Hernando Cortez

Nezahualcoyotl died in 1470, and was succeeded on the Tezcucan throne by his son Nezahualpilli. During his reign the Tezcucans fell from their position as the first member of the triple confederacy which his father had formed, and gave place to the Aztecs or Mexicans. These Aztecs had been gradually growing in consequence since their first arrival in the valley. Decidedly inferior to the Tezcucans in culture, and professing a much more bloody and impure worship, they excelled them in certain qualities, and possessed, on the whole, a firmer and more compact character. If the Tezcucans were the Greeks, the Aztecs were the Romans of the new world. Under a series of able princes they had increased in importance, till now, in the reign of Nezahualpilli, they were the rivals of their allies, the Tezcucans, for the sovereignty of Anahuac.

In the year 1502, a vacancy occurred in the throne of Tenochtitlan, or Mexico. The election fell on Montezuma II, the nephew of the deceased monarch, a young man who had already distinguished himself as a soldier and a priest or sage, and who was noted, as his name - Montezuma (sorrowful man) - implied, for a certain gravity and sad severity of manner. The first years of Montezuma's reign were spent in war. Carrying his victorious arms as far as Nicaragua and Honduras in the south, and to the shores of the Mexican gulf in the east, he extended the sovereignty of the triple confederacy, of which he was a member, over an immense extent of territory. Distant provinces he compelled to pay him tribute; and the wealth of Anahuac flowed from all directions towards the valley of Mexico. Haughty and severe in his disposition, and magnificent in his tastes, he ruled like an Oriental despot over the provinces which he had conquered; and the least attempt at rebellion was fearfully punished, captives being dragged in hundreds to the capital to be slaughtered on the stone of human sacrifice in the great war temple. Nor did Montezuma's own natural-born subjects stand less in dread of him. Wise, liberal, and even generous in his government, his inflexible justice, and his lordly notions of his own dignity, made him an object less of affection than of awe and reverence. In his presence his nobles spoke in whispers; in his palace he was served with a slavish homage; and when he appeared in public, his subjects vailed their faces, as unworthy to gaze upon his person. The death of Nezahualpilli, in 1516, made him absolute sovereign in Anahuac. On the death of that king, two of his sons, Cacama and Ixtlilxochitl, contended for the throne of Tezcuco. Montezuma sided with Cacama; and the dispute was at length ended by a compromise between the two brothers, by which the kingdom was divided into two parts Cacama obtaining the southern half with the city of Tezcuco, and Ixtlilxochitl the northern half.

Thus, at the period of the arrival of the Spaniards, Montezuma was absolute sovereign of nearly the whole of that portion of central America which lies between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean - the kings of Tezcuco and Tlacopan being nominally his confederates and counselors, according to the ancient treaty of alliance between the three states, but in reality his dependents. The spot where Cortez had landed was in one of the maritime provinces of Montezuma's dominions.

It is a singular but well-authenticated fact, that at the time the Spaniards landed in America a general expectation prevailed among the natives of the arrival of a mysterious race of white men from the East, who were to conquer the country. This was especially the case in Mexico. There was a tradition among the Mexicans that, some ages before the arrival of the Spaniards, and while yet the Aztec empire was in its infancy, there appeared in Anahuac a divine personage called Quetzalcoatl. He was a man of benevolent aspect, tall in stature, with a white complexion, long dark hair, and a flowing beard; and he came from the East. He resided in Anahuac for many years, teaching the Mexicans numerous arts and sciences, and reforming their manners; and under his care the country flourished and became happy. At length some difference arose between him and the Mexicans, and they no longer paid respect to the words of the good Quetzalcoatl. He then announced to them that he was going to depart' from their country. Proceeding eastward, delaying a little while at Cholula, a city which ever afterwards was regarded as sacred, he arrived at the sear shore. Embarking on board a little skiff made of serpents' skins, he push ed out to sea, and as the Mexicans strained their eyes after him, he disappeared in the distance, going, as it seemed, to the East. Before he departed, however, he delivered a prophecy, that at some future time people of his race, with white complexions like his, would come from the East to conquer and possess the country.

The tradition of Quetzalcoatl's prophecy was rife among the natives of Anahuac when Cortez arrived, and it was with a kind of religious awe that Montezuma and his people heard of the arrival of the white men in their ' water-houses.' Cortez and his men constituted, as we have seen, this body. Teuthlille's messengers, announcing their arrival, had already reached Montezuma; and he was deliberating in what manner he should receive the strangers. In order to learn his decision, let us return to the Spaniards on the sea-coast.