Hernan Cortes was born in Medelin Spain, in 1485. His father was an infantry officer. Cortes was described as a pale sickly child. At the age of 14, he was sent to study at the University of Salamanca. Cortes returned home after two years. Upon returning home at age16 Cortes was restless. In 1503, at the age of 18 Cortes left Spain for the New World. He arrived in Santo Domingo, the capital of Hispaniola. There, he registered as a citizen. The governor, who was a family friend, made him the notary of the town of Azuza. Cortes accompanied Diego Velazquez on an expedition to conquer Cuba. Cortes distinguished himself on the expedition and was made mayor of Santiago. Cortes, like many of the Spaniards, had heard rumors of vast quantities of gold on the mainland in Mexico. In 1518, Cortes convinced the governor to give him a charter to explore and conquer Mexico. The governor revoked the charter at the last moment, but Cortes decided to go anyway, as an act of rebellion.
Cortes landed his troops at Vera Cruz. He burned his ships, claiming they were not seaworthy, thus eliminating the chance his troops would mutiny and turn back. Cortez, marched inland to the Aztec capital, with a very small army of several hundred soldiers. Cortes entered the city of Tenochtitlan, a city with a population of over 200,000, with his small force. Instead of fighting Cortes, Montezuma, the Aztec king, greeted him with gifts and welcomed him. After six months in the capital, the Spanish fought their way out of the capital. Other Aztecs killed Montezuma. Cortes received aid from an unlikely source, a force of Spaniards who had come to arrest him for treason. He defeated the force and then recruited its soldiers into his force. Together with the Native American opponents of the Aztec, Cortes laid siege to Tenochtitlan. He eventually conquered the city. He ransacked and burned one of the largest cities in the world.
Despite his act of treason, in continuing his campaign Cortes became very popular in Spain, thanks to the gold and jewels he captured. Cortes was appointed governor of the newly captured territories, that became known as New Spain. Cortes destroyed the Aztec buildings and temples. In their place, Cortes built Spanish buildings. The city was renamed Mexico City. It soon became the most important European city in the New World.
Cortes remained the governor of New Spain until 1841. In the intermediate years, the various officials sent to help Cortes administer the new territory diminished his own power. In addition, there were constant accusations against Cortes. The accusations ranged from spending money unwisely to murdering his first wife. Cortes expanded Spain's control over all parts of what is Mexico today, including leading an expedition to the Baja California peninsula.
In 1841, Cortes returned to Spain. He died in Seville, on December 2, 1547, at the age of 62