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Discovery of America; Conquest of Mexico; Conquest of Peru; the Cape Route to India.

Modern History. (a.d. 1492-1898). The Discovery of America to the Peace of Westphalia (1492-1648).
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The geographical enterprise displayed in the 15th century had a glorious and, in the history of the world, a most momentous culmination in the opening of a fresh route to the East, and in the re-lifting of the veil which had so long shrouded the regions of the West. The remembrance of the transient settlements made by Norse adventurers in North America had passed away during the 14th century, and it was without design or any preconception of a possible new continent that the grand discovery was made at the close of the 15th. Christopher Columbus was born at Genoa, in the plebeian class, probably about 1440, This ingenious and enterprising man, a sailor from his early youth, had received some education at the University of Pavia. In or about the year 1470, being wrecked in a sea-fight off Cape St. Vincent, he reached the coast of Portugal floating on a plank, and soon afterwards married, at Lisbon, the daughter of an Italian navigator who had been governor of Porto Santo, an island of the Madeira group. There the Genoese mariner lived for some time, making charts for the support of his family, and studying maps and other documents left by his father-in-law, Perestrello. Convinced of the spherical shape of the earth, he came, as early as 1474, to conceive the plan of reaching the East by a westward voyage. His estimate of the circumference of the globe was too short by one-sixth, and his conception of the extent of Asia from west to east was far too long, so that he believed Zipangu (Japan) to be in about the position of the Sandwich Islands. His project of a westerly sea-route to eastern Asia was partly based upon a desire to revive the trade of his native city, whose land-traffic with India by way of the Crimea and the Caspian Sea had suffered greatly from the Tartars and Turks. He was also influenced by the Portuguese attempts to make voyages to the East by way of the newly found Cape of Good Hope. After his vain attempts, for many years, in various quarters - including King John II. of Portugal and two Spanish grandees - to obtain the patronage needful to supply funds for his undertaking, the cause of Columbus was at last supported by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, and on August 3rd, 1492, he sailed from the little port of Palos, in the south-west of Spain, in charge of the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina, three small craft called caravels, carrying in all but 120 men. Leaving the Canary Islands on September 6th, after taking in fresh water, he sailed out boldly westward into an ocean never before navigated. The romantic incidents of this memorable voyage are well known - the despairing and then mutinous spirit of the men, the sudden variation of the magnetic needle, the sea-birds met flying from the west, the carved staff and the branch with fresh berries borne eastwards by the current, the flickering light seen ahead. At two o'clock on the morning of October 12th, a cannon-shot from the Pinta announced the sight of land, and the ships were soon anchored off one of the Bahama group, be it San Salvador, Watling's Island, or another.

Columbus went to the grave in the full belief that the land which he had discovered was part of eastern Asia, the whole of which region was then called "India," and hence came the mistaken names of Indians applied to the natives of America, and of West Indies to the archipelago first visited by the great Genoese. Receiving the homage both of the wondering natives and of his repentant crews on landing, Columbus, as admiral and viceroy by the appointment of the Spanish sovereigns, planted the royal standard and in their name took possession of the country. On October 28th the expedition reached Cuba, and on December 6th arrived at Haiti, called Espanola (Hispaniola or "Little Spain") by its discoverer. There he left a small Spanish colony, composed of some 40 volunteers, with a wooden fort made from the timbers of his flag-ship, the Santa Maria, driven ashore and broken up by a gale. On January 4th, 1493, he started for Spain with the two smaller vessels, himself on board the Nina. The Pinta parted company during the very stormy voyage, but arrived at Palos on the same day, March 15th, as Columbus had entered the port amid the shouts of the people, the roaring of cannon, and the ringing of bells. The voyagers had brought back, as proofs of their success, six natives of the West Indies, some gold, and various animals, birds, and plants. The discoverer of America was received with the highest honour at the court, then at Barcelona. In subsequent voyages in 1493 and 1498 Columbus made his way to several West India islands, including Dominica, Jamaica, and Trinidad, and crowned his career as a discoverer by first visiting the continent of South America, at the mouth of the Orinoco. Such was the discovery of America, the vast continent named, not from the illustrious man who first made it permanently known to the rest of the world, but from the distinguished Florentine navigator and chart-maker, Amerigo Vespucci, a man on friendly terms with Columbus, and in no wise responsible for the injustice due to a German geographer who, in 1507, used the term Americi Terra, adopted by other writers as America. The first dated map bearing this name was published in 1520, but the name did not come into general use until the close of the 16th century.

We need only note further, in the way of geographical discovery and navigation at this period, that in 1497 the Venetians John and Sebastian Cabot rediscovered the mainland of North America after a voyage from Bristol; that Pinzon or Pincon, a comrade of Columbus, discovered Brazil, at the Amazon, early in 1500; that in the same year Cortereal, a Portuguese navigator, made his way to Newfoundland and the mouth of the St. Lawrence; that in 1512 Florida was discovered by Ponce de Leon, Spanish governor of Porto Rico; that in the following year Nunez de Balboa, a Spanish landowner in San Domingo (Haiti), crossed the isthmus of Darien, and first of Europeans gazed on the vast expanse of the Pacific; that in 1516 Diaz de Solis, a Spanish comrade of Pinzon, discovered the great Rio de la Plata, and was killed on its banks by ambushed natives; that in 1520 an expedition under the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magalhaes or Magalhaens (Magellan) first sailed into the Pacific, so named by him from the calm weather which he met with, through the strait bearing his name; and that his flag-ship, the Victoria, commanded by his lieutenant Sebastian del Cano after the leader's death by violence in the Philippine Isles, was the first vessel that ever sailed round the world, completing the return voyage to Spain in September, 1522, and establishing the fact of the spherical shape of our planet by evidence which no "theology" could refute.

European conquest in the New World quickly followed the discoveries made under the auspices of Ferdinand and Isabella, and the occupation of San Domingo and Cuba led directly, under their grandson and Ferdinand's successor, Charles V., to the subjugation of Mexico, discovered in 1518 by Juan de Grijalva, a relative of Velasquez, governor of Cuba. His account of "New Spain" was so glowing that an armament composed of about 600 Spanish infantry, 200 or 300 Indians, a few cavalry, and 14 cannon, was at once fitted out and placed under the command of Hernando Cortes, alcalde or chief magistrate of Santiago, the capital of Cuba. This hero of romantic history, a commander and statesman of rare ability and courage, was born in 1485, at Medellin, in Estremadura, of a noble but decayed family. His character and achievements are fully described in the brilliant pages of Prescott. The power, resources, and civilisation of the country which he conquered have been greatly overdrawn by Spanish writers in order to exalt the glory of their country, but the undoubted facts display in Cortes a marvellous combination of astuteness and daring. Of Mexican history prior to the Spanish invasion we know little that is trustworthy, owing to the barbarous destruction of the native records by the Spaniards. Before the 10th century a people named the Toltecs came down from the north and made their capital at Tula, about 50 miles north of the Mexican valley. They were a tall, robust, well-formed, sallow race, of mild and peaceful character, industrious and enterprising, tillers of the soil for products including maize and cotton, and introducers of a civilisation which comprised the erection of cities and temples and colossal monuments showing architectural skill, the fusing of metals, the making of pottery, and artistic weaving. Their religion was a nature-worship, with offerings of fruits, flowers, and small animals. In the 13th century, when the Toltecs, greatly diminished in numbers by pestilence and famine, had migrated to the south, the Aztecs or Mexicans, also coming from the north, appeared upon the scene, and gained by degrees a mastery among the tribes. This fierce race founded a chief city called Tenochtillan, or Mexico, from their god Mexitli, and extended their empire from the shores of the Gulf to the Pacific in the course of the 15th century. The capital stood in the midst of a great lake, on islands united by embankments of earth and stone. The government was that of an elective empire, the deceased ruler being succeeded by some warlike relative, or a great noble, wielding a despotic power with the limitations of a feudal system. The popular religion was a polytheism, with a Mars or god of war as the chief deity, to whom were annually offered, with horrible savagery of detail, many thousands of human sacrifices, men, women, and children taken in war or exacted as tribute. In strange contrast, other rites showed offerings of fruits, flowers, and perfumes, with joyful accompaniments of dancing and song. The priestly class were very numerous and influential, instructing the young of. both sexes in reading, writing, arithmetic, and choral singing, and in the elements of astrology and astronomy. The Mexican territory, in the geographical sense, also included a small independent republic whose fertile valleys, called Tlaxcalla, or "the land of bread," were inhabited by a bold, athletic people, destined to assume great importance in the story of Cortes.

The expedition prepared by Velasquez set sail from Cuba in November, 1518, and Cortes and his comrades, landing first in Yucatan, marched northwards for Mexico, and first encountered the natives at the Tabasco River. Great terror was caused by the Spanish firearms, and especially by the horses - strange creatures which were thought to be of one piece with their riders. An utter rout ensued, after some brave resistance, and at the end of March, 1519, swift messengers reached Montezuma, the Mexican ruler, with the terrible tidings of the new-comers, and their marvellous engines of war. Envoys and presents were sent and received, but there soon came an order to quit the country, a message which reached Cortes on the coast at the site of Vera Cruz, already selected for the city which he founded. The Spanish invader, hearing of the Tlaxcallans as hostile to the Mexicans, set out for their country in August, after taking the decisive step of beaching most of his ships and cutting off the means of speedy flight. His enterprise was much aided by a beautiful Aztec maiden of high birth, who had become a slave amongst the Tabascans, and, learning their dialect, wholly different from the Aztec, could interpret for Cortes through Aguilar, a Spaniard who had acquired Tabascan during a captivity of seven years prior to his rescue at the invasion. Converted and baptised as Donna Marina, the graceful and intelligent girl became deeply devoted to the commander, quickly gaining Spanish enough to interpret directly from and into Aztec, and rendering great service by her vigilance, courage, endurance, and knowledge of the native character. In September, 1519, a hot fight of some hours with the Tlaxcallans, ending in a Spanish victory, turned them into willing vassals of the crown of Castile, and allies whose fidelity was proof against disaster to the invaders which might have ended in utter ruin. During the march on Mexico, Marina discovered a plan for the destruction of the Spanish army, and Cortes took signal vengeance on the plotters of the ambuscade ordered by Montezuma. The sides of the stately snow-capped Orizaba mountain, over 17,000 feet above sea-level, had been scaled as far as the rugged plateau Anahuac, the Mexican tableland, from 4,000 to 8,000 feet in height, which stretches almost from sea to sea, and whence rise the great volcanic ridges. In this temperate region, with a dry season from November to May, and a most pleasant time, with rains at evening and during the night, from June to October, the roses bloom throughout the year, and the scenery includes broad, richly verdant plains; lakes as lovely as Como and Garda; peaks of everlasting snow, clothed lower down with oak and pine; brawling streams, and wild ravines. With some thousands of Tlaxcallans in his train, Cortes reached the city of Mexico on November 8th, and was received courteously by Montezuma and his retinue, though the streets were left empty by the royal command, and the silence of death reigned as the foreign intruders marched to the quarters provided for them.

The Mexican sovereign, a grave, calm, silent, good-looking man of about 50 years of age, with a generally sad expression of features, was the victim of superstitious fears concerning the new-comers. He had good reason to dread the man whose audacious plan against his person was formed within a week of arrival in the city. Cortes, in his sincere religious zeal, first perplexed Montezuma by appeals, through Marina, concerning his adoption of the Catholic faith, and then during an interview at the palace, appalled him by the suggestion that he should transfer his residence to the Spanish -quarters. After a refusal, the hapless monarch weakly yielded to the persuasive powers of Marina, and thus became a hostage in the hands of his foe. At this moment, Cortes was summoned to Vera Cruz by tidings that Narvaez, dispatched by the governor of Cuba, had arrived with a large force to supersede him in the command.

With prompt decision he attacked the new-comer in a night-surprise, and persuaded the troops, 800 in number, to join his own forces. On returning to Mexico in June, 1520, he found the city in insurrection against the Spaniards, a movement due to the severities of his brave and reckless lieutenant, Alvarado. The troops were beleaguered in their quarters, and fierce fighting occurred in sorties which daily diminished Cortes' scanty numbers. When Montezuma appeared on the roof of the building to address the multitude in behalf of the Spaniards, he was met with a shower of stones and arrows, and received a fatal wound. He died on the last day of June, and on July 1st, in face of the enraged populace, the Spanish leader started at midnight, on his retreat for his base of operations in the Tlaxcallan territory. The lake was covered with canoes full of armed men, and terrible losses were incurred during the march along one of the great causeways. Numbers of men were drowned at the broken bridgeways, and over 400 Spaniards, about 50 horses, the cannon and treasure, 4,000 native allies, and most of the Mexican prisoners, were killed, captured, or rescued. Despairing for the time, Cortes, on reaching a secluded spot outside the city, flung himself down under a cypress still preserved at Popotla, a suburb of modern Mexico, and gloomily reviewed his position. At dawn he mounted his horse, collected stragglers, and found that he still had his gallant Alvarado and his trusty Marina.

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