Today’s installment concludes Cortez Captures the Aztec Capital,
our selection from History of the Conquest of Mexico by William H. Prescott published in 1844. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of four thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in Cortez Captures the Aztec Capital.
Place: Mexico City
Holguin assured him that his wishes should be respected, and assisted him to get on board the brigantine, followed by his wife and attendants. These were twenty in number, consisting of Coanaco, the deposed Lord of Tlacopan, the Lord of Tlacopan, and several other caciques and dignitaries, whose rank, probably, had secured them some exemption from the general calamities of the siege. When the captives were seated on the deck of the vessel Holguin requested the Aztec Prince to put an end to the combat by commanding his people in the other canoes to surrender. But with a dejected air he replied: “It is not necessary. They will fight no longer when they see their Prince is taken.” He spoke the truth. The news of Guatemotzin’s capture spread rapidly through the fleet and on shore, where the Mexicans were still engaged in conflict with their enemies. It ceased, however, at once. They made no further resistance; and those on the water quickly followed the brigantines, which conveyed their captive monarch to land. It seemed as if the fight had been maintained thus long the better to divert the enemy’s attention and cover their master’s retreat.
Meanwhile, Sandoval, on receiving tidings of the capture, brought his own brigantine alongside of Holguin’s and demanded the royal prisoner to be surrendered to him. But the captain claimed him as his prize. A dispute arose between the parties, each anxious to have the glory of the deed, and perhaps the privilege of commemorating it on his escutcheon. The controversy continued so long that it reached the ears of Cortés, who, in his station on the azotea, had learned with no little satisfaction the capture of his enemy. He instantly sent orders to his wrangling officers to bring Guatemotzin before him, that he might adjust the difference between them. He charged them, at the same time, to treat their prisoner with respect. He then made preparations for the interview, caused the terrace to be carpeted with crimson cloth and matting, and a table to be spread with provisions, of which the unhappy Aztecs stood so much in need. His lovely Indian mistress, Doña Marina, was present to act as interpreter. She stood by his side through all the troubled scenes of the conquest, and she was there now to witness its triumphant termination.
Guatemotzin, on landing, was escorted by a company of infantry to the presence of the Spanish commander. He mounted the azotea with a calm and steady step, and was easily to be distinguished from his attendant nobles, though his full, dark eye was no longer lighted up with its accustomed fire, and his features wore an expression of passive resignation, that told little of the fierce and fiery spirit that burned within. His head was large, his limbs well proportioned, his complexion fairer than that of his bronze-colored nation, and his whole deportment singularly mild and engaging.
Cortés came forward with a dignified and studied courtesy to receive him. The Aztec monarch probably knew the person of his conqueror, for he first broke silence by saying: “I have done all that I could to defend myself and my people. I am now reduced to this state. You will deal with me, Malintzin, as you list.” Then, laying his hand on the hilt of a poniard stuck in the General’s belt, he added with vehemence, “Better despatch me with this, and rid me of life at once.” Cortés was filled with admiration at the proud bearing of the young barbarian, showing in his reverses a spirit worthy of an ancient Roman. “Fear not,” he replied; “you shall be treated with all honor. You have defended your capital like a brave warrior. A Spaniard knows how to respect valor even in an enemy.” He then inquired of him where he had left the Princess his wife; and, being informed that she still remained under protection of a Spanish guard on board the brigantine, the General sent to have her escorted to his presence.
She was the youngest daughter of Montezuma, and was hardly yet on the verge of womanhood. On the accession of her cousin Guatemotzin to the throne, she had been wedded to him as his lawful wife. She is celebrated by her contemporaries for her personal charms; and the beautiful Princess Tecuichpo is still commemorated by the Spaniards, since from her by a subsequent marriage are descended some of the illustrious families of their own nation. She was kindly received by Cortés, who showed her the respectful attentions suited to her rank. Her birth, no doubt, gave her an additional interest in his eyes, and he may have felt some touch of compunction as he gazed on the daughter of the unfortunate Montezuma. He invited his royal captives to partake of the refreshments which their exhausted condition rendered so necessary. Meanwhile the Spanish commander made his dispositions for the night, ordering Sandoval to escort the prisoners to Cojohuacan, whither he proposed himself immediately to follow. The other captains, Olid and Alvarado, were to draw off their forces to their respective quarters.
It was impossible for them to continue in the capital, where the poisonous effluvia from the unburied carcasses loaded the air with infection. A small guard only was stationed to keep order in the wasted suburbs. It was the hour of vespers when Guatemotzin surrendered, and the siege might be considered as then concluded. The evening set in dark, and the rain began to fall before the several parties had evacuated the city.
During the night a tremendous tempest, such as the Spaniards had rarely witnessed, and such as is known only within the tropics, burst over the Mexican valley. The thunder, reverberating from the rocky amphitheatre of hills, bellowed over the waste of waters, and shook the teocallis and crazy tenements of Tenochtitlan — the few that yet survived — to their foundations. The lightning seemed to cleave asunder the vault of heaven, as its vivid flashes wrapped the whole scene in a ghastly glare for a moment, to be again swallowed up in darkness. The war of elements was in unison with the fortunes of the ruined city. It seemed as if the deities of Anahuac, * scared from their ancient bodies, were borne along shrieking and howling in the blast, as they abandoned the fallen capital to its fate.
[* The low water-bordered coastal region of Mexico. The name is now applied to a part of the table-land near the city of Mexico. — ED.]
This ends our series of passages on Cortez Captures the Aztec Capital by William H. Prescott from his book History of the Conquest of Mexico published in 1844. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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