North America 1520: Captivity of Moctezuma II

Political map of North America & the Caribbean on 22 May 1520 (The Conquistadors: Captivity of Moctezuma II), showing the following events: Capture of Moctezuma II; Enriquillo’s rebellion; Narváez vs Cortés; First Cocoliztli epidemic; Toxcatl Massacre.

Soon after arriving in Tenochtitlan, Cortés seized Moctezuma and, through him, became indirect ruler of the Aztec Empire. This situation lasted some months until April 1520, when an expedition arrived from Cuba with orders to arrest Cortés (its arrival would also unintentionally lead to millions of indigenous deaths by introducing smallpox to Mexico). Cortés raced to the coast and dealt with this new challenge, but during his absence the acting Spanish governor massacred large numbers of Aztecs while they were celebrating a religious festival, destroying Aztec–Spanish relations.

Main Events

14 Nov 1519 Capture of Moctezuma II

Shortly after arriving in Tenochtitlan, Hernán Cortés received word of a clash between his forces and the Aztecs at Quiahuiztlan, Veracruz. Cortés immediately marched into Moctezuma II’s palace with about 30 armed men and, accusing the emperor of duplicity, escorted him back to the Spanish quarters under guard. From then on until his death, Moctezuma effectively ruled the Aztec Empire as a Spanish wikipedia

1519–1533 Enriquillo’s rebellion

In 1519 the Taíno cacique Enriquillo—likely a descendant of the caciques of Jaragua—rebelled against Spanish rule in Hispaniola, launching numerous guerrilla raids from his base in the remote Baoruco mountains and drawing thousands of the remaining Taíno to his cause. No longer a priority area of the Spanish government, the colony of Santo Domingo was unable to stop him and reverted to granting concessions to the Taíno. Nonetheless, Enriquillo remained at large until 1533, when he apparently died of tuberculosis, as did so many of his wikipedia

19 Apr–29 May 1520 Narváez vs Cortés

In April 1520 a 1,400-man expedition under the command of Pánfilo de Narváez—sent by Cuban governor Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar to apprehend Hernán Cortés—arrived in Vera Cruz. Learning of the expedition’s arrival, Cortés swiftly marched from Tenochtitlan to the coast with a few hundred men, surprise-attacking Narváez’s forces on a rainy May night. Losing an eye in the battle, Narváez was quickly captured and his army incorporated into Cortés’ wikipedia

Apr–Dec 1520 First Cocoliztli epidemic

When Pánfilo de Narváez landed in Mexico in April 1520, he had aboard his ship an African slave stricken with smallpox. Once ashore, smallpox spread quickly through the Aztec Empire—whose inhabitants had not developed an immunity to European diseases—and reached Tenochtitlan in September or October. By the time the disease had run its course in early December, between 2 and 15 million had died of an indigenous population of 5–22 wikipedia

22 May 1520 Toxcatl Massacre

In May 1520, while Hernán Cortés was away intercepting Pánfilo de Narváez’s expedition, the Aztecs celebrated the annual festival of Toxcatl at the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan. Some two weeks into the celebration, deputy governor Pedro de Alvarado ordered an attack on the temple and killed almost everyone present—unarmed men, women, and children alike—allegedly in order to prevent the ritual of human sacrifice. Following this massacre, the Aztecs became openly hostile to their unwelcome Spanish guests, with only the latter’s hold over Moctezuma able to maintain even a semblance of wikipedia