Hernán Cortés (1485-1547) was perhaps the most famous of the Spanish conquistadors, the conqueror of the mighty Aztec Empire of Central America. From 1519 to 1521, Cortés commanded the small Spanish expedition that eventually captured the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, allowing Cortés to take over as governor of Mexico. His willful disregard for authority pitted him against his superiors in Cuba and in Spain, and although his exploits were legendary and quite profitable, he died an embittered man in 1547.
The conquest of the Aztecs in 1519-1521 by a small band of Spaniards and their native allies still ranks as one of the most formidable military feats of all time. Cortés used tactics designed to divide the rival Indian nations of Mesoamerica against each other, using a large force of native allies to aid his attack against the hated Aztecs in their island capital city of Tenochtitlan. He was just as ruthless with his own troops as he was with the natives in the area, even going so far as to burn his boats to ensure that his men had no choice but to follow him. Cortés set the standard that all later conquistadores followed in the New World, and it was through his efforts and those of Francisco Pizarro and others that the large Indian empires of the New World were subjugated to Spanish rule.