Flocabulary Logo

Who Was Hernán Cortés?

Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition to the New World that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire.

Conquistadors were soldiers, explorers and adventurers at the service of the Spanish or Portuguese Empires. They sailed around the world conquering territories for their rulers, colonizing the New World and opening trade routes. Learn more about conquistadors in Flocabulary’s song “Glory & Gold.”

Cortés was born to a family of lesser nobility. Before bringing down the Aztec Empire he made a name for himself in Cuba, where he received an encomienda (a system employed to regulate–and often enslave–Native Americans) and became an alcalde (magistrate) of the second Spanish town founded in Cuba.

In 1519 Cortés was elected captain of the third expedition to the mainland. He was successful at befriending and creating alliances with indigenous people. He had a special relationship with one woman in particular,  Malinche. She served as an interpreter for Cortés and also bore him a son. (The photo above is a depiction of Cortés and Montezuma’s meeting, with Malinche in the middle).

Before conquering the Aztec empire, Cortés infiltrated Tenochtitlán and pretended to befriend the leader, Montezuma. Montezuma treated Cortés well before realizing his ulterior motive and was able to put up a good fight for two years before succumbing to Cortés.

Cortés was awarded the title of Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca for overthrowing the Aztec Empire.

Listen to Flocabulary’s rap song about conquistadors and slavery to learn more about conquistadors and their relentless quest for glory and gold.