Letters of Cortes to Emperor Charles V - Vol 1/Marques del Valle
CORTES had arranged that his arrival at the Spanish Court should be of the nature of a veritable pageant. Different estimates of the treasure he took with him are given by different authorities, but these are mere matters of figures; the amount was fabulous, and, in addition to this, he carried a perfect museum of Mexican objects, such as the unique feather work in which the Indians excelled, arms, embroideries, implements of obsidian, rare plants; indigenous products such as chocolate, tobacco, vanilla, and liquid amber; gorgeous parrots, herons, jaguars, and other beautiful birds and animals unknown in Spain were carried or led by Indians, in the dress of their tribes. That nothing might be wanting, he took with him many skilful jugglers, acrobats, dwarfs, albinos, and human monstrosities, which were much the fashion at that time, and these curiosities made such a sensation upon his arrival, that Charles the Fifth could think of no fitter destination for them than to send them on to His Holiness Clement the Seventh, before whom they performed and showed themselves to the delight and wonder of the pontifical Court. In the personal suite of the Conqueror, besides the numerous officials of his household, there went about forty Indian princes in their most gorgeous robes and jewels, amongst whom were the sons of Montezuma and of the Tlascalan chief, Maxixcatzin.
The arrival of this magnificent cortège at Palos was unannounced, and hence no fitting reception had been prepared there, but accident supplied a more remarkable grouping of interesting men of the century than design could have provided. Within the modest walls of Santa Maria la Rabida, where Columbus had found hospitality, there met with Cortes, who was accompanied by Gonzalo de Sandoval and Andres de Tapia, Francisco Pizarro, whose brilliant career in South America, rivalling that of Cortes in the North, was just dawning; and by a fateful coincidence, there was also in the suite of Cortes, the Spanish soldier Juan de Rada, by whose hand Pizarro was destined to perish in Peru. The date of his arrival at Palos is given by Bernal Diaz as December 1527, but Herrera's authority for the later date has been followed by Prescott, Alaman, and other historians.
The triumphal home-coming was marred at the very outset by the death of Gonzalo de Sandoval at Palos, a few days after their landing. For none of his captains did "Cortes cherish the affection he felt for this gallant young soldier, who was his fellow-townsman and loyal friend. Sandoval was buried at La Rabida, and Cortes first went on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Guadeloupe, where he spent some days in mourning his loss, and having masses celebrated for the departed soul. This pious duty accomplished he set out for Toledo, where the Court then was, and as the news of his arrival had spread, and had also been announced by his own letter to the Emperor, he was everywhere accorded a veritable triumph by the people, who flocked from all sides to see the hero of the great conquest, and to gaze upon the marvellous trophies which he brought; so that since the first return of Columbus no such demonstrations had been seen in Spain.
A brilliant group of nobles comprising the Duke of Bejar, the Counts of Aguilar and Medellin, the Grand Prior of St. John, and many of the first citizens of Toledo, rode out from the city to meet the conqueror on the plain, and the next day the Emperor received him with every mark of favour, raising him up when he would have knelt in the royal presence, and seating him by his side. The moment was an auspicious one, for influences had been at work in his favour. Since the appointment of the new commission of residencia, presided over by the infamous Nuñez de Guzman, which had already left Spain, the Emperor's information as to the real state of things in Mexico and the respective merits of the contending parties, had been much extended and perfected. He consulted Cortes during his stay at Court upon everything pertaining to the new realm; its resources, the natives, their customs, the Spanish colonists, and especially concerning the best means for establishing a stable government, and developing industries and agriculture.
Besides full power to continue his explorations, and the confirmation of his rank of Captain-General, the title of Marques del Valle de Oaxaca was conferred upon Cortes and his descendants, by patents dated July 6, 1529, to which was joined avast grant of lands, comprising twenty-eight towns and villages; one twelfth of all his future discoveries was to be his own. He received the knighthood and habit of Santiago, and when he was confined to his lodgings by illness, the Emperor visited him in person, this latter being such a singular honour, that, as Prescott caustically observes, the Spanish writers of the time seemed to regard it as ample recompense for all he had done and suffered. It does not seem certain that he accepted the knighthood of Santiago, though Herrera says that he had already possessed it since 1525. His reason for his alleged refusal was that no commenda was attached to the dignity, and Alaman (Dissertazione V.) says that while his name is on the rolls of the order, the insignia do not appear either in his arms or his portraits, nor is any mention found of his possession of this grade in the list of his honours.
It is good to note that Cortes did not forget his friends while he was at court, but profited by the Emperor's hour of graciousness to obtain countless favours for them, especially for the Indians. The Tlascalans, in recognition of their loyalty, were exempted for ever from taxes and tribute; the Cempoalans were granted a like exemption for a period of two years; a college for the sons of Mexican nobles, and another for girls, were endowed. Money was awarded to the Franciscan order for building churches and schools; tithes were established to maintain the Bishop Zumarraga; various privileges were secured for the original "conquerors" who had settled in the country. Also generous doweries were appointed to the four daughters of Montezuma, who were being educated in a convent in Texcoco, as well as to the daughters of Mexican nobles who married Spaniards.
During his stay in Spain, Cortes married his second wife Doña Juana de Zuñiga, a daughter of the Count of Aguilar, and niece of the Duke of Bejar. His gifts to his bride were of such magnificence as to arouse even the Queen's envy, especially the five large stones described as emeralds, which excelled any jewels ever seen, and were worth a nation's ransom. There were no emeralds in Mexico, and these stones were probably a kind of jade or serpentine of great brilliancy and value, which were easily confounded with emeralds. One of these stones was cut as a bell, whose tongue was formed of a large pear-shaped pearl, and which bore the inscription benedito sea el que te crió; another was shaped like a fish with golden eyes; the third was in the form of a rose; the fourth in that of a trumpet; and the fifth was fashioned into a cup, surmounted by a superb pearl, and standing on a base of gold, on which was the inscription, inter natos mulierum non surexit major. For this last jewel alone, some Genoese merchants who saw it at Palos offered forty thousand ducats. The fame of these jewels was such that the Queen expressed a wish to have them, and, had not Cortes forestalled the royal desire by presenting them to Doña Juana de Zuñiga as a marriage gift they would doubtless have passed into the crown jewels of Spain.
In the meantime, while Cortes was being lionised and honoured in Spain, his enemies in Mexico were not idle, for Nuñez de Guzman from the moment of arriving there had begun secretly to collect information against him, and by unscrupulous and inquisitorial methods easily succeeded in forming a voluminous budget of accusations, among which figured the alleged poisoning of Luis Ponce de Leon, the conspiracy to establish himself as independent sovereign in Mexico, defrauding the royal fisc, and incitement of the Indians to rebel against the royal authority while he was absent in Spain. Encouraging the enemies of Cortes to depose against him on the one hand, Guzman found excuses for persecuting his friends on the other, even to the extent of imprisoning, torturing, and hanging them on one pretext or another. Things reached such a pass through the violence of the president's conduct, that the Bishop Fray Juan Zumarraga, a man whose exemplary life gave him great influence, and the Franciscan monks, sent a vigorous protest to Spain against Guzman and his auditors, praying that he be deposed. This petition provoked an order from the Empress-Regent and the Royal Council, to take their residencia, and that they be imprisoned if found guilty of the abuses imputed to them. The bishop himself was appointed, ad interim, president of the new audiencia, which was composed of Quiroga, Salmeron, and Ceynos pending the arrival of the permanent president, Don Sebastian Ramirez de Fuenleal, then Bishop of San Domingo, and afterwards of Cuenca.
Nuñez de Guzman sought to evade the issue by organising, against the Chichimecas, an expedition which he conducted with characteristic brutality. He left the city at the head of five hundred Spaniards, and over two thousand Indians, between auxiliaries and camp servants, before Cortes returned from Spain.
The powers conceded to Cortes as Captain-General, and for the continuation of his explorations and discoveries, were so large, and so ill-defined, that they could hardly fail to conflict with those of the royal audiencia, and this came to pass immediately after his arrival at Vera Cruz on July 15, 1530. The Marques, as he was henceforward called, was accompanied by his wife and his mother, and was received upon landing with jubilation by Spaniards and Indians alike, who flocked in thousands from all parts to welcome him, and to present their grievances for his adjustment. The new audiencia was not yet constituted, and the auditors, Matienzo and Delgadillo, sent strict orders to Vera Cruz that the people assembled there in Cortes's honour disperse to their homes, while to Cortes himself, who had meanwhile marched amid ovations by the way of Tlascala to Texcoco, they delivered a prohibition to enter the capital. This order was in conformity with the instructions given him before leaving Spain, so he was obliged to respect it, and to establish himself at Texcoco until the arrival of the new audiencia which took place in December of the same year, 1530. At the outset everything went well, and the new auditors rendered justice in several of Cortes's claims, and took counsel with him concerning affairs and the measures to be adopted. This promising state of things, however, was of brief duration, and, in their letter of February 22, 1531, to the Emperor, they made complaints of his pretensions, and mentioned among other things that the bishop in reading the prayers for the King and royal family added after the words cum prole regia "et duce exercitus nostri," and that they had corrected him for so doing.
Another of their letters, in August, 1532, complains of his great influence over the natives, and of his using his powers as Captain-General to revenge himself on his enemies, adding, "He says he will resign the Captaincy General and return to Spain. Oh if he would only do it!"
(Muñoz, tom. lxxix., fol. 118). The auditors at other times advised that he be called to Spain on some pretext, — the more so as he wanted to go.
The conquest finished, Cortes's occupation was gone. His proud spirit and active temperament could ill brook the checks of the audiencia, and the limitations set to his enterprises by men who neither understood nor sympathised with them. At one time he retired in disgust from the capital, intending to devote himself to the administration of the affairs of his vast marquisate of Oaxaca. The capture of the picturesque town of Cuernavaca is described in the third letter, and for beauty of position it has few rivals even in Mexico. Here Cortes had built himself a handsome palace and a large church, both of which are still standing, though in a lamentable state of advancing delapidation. As a planter in Cuba, he had already shown initiative and capacity, and he profited by his former experience to introduce successfully the sugar cane, the silk-worm culture, new breeds of the merino sheep and various other kinds of cattle. Mills for the handling of raw products were established in various places, and these new industries with which Cortes endowed Mexico have continued to be among her chief sources of wealth. But this was insufficient to occupy his restless activities, which, by the news of events in Peru, and of the rich countries discovered in the South Sea and along the Gulf of California, were constantly excited to plan fresh enterprises. In May, 1532, he fitted out two vessels which sailed from Acapulco, under command of his cousin Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, one of which with the commander on board was never heard of again, while the other reached Jalisco after many perils. The misfortunes of this expedition began with a mutiny.
Two years later (1534) he built two more vessels at Tehuantepec, which he entrusted to Hernando Grijalba, and Diego de Bezerra de Mendoza (a relative) respectively, with Ortun Jimenez as pilot. The ships got separated the first night out and never saw one another again. The one commanded by Grijalba discovered a deserted island called Santo Tomé, somewhere off the point of Lower California, and returned thence to Tehuantepec; the fate of the other was tragical, for Bezerra was murdered in his sleep by the pilot Jimenez, who took command, and, after coasting along Jalisco, landed at the Bay of Santa Cruz, where he, with twenty Spaniards, was killed by the natives. The remaining sailors got back to the port of Chiametla, where Nunez de Guzman, who was then in Jalisco, took possession of the vessel.
These two fruitless ventures decided Cortes to take command himself, and in 1536 he sent three ships from Tehuantepec to the port of Chiametla where he joined them, marching overland from Mexico. He regained possession of the ship which Guzman had seized from the sailors of Jimenez, refitted it, and set out on his voyage, exploring the coast for some fifty leagues beyond Santa Cruz (or La Paz), during which trip he suffered innumerable hardships, and lost many of his men from sickness. The news of his own death reached Mexico, and his wife sent two ships and a caravel to look for him and bring him back. His wife's letters, together with others from the royal audiencia and the Viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza, urging his return as very necessary, decided Cortes to abandon further explorations, and after leaving Francisco de Ulloa in California, he returned to Acapulco in the early part of 1537.
He sent three ships, the Santa Agneda, La Trinidad, and the Santo Tomas, back to Francisco de Ulloa in May of that same year, which after some fruitless cruising about, returned to Acapulco, the whole venture having cost Cortes some two hundred thousand ducats (Noticia Historica. Lorenzana Cartas de Cortes, edition 1776). A royal cedula, dated April 1, 1539 from Saragossa, provided for the payment of this claim, but remained ineffective (Alaman, Dissertazioni. V. Italian translation 1859).
Thus the only results obtained from these various undertakings were debts, and he complained that he had so many that he was obliged to raise money, even on his wife's jewels. He wrote in despair to the Emperor that it was easier to fight the Indians than to contend with His Majesty's officials, and after years of litigation, during which the royal authorities seemed to study how best to vex and circumvent him, and after the series of useless but costly expeditions in the Pacific, he started on his second journey to Spain, which was to be his last.
A very different reception from the former one awaited him, for the Emperor was coldly civil, and the Court in consequence was colder. His constant complaints and demands for satisfaction fell upon deaf or weary ears, for Court favours usually reckon more with present than with past services, and there was nothing more to be obtained from Cortes, who was broken in health and no longer young. At this time, too, Spain was all aflame with excitement over the brilliant achievements of Pizarro in Peru, which eclipsed the familiar exploits in Mexico, now grown stale.
He joined the unsuccessful expedition sent against Algiers in 1541, in which the ship on which he and his sons Martin and Luis sailed was wrecked, together with eleven galleys of Andrea Doria. They barely escaped with their lives, and the five famous emeralds, which constituted an important item in his fortune, and which he always carried on his person, were lost. The supreme slight of leaving him out of the council of war, summoned to consider the plan of the campaign, was at this time put upon him, and, to his boast that with his Mexican veterans he could take Algiers, one of the generals superciliously replied, that fighting the Moors was different work from killing naked Indians. His situation became less and less worthy, and an anecdote, dramatically illustrating the depth to which he sunk, relates that after vain effort to get a hearing from the Emperor, he thrust himself forward to the steps of the royal carriage, where upon perceiving him the Sovereign haughtily exclaimed, And who are you?" to which Cortes proudly answered, "Sire, I am a man who has given Your Majesty more provinces than you possessed cities." What happened next we are not told. If it were true, the incident would picture eloquently the degradation of the greatest captain of his age, forced to waylay his Sovereign at his carriage steps like the meanest beggar. There is no evidence forthcoming, however, to show that any such dialogue was ever spoken. Those who have believed and repeated this story, — and they are many, — have done so on the sole authority of Voltaire, with whom it apparently originated. (Essai sur les Mœurs, cap. 147.) He does not indicate from what source the information reached him. The scene as described seems to epitomise a very tragedy of disappointment and humiliation, so despite the staring stamp of fiction it bears, it will doubtless continue to pass for history when less dramatic facts are consigned to forgetfulness. Voltaire sceptically sneered at the credulity of the Spaniards, which enabled them, in the heat of the fight, to see St. James and St. Peter hovering over the Mexican battlefields but he himself had no difficulty in beholding Cortes in such a singularly improbable situation as this story depicts, though indeed nothing that is told of the appearances of those holy apostles seems further beyond the limits of credibility. As an unheeded suppliant, the Marques suffered snubs enough, without fictitious situations being invented to illustrate his fallen state. One last effort to attract his Sovereign's attention to his claims, and secure the fulfilment of the royal grants and promises, was made in the following pathetic letter, — the last he ever wrote to Charles V., — to which no response was ever made:
Sacred Catholic Cæsarian Majesty:
My hardships and vigils are sufficiently recompensed by God, in that He chose me for this, His work, and though people may attribute some merit to me, it will be clearly seen that not without reason did Divine Providence choose the meanest instrument for its greatest work, so that to God alone might be the glory.
As for the remuneration due me from my King, I have ever been confident that, cæteris paribus, it would not be less for being in Your Majesty's reign; for never did these kingdoms of my native Spain, to which these benefits accrue, possess so great and catholic a prince, so magnanimous and powerful a King. Thus when first I kissed Your Majesty's hands, and presented the fruits of my labours, you showed appreciation of them, and demonstrated intentions to recompense me with honours which, as it seemed to me, they were not equivalent to my deserts, Your Majesty knows I demurred at accepting.
Your Majesty commanded, however, that I should accept them, saying they were not in payment for my services, but to demonstrate your disposition to favour me, for Your Majesty would do as those who when shooting with the crossbow, begin by firing beside the mark, but end by piercing the bull's-eye, for the favours Your Majesty conferred upon me were outside the mark, but would improve until they struck the bull's-eye of my deserts. I was also assured that nothing should be taken from me, and that I must accept what was given me; hence I kissed Your Majesty's hands in gratitude. When you turned your back, all that I had was taken from me, nor were Your Majesty's promises to me fulfilled, for since Your Majesty has such a good memory, you will not have forgotten that besides these words and the promises Your Majesty made me, I possess still more and greater ones in Your Majesty's letters, signed with your Royal name. If my services up to that time merited such acts and the promises Your Majesty made me, they have not since then diminished, for I have never ceased to increase the patrimony of these kingdoms, and had it not been for the thousand obstacles opposed to me, I would have accomplished as much since I received Your Majesty's favours, as I had before done to merit them. I do not know wherefore the promised benefits are now withheld, nor why I am deprived of those I possessed. And if it be said that nothing has been taken since I still possess something, I reply that to have nothing, or to have useless possessions, is one and the same thing, for what I have produces me nothing; better were it to have nothing at all than to have to use its profits to defend myself against Your Majesty's fiscal officers, which indeed is harder than it was to win the country from the Indians. Thus my labour has procured me peace of mind for having done my duty, but has brought me no profit, for not only am I without rest in my old age, but work on until my death, should it not please God to finish me now; for he who is so occupied in defending his body must needs neglect his soul.
I beseech Your Majesty not to requite such conspicuous services with so small a recompense, and since it must be believed that this is not Your Majesty's fault, let it be known; for, this work which God has accomplished through me is so great and marvellous, and its fame has spread so far through all your kingdoms, and through all Christendom, and even amongst the infidels, that everywhere the dissension between the Royal fisc and me is a subject of scandal. Some blame the fiscal officers, others blame me; but since the blame suffices neither to deprive me of the compensation nor to take from me my life, my honour, and my estate, (since none of this is done), it is clear that the fault is not mine. No one imputes it to Your Majesty, for did you wish to deprive me of all you had given me, the power to do so is yours, and nothing is impossible to your wish and power. To say that a form is sought in which the intention may be realised, does not sound credible, for it suffices for a King anointed of God to declare "thus I will and thus I command," for all to be accomplished without regard to forms.
I beseech that Your Majesty may be pleased to explain in Madrid your intention to requite my services, and I now recall some of these to your memory. Your Majesty told me you would order the Council to despatch my affairs, and I thought this order was given since Your Majesty said that you desired there should be no contention with the fiscal officers. When I asked for information, they told me I must defend myself in a suit against the claim of the fiscal officers, and abide by the sentence of the Court. This seemed to me to be grave, and I wrote to Your Majesty at Barcelona, begging that if Your Majesty was pleased to enter into litigation with your servant, that it should be before judges who were above suspicion, and that Your Majesty should order others to sit with those of the Council for the Indies, and jointly reach a decision. Your Majesty was not pleased to do this, though I cannot divine the cause, since the more numerous the judges the better would be their decision.
I am old and poor, with more than twenty thousand ducats of debts in the kingdom, besides a hundred more which I brought or were sent after me, and of which I also owe something, for they were borrowed to be sent to me. And all draw interest. During the five years which have elapsed since I left home, my expenses have been great, for I have maintained my three sons at Court, without once leaving, and besides them men of learning, procurators, and solicitors, who were all employed that Your Majesty might make use of them. I also assisted in the expedition to Algiers. It seems to me the fruit of my labours should not be thrown away, or left to the decision of a few, without my again begging that Your Majesty should be pleased to allow that all your judges of the Council should understand this case and decide it justly.
I have heard that the Bishop of Cuenca desired more judges than there are, because it is against him and the licenciate Salmeron, the new auditor of the Indian Council, that I am contending for sums of money, with interest, of which they deprived me when they were judges in New Spain, and it is clear that they cannot be asked to decide against themselves. I have not wished to recuse them in this case, because I always believed Your Majesty would not permit it to reach this stage, but since Your Majesty does not please to increase the number of judges, I am forced to recuse the Bishop of Cuenca and Salmeron, which I do unwillingly as it wastes time. This is the most damaging thing for me at sixty years of age, and, after five years' absence from home. I have but one son to succeed me, and though my wife is young enough to bear more, my age leaves little hope, and should it please God to dispose of this one before the succession, who will profit by what I have acquired? My very memory were lost in the succession of women. Again and again I implore Your Majesty to associate other judges with those of the Council; since all are your servants to whom the direction of your Kingdoms and your Royal conscience is confided, so also may they be trusted to decide upon Your Majesty's grant to your vassal of a part of all which he won for Your Majesty, without labour or cost to your Royal Person, nor the responsibility of directing nor the expense of paying the men, who did the work, and who so loyally made over to Your Majesty, not only the country he conquered, but a vast quantity of gold and silver and jewels which he obtained as spoils.
May Your Majesty also be pleased to order the judges to give their decision within a certain time Your Majesty shall fix and without delay. This will be a great grace to me, for waiting is my loss, as I must return home, being now no longer of an age to travel from inn to inn, but rather to withdraw and settle my account with God, for it is a long one, and little life is left me to discharge it; better to lose my estate than my soul.
May God our Lord guard the Royal Person of Your Majesty, with the extension of your Kingdoms and glory as Your Majesty may desire.
From Valladolid, the 3rd of February, 1544.
Your Catholic Majesty's very humble servant and vassal, who kisses your Royal hands and feet.
The Marques del Valle.
No reply necessary, is the laconic annotation at the bottom of the last page of this letter.
The marriage arranged for his daughter with a son of the Marquis of Astorga was broken off, the bridegroom withdrawing because the full amount of the stipulated dowry was not forthcoming, and after this mortification, Cortes obtained permission to return to Mexico, travelling first to Seville, where he was accorded a public reception. His rapidly failing health made it apparent that his end was approaching, and prompted him to withdraw for quiet to Castelleja de la Cuesta, a small town near Seville, where he died in the house of a magistrate, Juan Rodriguez, in the Calle Real, on the 2nd of December, 1547, attended by his son Don Martin.
Fernando Cortes was a man of medium height, deep chested and slender limbed; his complexion was rather pale, and his expression was serious — even sad, though the glance of his eyes, which in repose were impenetrable, could be kindly and responsive. His hair and beard were dark and rather scanty.
Trained from his youth to the exercise of arms, he was a most dexterous swordsman, very light on his feet, and at home in the saddle.
His speech was calm, nor did he ever use oaths or strong language, nor give away to exhibitions of temper though a mounting flush and the swelling veins of his forehead betrayed his mastered passion when he was vexed, while a characteristic gesture of annoyance or impatience was the casting aside of his cloak.
He dressed with exquisite care and great sobriety, eschewing any excess of ornament. One splendid jewel adorned his hand, a gold medal of the Blessed Virgin, with St. John on the reverse, hung from a finely wrought gold chain around his neck, and just under the feathers of his cap was also a gold medal; these were his only ornaments. He had some knowledge of Latin, and many of the psalms, hymns, and parts of the Church liturgy, which he knew by heart, he was fond of reciting.
Though careless of his food, he was a great eater, but moderate in drinking, and no one could better withstand privations than he, as was constantly shown on his long marches. His chief relaxation was games of chance, in which he indulged habitually, but dispassionately, making either his winnings or losses a subject for jokes and laughter. When strict laws were enacted suppressing gambling in Mexico, his enemies alleged that he himself violated the law, and that the tables and cards were always ready in his own house.
One of the most notable things in his last will is the mention of his doubts about the right of holding slaves. He admonishes his eldest son to look well into the question, and if it should be decided by competent opinion that the practice was wrong, he must act in accordance with strict justice; meanwhile he must give great attention to the welfare and education of his people. He left a foundation and endowment fund for the hospital of Jesus (la Concepcion) in Mexico, and for a college and monastery at Coyohuacan, but the funds ran short, and only the hospital was really established according to his intention. Masses were directed to be said at his father's tomb, and two thousand masses were provided for the souls of those who had fought with him in the conquest, a provision which cannot be considered in excess of their probable spiritual necessities.
In his will it was provided also that his body should be buried wherever he died for a period of ten years, at the expiration of which time his remains were to be taken to Mexico, to be there entombed in the monastery he had founded in Coyohuacan; consequently his body was first laid to rest with fitting ceremonies in the family Chapel of the Dukes of Medina Sidonia, in the Church of San Isidro at Seville.
The following epitaph was composed by his son Martin:
Padre, cuya suerte inpropiamente
Aqueste bajo mundo poseía,
Valor que nuestra edad enriquecía
Descansa ahora en paz, eternamente.
(Andres Calvo, Los Tres Siglos da Mexico.)
There his body lay, until by order of his son Don Martin Cortes, second Marques del Valle, it was removed in 1562 to Mexico, but, contrary to the provisions in the will, the place of sepulture was chosen in the monastery of St. Francis in Texcoco, where his mother and one of his daughters were already buried.
In 1629 Don Pedro Cortes fourth Marques del Valle died in Mexico, and with his death the male descendance of Cortes came to an end.
It was decided between the Viceroy, the Marques de Cerralbo, and the Archbishop of Mexico, D. Francisco Manso de Zuñiga, to translate the body of the Conqueror to the capital and bury it together with that of his last descendant in the Church of St. Francis.
An elaborate funeral procession was organised, which set forth from the Cortes palace headed by all the religious associations and confraternities, carrying their respective banners, after which followed the civil tribunals. Next came the Archbishop accompanied by the cathedral chapter in full canonicals. The body of Don Pedro Cortes was exposed to view in an open coffin carried by knights of the chapter of Santiago, while the coffin of his great ancestor covered with a black velvet pall was borne by the royal judges, escorted by standard bearers carrying a white banner on which were embroidered the figures of the Blessed Virgin and St. John; another displaying the royal arms of Spain and a third of black velvet showing the arms of the Marques del Valle. Members of the University followed, and the procession closed with the Viceroy and all his court with an escort of soldiers carrying arms reversed and banners trailing. This funeral pageant — probably the most magnificent ever seen in the new world — advanced to the accompaniment of muffled drums and solemn chantings, halting at six different places for brief religious rites.
During more than a century and a half the bones of Cortes were left undisturbed, until in 1794 they were moved once more, and this time to the hospital of Jesus of Nazareth, which he had founded and endowed, and in whose chapel a monument was prepared to receive the body, which was coffined in a crystal case riveted with silver bars. Would that this translation had been the last, and that the pilgrimages of this poor body had ended within the walls its owner's piety had built.
During the period of unrest which followed immediately upon the establishment of Mexican independence, a design was said to have been formed by some "patriots" to rifle the tomb, and scatter the conqueror's ashes to the winds, of which profanation the authorities were said to be aware, but either unwilling or unable to prevent it. Others contrived to forestall the threatened violation, and from 1823 the body of Cortes disappeared. Señor Garcia Icazbalceta wrote to Mr. Henry Harrisse upon the subject saying:
Señor Alaman's description of what occurred in 1823 is substantially as follows:
Thus far Señor Alaman is as explicit as possible, but concerning the final resting place of the body he says nothing whatever on his own account, closing the subject by introducing a quotation from Dr. Mora (who, he says, was the first to publish these facts), which states that "afterwards the remains were sent to his family."
In the collaborated work published under the special direction of Don Vincente Riva Palacio, entitled Mexico a Traves los Siglos, it is stated in a note on page 353 of the second volume, that Cortes's body was sent to the Duke of Monteleone in Italy in 1823. ("fueren rimitidos a Italia a la casa de los Duques de Monteleone"). In the chapters of the fourth volume, which chronicle the events of the year 1823, no mention is made of this occurrence, which it would surely seem was of sufficient importance to merit notice. Neither Mr. Prescott nor Sir Arthur Helps, nor any other as far as I can discover, has left a record of any attempts to clear up this mystery.
If the remains of the conqueror were taken to Palermo or consigned to the family of the Dukes of Monteleone, there is no record of the transaction, nor is any tradition of it known, even by hearsay, to the present members of the family, or to the keepers of the family archives.
Not the least of the glories of the Pignatelli family, which has kept its place among the foremost of Sicily and Naples, is their descent from the Spanish conqueror of Mexico, and it seems inadmissible that the body of this illustrious ancestor should arrive at Palermo as recently as 1823, be buried nobody knows where, and no record of any sort be kept of such an important and interesting event in the annals of the family. The absence, therefore, of any record, or even oral tradition, of such an event seems to be at least a negative proof that it never took place. It is quite thinkable that the custodians of the hospital chapel, where the body lay in 1823, should have invented and circulated the fiction of its transport out of the country to convince the intending desecrators that it had been put beyond their reach; meanwhile it was easy to hide the coffin in some secret place, doubtless within the walls of the hospital itself, where it may still lie in a forgotten grave. The legend of the transport to Italy and the burial in Palermo being thus started and doubtless diligently spread with a purpose, encountered no contradiction, and, with the death of the necessarily few persons who possessed the secret, all knowledge of the facts was lost, while the invention passed from legend into history, and has been commonly accepted and quoted. Señor Garcia Icazbalceta's letter to Mr. Harrisse does, however, state that "some persons insist that they are still in Mexico hidden in some place absolutely unknown," and these persons are doubtless right. Why Señor Alaman should have made any mystery about the matter, even with his friend Icazbalceta, does not seem easy to explain, especially if he knew the body to be in Palermo. If Señor Alaman knew the body was in Mexico, but wished to encourage the belief that it was in Palermo, his reticence with Señor Garcia Icazbalceta is explicable, for it must also be borne in mind that he never positively said he knew it to be in Palermo, — he merely gave it to be understood that he thought so by quoting Dr. Mora, who stated the fact without offering any proofs of its truth. If he wished what he knew was not true to be believed, his regard for truth forbade his going to the length of a positive statement, but he might feel justified for motives which, whatever they were, in the first half of the last century, have no existence now, in encouraging the spread of the Palermo legend. Or it may also well be that Señor Alaman was partly convinced by what he heard that the body was in Palermo, but in the face of the contrary assertions made by some persons, and the absence of any authentic record of the transaction, was reluctant to commit himself to a positive statement.
The Republic of Mexico has emerged from its state of infancy, and has successfully survived the periods of trials, and perilous struggles, which all new nations must traverse to reach the state of permanent and prosperous peace, indispensable to national greatness. The four hundredth anniversary of the discovery and conquest, which looms in sight, will find her in the foremost ranks of the republics of the New World, and these great events will doubtless be commemorated by becoming celebrations, which shall suitably revive the memory of the great Conqueror, and his intrepid allies of Tlascala. If there be any clue or trace by which the body of Cortes can be found, it should be diligently followed up, until the remains are recovered and restored to the place of honour in the national pantheon.