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Hernando Cortez

The mode of division was this: - First, his majesty's fifth was set aside next, a fifth of the remainder was set aside for Cortez; after that, all the debts of the expedition were to be discharged, excluding the amount vested in the expedition by Velasquez, the payment of agents in Spain, etc.; then the losses incurred in the expedition were to be made good, including the expense of the ships sunk off Villa Rica, the price of the horses killed, etc.; and lastly, certain individuals in the army, as the clergyman and the captains, were to receive larger allowances than the rest. 'By the time all these drafts were made,' says Bernal Diaz, what remained for each soldier was hardly worth stooping for;' in other words, instead of amounting to two or three thousand pounds, as they had expected, each soldier's share came only to about three hundred pounds. Many refused to take their shares, complaining of injustice in the division, and it required all the skill and management of Cortez to soothe the spirits of the discontented. Not a few, it appeared in the end, were no richer for all the prize money they had obtained than when they left Cuba; for, as Bernal Diaz tells us, 'deep gaming went on day and night with cards made out of the heads of drums.'

Only one source of discomfort now remained to Cortez. This was the continuance of the idolatrous worship of the Mexicans. This subject occupied his thoughts incessantly; and he could not persuade himself that his efforts would be meritorious in the eyes of God, or even that he could hope for permanent success, until the false gods of the Mexicans had been shattered in pieces, and their temples converted into Christian sanctuaries. Not only as a devout Catholic did he abominate the existence of a false worship in a country over which he had control, but, as a man, as a native of a civilized country, he shrunk in abhorrence from the bloody and sickening rites which formed part of the religion of the Mexicans their human sacrifices - accompanied strangely enough, among a people so polished and so advanced in ingenious arts, by the practice of cannibalism. At length Cortez announced to Montezuma that he must allow at least a part of the great temple to be converted into a Christian place of worship. Montezuma had been a priest, and the proposal was perhaps the most shocking that could have been made to him. He gave his consent, however, and one of the sanctuaries on the top of the temple was purified, and an altar and a crucifix erected in it.

This last act filled up the measure of Mexican endurance. To see their monarch a prisoner, to surrender their kingdom and its treasures these they could submit to; but could they sit tamely under an insult offered to their gods? Hither and thither though the city ran the priests, with haggard faces, and hair clotted with blood, stirring up the zeal of the inhabitants, and denouncing woes unless the Spaniards were expelled. The crisis was imminent, and every possible precaution was used to prevent a sudden surprise by the excited Mexicans.

It was now the month of May, 1520, and the Spaniards had been six months in the Mexican capital. Suddenly the little army was thrown into consternation by intelligence of an unexpected kind received by Cortez.

It will be remembered that, before advancing into the interior of the country, Cortez had dispatched a vessel to Spain with letters to the emperor, Charles V, and a quantity of treasures. Contrary to the instructions of Cortez, the vessel touched at Cuba on its voyage and a sailor escaping, conveyed to Velasquez an account of all that had taken place in the expedition, down to the foundation of Villa Rica. The rage of Velasquez exceeded all bounds. He wrote letters to the home government, and also to the court of colonial affairs established in Hispaniola; and not content with this, he instantly began to fit out a second expedition, which was to proceed to Mexico, depose or decapitate Cortez, and seize the country for the Spanish sovereign in the name of the governor of Cuba. The fleet was larger, with one exception, than any yet fitted out for the navigation of the seas of the new world. ft consisted of nineteen vessels, carrying upwards of a thousand foot soldiers, twenty cannons, eighty horsemen, a hundred and sixty musketeers and cross-bowmen, besides a thousand Indian servants - a force sufficient, as it seemed, to render all resistance on the part of Cortez hopeless. Velasquez at first intended to command the expedition in person; but, as he was too old and too unwieldy for such a laborious task, he intrusted it to Don Parnfilo de Narvaez, described as a man, about forty-two years of age, of tall stature, and large limbs, full face, red beard, and agreeable presence; very sonorous and lofty in his speech, as if the sound came out of a vault; a good horseman, and said to be valiant.'

The fleet anchored off the coast of Mexico, at St. Juan de Ulua, on the 23d of April, 1520. Here Narvaez received information which astonished him - that Cortez was master of the Mexican capital; that the Mexican emperor was his prisoner; that the country and its treasures 'had been surrendered to the Spanish sovereign; and that at present his rival was as absolute in it as if he were its monarch. This information only increased his anxiety to come to a collision with Cortez; and, with singular imprudence, he went about among the Indians, declaring, in a blustering manner, that Cortez was. a rebel against his sovereign, and that he had come to chastise him, and to set Montezuma free.