Cort├ęs Defends His Decision to Conquer Mexico

From Cortés, First Letter, 160ff

Note: This is an extremely problematic document. It is supposed to be a letter from Cortés to King Charles V, but you will note that it is written in the third person, which is odd for a personal letter. In fact, the letter was carefully constructed by a committee of men loyal to Cortés after he disobeyed Cuban Governor Diego Velasquez and decided to not just explore the continent but to conquer it.

After we had become good friends [with indigenous peoples living in the Yucatán Peninsula], they gave us during the four or five days we still remained there, some one hundred and forty dollars of gold in pieces of all kinds, and very thin, so much esteemed by them that it seemed their country was very poor in gold, because it appeared certain that the little they possessed had come from other parts in trading. The land is very good and provisions are abundant, both in maize, as well as fruits, fish, and other things which they eat ... He [Cortés] reproved them for the evil they did in adoring their idols and gods, and he made them understand that they should come to the knowledge of our Very Holy Faith, and he left them a large wooden cross set up on an elevation, and they remained very satisfied, saying they would hold it in great veneration, and would adore it; thus these Indians became our friends and vassals of Your Royal Highnesses.

They said Captain Hernán Cortés left there, continuing his voyage, and we arrived at the port, and bay, which is called San Juan, where the above-named Captain Grijalva traded, of which extensive relation has heretofore been made to Your Majesty. Immediately upon our arrival, the natives came to inquire what caravels were those which had arrived, and as it was very late that day, almost night, the Captain remained quietly in the caravel, and ordered that no one should go on shore. Early the next day the Captain landed with a great part of the people of his armada, and found two of the principal Indians there, to whom he presented certain of his own valuable garments, and, speaking to them through the interpreters, he gave them to understand that he had come to these parts by command of Your Royal Highnesses, to speak to them, and to tell them what they should do to advance your service.

[The next section of the letter talks about Cortés' relationship with a friendly cacique [the word the Spaniards used for local rulers.]

After the said cacique had taken leave of us, and returned satisfied to his house, some of those noble persons who came in this armada, gentlemen, and sons of gentlemen, zealous in the service of our Lord, and of Your Royal Highnesses, and desirous for the exaltation of your royal crown, and the extension of your dominions, and the increase of your revenues, assembled and spoke with the Captain Hernán Cortés, saying that this land was good and that, judging by the sample of gold which that cacique had brought, it was reasonable to believe that it must be very rich, and that he and all his Indians were well-disposed toward us. For these reasons, it seemed to us that it was not advantageous for Your Majesties' service to do as Diego Velasquez had ordered the said Captain Hernán Cortés to do (which was to trade for all the gold we could, and having obtained it, to return to the island of Fernandina [Cuba], in order that the said Diego Velasquez, and the said Captain might profit exclusively by it, and, having agreed upon this amongst ourselves, we selected as our procurators Alonso Hernandez Potocarrero, and Francisco de Montejo, whom we send to Your Majesties with all this, that they may kiss Your Royal hands on our behalf, and that, in our names, and in that of this town, and its Council, they may pray Your Royal Highnesses to favor us as may be agreeable to God, and to Your Majesties, and for the coming good of this town, as will appear at greater length from the instructions we have given them. We humbly beg Your Majesties, with all the respect which is becoming, to receive them, to give them Your Royal hands to kiss on our behalf, and to grant them all the favors they may ask and supplicate on behalf of this Council, and ourselves, because, in doing this Your Majesties, besides rendering service to Our Lord, and this town and Council, will bestow on us the special favor which we daily hope that Your Royal Highnesses will grant us.