Francisco López de Gómara (born Gomara, Soria Spain in 1511, died 1566 in Seville, Spain) was a Spanish historian who worked in Seville, particularly noted for his works in which he described the early 16th century expedition undertaken by Hernán Cortés in the Spanish conquest of the New World, a portion of which is here reproduced.
The narrative dates from 1578 and is written in English as it was then. It remains readable, and presents an intriguing look at a pivotal encounter that came to define the modern world.
The Oration made by Cortez to his Souldiers.
Feare not my louyng fellowes to goe and abide with me, God forbidde that I should thynke, yea or that any shoulde reporte, that feare vexeth my company, or else disobedience to their Captayne, whiche is a perpetuall infamie, if wée shoulde leaue this Lande, this Warre, this way already made, and returne as some doe desire, shall wée then lyue at reste, loytring as idell and loste folke: God forbidde, that euer oure nation shoulde haue suche a name, hauyng warres of honour. And whether (I pray) shall the Oxe goe where he shall not helpe to ploughe the grounde? doe yée thinke peraduenture that yée shall finde lesse people, worse armed, and not farre from the sea? I doe assure you, that in so thynkyng yée séeke after fiue féete for a Catte, yea and you shall trauell no way, but that you shall méete some euill passage (as the Prouerbe sayth) yea and farre worser than this that we haue in hande. For why (God be thanked) since wée came into this Countrey, we neuer wanted meate, friendes, neyther money nor honour. For nowe yée sée that yée are estéemed more than menne, yea as persons immortall, and Goddes, if it mighte be spoken, for these Indians beyng so many and without number, and so armed as ye your selues affirme, yet can they not kyll one of vs: and as touchyng theyr weapons, you sée that they are not poysoned, as the Indians of Cartagena, Veragna, and the Caribez doe vse, whiche haue killed many of our nation therewith, dying as madde menne ragyng.
And if there were no other cause than this onely, you shoulde not séeke others with whome to warre: I doe confesse that the Sea is somewhat farre from vs, and neuer Spaniarde trauelled so farre into the mayne lande of India, as wée haue done: for why? nowe we leaue the Sea a hundreth and fiftie myles behinde vs, nor yet euer any hath come to neare Mexico where Mutezuma dothe reside, from whome suche messages and Treasure wée haue receyued. It is nowe but thrée score myles thyther, and the worste is paste, as you doe sée, if we come thither, as I truste in Iesus wée shall, then shall we not onely gette and winne for the Emperoure oure naturall Lorde a riche Lande, greate Kingdomes, infinite Vassalles, but lykewyse for oure selues muche riches, as Golde, Siluer, Pretious stones, Pearles, and other commoditie, and besides thys, the greatest honour that euer any nation did obtayne. For loke howe great a King this is, howe large his countrey is, and what greate multitude of people hée hath, so muche the more is our glory.
Besides all this, wée are bounde as Christians to exalte and enlarge oure Catholyke fayth, as wée haue begonne, abolishyng Idolatrie and blasphemie agaynst our Sauiour Christe, takyng away the blouddy Sacrifice and eatyng of mannes fleshe, so horrible and agaynste nature, and many other grieuous sinnes so muche here vsed, for the foulenesse whereof I name them not.
And therefore (I saye) feare you nor yet doubte you the victorie, consideryng that the worste is paste. Of late wée ouercame the Indians of Tabasco, and also an hundreth and fiftie thousande this other daye of the Tlaxcaltecas, who haue the onely name of breakers of Lyons iawes: so with Gods helpe you shal be Conquerers of the reste, if ye faynt not and folowe me.
All hys company was pleased and contente with this comfortable exhortation, and those that were faynt harted recouered strength. And hys valiaunt Souldiers recouered double courage, & those who hated him began to honour him: and in conclusion he departed from thence excéeding welbeloued of all his company. But all his former talke was very néedefull as time then requyred: for why? some of his (as you haue heard) were desirous to returne: likewise vpon dissention, rebellion mought haue growen, and he forced to returne to the sea coaste, where all his toyle and trauell taken had bene lost.
Hovv Xicotencatl came for Embassadour to Cortez his Campe.
He had not so soone made an ende of his talke, when Xicotencatl came entryng into the campe, who was chiefe and generall captayne in Tlaxcallan, & of all the warres: he brought in his company fiftie persons of auctoritie to kéepe him cōpany. They approched neare where Cortes was, and saluted eche other according to the vse of their countrey. Their salutations ended and the parties setten downe, Xicotencatl began the talke, saying: Sir I am come on mine owne behalf and also of my fellow Captaine, and Lieuetenant Maxixca, and in the name of many other noble personages, and finally in the name of the whole state and common weale of Tlaxcallan, to beséeche and pray you to admitte vs into your friendshippe, and to yéelde our selues and countrey vnto your King, crauyng also at your hande pardon for our attempt in takyng armes agaynst you, wée not knowyng what you were, nor what you sought for in our countrey. And where we presumed to resiste and defende your entrance, we did it as agaynst straungrrs whome we knewe not, and suche menne as we had neuer here tofore séene: and fearyng also that you had bene friendes to Mutezuma, who is and alwayes hath bene our mortall enimy. And these things wée suspected, seyng Mutezuma his seruaunts in your company, or else we imagined that you were comen to vsurpe our libertie, the which of tyme without memory we haue possessed, as our forefathers did with the shedyng of their bloud. And of our owne naturall prouision we wante cotten woolle to clothe vs, wherfore in tyme paste we wente as naked as we were borne, but some of vs vsed other clothe to couer our nakednesse, made of the leaues of the trée called Metl: and Salte also wée wanted, of which twoo things so necessarie to humayne lyfe, Mutezuma had greate store, and other our enimies, with whome we are rounde aboute enuironed. And lykewise where wée haue no gold, stones of value, or any riche thyng to barter with them, of very pure necessitie many times we are forced to sell our owne bodies to buy these wantes. And this extremitie (sayde he) wée néeded not, if that we woulde be subiectes and vassalles to Mutezuma. But yet had we rather all in generall to end our lyues, than wée woulde putte oure selues in suche subiection, for we thynke our selues as valiaunt menne in courage as our forefathers were, who alwayes haue resisted agaynst him and his grandfather, who was as mightie as nowe is he: wée woulde also haue withstoode you and your force, but wée coulde not, although we proued all our possibilitie by night and day, and found your strength inuincible, and we no lucke agaynst you. Therefore sithence our fate is such, we had rather be subiect vnto you than vnto any others. For wée haue knowen and hearde by the Zeampoallanezes, that you doe no euill, nor came not to vere any, but were moste valliaunt and happie, as they had séene in the warres, beyng in your companie. For whiche consideration, we truste that our libertie shall not be diminished, but rather our owne persons, wyues, and familie better preserued, and our houses and husbandry not destroyed. And in sūme of all his talke, the teares trickling downe his chéekes, he besought Cortes to wey that Tlaxcallan did neuer at any tyme reknowledge any superiour King or Lorde, nor at any time had commen any person among them to commaunde, but onely he, whome they did voluntarily electe and chose as their superiour and ruler.
It can not be tolde, howe muche Cortes reioyced with this Embassage, and to sée such a mighty Captayne come vnto his campe to submitte himselfe: and also it was a matter of great wayght to haue that Cittie in subiection, for the enterprice whiche he had in hande, whereby he fully made an account that the warres were at an ende, to the great cōtentation of him and his company, and with great fame and reputation among the Indians.
Cortes with a mery and louing countenaunce answered, laying to their charge the hurte and damage whiche he had receyued in their countrey, bycause they refused at the firste to harken vnto him, and quietly to suffer him to enter into their countrey, euen as he had required and desired by his Messengers of Zeampoallan sente vnto them from Zaclotan. Yet al this notwtstandyng, he did both pardon the kyllyng of his twoo horses, the assaultyng of him in the highe way, and the greate lies whiche they had moste craftily vsed with hym, (for where as they themselues fought agaynst him, yet they layde the faulte to others) likewise their pretence to murder him in the ambush prepared for him, (enticing him to come to their Citie,) without makyng firste defiance according to the law of armes.
These causes notwithstanding, he did louingly receyue their offer made in subiection to the Emperour, and in this sorte departed, saying, that shortely hée woulde be with him in Tlaxcallan, and presently he coulde not goe with him for the dispatche of the Ambassadours of Mutezuma.
The receyuing and entertaynementof Cortez in Tlaxcallan.
Mutezuma, to sée Xicotencates in the Spanishe Campe, and the offer made vnto Cortes in the behalfe of his King, of their persons, Cittie and goodes, aduising Cortes to gyue no credite vnto them, for all their saying (quoth they) is treason and lies, and to the entent to locke you vp in their Cittie.
Cortes answered, that although their aduise were true, yet he did determine to go thither, for that he feared them lesse in the towne than in the fielde. They hearyng this answere and determination, besought him to giue vnto one of them licence to returne vnto Mexico, to aduertise Mutezuma of all that was past, with an answere to their Ambassage, promising within sixe dayes to haue newes from Mexico, and till then prayed him not to departe with his Campe.
Cortes graunted their request, and abode there the time appointed, expectyng the answere. In this meane season came many of Tlaxcallan to the camp, some brought Ginnea cockes, other brought bread and Cherries, and gaue it for nothyng in comparison, with merry countenaunce, desiryng them to goe home with them vnto their houses.
A riche present.
The sixth day the Mexican came, accordyng to promise, and brought vnto Cortes tenne Iewelles of Golde, bothe riche and well wrought, and a fiftene thousand garments of Cotten excéeding gallant, and moste earnestly besought hym on the behalfe of Mutezuma, that he shoulde not daunger himselfe in trustyng to the wordes of the Tlaxcaltecas, who were so poore yt with necessitie they would robbe him of the thyngs whiche his mayster had sente him, yea and lykewise murder him, knowyng of the friendshippe betwéene his mayster and him: likewise all the chiefest Lordes of Tlaxcallan, came to intreate hym to goe with them to Tlaxcallan where he shoulde be cherished, lodged, and well prouided. For it was a greate dishonour and shame for them to permitte suche personages to abyde in suche vyle cotages as they were in. And if (quoth they) you truste vs not, that then wée are ready to gyue you for your securitie what soeuer gages you shall demaunde: notwithstandyng they dyd bothe sweare and faithfully promise, that they might safely goe with them, saying also that the Othe and fayth of theyr common weale should neuer be broken for all the goodes in the worlde.
Entraunce into Tlaxcallan.
Wherevpon Cortez seyng the good will of so many Gentlemen his newe friendes, and lykewise the Indians of Zeampoallan, of whome he had good credite, did so importune him and assure him of his goyng, he commaunded his fardage to be laden and also his ordinaunce, and departed towarde Tlaxcallan, whiche was sixe leagues from that place, with as good order as it had bene to a battayle: And at the Tower where he had pitched hys campe, he lefte certayne Crosses for a memorie, with a greate heape of stones, and entred into Tlaxcallan the eightenth of September. There came out such a multitude of people to sée him and to méete him in the way, that it was a wonder to sée.
He was lodged in the greatest temple, which had many great and fayre lodgyngs, sufficient for hym and all his companie, except the Indians hys friends which were lodged in other Temples. He set certayne limittes, out of the whiche he commaunded straightely that none of hys company should passe, vpon payne of deathe, and also commaunded that they shoulde take nothing, but what shoulde be giuen them. His commaundement was well obserued, for none presumed to goe a stoanes cast without his licence. The Indian Gentlemen shewed greate pleasure and curtesie to the strangers, and prouided thē of all things necessarie, and manye of them gaue theyr daughters vnto them, in token of true friendshippe, and likewise to haue fruite of their bodyes, to be brought vp for the warres, beyng such valiant men.
This Countrey lyked well oure men, and the greate loue of the people. They abode there at their pleasure twenty dayes, in whiche time they did procure to knowe particularly the estate of their common weale and secretes, and also were sufficiently instructed of the estate of Mutezuma.
The description of Tlaxcallan.
Tis properly in the Indian tong as much to say, as bread well baked, for there is more grayne called Centli gathered, than is in all ye prouince round about.
In times past the Citie was called Texcallan, that is to say, a valley betwixt two hilles. It is a greate Citie, and planted by a riuer side, whiche springeth out of Atlancatepec, and watreth the most parte of that prouince, and from thence issueth out into the South sea, by Zacatullan. This Citie hathe foure goodly stréetes, whiche are called Tepeticpac, Ocotelulco, Tizatlan,Quiahuiztlan. The firste stréete standeth on hygh vpon a hyll, farre from the riuer, whiche maye be aboute halfe a league, and bycause it standeth on a hill, it is called Tepeticpac, that is to say, a hyll, and was the firste population which was foūded there on high, bycause of the warres.
An other stréete was scituate on the hill side towarde the Riuer, bycause at the building thereof, there were many pyne trées: they named it Ocotelulco, which is to say, a pine apple plot. This stréete was beautifull, and firste inhabited of all the Citie, and there was the chiefest Market place, where all the buying and selling was vsed, and that place they called Tianquiztli: in that stréete was the dwelling house of Maxixca. Along the Riuer side in the playne standeth another stréete called Tizatlan, bycause there is muche lyme and chalke. In this stréete dwelled Xicotencatl, Captayne generall of the common weale. There is another stréete named by reason of the brackish water, Quiahuiztlan, but since the Spanyardes came thither, all those buildings are almost altered, after a better fashion, and built with stone. In the plaine by the riuer side, standeth the Towne house, and other offices, as in the Citie of Venice. This Tlaxcallan was gouerned by noble and riche men: they vse not that one alone should rule, but rather flye from that order, as from tyrannie.
In their warres (as I haue sayde before) they haue foure Captaynes, whiche gouerneth eache one stréete, of the whiche foure, they do elect a Captayne generall. Also there are other Gentlemen that are vndercaptaynes, but a small number. In the warres they vse their standerde to be carried behynde the army, but when the battayle is to be fought, they place the standerde where all the hoste may sée it, and he that commeth not incontinent to hys auntient, payeth a penaltie. Their standerd hathe two crossebowe arrowes set thereon, whiche they estéeme as the relikes of their auncetors. Thys standerd two olde souldiers and valiant menne, being of the chiefest Captaynes, haue the charge to carrie, in the which standerde an abusion of southsaying, eyther of losse or victory is noted. In this order they shote one of these arrowes against the first enimies that they méete, and if with that arrow they doe eyther kill or hurte, it is a token that they shall haue the victorie, and if it neyther kill nor hurt, then they assuredly beléeue that they shall lose the field.
A strange contractation.
This prouince or Lordship of Tlaxcallan, hath .28. Villages and townes, wherein is conteyned 150000. householdes. They are men well made, and good warriors, the lyke are not among the Indians. They are very poore, and haue no other riches, but only the grayne or corne called Centli, and with the gayne and profite thereof, they doe both cloth themselues, and paye their tributes, and prouide all other necessaries. They haue many market places, but the greatest and most vsed dayly, standeth in the stréete of Ocotelulco, whiche is so famous, that 30000. persons come thither in one day to buy and sell, whyche is to say, changing one thing for another, for they know not what money meaneth.
They sell such things in that market, as héere we vse, & al thing vnto them néedeful to eate, and cloth for themselues, and necessaries for building.
They haue all kinde of good policie in the Citie: there are Goldsmithes, fetherdressers, Barbors, hotehouses, and potters, who make as good earthen vessel, as is made in Spayne. The earth is fat and fruitefull for corne, fruite, and pasture, for among the pine trées groweth so muche grasse, that our men féede their cattell there, whiche in Spayne they can not do.
Within two leagues of that Citie standeth a rounde hill of sixe miles of heigth, and fiue and fortie myles in compasse, and is now called Saint Bartholmewes hill, where the snow fréeseth. In times past they called that hill Matealcucie, who was their God for water. They had also a God for wyne, who was named Ometochtli, for the great dronkennesse whiche they vsed. They chiefest God was called Camaxtlo, and by another name Mixcouatl, whose Temple stoode in the stréete of Ocotelulco, in the whiche temple there was sacrifised some yeares aboue eyghte hundred persons. In Tlaxcallan they spake thrée languages, that is to saye, Nahualh, whiche is the courtly spéech, and chiefest in all the land of Mexico: an other is called Otomir, which is most commonly vsed in the Villages: There is one onely stréete that spake Pinomer, which is the grosest speache. There was also in that Citie a common Iayle, where fellons lye in yrons, and all things which they held for sinne, was there corrected.
It chanced at that time a Townesman to steale from a Spanyard a little golde, whereof Cortes complayned to Maxixca, who incōtinent made such enquirie, yt the offender was found in Chololla, whiche is another Citie fyue leagues from thence: they brought the prisoner with the golde, and deliuered him to Cortez, to doe with him hys pleasure: Cortes woulde not accepte him, but gaue hym thankes for his diligence: then was he carried wyth a Cryer before hym, manifestyng hys offence, and in the Market place vppon a skaffolde they brake hys ioyntes with a cudgell: our men maruelled to sée suche straunge Iustice.
The aunsvvere of the Tlaxcaltecas touching the leauing of their Idolles.
A godly persvvasiō.
Cortez saw that these people executed Iustice, and liued in Religion after theyr manner, although abhominable and diuelish: and alwayes when he desired them to leaue off from their Idolatrie and that cruell vanitie, in killing and eating men sacrifised, considering that none among them how holly soeuer he were, would willingly be slayne & eaten, required them to beléeue in the most true God of the Chrystians, who was the maker of Heauen and earth, the giuer of rayne, and creator of all things that the earthe produceth only for the vse and profite of mortall man.
Some of them aunswered, that they woulde gladly do it, onely to pleasure him, but they feared that the commons would arise and stone them. Others sayde, that it was an hard matter to vnbeléeue that which their forefathers had so long beléeued, and that it shoulde be a cause to condemne their forefathers and themselues.
Others sayde, that it mighte be in time they woulde conuert, séeing the order of the Christian Religion, and vnderstanding the reasons and causes to turne Christians, and likewise perceyuing thoroughly the manner and life of the Christiās, with their lawes and customs: and as for warlike feates, they were satisfyed, & had séene suche tryall, that they helde them for men inuincible in that poynte, and that their God did help them.
Cortes promised them, that shortlye he woulde bring them suche men, as shoulde instruct and teache them, and then they should sée which way was best, with the greate ioy and fruite that they shoulde féele. They accepting that councell which he like a friende had giuen them, and for as much as presently it could not be brought to passe by reason of his iourney to Mexico.
He desired them, that the Temple wherein he was lodged, shoulde be made a Churche for him and his company, and if it pleased them, they mighte also come to sée and heare their diuine seruice.
The Indians graunted to his request, and dayly came among them all the time of their abode there, and some came and dwelte with the Spanyardes, but the chiefest friende was Captayne Maxixca, who neuer went from Cortez.
The discord betvveene the Mexicans and Tlaxcaltecas.
He being throughly satisfyed of theyr hartie good wylles, he demaunded of them the estate and riches of Mutezuma. They exalted him greately, as men that had proued his force. And as they affyrmed, it was néere a hundred yeares that they mainteyned warre with him and his father Axaiaca, and others his Vnckles and Grandfathers. And saide also, that the golde and treasure of Mutezuma, was without number, and his power and dominion ouer all the lande, and hys people innumerable: for (quoth they) he ioyneth sometime two hundreth thousand men, yea and thrée hundred thousande for one battayle. And if it pleased hym, he woulde make as manye men double, and thereof they were good witnesse, bycause they had manye times fought with thē.
Maxixca desired that Cortes should not aduenture themselues into the power of the men of Culhua, whereat some of the Spanyardes feared and suspected euill of the matter.
Cortes tolde him, that notwithstanding all those things whiche they had tolde him, he was fully minded to goe to Mexico, to visit Mutezuma, wishing him to aduise hym what he mought do, or bring to passe for them with Mutezuma, for he woulde willingly do it, for the curtesie shewed vnto him, and that he beléeued Mutezuma woulde graunt him any lawfull request.
Then they besought him to procure for them a licence to haue cotten wooll and salte out of his Countrey, for (sayd they) in time of the warres we stoode in greate néede thereof, and that they had none but suche as they boughte by stealthe of the Comercans verye déere, in change of golde: for Mutezuma had made a straight lawe, whereby all suche as carried anye of those commodities to them shoulde be slayne. Then Cortez enquired the cause of their disorder and euill neyborhood. They aunswered, that their griefes were olde, and cause of libertie: but as the Ambassadors did affyrme, and Mutezuma Mutezuma afterward declare, it was not so, but for other matter farre differente. So that eache partye alleadging their causes, theyr reasons were, that the yong menne of Mexicoand Culhua dyd exercise and bryng them vppe in warlike feates néere vnto them, and vnder theyr noses, to theyr greate annoyance, whereas they moughte haue gone to Panuco and Teocantepec, hys frontiers a farre off.
Lykewyse theyr pretence was, to haue warre wyth them béeyng theyr neyghbors, onely to haue of them to sacrifice to their Gods: so that when they would make any solemne feast, then would they send to Tlaxcallan for men to sacrifice, with such a great army, that they might take as many as they néeded for that yeare: for it is most certayne if Mutezuma woulde, in one daye hée moughte haue broughte them in subiection, and slayne them all, ioyning his whole power in effecte: but his purpose was, to kéepe them for a pray to hunt withall, for men to be sacrificed to his Goddes, and to eate, so that hée woulde neuer sende but a small armye againste them: whereby it did chance that sometimes those of Tlaxcallan did ouercome.
Cortez receyued great pleasure to heare these discordes betwixt his newe friendes and Mutezuma, whiche was a thing fitte for his purpose, for by that meanes he hoped to bring them all vnder subiection, and therefore hée vsed the one and the other secretely, to build his pretence vpon a good foundation.
At all this communication there stoode by certayne Indians of Vexozinco, whiche had bin against our men in the late warres, the which Towne is a Citie as Tlaxcallan, and ioyned with them in league of friendship against Mutezuma, who oppressed them in like effect of slaughter for their Temples of Mexico, and they also yéelded themselues to Cortes for vassals to the Emperoure.
Pleasant Historie of the
Conquest of the VVeast India,
now called new Spayne,
Atchieued by the vvorthy Prince
Hernando Cortes Marques of the valley of
Huaxacac, most delectable to Reade:
Translated out of the Spanishe
tongue, by T. N.
Author: Francisco López de Gómara, as translated by Thomas Nicholas (1578)
As Fray Bernardino de Sahagún observed: the Mexicans “are held to be barbarians and of very little worth; in truth, however, in matters of culture and refinement, they are a step ahead of other nations." We explore the history and legacy of the Nahua and Maya civilizations, both of which challenge our preconceptions.