Exploration and Settlement

Christopher Columbus

How was Cortés able to claim Mexico for the Spaniards?

On behalf of the European power, Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) claimed Mexico after conquering its native peoples. In 1519 Cortés landed on the eastern coast of Mexico and founded the city of Veracruz. From there he marched inland, making an alliance with the Tlaxcalan Indians (who had fought wars against the powerful Aztecs in central Mexico). On November 8 of that year, Cortés marched into Mexico City (then named Tenochtitlán) and took the Aztec leader, Montezuma, hostage. Cortés then continued to Mexico’s west coast. When he returned to Mexico City in the central part of the country in 1520, he found the Aztecs in revolt against the Spaniards. Fierce fighting ensued, and by the end of June Montezuma was dead. This period of warfare is still remembered today by Mexicans as la noche triste (the sorrowful night). It was not until the following year, in August 1521, that Cortés, after a four-month battle, claimed Mexico City, and the land came under control of the Spanish.


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