Conquistadores — greed, gold and guilt in a revisiting of colonialism
Fernando Cervantes’ book details the cruel and complicated story of the Spanish conquest of the Americas
When Hernán Cortés finally conquered the Aztecs on August 13 1521, it should have been a glorious triumph for the Spanish invaders, who had suffered an ignominious rout the previous year. Tenochtitlán, the monumental Mexican capital constructed on a lake, which had so awed the conquistadors when they first sighted it in 1519, had been starved into submission during a weeks-long siege and Cuauhtémoc, the Aztec emperor, had at last surrendered.
Yet the mood, according to an enlightening new book on the Spanish conquest of the Americas by Fernando Cervantes, a Mexican historian at the University of Bristol, “was not even remotely celebratory ... although a great victory had been won, the price was disproportionately high”.
The extraordinary half-century after Christopher Columbus’s discovery, in 1492, of what he maintained to his dying day was Asia, fuelled guilt as well as greed. The conquistadors’ callous and extreme cruelty plagued the Spanish crown even as it relied on a stream of New World gold to fund its imperial ambitions in a fast-changing Europe...