Chapter IV 
MONTEZUMA'S DEPORTMENT- HIS LIFE IN THE SPANISH QUARTERS-
MEDITATED INSURRECTION- LORD OF TEZCUCO SEIZED-
FURTHER MEASURES OF CORTES
THE settlement of La Villa Rica de Vera Cruz was of the last
importance to the Spaniards. It was the port by which they were to
communicate with Spain; the strong post on which they were to
retreat in case of disaster, and which was to bridle their enemies and give security to their allies; the point d'appui for all their
operations in the country. It was of great moment, therefore, that the care of it should be intrusted to proper hands.
A cavalier, named Alonso de Grado, had been sent by Cortes to take the place made vacant by the death of Escalante. He was a person of
greater repute in civil than military matters, and would be more
likely, it was thought, to maintain peaceful relations with the
natives, than a person of more belligerant spirit. Cortes made- what
was rare with him- a bad choice. He soon received such accounts of
troubles in the settlement from the exactions and negligence of the
new governor, that he resolved to supersede him.
He now gave the command to Gonzalo de Sandoval, a young
cavalier, who had displayed through the whole campaign singular
intrepidity united with sagacity and discretion, while the good humour
with which he bore every privation, and his affable manners, made
him a favourite with all, privates as well as officers. Sandoval
accordingly left the camp for the coast. Cortes did not mistake his
man a second time.
Notwithstanding the actual control exercised by the Spaniards
through their royal captive, Cortes felt some uneasiness, when he
reflected that it was in the power of the Indians, at any time, to cut
off his communications with the surrounding country, and hold him a
prisoner in the capital. He proposed, therefore, to build two
vessels of sufficient size to transport his forces across the lake,
and thus to render himself independent of the causeways. Montezuma was
pleased with the idea of seeing those wonderful "water-houses," of
which he had heard so much, and readily gave permission to have the
timber in the royal forests felled for the purpose. The work was
placed under the direction of Martin Lopez, an experienced
ship-builder. Orders were also given to Sandoval to send up from the
coast a supply of cordage, sails, iron, and other necessary materials,
which had been judiciously saved on the destruction of the fleet.
The Aztec emperor, meanwhile, was passing his days in the
Spanish quarters in no very different manner from what he had been
accustomed to in his own palace. His keepers were too well aware of
the value of their prize, not to do everything which could make his
captivity comfortable, and disguise it from himself. But the chain
will gall, though wreathed with roses. After Montezuma's breakfast,
which was a light meal of fruits or vegetables, Cortes or some of
his officers usually waited on him, to learn if he had any commands
for them. He then devoted some time to business. He gave audience to
those of his subjects who had petitions to prefer, or suits to settle.
The statement of the party was drawn up on the hieroglyphic scrolls,
which were submitted to a number of counsellors or judges, who
assisted him with their advice on these occasions. Envoys from foreign
states or his own remote provinces and cities were also admitted,
and the Spaniards were careful that the same precise and punctilious
etiquette should be maintained towards the royal puppet, as when in
the plenitude of his authority.
After business was despatched, Montezuma often amused himself with
seeing the Castilian troops go through their military exercises. He,
too, had been a soldier, and in his prouder days led armies in the
field. It was very natural he should take an interest in the novel
display of European tactics and discipline. At other times he would
challenge Cortes or his officers to play at some of the national
games. A favourite one was called totoloque, played with golden
balls aimed at a target or mark of the same metal. Montezuma usually
staked something of value,- precious stones or ingots of gold. He lost
with good humour; indeed it was of little consequence whether he won
or lost, since he generally gave away his winnings to his
attendants. He had, in truth, a most munificent spirit. His enemies
accused him of avarice. But, if he were avaricious, it could have been
only that he might have the more to give away.
Each of the Spaniards had several Mexicans, male and female, who
attended to his cooking and various other personal offices. Cortes,
considering that the maintenance of this host of menials was a heavy
tax on the royal exchequer, ordered them to be dismissed, excepting
one to be retained for each soldier. Montezuma, on learning this,
pleasantly remonstrated with the general on his careful economy, as
unbecoming a royal establishment and, countermanding the order, caused
additional accommodations to be provided for the attendants, and their
pay to be doubled.
On another occasion, a soldier purloined some trinkets of gold
from the treasure kept in the chamber, which, since Montezuma's
arrival in the Spanish quarters, had been re-opened. Cortes would have
punished the man for the theft, but the emperor interfering said to
him, "Your countrymen are welcome to the gold and other articles, if
you will but spare those belonging to the gods." Some of the soldiers,
making the most of his permission, carried off several hundred loads
of fine cotton to their quarters. When this was represented to
Montezuma, he only replied, "What I have once given I never take back
While thus indifferent to his treasures, he was keenly sensitive
to personal slight or insult. When a common soldier once spoke to
him angrily, the tears came into the monarch's eyes, as it made him
feel the true character of his impotent condition. Cortes, on becoming
acquainted with it, was so much incensed, that he ordered the
soldier to be hanged; but, on Montezuma's intercession, commuted
this severe sentence for a flogging. The general was not willing
that any one but himself should treat his royal captive with
indignity. Montezuma was desired to procure a further mitigation of
the punishment. But he refused, saying, "that, if a similar insult had
been offered by any one of his subjects to Malinche, he would have
resented it in like manner."
Such instances of disrespect were very rare. Montezuma's amiable
and inoffensive manners, together with his liberality, the most
popular of virtues with the vulgar, made him generally beloved by
the Spaniards. The arrogance, for which he had been so distinguished
in his prosperous days, deserted him in his fallen fortunes. His
character in captivity seems to have undergone something of that
change which takes place in the wild animals of the forest, when caged
within the walls of the menagerie.
The Indian monarch knew the name of every man in the army, and was
careful to discriminate his proper rank. For some he showed a strong
partiality. He obtained from the general a favourite page, named
Orteguilla, who, being in constant attendance on his person, soon
learned enough of the Mexican language to be of use to his countrymen.
Montezuma took great pleasure, also, in the society of Velasquez de
Leon, the captain of his guard, and Pedro de Alvarado, Tonatiuh, or
"the Sun," as he was called by the Aztecs, from his yellow hair and
sunny countenance. The sunshine, as events afterwards showed, could
sometimes be the prelude to a terrible tempest.
Notwithstanding the care taken to cheat him of the tedium of
captivity, the royal prisoner cast a wistful glance now and then
beyond the walls of his residence to the ancient haunts of business or
pleasure. He intimated a desire to offer up his devotions at the great
temple, where he was once so constant in his worship. The suggestion
startled Cortes. It was too reasonable, however, for him to object
to it, without wholly discarding the appearance which he was
desirous to maintain. But he secured Montezuma's return by sending
an escort with him of a hundred and fifty soldiers under the same
resolute cavaliers who had aided in his seizure. He told him also,
that, in case of any attempt to escape, his life would instantly pay
the forfeit. Thus guarded, the Indian prince visited the teocalli,
where he was received with the usual state, and, after performing
his devotions, he returned again to his quarters.
It may well be believed that the Spaniards did not neglect the
opportunity afforded by his residence with them, of instilling into
him some notions of the Christian doctrine. Fathers Diaz and Olmedo
exhausted all their battery of logic and persuasion to shake his faith
in his idols, but in vain. He, indeed, paid a most edifying attention,
which gave promise of better things. But the conferences always closed
with the declaration, that "the God of the Christians was good, but
the gods of his own country were the true gods for him." It is said,
however, they extorted a promise from him, that he would take part
in no more human sacrifices. Yet such sacrifices were of daily
occurrence in the great temples of the capital; and the people were
too blindly attached to their bloody abominations for the Spaniards to
deem it safe, for the present at least, openly to interfere.
Montezuma showed, also, an inclination to engage in the
pleasures of the chase, of which he once was immoderately fond. He had
large forests reserved for the purpose on the other side of the
lake. As the Spanish brigantines were now completed, Cortes proposed
to transport him and his suite across the water in them. They were
of a good size, strongly built. The largest was mounted with four
falconets, or small guns. It was protected by a gaily-coloured
awning stretched over the deck, and the royal ensign of Castile
floated proudly from the mast. On board of this vessel, Montezuma,
delighted with the opportunity of witnessing the nautical skill of the
white men, embarked with a train of Aztec nobles and a numerous
guard of Spaniards. A fresh breeze played on the waters, and the
vessel soon left behind it the swarms of light pirogues which darkened
their surface. She seemed like a thing of life in the eyes of the
astonished natives, who saw her, as if disdaining human agency,
sweeping by with snowy pinions as if on the wings of the wind, while
the thunders from her sides now for the first time breaking on the
silence of this "inland sea," showed that the beautiful phantom was
clothed in terror.
The royal chase was well stocked with game; some of which the
emperor shot with arrows, and others were driven by the numerous
attendants into nets. In these woodland exercises, while he ranged
over his wild domain, Montezuma seemed to enjoy again the sweets of
liberty. It was but the shadow of liberty, however; as in his
quarters, at home, he enjoyed but the shadow of royalty. At home or
abroad, the eye of the Spaniard was always upon him.
But while he resigned himself without a struggle to his inglorious
fate, there were others who looked on it with very different emotions.
Among them was his nephew Cacama, lord of Tezcuco, a young man not
more than twenty-five years of age, but who enjoyed great
consideration from his high personal qualities, especially his
intrepidity of character. He was the same prince who had been sent
by Montezuma to welcome the Spaniards on their entrance into the
valley; and, when the question of their reception was first debated in
the council, he had advised to admit them honourably as ambassadors of
a foreign prince, and, if they should prove different from what they
pretended, it would be time enough then to take up arms against
them. That time, he thought, had now come.
In a former part of this work, the reader has been made acquainted
with the ancient history of the Acolhuan or Tezcucan monarchy, once
the proud rival of the Aztec in power, and greatly its superior in
civilisation. Under its last sovereign, Nezahualpilli, its territory
is said to have been grievously clipped by the insidious practices
of Montezuma, who fomented dissensions and insubordination among his
subjects. On the death of the Tezcucan prince, the succession was
contested, and a bloody war ensued between his eldest son, Cacama, and
an ambitious younger brother, Ixtlilxochitl. This was followed by a
partition of the kingdom, in which the latter chieftain held the
mountain districts north of the capital, leaving the residue to
Cacama. Though shorn of a large part of his hereditary domain, the
city was itself so important, that the lord of Tezcuco still held a
high rank among the petty princes of the valley. His capital, at the
time of the Conquest, contained, according to Cortes, a hundred and
fifty thousand inhabitants. It was embellished with noble buildings,
rivalling those of Mexico itself.
The young Tezcucan chief beheld, with indignation and no slight
contempt, the abject condition of his uncle. He endeavoured to rouse
him to manly exertion, but in vain. He then set about forming a league
with several of the neighbouring caciques to rescue his kinsman, and
to break the detested yoke of the strangers. He called on the lord
of Iztapalapan, Montezuma's brother, the lord of Tlacopan, and some
others of most authority, all of whom entered heartily into his views.
He then urged the Aztec nobles to join them, but they expressed an
unwillingness to take any step not first sanctioned by the emperor.
They entertained, undoubtedly, a profound reverence for their
master; but it seems probable that jealousy of the personal views of
Cacama had its influence on their determination. Whatever were their
motives, it is certain, that, by this refusal, they relinquished the
best opportunity ever presented for retrieving their sovereign's
independence, and their own.
These intrigues could not be conducted so secretly as not to reach
the ears of Cortes, who, with his characteristic promptness, would
have marched at once on Tezcuco, and trodden out the spark of
"rebellion," before it had time to burst into a flame. But from this
he was dissuaded by Montezuma, who represented that Cacama was a man
of resolution, backed by a powerful force, and not to be put down
without a desperate struggle. He consented, therefore, to negotiate,
and sent a message of amicable expostulation to the cacique. He
received a haughty answer in return. Cortes rejoined in a more
menacing tone, asserting the supremacy of his own sovereign, the
emperor of Castile. To this Cacama replied, "He acknowledged no such
authority; he knew nothing of the Spanish sovereign nor his people,
nor did he wish to know anything of them." Montezuma was not more
successful in his application to Cacama to come to Mexico, and allow
him to mediate his differences with the Spaniards, with whom he
assured the prince he was residing as a friend. But the young lord
of Tezcuco was not to be so duped. He understood the position of his
uncle, and replied, "that, when he did visit his capital, it would
be to rescue it, as well as the emperor himself, and their common
gods, from bondage. He should come, not with his hand in his bosom,
but on his sword,- to drive out the detested strangers who had brought
such dishonour on their country."
Cortes, incensed at this tone of defiance, would again have put
himself in motion to punish it, but Montezuma interposed with his more
politic arts. He had several of the Tezcucan nobles, he said, in his
pay; and it would be easy, through their means, to secure Cacama's
person, and thus break up the confederacy at once, without
bloodshed. The maintaining of corps of stipendiaries in the courts
of neighbouring princes was a refinement which showed that the western
barbarian understood the science of political intrigue, as well as
some of his royal brethren on the other side of the water.
By the contrivance of these faithless nobles, Cacama was induced
to hold a conference, relative to the proposed invasion, in a villa
which overhung the Tezcucan lake, not far from his capital. Like
most of the principal edifices, it was raised so as to admit the
entrance of boats beneath it. In the midst of the conference, Cacama
was seized by the conspirators, hurried on board a bark in readiness
for the purpose, and transported to Mexico. When brought into
Montezuma's presence, the high-spirited chief abated nothing of his
proud and lofty bearing. He taxed his uncle with his perfidy, and a
pusillanimity so unworthy of his former character, and of the royal
house from which he was descended. By the emperor he was referred to
Cortes, who, holding royalty but cheap in an Indian prince, put him in
There was at this time in Mexico a brother of Cacama, a
stripling much younger than himself. At the instigation of Cortes,
Montezuma, pretending that his nephew had forfeited the sovereignty by
his late rebellion, declared him to be deposed, and appointed
Cuicuitzca in his place. The Aztec sovereigns had always been
allowed a paramount authority in questions relating to the succession.
But this was a most unwarrantable exercise of it. The Tezcucans
acquiesced, however, with a ready ductility, which showed their
allegiance hung but lightly on them, or, what is more probable, that
they were greatly in awe of the Spaniards; and the new prince was
welcomed with acclamations to his capital.
Cortes still wanted to get into his hands the other chiefs who had
entered into the confederacy with Cacama. This was no difficult
matter. Montezuma's authority was absolute, everywhere but in his
own palace. By his command, the caciques were seized, each in his
own city, and brought in chains to Mexico, where Cortes placed them in
strict confinement with their leader.
He had now triumphed over all his enemies. He had set his foot
on the necks of princes; and the great chief of the Aztec empire was
but a convenient tool in his hands for accomplishing his purposes. His
first use of this power was to ascertain the actual resources of the
monarchy. He sent several parties of Spaniards, guided by the natives,
to explore the regions where gold was obtained. It was gleaned
mostly from the beds of rivers, several hundred miles from the
His next object was to learn if there existed any good natural
harbour for shipping on the Atlantic coast, as the road of Vera Cruz
left no protection against the tempests that at certain seasons
swept over these seas. Montezuma showed him a chart on which the
shores of the Mexican Gulf were laid down with tolerable accuracy.
Cortes, after carefully inspecting it, sent a commission, consisting
of ten Spaniards, several of them pilots, and some Aztecs, who
descended to Vera Cruz, and made a careful survey of the coast for
nearly sixty leagues south of that settlement, as far as the great
river Coatzacualco, which seemed to offer the best, indeed the only,
accommodations for a safe and suitable harbour. A spot was selected as
the site of a fortified post, and the general sent a detachment of a
hundred and fifty men, under Velasquez de Leon, to plant a colony
He also obtained a grant of an extensive tract of land in the
fruitful province of Oaxaca, where he proposed to lay out a plantation
for the Crown. He stocked it with the different kinds of
domesticated animals peculiar to the country, and with such indigenous
grains and plants as would afford the best articles for export. He
soon had the estate under such cultivation, that he assured his
master, the emperor, Charles the Fifth, it was worth twenty thousand
ounces of gold.
1. Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 96.
2. Ibid., cap. 97.
3. Gomara, Crónica, cap. 84.--Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. 8, cap. 4.
4. Ibid., dec. 2, lib. 8, cap. 5.
5. "En esto era tan bien mirado, que todos le queriamos con gran amor, porque verdaderamente era gran señor en todas las cosas que le viamos hazer." Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 100.
6. "Y él bien conocia á todos, y sabia nuestros nombres, y aun calidades, y era tan bueno que á todos nos daua joyas, á otros mantas é Indias hermosas." Ibid., cap. 97.
7. Ibid., cap. 98.
8. According to Solís, the Devil closed his heart against these good men; though, in the historian's opinion, there is no evidence that this evil counsellor actually appeared and conversed with Montezuma, after the Spaniards had displayed the Cross in Mexico. Conquista, lib. 3, cap. 20.
9. Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 99.--Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 88.
10. He sometimes killed his game with a tube, a sort of air-gun, through which he blew little balls at birds and rabbits. "La Caça á que Monteçuma iba por la Laguna, era á tirar á Pájaros, i á Conejos, con Cebratana, de la qual era diestro." Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. 8, cap. 4.
l l. Ante, Book I. Chap. 6.
12. "É llámase esta Ciudad Tezcuco, y será de hasta treinta mil Vecinos." (Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 94.) According to the licentiate Zuazo, double that number,--sesenta mil Vecinos. (Carta, MS.) Scarcely probable, as Mexico had no more. Toribio speaks of it as covering a league one way by six another! (Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 7.) This must include the environs to a considerable extent. The language of the old chroniclers is not the most precise.
13. A description of the capital in its glory is thus given by an eye-witness. "Esta Ciudad era la segunda cosa principal de la tierra, y así habia en Tezcuco muy grandes edificios de templos del Demonio, y muy gentiles casas y aposentos de Señores, entre los cuales, fué muy cosa de ver la casa del Señor principal, así la vieja con su huerta cercada de mas de mil cedros muy grandes y muy hermosos, de los cuales hoy dia están los mas en pie, aunque la casa está asolada, otra casa tenia que se podia aposentar en ella un egército, con muchos jardines, y on muy grande estanque, que por debajo de tierra solian entrar á él con barcas." (Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 7.) The last relics of this palace were employed in the fortifications of the city in the revolutionary war of 1810. (Ixtlilxochitl, Venida de los Esp., p. 78. nota.) Tezcuco is now an insignificant little place, with a population of a few thousand inhabitants. Its architectural remains, as still to be discerned, seem to have made a stronger impression on Mr. Bullock than on most travellers. Six Months in Mexico, chap. 27.
14. "Cacama reprehendió asperamente á la Nobleza Mexicana porque consentia hacer semejantes desacatos á quatro Estrangeros y que no les mataban, se escusaban con decirles les iban á la mano y no les consentian tomar las Armas para libertarlo, y tomar sí una tan gran deshonra como era la que los Estrangeros les habian hecho en prender á su señor, y quemar á Quauhpopocatzin, los demas sus Hijos y Deudos sin culpa, con las Armas y Municion que tenian para la defenza y guarda de la ciudad, y de su autoridad tomar para sí los tesoros del Rey, y de Ins Dioses, y otras libertades y desvergüenzas que cada dia pasaban, y aunque todo esto vehian lo disimulaban por no enojar á Motecuhzoma que tan amigo y casado estaba con ellos." Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 86.
15. It is the language of Cortés. "Y este señor se rebeló, assí contra el servicio de Vuestra Alteza, á quien se habia ofrecido, como contra el dicho Muteczuma." Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 95.--Voltaire, with his quick eye for the ridiculous, notices this arrogance in his tragedy of Alzire.
"Tu vois de ces tyrans la fureur despotique:
Ils pensent que pour eux le Ciel fit l'Amérique,
Qu'ils en sont nés les Rois; et Zamore à leurs yeux,
Tout souverain qu'il fut, n'est qu'un séditieux."
ALZIRE, Act 4, sc. 3.
16. Gomara, Crónica, cap. 91.
17. "I que para reparar la Religion, i restituir Ins Dioses, guardar el Reino, cobrar la fama, i libertad á é1, i á México, iria de mui buena gana, mas no las manos en el seno, sino en la Espada, para matar Ins Españoles, que tanta mengua, i afrenta havian hecho á la Nacion de Culhúa." Ibid., cap. 91.
18. "Pero que él tenia en su Tierra de el dicho Cacamazin muchas Personas Principales, que vivian con é1, y les daba su salario." Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 95.
19. Ibid., pp. 95, 96.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 8.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 86.
The latter author dismisses the capture of Cacama with the comfortable reflection, "that it saved the Spaniards much embarrassment, and greatly facilitated the introduction of the Catholic faith."
20. Cortés calls the name of this prince Cucuzca. (Rel. Seg. ap. Lorenzana, p. 96.) In the orthography of Aztec words, the general was governed by his ear; and was wrong nine times out of ten.--Bustamante, in his catalogue of Tezcucan monarchs, omits him altogether. He
probably regards him as an intruder, who had no claim to be ranked among the rightful sovereigns of the land. (Galería de Antiguos Principes, (Pueblo, 1821,) p. 21.) Sahagun has, in like manner, struck his name from the royal roll of Tezcuco. Hist. de Nueva España, lib. 8, cap. 3.
21. The exceeding lenity of the Spanish commander, on this occasion, excited general admiration, if we are to credit Solís, throughout the Aztec empire! "Tuvo notable aplauso en todo el imperio este género de castigo sin sangre, que se atribuyó al superior juicio de los Españoles, porque no esperaban de Motezuma semejante moderacion." Conquista, lib. 4, cap. 2.
22. Rel. Seg. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 91.
23. "Damus quæ dant," says Martyr, briefly, in reference to this valuation. (De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 3.) Cortés notices the reports made by his people, of large and beautiful edifices in the province of Oaxaca. (Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 89.) It is here, also, that some of the most elaborate specimens of Indian architecture are still to be seen, in the ruins of Mitla.