La Noche Triste

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La Noche Triste ("The Night of Sorrows")
Part of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire
The sad night.jpg
The battle of La Noche Triste
DateJune 30 – July 1, 1520
Location
Shores of Lake Texcoco, Mexico
Result Aztec victory
Belligerents
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Spanish Empire
Tlaxcallān
Aztec Triple Alliance.png Triple Alliance
Commanders and leaders
Hernán Cortés  (WIA)
Pedro de Alvarado  (WIA)
Cuitláhuac
Strength
varies; likely 600–1000 Spanish and 20,000 native allies 50,000 Aztec warriors; likely more in reserves
Casualties and losses
Between 400 and 800 Spanish killed, drowned, or captured; between 2,000 and 4,000 native allies killed or captured Unknown, probably several thousand

La Noche Triste ("The Night of Sorrows", literally "The Sad Night") was an important event during the Spanish conquest of Mexico, wherein Hernán Cortés, his invading army of Spanish conquistadors, and their native allies were driven out of the Aztec capital at Tenochtitlan.

Hernán Cortés Spanish conquistador

DonHernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of what is now mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century. Cortés was part of the generation of Spanish colonizers who began the first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas.

<i>Conquistador</i> soldiers and explorers for the Spanish and Portuguese empires

Conquistadors were the knights, soldiers and explorers of the Spanish Empire and the Portuguese Empire. During the Age of Discovery, conquistadors sailed beyond Europe to the Americas, Oceania, Africa, and Asia, conquering territory and opening trade routes. They colonized much of the world for Spain and Portugal in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

Aztec Empire Imperial alliance of city states located in central Mexico during the 15th and 16th centuries

The Aztec Empire, or the dende Alliance, was an alliance of three Nahua altepetl city/states: Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. These three city-states ruled the area in and around the Valley of Mexico from 1428 until the combined forces of the Spanish conquistadores and their native allies under Hernán Cortés slaughtered them in 1521.

Contents

Prologue

Cortés' expedition arrived at Tenochtitlan, the Mexica capital, on November 8, 1519, taking up residence in a specially designated compound in the city. Soon thereafter, suspecting treachery on the part of their hosts, the Spaniards took Moctezuma II, the king or Hueyi Tlatoani of the Mexica, hostage. Though Moctezuma followed Cortés' instructions in continually assuring his subjects that he had been ordered by the gods to move in with the Spaniards and that he had done so willingly, the Aztecs suspected otherwise. During the following 98 days, Cortés and his native allies, the Tlaxcaltecas, were increasingly unwelcome guests in the capital.

Tenochtitlan Former city-state in the Valley of Mexico

Tenochtitlan, also known as Mexica-Tenochtitlan, was a large Mexica city-state in what is now the center of Mexico City. The exact date of the founding of the city is unclear. The date March 13, 1325, was chosen in 1925 to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the city. The city was built on an island in what was then Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico. The city was the capital of the expanding Aztec Empire in the 15th century until it was captured by the Spanish in 1521.

Mexica indigenous people of the Valley of Mexico

The Mexica (Nahuatl: Mēxihcah, Nahuatl pronunciation: [meːˈʃiʔkaʔ] or Mexicas are a Nahuatl-speaking indigenous people of the Valley of Mexico who were the rulers of the Aztec Empire. This group was also known as the Culhua-Mexica in recognition of its kinship alliance with the neighboring Culhua, descendants of the revered Toltecs, who occupied the Toltec capital of Tula from the tenth through twelfth centuries. The Mexica were additionally referred to as the "Tenochca", a term associated with the name of their altepetl, Tenochtitlan, and Tenochtitlan's founding leader, Tenoch. The Mexica established Mexico Tenochtitlan, a settlement on an island in Lake Texcoco. A dissident group in Mexico-Tenochtitlan separated and founded the settlement of Mexico-Tlatelolco with its own dynastic lineage. The name Aztec was coined by Alexander von Humboldt who combined "Aztlan", their mythic homeland, and "tec ", 'people of'. The term Aztec is often used very broadly to refer not only to the Mexica, but also to the Nahuatl-speaking peoples or Nahuas of the Valley of Mexico and neighboring valleys.

Moctezuma II 9Th Tlatoani of Tenochtitlán

Moctezuma II, variant spellings include Montezuma, Moteuczoma, Motecuhzoma, Motēuczōmah, Muteczuma, and referred to in full by early Nahuatl texts as Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin, was the ninth tlatoani or ruler of Tenochtitlán, reigning from 1502 to 1520. The first contact between indigenous civilizations of Mesoamerica and Europeans took place during his reign, and he was killed during the initial stages of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, when conquistador Hernán Cortés and his men fought to take over the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan.

Cortés heads off Spanish punitive expedition

In June 1520, news from the Gulf coast reached Cortés that a much larger party of Spaniards had been sent by Governor Velázquez of Cuba to arrest Cortés for insubordination. Leaving Tenochtitlan in the care of his trusted lieutenant, Pedro de Alvarado, Cortés marched to the coast, where he defeated the Cuban expedition led by Pánfilo de Narváez sent to capture him. When Cortés told the defeated soldiers about the riches of Tenochtitlan, they agreed to join him. Reinforced by Narvaez's men, Cortés headed back to Tenochtitlan.

Gulf of Mexico An Atlantic Ocean basin extending into southern North America

The Gulf of Mexico is an ocean basin and a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, largely surrounded by the North American continent. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. The U.S. states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida border the Gulf on the north, which are often referred to as the "Third Coast", in comparison with the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar Spanish governor of Cuba

Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar was a Spanish conquistador. He conquered and governed Cuba on behalf of Spain and moved Havana from the south coast of western Cuba to the north coast, placing it well as a port for Spanish trade.

Pedro de Alvarado Spanish conquistador, explorer and condottiero

Pedro de Alvarado y Contreras was a Spanish conquistador and governor of Guatemala. He participated in the conquest of Cuba, in Juan de Grijalva's exploration of the coasts of the Yucatán Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico, and in the conquest of Mexico led by Hernán Cortés. He is considered the conquistador of much of Central America, including Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Although renowned for his skill as a soldier, Alvarado is known also for the cruelty of his treatment of native populations, and mass murders committed in the subjugation of the native peoples of Mexico.

Loss of control in Tenochtitlan

During Cortés' absence, Pedro de Alvarado in Tenochtitlan obtained information that the Aztecs were planning to attack him. In response, de Alvarado ordered a preemptive slaughter of Aztec nobles and priests celebrating a festival in the city's main temple. In retaliation, the Aztecs laid siege to the Spanish compound, in which Moctezuma was still being held captive. By the time Cortés returned to Tenochtitlan in late June, the Aztecs had elected a new Hueyi Tlatoani named Cuitláhuac.

Cuitláhuac 10Th Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan

Cuitláhuac or Cuitláhuac was the 10th tlatoani (ruler) of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan for 80 days during the year Two Flint (1520). He is credited with leading the Mexica resistance to the Spanish invasion, following the death of his kinsman Moctezuma II.

Cortés ordered Moctezuma to address his people from a terrace in order to persuade them to stop fighting and to allow the Spaniards to leave the city in peace. The Aztecs, however, jeered at Moctezuma, and pelted him with stones and darts. By Spanish accounts, he was killed in this assault by the Mexica people, though they claim he had been killed instead by the Spanish. [1] :294 [2] :90

A map of Tenochtitlan and its causeways leading out of the capital Tenochtitlan.jpg
A map of Tenochtitlan and its causeways leading out of the capital

With Moctezuma dead, Cortés and Alvarado knew they were in a precarious position. Under constant attack, with gunpowder, food, and water in short supply, Cortés decided to break out of the city by night. In order to put the Aztecs off their guard, he sent messengers asking for a one-week ceasefire, at the end of which the Spaniards would return any treasure of which they were in possession and would be permitted to leave the city peacefully. [1] :296

Since the Aztecs had damaged bridges on four of the eight causeways into the island city, the Spaniards devised a portable bridge they could use in order to cross any unspanned sections of water. Cortés ordered that as much of the accumulated gold and other booty as was feasible be packed and carried away, and invited the Spanish soldiers to take and carry away as much as they wished of the remainder. This invitation would lead to the demise of many soldiers who, overburdened with treasure, found it impossible to navigate the causeways and other obstacles encountered on the way out of the city. [1] :297,306

The Spanish head for the causeway out

On the night of July 1, 1520, [3] Cortez's large army left their compound and headed west, toward the Tlacopan causeway. The causeway was apparently unguarded, and the Spaniards made their way out of their complex unnoticed, winding their way through the sleeping city under the cover of a rainstorm. Before reaching the causeway, they were noticed by Aztec warriors known as the Eagle Warriors, who sounded the alarm. [1] :298,305[ discuss ] First by a woman drawing water, and then by the priest of Huitzilopochtli from atop Templo Mayor. [2] :85

The fighting was ferocious. As the Spaniards and their native allies reached the causeway, hundreds of canoes appeared in the waters alongside to harry them. The Spaniards fought their way across the causeway in the rain. Weighed down by gold and equipment, some of the soldiers lost their footing, fell into the lake, and drowned. Amid a vanguard of horsemen, Cortés pressed ahead and reached dry land at Tacuba, leaving the rest of the expedition to fend for itself in the treacherous crossing. [1] :299–300

Seeing the wounded survivors straggle into the village, Cortés and his horsemen turned back to the causeway, where they encountered Pedro de Alvarado, unhorsed and badly wounded, in the company of a handful of Spaniards and Tlaxcaltecas. According to Bernal Díaz del Castillo, it was at this point that tears came to Cortés' eyes, as he realized the extent of the debacle. [1] :300

Cortés, Alvarado and the strongest and most skilled of the men had managed to fight their way out of Tenochtitlan, although they were all bloodied and exhausted. Cortés himself had been injured in the fighting. All of the artillery had been lost, as had most of the horses. [1] :302

The sources are not in agreement as to the total number of casualties suffered by the expedition. Cortés himself claimed that 154 Spaniards were lost along with over 2,000 native allies. Thoan Cano, another eyewitness to the event, said that 1170 Spaniards died, but this number probably exceeds the total number of Spaniards who took part in the expedition. [4] Francisco López de Gómara, who was not himself an eyewitness, estimated that 450 Spaniards and 4,000 allies died. [5]

Montezuma's son, Chimalpopoca (Moctezuma) was killed and the Tepanec prince Tlaltecatzin, [2] :87 King Cacamatzin, his three sisters and two brothers were also killed. [2] :90

Diaz states the Spaniards suffered 860 soldiers killed, which included those from the later Battle of Otumba. The Tlaxcaltecas lost a thousand. The noncombatants attached to the expedition suffered terribly, 72 casualties, including five Spanish women. The few women who survived included La Malinche the interpreter, Dona Luisa, and María Estrada. [1] :302,305–306 The event was named La Noche Triste ("The Night of Sorrows") on account of the sorrow that Cortés and his surviving followers felt and expressed at the loss of life and treasure incurred in the escape from Tenochtitlan.

Aftermath

Further battles awaited the Spaniards and their allies as they fought their way around the north end of Lake Zumpango. Two weeks later, at the Battle of Otumba, not far from Teotihuacan, they turned to fight the pursuing Aztecs, decisively defeating them — according to Cortés, because he slew the Aztec commander — and giving the Spaniards a small respite that allowed them to reach Tlaxcala. [1] :303–305

It was in Tlaxcala that Cortés plotted the siege of Tenochtitlan and the eventual destruction of the Aztec Empire.

See also

Footnotes

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Diaz, B., 1963, The Conquest of New Spain, London: Penguin Books, ISBN   0140441239
  2. 1 2 3 4 León-Portilla, M. 1992, 'The Broken Spears: The Aztec Accounts of the Conquest of Mexico. Boston: Beacon Press, ISBN   978-0807055014
  3. Various sources give dates ranging from June 30 to July 4, a problem further confounded by the use of the Julian calendar in Europe at this time, which had diverged from the true (solar) date by almost 12 days.
  4. Prescott, Appendix.
  5. Prescott, Book 5, Chapter 3.

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