La Noche Triste
La Noche Triste on June 30, 1520, was an important event during the Spanish conquest of Mexico
Spanish conquest of Mexico
The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire was one of the most important campaigns in the Spanish colonization of the Americas. The invasion began in February 1519 and was acclaimed victorious on August 13, 1521, by a coalition army of Spanish conquistadors and Tlaxcalan warriors led by Hernán Cortés...

, wherein Hernán Cortés
Hernán Cortés
Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century...

 and his army of Spanish conquistador
Conquistadors were Spanish soldiers, explorers, and adventurers who brought much of the Americas under the control of Spain in the 15th to 16th centuries, following Europe's discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492...

s and native allies fought their way out of the Mexican capital at Tenochtitlan following the death of the Aztec
The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, a period referred to as the late post-classic period in Mesoamerican chronology.Aztec is the...

 king Montezuma
Montezuma, Moctezuma, Moteczoma, Motecuhzoma, Moteuczomah, Mwatazuma, are variant spellings and may refer to:*Moctezuma II , ninth Aztec Emperor, ruler at the beginning of the Spanish conquest of Mexico...

, whom the Spaniards had been holding as a hostage. The event is so-named on account of the sorrow that Cortés and his surviving followers felt and expressed at the loss of life and treasure incurred in the escape from Tenochtitlan.


Cortés' expedition arrived at Tenochtitlan, the Mexica
The Mexica were a pre-Columbian people of central Mexico.Mexica may also refer to:*Mexica , a board game designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling*Mexica , a 2005 novel by Norman Spinrad...

 capital, on November 8, 1519, taking up residence in a specially designated compound in the city. Soon thereafter, suspecting treachery on the part of their hosts, the Spaniards took Moctezuma II
Moctezuma II
Moctezuma , also known by a number of variant spellings including Montezuma, Moteuczoma, Motecuhzoma and referred to in full by early Nahuatl texts as Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin, was the ninth tlatoani or ruler of Tenochtitlan, reigning from 1502 to 1520...

, the king or Hueyi Tlatoani of the Mexica
The Mexica were a pre-Columbian people of central Mexico.Mexica may also refer to:*Mexica , a board game designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling*Mexica , a 2005 novel by Norman Spinrad...

, hostage. Though Moctezuma followed Cortés' instructions in continually assuring his subjects that he had been ordered by the gods to move in with the Spaniards and that he had done so willingly, the Aztecs suspected otherwise. During the following six months, Cortés and his native allies, the Tlaxcaltecas, were increasingly unwelcome guests in the capital.

In June 1520, news from the Gulf coast
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

 reached Cortés that a much larger party of Spaniards had been sent by Governor Velázquez
Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar
Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar was a Spanish conquistador. He conquered and governed Cuba on behalf of Spain.-Early life:...

 of Cuba to arrest Cortés for insubordination. Leaving Tenochtitlan in the care of his trusted lieutenant, Pedro de Alvarado
Pedro de Alvarado
Pedro de Alvarado y Contreras was a Spanish conquistador and governor of Guatemala. He participated in the conquest of Cuba, in Juan de Grijalva's exploration of the coasts of Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico, and in the conquest of Mexico led by Hernan Cortes...

, Cortés marched to the coast, where he defeated the Cuban expedition led by Pánfilo de Narváez
Pánfilo de Narváez
Pánfilo de Narváez was a Spanish conqueror and soldier in the Americas. He is most remembered as the leader of two expeditions, one to Mexico in 1520 to oppose Hernán Cortés, and the disastrous Narváez expedition to Florida in 1527....

. When Cortés told the defeated soldiers about the riches of Tenochtitlan, they agreed to join him. Reinforced by Narvaez's men, Cortés headed back to Tenochtitlan.

During Cortés' absence, Pedro de Alvarado obtained information that the Aztecs were about to attack him, and ordered a preemptive slaughter of Aztec nobles and priests celebrating a festival in the city's main temple. In retaliation, the Aztecs laid siege to the Spanish compound, in which Moctezuma was still being held captive. By the time Cortés returned to Tenochtitlan in late June, the Aztecs had elected a new Hueyi Tlatoani named Cuitláhuac
Cuitláhuac or Cuitláhuac was the 10th tlatoani of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan for 80 days during the year Two Flint ....

. Cortés ordered Moctezuma to address his people from a terrace in order to persuade them to stop fighting and to allow the Spaniards leave the city in peace. The Aztecs, however, jeered at Montezuma, and pelted him with stones and darts. Struck in the head, the arm, and the leg, he fell to the ground, and not wishing to continue living under the conditions of his captivity, died several days later.

La Noche Triste

With Montezuma dead, Cortez and Alvarado knew now they had stirred up a hornets nest. Under constant attack, with gunpowder and food and water in short supply, Cortés decided to break out of the city by night. In order to put the Aztecs off their guard, he sent messengers asking for a one-week cease-fire, at the end of which the Spaniards would return any treasure of which they were in possession and would be permitted to leave the city peacefully. Since the Aztecs had damaged bridges on four of the eight causeways into the island city, the Spaniards devised a portable bridge they could use in order to cross any unspanned sections of water. Cortés ordered that as much of the accumulated gold and other booty as was feasible be packed and carried away, and invited the Spanish soldiers to take and carry away as much as they wished of the remainder. This invitation would lead to the demise of many a soldier who, overburdened with treasure, found it impossible to negotiate the causeways and other obstacles encountered on the way out of the city.

On the night of June 30, 1520, his large army left their compound and headed west, toward the Tlacopan
Tlacopan , also called Tacuba, was a Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican city-state situated on the western shore of Lake Texcoco.Founded by Tlacomatzin, Tlacopan was a Tepanec kingdom subordinate to nearby Azcapotzalco...

 causeway. The causeway was apparently unguarded, and the Spaniards made their way out of their complex unnoticed, winding their way through the sleeping city. Before reaching the causeway, they were noticed by Aztec warriors, who sounded the alarm. Sources diverge here, with some stating that a woman filling water jugs sounded the alarm.

The fighting was ferocious. As the Spaniards and their native allies reached the causeway, hundreds of canoes appeared in the waters alongside to harry them. The Spaniards fought their way across the causeway in the rain, sometimes using the portable bridge to cover the gaps, although as the battle progressed some gaps had become so filled with wreckage and bodies that the fugitives were able to walk across. Weighed down by gold and equipment, some of the soldiers lost their footing, fell into the lake, and drowned. As for Cortés himself, together a vanguard of horsemen he pressed ahead and reached dry land at the village of Tacuba, leaving the rest of the expedition to fend for itself in the treacherous crossing. Seeing the wounded survivors straggle into the village, however, Cortés and his horsemen turned back to causeway, where they encountered Pedro de Alvarado
Pedro de Alvarado
Pedro de Alvarado y Contreras was a Spanish conquistador and governor of Guatemala. He participated in the conquest of Cuba, in Juan de Grijalva's exploration of the coasts of Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico, and in the conquest of Mexico led by Hernan Cortes...

, unhorsed and badly wounded, in the company of a handful of Spaniards and Tlaxcaltecas. According to Bernal Díaz del Castillo
Bernal Díaz del Castillo
Bernal Díaz del Castillo was a conquistador, who wrote an eyewitness account of the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards for Hernán Cortés, himself serving as a rodelero under Cortés.-Early life:...

, it was at this point that tears came to Cortés' eyes, as he realized the extent of the debacle.

Cortés, Alvarado and the strongest and most skilled of the men had managed to fight their way out of Tenochtitlán. However, all of the artillery had been lost, as had most of the horses. As to the total number of casualties suffered by the expedition, the sources are not in agreement. Cortés himself claimed that 154 Spaniards were lost along with over 2,000 native allies. Thoan Cano, another eyewitness to the event, said that 1170 Spaniards died, but this number probably exceeds the total number of Spaniards who took part in the expedition. Francisco López de Gómara
Francisco López de Gómara
Francisco López de Gómara was a Spanish historian who worked in Seville, particularly noted for his works in which he described the early 16th century expedition undertaken by Hernán Cortés in the Spanish conquest of the New World...

, who was not himself an eyewitness, estimated that 450 Spaniards and 4,000 allies died. The noncombatants attached to the expedition suffered terribly. Most of the native women who had been given to or taken by the Spaniards and who served them as cooks, mistresses and housekeepers were killed that night. The few women who survived included María Estrada
María Estrada
María de Estrada was a woman to arrive in Mexico with the expedition of Hernán Cortés as well as one of the very few women of European descent to take part in and survive the Spanish conquest of Mexico....

, Cortes' mistress and the only Spanish woman in the party, La Malinche
La Malinche
La Malinche , known also as Malintzin, Malinalli or Doña Marina, was a Nahua woman from the Mexican Gulf Coast, who played a role in the Spanish conquest of Mexico, acting as interpreter, advisor, lover and intermediary for Hernán Cortés...

 the interpreter, Alvarado's mistress, and two of Moctezuma's daughters under Cortés' care. (A third died, apparently leaving behind her infant by Cortés, the mysterious second "María" named in his will.)


Further battles awaited the Spaniards and their allies as they fought their way around the north end of Lake Zumpango. Two weeks later, at the Battle of Otumba
Battle of Otumba
- Background :Around the end of March 1519, Hernán Cortés landed with a Spanish conquistador force at Potonchán on the coast of modern-day Mexico. Cortés had been commissioned by Governor Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar of Spanish-controlled Cuba to lead an expedition in the area, which was dominated by...

, not far from Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan – also written Teotihuacán, with a Spanish orthographic accent on the last syllable – is an enormous archaeological site in the Basin of Mexico, just 30 miles northeast of Mexico City, containing some of the largest pyramidal structures built in the pre-Columbian Americas...

, they turned to fight the pursuing Aztec, decisively defeating them — according to Cortés, because he slew the Aztec commander — and giving the Spaniards a small respite that allowed them to reach Tlaxcala
Tlaxcala (Nahua state)
Tlaxcala was a pre-Columbian city state of central Mexico.Tlaxcala was a confederation of four altepetl — Ocotelolco, Quiahuiztlan, Tepeticpac and Tizatlan — which each took turns providing a ruler for Tlaxcala as a whole.-History:Tlaxcala was never conquered by the Aztec empire, but was...


It was there in Tlaxcala that Cortés plotted the siege of Tenochtitlan
Siege of Tenochtitlan
The siege of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, came about in 1521 through the manipulation of local factions and divisions by Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés...

 and the eventual destruction of the Aztec Empire.

Primary sources

  • Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España ("True History of the Conquest of New Spain") by Bernal Díaz del Castillo
    Bernal Díaz del Castillo
    Bernal Díaz del Castillo was a conquistador, who wrote an eyewitness account of the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards for Hernán Cortés, himself serving as a rodelero under Cortés.-Early life:...

    . Bernal Díaz del Castillo served as a rodelero, or soldier armed with sword and buckler, in Cortés' expedition, and personally participated in the nocturnal battle known as "La noche triste." His Chapter CXXVIII ("How we agreed to flee from Mexico, and what we did about it") is an account of the event.

  • La Historia general de las Indias ("General History of the Indies") by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés. See Parsons (below), Volume III, p.296-292. Oviedo, not himself a witness to La Noche Triste, claimed to have interviewed Thoan Cano, a member of Pánfilo Narváez' expedition who joined Cortés in his return to Mexico and who survived the escape from the city.

Secondary sources

  • Conquest: Cortés, Montezuma, and the Fall of Old Mexico by Hugh Thomas
    Hugh Thomas
    Hugh Thomas , is a British historian and life peer.Hugh Thomas may also refer to:* Hugh Thomas , American choral conductor, pianist and educator* Hugh Thomas , Australian rules football coach...

     (1993) ISBN 0-671-51104-1.
  • Cortés and the Downfall of the Aztec Empire by Jon Manchip White
    Jon Manchip White
    Jon Manchip White is the Welsh American author of more than thirty books of non-fiction and fiction, including Mask of Dust, Nightclimber, Death By Dreaming, Solo Goya, and his latest novel, Rawlins White: Patriot to Heaven, to be published in the second half of 2011...

     (1971) ISBN 0-7867-0271-0.
  • History of the Conquest of Mexico. by William H. Prescott
    William H. Prescott
    William Hickling Prescott was an American historian and Hispanist, who is widely recognized by historiographers to have been the first American scientific historian...

     ISBN 0-375-75803-8. Available online at
  • The Rain God cries over Mexico by László Passuth.
  • Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest by Matthew Restall, Oxford University Press (2003) ISBN 0-19-516077-0.
  • The Conquest of America by Tzvetan Todorov
    Tzvetan Todorov
    Tzvetan Todorov is a Franco-Bulgarian philosopher. He has lived in France since 1963 with his wife Nancy Huston and their two children, writing books and essays about literary theory, thought history and culture theory....

     (1996) ISBN 0-06-132095-1.
  • The Conquistadors by Michael Wood (2002) PBS
    Public Broadcasting Service
    The Public Broadcasting Service is an American non-profit public broadcasting television network with 354 member TV stations in the United States which hold collective ownership. Its headquarters is in Arlington, Virginia....



External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.