cela (si jamais cela était avéré) ne pourrait se comparer aux massacres que faisaient les Aztèques avec les prisonniers des peuples mexicains soumis (Tlaxcala et Totonac) qui n’hésitèrent jamais à soutenir les Espagnols, lesquels finirent par les libérer du joug de Tenochtitlán. Un bon exemple de cela est les milliers de crânes humains retrouvés dans les ruines aztèques au Yucatán, et les descriptions des historiens contemporains du conquistador (comme [Bernal Díaz del Castillo]) qui nous décrivent les rituels sadiques durant lesquels les chamans sacrifiaient leurs victimes au dieu Soleil.

Une importante et irréfutable notion est que Cortés fut soutenu par l’immense majorité des peuples indigènes qui luttèrent à ses côtés lors de la prise de la capitale aztèque, et cela ne fut possible que parce que ces Indiens étaient en désaccord avec la minorité gouvernante et qu’ils virent l’arrivée de Cortés et de ses hommes comme une chance de libération.

Un fait complémentaire est que Cortés, à la différence des attitudes qu’allaient adopter par la suite les colonisateurs anglais et hollandais dans différents continents, préférait la coexistence pacifique avec les Indiens, comme en témoigne son mariage avec la Malinche.

La mort de Cortés

Quelques années plus tard, Cortés fut récompensé pour ses grandes conquêtes par Charles Quint (Charles Ier d’Espagne et Charles V d’Allemagne), avec le titre de marquis de la Vallée de Oaxaca, mais on ne lui accorda pas le gouvernement de la nouvelle colonie.

Hernán Cortés mourut le vendredi 2 décembre 1547 à Castilleja de la Cuesta (Espagne), alors qu’il entreprenait de retourner en Amérique.

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