Thursday, September 27, 2012
Monarch Profile: Emperor Cuauhtémoc
á n Corté s entered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519, eventually taking Montezuma II prisoner. The Emperor died, whether at the hands of the Spanish or a mob of his own people remains hotly debated to this day. Cortes fought his way out of the city in a brutal battle known in Mexico as la noche triste (“night of sorrow”) and during his absence one of his lieutenants carried out a massacre, inciting the Aztecs to rise up in revolt.
Still, if things continued, a Spanish victory was inevitable so, on August 13, 1521, Cuauhtémoc sent out messengers to the surrounding tribes summoning them to help fight the Spanish and defend (or soon retake) Tenochtitlan. Unfortunately, the Aztecs were not known for being the most kind of masters or benevolent of overlords and few of their fellow natives were distressed to see them facing total defeat. Indeed, the Spanish victories thus far would not have been possible if so many of the indigenous people they encountered had not been so eager to throw off the Aztec yoke that they would willingly join anyone who offered them a change. In the end, only the people of Tlatelolco (the sister-city of Tenochtitlan, also built on an island on lake Texcoco) remained loyal to the Aztec Emperor. It was not enough and soon Cuauhtémoc had no choice but to abandon the great city, with his family and a small entourage, in disguise.
In truth, there was nothing Cuauhtémoc could have done as it seems factual that no such treasure existed. Indeed, the Aztecs themselves did not view gold as being particularly valuable, other than, perhaps, as a decoration and certain bird feathers worked much better, being more colorful and considerably lighter and easier to wear. Cortes, when confronted with the horrific scene of his fallen foe having his feet burned, was ashamed and ordered his immediate release. Some gold was found, scattered about the city in various temples or the homes of leading aristocrats, but nothing like the vast quantities that were expected. Cortes had given Cuauhtémoc his life, but still did not trust him and when he set off to conquer Central America for the Spanish Crown, he took the fallen monarch with him for fear that he might lead another revolt if left in Tenochtitlan. It was during this expedition on February 28, 1525 that Cortes had Cuauhtémoc put to death after discovering that he and several other Aztec noblemen were plotting his assassination. However, Cuauhtémoc protested to the last that he had been unjustly accused and afterward Cortes was genuinely anxious about whether or not he had killed an innocent man.