DO NOT WRITE ON THIS HANDOUT
By Sharon Fabian
Hernando Cortes was born in Europe during the Renaissance. Of the many
exciting options open to a young man of his time, he chose a career at sea.
In 1504, he joined other Spanish adventurers and sailed to Hispaniola in the
New World. Today Hispaniola is known as the Dominican Republic and Haiti. It
is off the coast of Mexico.
Cortes already had big plans. Soon, his plans began to come true when he was
hired by Governor Velasquez of Hispaniola to lead an expedition into Mexico.
Cortes started to assemble ships, men, supplies, and weapons for the journey. It
appeared that he had more in mind than just a voyage of discovery and trade.
Governor Velasquez soon became suspicious of Cortes' plans and told Cortes
that he was no longer in charge of the expedition. Cortes went right ahead with
his plans anyway. In fact, he left as fast as possible, before the governor could
have him stopped.
He sailed to the coast of Mexico. Once on land, he began to make alliances with native tribes there. He
found many people who were willing to join his expedition and who were willing to help him. He found
people who could act as translators, too.
He also began to hear rumors that he had heard before - rumors that said the Native Americans of
Mexico had gold, lots of gold. He learned that it was the Aztecs, who lived further inland, who were known
for their beautiful objects crafted from gold. He learned, too, that their empire was centered in their capital
city of Tenochtitlan. Along with his native allies, Cortes set off for the Aztec capital.
He soon arrived at the magnificent city. It was a spacious city built on an island. The city design included
wide causeways and canals. Its buildings, including the king's palace and a large pyramid, were constructed
Montezuma, the Aztec king, welcomed Cortes and his troops. He gave Cortes and his men gifts made of
gold and precious gems. Although they treated Cortes' party as guests, they must have also been suspicious
of their intentions.
Soon enough, the Aztec people discovered the true intentions of Cortes. Cortes captured Montezuma. He
attempted to rule the Aztec Empire through Montezuma. He seized the Aztecs' gold. He destroyed Aztec
Cortes was enjoying his new wealth and power, but soon, his past came back to haunt him. Cortes
learned that Governor Velasquez had sent 1,400 troops to arrest him for disobeying orders. Cortes was not
about to give up, so he left some of his men in charge and set out with the rest of his troops to fight Governor
Velasquez. He managed to fight off the governor's troops and returned to Tenochtitlan.
Meanwhile, back in Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs had rebelled against the troops Cortes left behind and
regained control of their city. They had killed or wounded many of the Spanish troops. Now, the Aztecs were
ready to get rid of Cortes as well.
Cortes was forced to retreat into the countryside, but he was still not ready to give up. He regrouped,
rebuilding his troops by making alliances with tribes unfriendly to the Aztecs as he had done before.
Then, Cortes launched a second attack on the Aztec capital. This time, the Aztecs were weakened by an
outbreak of smallpox. The attack of Cortes and his allies proved too much for them, and they were forced to
Cortes and his men looted the city. They burned the Aztec buildings to the ground. Then they rebuilt a
new city on the same site and named it Mexico City. Cortes became very wealthy and famous.
Some history books described him as a hero for his defeat of the Aztecs, which began a long series of
Spanish conquests in the New World.
Centuries later, when people began to look at the bigger picture of what really happened during the days
of colonization in America, they began to reconsider. Should Cortes and the other Spanish conquistadors
really be called heroes for what they did? The same questions were asked about the men who conquered
other parts of the Americas, too. It is still a controversial topic in American history today.
In 1540, thirty-six years after he had arrived, Cortes left Mexico to live out the rest of his days in his
home country of Spain.
INSTRUCTIONS: After reading the passage on Hernando Cortes, answer the questions below.
PLEASE write the answers only.
1. Cortes sailed for the country?
2. Cortes sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the island of what?
3. From Hispaniola, Cortes sailed where?
4. What appeared to be the reason that Cortes sailed to Mexico?
5. What happened when Cortes first arrived at the Aztec capital?
6. Cortes found Tenochtitlan to be a what?
7. In the end, __________________ was victorious and took control of Mexico City.
8. The place of Cortes and other conquistadors in American history is still a controversial topic.
TRUE OR FALSE?
EXTENDED RESPONSE: Answer number 9-10 in at least one paragraph.
9. Do you think that Cortes should be considered a hero, a villain, or something
in between? Explain your answer.
10. The years of European exploration were tragic years for many Native
Americans. These years must have been especially difficult for Native
American young people. How do you think these young people dealt with the
changes that were affecting their tribes?