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In What Ways Did The Spaniards Experience Of Colonisation Pre 1520 Shape Thier Approach To The Conquest Of Mexico Notes

History Notes > The Spanish Conquest and Colonisation of the New World Notes

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In what ways did the Spaniards' experience of colonization before 1520 shape their approach to the conquest of Mexico?
100 Word Summary The Spaniard's experience of pre-Mesoamerican colonisation had both ideological and practical impact on Cortes' conquest of Mexico. Whilst the ideological factors were notable, it was the practical lessons learnt from the Granada campaign onwards which allowed the Spaniards to so emphatically conquer the Aztec empire. Confidence in European military prowess, exploitation of divisions and focus on controlling or killing the elite allowed Cortes to operate far more effectively than his small army promised. In the letters Hernan Cortes sent to Emperor Charles V he was attempting to justify his actions, avoid treason charges and garner royal patronage. He was not giving a straightforward explanation of his tactics, and thus there is very little mention of previous Spanish attempts at colonisation, despite the fact that Cortes had accompanied Velazquez in the 1511 conquest of Cuba. Bernal Diaz skims over the recent Grijalva and Cordoba expeditions. Both make no reference to the plethora of recent military activity and wisdom accumulated by Spain since the accession of Ferdinand and Isabella. Whether subconscious, or wholly conscious but not recognised, the Cortes expedition used many of the lessons learnt from the capture of Granada, forays into Africa and Italy, the conquest of the Canary Isles and of the West Indies. Without such knowledge the mission would not have been successful. Although clinging to their opposition between Spanish and 'alien', the Spanish were at least used to contact with races apart from their own, and were ingrained with important views and laws regarding slavery and religious conversion. On the pragmatic side, Cortes was aware of the supreme superiority of Western weaponry and armour, the importance of establishing sustainable colonies, exploiting divisions in ones enemy and of controlling tribal leaders, and must have had at least some idea of the demographic damage Western disease could wreak. The combined experience of Spanish conquest and colonisation since 1492 gave Cortes the tactical capability and confidence to take on an 'alien' empire, and win. Through their recent experiences of colonisation, Spaniards had become familiar, if not with the particulars of other cultures, then at least with the existence of races outside Christian Europe. This acceptance provided Cortes' expedition with a mindset more open to surprise and more ready to adapt than the Mexican, and in addition provided useful (if erroneous) comparisons. The word "Indian" derives from Columbus' belief that he'd discovered a transatlantic route to the East Indies. Thus meeting the Mexica, Cortes did not find their existence entirely shocking and was not overawed into overestimating Aztec power. Furthermore, contact with Islamic cultures in the reconquista and the subsequent occupation of the Emirate of Nasra (Granada) put Spain in close contact with i) a different ii) non-Christian race. This lead to Cortes describing the Mexican tributaries in the environs of Veracruz as wearing "thin mantles which are decorated in a Moorish fashion"1. Contact with African slaves sold from Portugal (35,000 by 1492), and Indian tributaries of the encomienda system was also common to the Spaniards of the Mexican expedition. Spanish ideological developments since their first 'colonising' effort - Granada provided them with various theories regarding the treatment of the vanquished. In 1492 Isabella's courtier Hernando de Talavera had been made first Archbishop of 1

Cortes; Letters from Mexico, A.R.Pagden, p.30

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