Hernan Cortes Lesson for Kids: Facts & Biography

Instructor: Jenny Homer

Jenny has masters' degrees in public health and public administration.

This lesson will talk about Hernan Cortes, a famous explorer and conquistador from Spain in the 1500s. Learn about his life and adventures and how he conquered Mexico.

Who is Hernan Cortes?

How do you take over an entire country when you only have about 500 soldiers and 16 horses? Seems impossible, but this is just what Hernan Cortes did when he conquered Mexico for Spain in 1519. Cortes loved adventure, wanted to explore new places, and did not always follow the rules.

During this time, Spain and other European countries wanted to find more land in the New World that Christopher Columbus explored in 1492. It was believed these lands had treasure and gold. Hernan Cortes was one of the Spanish explorers called conquistadors, who conquered land in what is now Central and South America.

Hernan Cortes

Hernan Cortes's Early Life in Europe

Hernan Cortes was born in Spain in 1485. He was a smart kid, but also could be tough and get into trouble. Cortes was still that way as an adult, as you'll see later on. Stories about the New World and what people were finding there made Cortes want to visit for himself. In 1504, he left Spain and sailed to Hispaniola, an island in the Caribbean.

Cortes in the New World

From Hispaniola, Cortes went to Cuba to take it for Spain. He did well there and had land, a house and slaves. He became mayor, but still wanted to conquer more places. On February 18, 1519, Cortes sailed to Mexico with 11 ships, 16 horses, and 500 soldiers. The explorer in charge of Cuba did not want him to go, but Cortes was a strong leader, and people joined him anyway.

The Fall of the Aztec Empire

When Cortes landed in Mexico he found that native people lived there. The natives gave him gifts, and he learned about their ways. The Aztecs, led by Montezuma II, ruled over Mexico and many different groups of natives. The Aztecs had beautiful palaces and temples.

Cortes started a city called Veracruz and became more powerful. He took his men and turned them into a real army. In a bold move, Cortes sank his own ships, showing everyone that he was there to stay.

Cortes sank his own ships.

Cortes and his army moved into Mexico. Sometimes they used force, but he didn't want a lot of fighting. Cortes became friends, or allies, with the natives who did not like being ruled by Montezuma II. Soon many natives were on his side. Cortes met with Montezuma II and took over the Empire.

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