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Useful Notes / Hernán Cortés

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Hernándo Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano (1485 – December 2, 1547) was the famous Spanish conquistador who conquered the Aztec Empire, located in what is now central Mexico, in 1521 following a few years of battles. Needless to say, you'll get different opinions on the man depending on who and where you ask. For the record, completely reliable information on him is pretty scarce.


  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Because of the scarcity of reliable information, it's hard to judge his personality and motivations. As such, depictions of him are either scathing or idealizing.
  • Amazon Brigade: Surprisingly for someone of his time and culture, Cortés was tolerant to the idea of female soldiers and actually employed official units of them in his expeditions. Those were usually wifes of regular soldiers who volunteered to take up weapons and serve as both fighters and battlefield medics, often shocking the expeditions's chroniclers with their bravery and effectivity. Some of the best known were Isabel Rodríguez, Beatriz Palacios and Beatriz Bermúdez.
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  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: Despite the fact that Europeans in Cortéz' day weren't exactly above murdering other peoples in wars, or burning their own citizens on the stake for not sharing the same religion, he and his men were still shocked at the fact that those inhuman Aztecs sacrificed their own people to the sun. Justified in that the Aztecs forced their subjects of other tribes to give them people for sacrifices every once in a while (and more often that not, said people included children). It's really no wonder several indigenous nations decided to side with the Spaniards, even though every indigenous nation sacrificed people.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: He was the leader of the Spanish conquistadores and was recognized as such by the indigenous people. The fact that he led his ragtag group of 400-ish soldiers to victory against forces numbering in the thousands probably helped (though, to be fair, he had the help of thousand of indigenous warriors whose nations allied with him).
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  • Badass Boast: During his conquest of the Aztec Empire, Cortes had to defeat the army of the Governor of Cuba, which was sent after him. He bested them, even outnumbered and outgunned, AND convinced most of the army to just surrender and join him. Accounts say that the army's general spoke to him like this:
    Narvaez: Mister Cortés, it is a great victory for you to capture me.
    Cortés: Capturing you is the least of everything I've done in this land.
  • The Conqueror: Managed to conquer a big empire with few European men and weapons by determination, cunning, manipulation, alliances, and luck.
  • Corrupt Church: Seems to have believed that this was true as far as low-ranking clergy went. He requested in his letters to Charles V that the king send Franciscan and Dominican friars to proselytize the Natives, fearing that the corrupt behavior of the average priests would tarnish the image of their faith.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Averted. While some stories, for the sake of irony, say that on his return to Spain he was utterly neglected in his home country and could scarcely obtain an audiencenote , in reality he was inducted to the Knights of Santiago, granted a coat of arms commemorating his deeds, and raised to the peerage as the Marquis of the Oaxaca Valley on his first return to Spain to make his case before Charles V against his various political enemies.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: For the native tribes who allied with him, hoping that he would save them from Aztec rule. Instead, they just traded their old Aztec overlords for new Spanish ones.
  • God Guise: Cortes and the rest of the conquistadors were perceived as gods by some of the natives.
  • God in Human Form : There was a legend saying that the god Quetzalcoatl who was expelled from the city of Tula and went to the west would come back to retake his kingdom describing him as being white and bearded, and that the Aztecs believed Cortes was the god returned; this legend however, only appears years after the conquest, by spanish influence. It seems that during the conquest, it was the Spaniards who thought they were seen as gods and decided to start calling themselves Teulesnote  and the natives just went along with it but didn't seem to really believe it. Cortes himself notes that Emperor Moctezuma II didn't:
    Moctezuma II: [Our enemies], I know, have informed you... that I was a god, or made myself one, and many other such things... [opening his robes] You see that I am composed of flesh and bone like yourselves.
  • Gold Fever: Wanted gold, got gold from the Aztecs, then wanted even more.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade, Historical Villain Upgrade and Historical Villain Downgrade: Some sources see him a benevolent explorer who wasn't half as cruel as you'd expect from a conquering conquistador. Others see him as basically the same type of immoral genocidical gold hungry conquistador as all the others, who destroyed the Aztec Empire. Some compromise by calling him a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
  • The Kingslayer: He ended up having Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor, executed, allegedly for conspiring to kill him and other Spaniards.
  • Military Maverick: In 1518 Velázquez put him in command of an expedition to explore and secure the interior of Mexico for colonization. At the last minute, due to the old gripe between Velázquez and Cortés, he changed his mind and revoked his charter. Cortés ignored the orders and went ahead anyway, defeating or assimilating several forces sent by Velázquez against him.
  • Only in It for the Money: Depends on what side of the story you adhere to. He has been the subject of flanderization, focusing on him wanting money. The facts are that he sent most of what he was given to the king of Spain, died in near-poverty and his last will was to be buried in México.
    • During his first return to Spain, the administrators handling his estates in the New World engaged in various abuses such as over-taxation. When he returned he became engaged in a lawsuit regarding these abuses and sided with the Natives.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn
  • Sex Slave: He owned a sex slave named Malinalli (a.k.a. La Malinche; who also served as an interpreter). Aztecs and other natives were no strangers to the concept and gifted the Spaniards with several women. Even Moctezuma II gave his daughter Techichipotzin to Cortez as this.
  • Spell My Name with an "S":
    • His last name has been spelled with and without an accent and ending with either an s or a z.
    • Despite generally being called Hernan, he used the form Hernando.

Cortés in fiction:

  • Depicted in rather sympathetic light in the Suske en Wiske album Het Gouden Paard (The Golden Horse)
  • Scion: Has an appearance here too.
  • Deadliest Warrior: He appeared on this show as one of the warriors.
  • In Disney's Pocahontas, he's mentioned by Governor Ratcliffe in the song "Mine, Mine, Mine": "The gold of Cortés, the jewels of Pizarro / Will seem like mere trinkets by this time tomorrow."
  • He does not appear but is briefly mentioned in Carmen Sandiego's Great Chase Through Time during the Aztec Empire case (set in 1519), where if you first click on one of the gold nuggets in the room where you build Moctezuma's headdress, Ann Tickwittee says this disturbing and slightly tragic line:
    Ann Tickwittee: The Aztecs had plenty of gold nuggets like this one. Unfortunately, a surplus of gold can bring unwanted attention. The gold-hungry Spanish, under Cortes, will arrive in Aztec lands in just a few more months.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Cross of Coronado is said to have been given to Coronado by Cortés in 1520. Which is pretty remarkable considering that in 1520, Coronado was a ten-year-old child still living in Spain and Cortés was conquering the Aztecs on the other side of the Atlantic.
  • Cortés is a supporting character in The Road to El Dorado. Miguel and Tulio end up stowaways on his ship, and in escaping the brig, end up in El Dorado, along with Cortés' Cool Horse.
  • An HBO miniseries is in production. Martin Scorsese and Benicio del Toro are attached to the project.
  • In one of The Three Investigators books, The Mystery of the Headless Horse, he figures in the Backstory due to him having supposedly given a jeweled ceremonial sword to the ancestor of the boys' clients. There's a wooden statue of him on their lands, and there is a certain valorization of him in the text, but it's otherwise unobtrusive as he is involved just to give the boys a lost heirloom to find.
  • Cortés and his conquest of the Aztecs figure prominently into the Backstory of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. As explained by Captain Barbossa, "This is Aztec gold. One of 882 identical pieces they delivered in a stone chest to Cortés himself. Blood money paid to stem the slaughter he wreaked upon them with his armies. But the greed of Cortés was insatiable. So the heathen gods placed upon the gold... a terrible curse." Many years later, this Aztec gold is stolen by Barbossa's crew and they are turned into Ghost Pirates by the curse.
  • In Lilith, one of the bearers of the Triacanto the time-traveling protagonist is hunting down is a member of his expedition, leading to Lilith helping the Aztecs capturing them all and use the guise of a sacrifice to hide as she searches the Triacanto, starting from Cortés himself as she had come to despise him and really wanted to make sure he died a painful death even if he wasn't the bearer.
  • Hernán: El Nombre de la Conquista, a coproduction between The History Channel, Amazon Prime and TV Azteca, which tells in Anachronic Order the conquest of the Aztec Empire by Cortés (played by Óscar Jaenada) and his indigenous allies, with the first season starting with the arrival of the Spaniards into the shores of Mexico. A second season is in the works since November 2019.
  • A miniseries also produced by Amazon, Cortés y Moctezuma, was in the works at the same time as the previous before being cancelled in 2020.

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