This week at Americana-UK Towers we have been poring over the history books and were reminded of the anniversary of the fall of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan in 1521 which essentially lead to the downfall of the Aztec empire. The man at the centre of it all was Hernan Cortez.
Cortez already had a history in Spain’s conquest of the New World – he was Mayor of Santiago in what is present-day Cuba. In 1518 he was appointed captain-general of a Spanish expedition to the mainland – what we would now call Mexico. He had an army of some 500-600 soldiers and sixteen horses. Not much of a force to bring down an empire you might think but because of the political situation surrounding the Aztec empire (essentially they were rulers over several ‘nations’ in the geographical area and some of these were only too keen see the Aztec’s rule over them come to an end) alliances were made and plans made.
It helped enormously that Aztec emperor Montezuma thought that Cortez and his followers were prophesied envoys of the god Quetzalcatl and greeted them as such. Cortez proceeded to take him hostage intending to use him as a ‘puppet’ through whom he could take control of the empire. Meanwhile the Spanish had sent a force lead by Cuban governor Valazquez in order to relieve Cortez of his command. Cortez defeated Valazquez and subsumed his army into his own. Returning to Tenochtitlan Cortez found that the garrison he had left behind had been defeated, Montezuma killed and his brother, Cuitlahuac, had taken his place as emperor. Cortez laid siege to the city for three months eventually, with the help of his indigenous allies, bringing its downfall and that of the empire in August 1521.
Some points of interest: it is estimated that up to 90% of the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas died due to disease following the conquest by Europeans (if you thought the R number for COVID was bad measles has an R number of 15 – devastating for a population without immunity).
Our tune this week was banned in Spain where Cortez is regarded as a hero.
His full name was Hernan Coertes Monroy y Pizarro Altaminaro.
He returned to Spain and died in relative obscurity in 1547 in Seville from a case of pleurisy.