By Anthony Pagden, Hernán Cortés
Hernan Cortes's Cartas de Relacion, written over a seven-year interval to Charles V of Spain, supply a rare narrative account of the conquest of Mexico from the founding of the coastal city of Veracruz until eventually Cortes's trip to Honduras in 1525. Pagden's English translation has been ready from an in depth exam of the earliest surviving manuscript and of the 1st published variations, and he additionally offers a brand new advent providing a daring and cutting edge interpretation of the character of the conquest and Cortes's involvement in it. J. H. Elliot's introductory essay explains Cortes's conflicts with the Crown and with Diego Velazquez, the governor of Cuba.
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Below, p. 48. xxviii ] HERNAN CORTES certain. Some passages in his two speeches contain so many Chris tian overtones as to be unbelievable coming from a pagan Aztec. Others, and in particular the identification of the Spaniards with the former rulers of xMexico wrongly banished from their land, may be an ingenious fabrication by Cortes, or may conceivably reflect certain beliefs and legends, which Motecucoma himself may or may not have accepted. Whatever its origins, the story of the expected return of lords from the east was essential to Cortes's grand design, for it enabled him to allege and explain a "voluntary" submission of Motecu9oma, and the "legal" transfer of his empire—an empire far removed from the jurisdiction of the Audiencia of Santo Domingo and from the Caribbean world of Diego Colon and Velazquez—to its rightful ruler, Charles V.
Moreover, as so much of the substance of his letters is dedicated to the legal or quasi-legal legitimation of his actions, it would be surprising not to find Latinate constructions and even distant echoes of Roman historians (although not of Greek philosophers). What are lacking from Cortes' works are precisely the selfconscious literary devices to be found in the work of the universitytrained historians. Because of the conditions under which he was writing, his need to mix different genres within a single narrative, his style is often disjunctive, clumsy and verbose.
As soon as the bureaucrats began to arrive in any number, Cortes would cease to be the real ruler of New Spain. Already by the autumn of 1524 he was beginning to feel hemmed in, and the decision to leave for Honduras may well have been prompted by an impulsive desire to escape into a world where he could again enjoy the delights of supreme command. Whatever the balance of motives, Cortes's decision proved to be the most disastrous of his life. No one else in New Spain en joyed even a shadow of his personal authority, and his departure was the signal for anarchy.