IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > H. Latin America, 1500–1800 > 6. New Spain, 1518–1574
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1524–25)
6. New Spain, 1518–1574
a. The Conquest of Mexico
Continuing the explorations of Hernández de Córdova and Grijalva, Diego Velázquez and HERNÁN CORTÉS (1485–1547) organized a military expedition. Cortés assumed the leadership, and despite the orders of Velázquez followed the coast of Yucatán, subjugated Tabasco, and reached San Juan de Ulúa. As a token of goodwill, Tabasco natives gave Cortés several women, among them Malitzin (Doña Marina or Malinche), a Mexica woman living in servitude, who became his common-law wife. She had a crucial role as interpreter and Spanish representative in the conquest. Cortés renounced the authority of Velázquez and, acting as a direct agent of the crown, founded Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, where he left a garrison. The soldiers elected Cortés as chief magistrate and sent representatives to the crown for confirmation.  1
Cortés gained support from the Totonac, who were subjects of the Mexica. He sent envoys to Moctezuma, ruler of the Mexica (Aztecs), who, uneasy about prophecies indicating the end of his rule, avoided confrontation with the Spaniards. Cortés defeated Tlaxcala armies and, knowing their enmity toward the Mexicas, formed an alliance with them. Cortés entered Tenochtitlán (Nov. 8, 1519) after defeating resistance at Cholula. Moctezuma received him cordially. Cortés, upon learning of a Mexica attack against Spaniards at Vera Cruz, imprisoned Moctezuma and forced him to accept the sovereignty of Charles V.  2
Meanwhile Velázquez, named adelantado, sent an expedition under Pánfilo de Narváez to reduce Cortés to obedience. Cortés placed Pedro de Alvarado (1485–1541) in command at Tenochtitlán, went to the coast, and won most of Narváez's forces to his side, whereupon he returned to the city. Alvarado's ruthless attack against Mexica warriors during religious celebrations prompted them to revolt against the Spaniards and Moctezuma. Cortés was forced to evacuate Tenochtitlán with heavy losses (June 30). Moctezuma died or was killed during the evacuation. Cuautehmóc, his nephew, assumed command of the Mexica and organized war against the invaders. At Otumba, Cortés defeated the Mexica army (July 7) and reached Tlaxcala, where he had allies and reorganized his forces. Having received reinforcements, Cortés established his base at Texcoco and undertook the invasion of Tenochtitlán by land and water.  3
1521, May 26–Aug. 13
With the help of native allies, enemies of the Mexica, Cortés captured Tenochtitlán and imprisoned Cuauhtemóc. Spaniards razed the Mexica capital and established Mexico City, which became the seat of government of the future viceroyalty of New Spain. The crown named Cortés governor and captain general of New Spain (Oct. 15, 1522). He distributed Indians in encomiendas to the conquerors.  4
Cortés received 12 Franciscan missionaries, known as the Twelve Apostles, who organized massive Christianization of native peoples.  5
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.