Published Date

May 1, 2004

Resource Type

Primary Source

This resource was developed in 2004 as part of “The Conquest of Mexico” by Nancy Fitch.

From Hernán Cortés, Cartas y relaciones de Hernan Cortés al emperador Carlos V, second letter, 140–43.

I gave orders to Gonzalo De Sandoval, alguazil mayor, to arrest the said Narváez and those persons who styled themselves alcaldes and regidores; and for this purpose placed eighty men under his command to proceed with him to make the arrest;–taking myself one hundred and seventy others, (the whole number being two hundred and fifty,) without artillery or horse[s], but on foot, I followed the alguazil mayor to support him, in case the said Narváez and the rest should choose to resist the execution of his process.

On the same day that the alguazil mayor and myself arrived with our party near the city of Cempoal, where Narváez had quartered his army, he received information of our approach, and sallied out with eighty horse[s] and five hundred foot [soldiers], leaving the rest of his force within their quarters in the great temple of the city, which was strongly fortified. Having marched out within a league of the place where we were, and not finding us, be concluded that the Indians who had given the alarm had deceived him, and returned to the city, taking tile precaution to have his whole force in readiness, and posting two men about a league from the city to give notice of our approach. As I was desirous of avoiding as much as possible all offensive appearances, it seemed to me that it would be best to go night, without being discovered, if practicable, directly to the quarters of Narváez, (with the situation of which we were all well acquainted,) and seize him at once; for I thought that as soon as he was taken prisoner there would be no, further trouble. The others with him would then yield obedience to the laws, especially those who had been forcibly pressed into the service by Diego Velázquez, or threatened by him with the loss of their Indian slaves in the Island of Fernandina [Cuba].

On Easter day, a little after midnight, I marched for the quarters of Narváez, and before I met with the men he had posted outside of the city, the scouts I had sent forward took one of them prisoner, but the other made his escape; from the former I received information of the state of things in the city. I then hastened as much as possible to prevent the one who had escaped from arriving before me, and giving notice of my approach; but notwithstanding my exertions, he was half an hour in advance of me. When I reached the city Narváez had all his men in full armor, and the horses caparisoned, in complete readiness, and two hundred men guarded every square. We moved so silently that when we were at last discovered, and the alarm was given, I had entered the square in which were the quarters occupied by the whole army, and had taken possession of three or four towers, besides the other strong buildings that stood in the square. In one of these towers where Narváez was quartered, the staircase was defended by nineteen matchlocks; but we mounted it with such rapidity that they had not time to put fire to more than one of the pieces, which, it pleased God, did not go off, nor occasion any injury. So our men ascended the tower until they reached the apartment of Narváez, where he and about fifty of his men fought with alguazil mayor and the rest that had gone up, and although the latter called upon them many times to surrender to your Highness, they refused until the building was set on fire, when they at last gave in.

While the alguazil mayor was employed in taking Narváez, I with the rest of our force, who came to their assistance, guarded the ascent of the tower, and caused the artillery to be seized and used for our defense. Thus without the loss of more than two men, who were killed by the discharge of a gun, all those that we wished to arrest were taken, and the rest deprived of their arms, promising obedience to your Majesty’s officers of justice; declaring that until then they had been deceived, having been told that Narváez had orders from your Majesty, and that I had been guilty of rebellion in this country, and was a traitor to your Majesty, together with many other things of a similar character. As soon as they learned the truth, and understood the bad motives and ruinous purposes of Diego Velázquez and Narváez, they were struck with the wickedness of the plot, and all expressed their joy that God had seen fit to bring it to an end. And I assure your Majesty that if God had not mysteriously interposed, and the victory had been on the side of Narváez, there would have been a greater destruction of life than has taken place among Spaniards for a long period in proportion to the numbers engaged.