Hernán Cortés

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Hernán Cortés : biography

1485 – 02 December 1547

King Charles appointed Cortés as governor, captain general and chief justice of the newly conquered territory, dubbed "New Spain of the Ocean Sea". But also, much to the dismay of Cortés, four royal officials were appointed at the same time to assist him in his governing – in effect, submitting him to close observation and administration. Cortés initiated the construction of Mexico City, destroying Aztec temples and buildings and then rebuilding on the Aztec ruins what soon became the most important European city in the Americas. Cortés managed the founding of new cities and appointed men to extend Spanish rule to all of New Spain, imposing the encomienda land tenure system in 1524. He also supported efforts to evangelize the indigenous people to Christianity and sponsored new explorations. He then spent the next seven years establishing peace among the Indians of Mexico and developing mines and farmlands. Cortés was one of the first Spaniards to attempt to grow sugar in Mexico and one of the first to import African slaves to early colonial Mexico. At the time of his death his estate contained at least 200 slaves who were either native Africans or of African descent.

In 1523, the Crown (possibly influenced by Cortés’s enemy, Bishop Fonseca),p. 30–31 of J.H. Elliot, introductory essay to Anthony Pagdens translation of Cortés’s letters "Hernan Cortés" letters from Mexico" 2001 (1971, 1986) Yale University NotaBene books sent a military force under the command of Francisco de Garay to conquer and settle the northern part of Mexico, the region of Pánuco. This was another setback for Cortés who mentioned this in his fourth letter to the King in which he describes himself as the victim of a conspiracy by his archenemies Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, Diego Columbus and Bishop Fonseca as well as Francisco Garay. The influence of Garay was effectively stopped by this appeal to the King who sent out a decree forbidding Garay to interfere in the politics of New Spain, causing him to give up without a fight.

From 1524 to 1526, Cortés headed an expedition to Honduras where he defeated Cristóbal de Olid, who had claimed Honduras as his own under the influence of the Governor of Cuba Diego Velázquez. Fearing that Cuauhtémoc might head an insurrection in Mexico, he brought him with him in Honduras and hanged him during the journey. Raging over Olid’s treason, Cortés issued a decree to arrest Velázquez, whom he was sure was behind Olid’s treason. This, however, only served to further estrange the Crown of Castile and the Council of Indies, both of which were already beginning to feel anxious about Cortés’s rising power.p34 of J.H. Elliot, introductory essay to Anthony Pagdens translation of Cortés’ letters "Hernan Cortés" letters from Mexico" 2001 (1971, 1986) Yale University NotaBene books The [[coat of arms awarded to Cortés, by King/Emperor Charles V]] Cortés’s fifth letter to King Charles attempts to justify his conduct, concludes with a bitter attack on "various and powerful rivals and enemies" who have "obscured the eyes of your Majesty." Unfortunately, the Charles, who was also Holy Roman Emperor, had little time for distant colonies (much of Charles’s reign was taken up with wars with France, the German Protestants and the expanding Ottoman Empire), except insofar as they contributed to finance his wars. In 1521, year of the Conquest, Charles was attending to matters in his German domains and Bishop Adrian of Utrecht functioned as regent in Spain. Velázquez and Fonseca persuaded the regent to appoint a commissioner with powers, (a Juez de residencia, Luis Ponce de León), to investigate Cortés’s conduct and even arrest him. Cortés was once quoted as saying that it was "more difficult to contend against (his) own countrymen than against the Aztecs." Governor Diego Velázquez continued to be a thorn in his side, teaming up with Bishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, chief of the Spanish colonial department, to undermine him in the Council of the Indies.