hile he is often now referred to as Hernán or Hernando Cortez (IPA: [korˈteθ]), in his time he called himself Hernando or Fernando Cortés ([korˈtes]). The names Hernán, Hernando and Fernando are all equally correct. The latter two were most commonly used during his lifetime, but the former shortened form has become common in both the Spanish and English languages in modern times, and is the name which many people know him by today. Early life
Cortés was born in Medellín, in the province of Extremadura, in the Kingdom of Castile in Spain in 1485. His father, Martín Cortés de Monroy, born in 1449 to Rodrigo or Ruy Fernández de Monroy and his wife María Cortés, was an infantry captain of distinguished ancestry but slender means. Hernán's mother was Catalina Pizarro Altamirano. Through his mother, Hernán was the second cousin once removed of Francisco Pizarro, who later conquered the Inca Empire of modern-day Peru (not to be confused with another Francisco Pizarro who joined Cortés to conquer the Aztecs), through her parents Diego Altamirano and wife and cousin Leonor Sánchez Pizarro Altamirano, first cousin of Pizarro's father. Through his father, Hernán was a twice distant relative of Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres, the third Governor of Hispaniola. His paternal grandfather was a son of Rodrigo de Monroy y Almaraz, 5th Lord of Monroy, and wife Mencía de Orellana y Carvajal. Hernán Cortés is described as a pale, sickly child by his biographer, chaplain, and friend Francisco López de Gómara. At the age of 14, Cortés was sent to study at the University of Salamanca in west-central Spain. This was Spain's great center of learning, and while accounts vary as to the nature of Cortés' studies, his later writings and actions suggest he studied Law and probably Latin. After two years, Cortés, tired of schooling, returned home to Medellín, much to the irritation of his parents, who had hoped to see him equipped for a profitable legal career. However, those two years at Salamanca, plus his long period of training and experience as a notary, first in Seville and later in Hispaniola, would give him a close acquaintance with the legal codes of Castile that helped him to justify his unauthorized conquest of Mexico. At this point in his life, Cortés was described by Gómara as restless, haughty and mischievous. This was probably a fair description of a 16-year-old boy who had returned home only to find himself frustrated by life in his small provincial town. By this time, news of the exciting discoveries of Columbus in the New World was streaming back to Spain. Departure for the New World
Plans were made for Cortés to sail to the Americas with a family acquaintance and distant relative, Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres, the newly appointed governor of Hispaniola (currently Haiti and the Dominican Republic), but an injury he sustained while hurriedly escaping from the bedroom of a married woman from Medellín, prevented him from making the journey. Instead, he spent the next year wandering the country, probably spending most of his time in the heady atmosphere of Spain's southern ports of Cadiz, Palos, Sanlucai and Seville, listening to the tales of those returning from the Indies, who told of discovery and conquest, gold, Indians and strange unknown lands. He finally left for Hispaniola in 1504 where he became a colonist. Arrival
Cortés did not arrive in the "New World" until he finally succeeded in reaching Hispaniola in a ship commanded by Alonso Quintero, who tried to deceive his superiors and reach the New World before them in order to secure personal advantages. Quintero's mutinous conduct may have served as a model for Cortés in his subsequent career. The history of the conquistadores is rife with accounts of rivalry, jockeying for positions, mutiny and betrayal. Upon his arrival in 1504 in Santo Domingo, the capital of Hispaniola, the 18-year-old Cortés registered as a citizen, which...
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