Hernán Cortés was a Spanish explorer who was at the forefront of the European colonization of "New Spain" following the fall of the Aztec empire. He had shown great enthusiasm early on for the possibilities of the "New World," and he was particularly inspired by the journeys of Christopher Columbus. He first studied at the University of Salamanca; he didn't manage to finish his degree, but the two years he spent studying law gave him enough persuasive resources to validate his trip. He began his journey in 1504 and initially arrived in Hispaniola, which is one of the main islands of the Caribbean. From there, he was then able to reach the "New World". He registered himself as a citizen at the age of 18 and established himself in Santo Domingo.
In 1511 he went and led the conquering of Cuba, which secured him a top political position. He was becoming quite popular, particularly among leaders like Governor Veláquez. Cortés began to sense tensions between Veláquez and himself, one example being when Veláquez learned that there were vast amounts of gold and silver to be mined. Cortés had been assigned to assist in retrieving the resources, but was quickly removed from the equation by Velázquez, who was likely jealous of Cortés' ability to round up resources quickly.
Despite their differences, Cortés went on to marry Veláquez's sister. While the marriage may have been an attempt to find common ground, the two would continue to clash. In 1518, Cortés went against orders and set off to search around Mexico. Upon his arrival he met Gerónimo de Aguilar, who had been shipwrecked. Aguilar was able to translate for Cortés and from there he went on to build up his troops. His next campaign was to conquer Veracruz.
He faced a certain amount of resistance from natives who didn't wish to convert to Christianity in Tabasco. He had requested meetings with their leader, Moctezuma, but was refused. In his eyes he had no choice but to go there with force. As an attempt to warn off any attempts of rebellion, Cortés killed thousands of unarmed natives in the main plaza in Tenochtitlan and left the city partially burned down.
Upon his meeting with Moctezuma, Cortés was allowed into the city with both men having their own intentions. Cortés quickly took Moctezuma captive and pressured him to swear allegiance to Spanish King Charles V. Another massacre followed, which was ordered by one of Cortés' men and caused a rebellion by the natives. Moctezuma was even stoned to death by his own people.
Several battles followed that proved to be a few lucky escapes for Cortés, though he was able to snatch victory when he cut off supplies to Tenochtitlan and performed a successful siege. Cortés was then put in charge of being the governor of New Spain; he destroyed the Aztec towns and went on to rebuild the area now known as Mexico City. He tried converting natives and imported slaves from Africa and attempted to grow sugar. In 1523, Bishop Fonseca was ready to send an army under the control of Juan de Garay, though Cortés was able to stop this by appealing to the king to have New Spain's politics left alone. Cortés later went on to defeat Cristobal de Olid, who was claiming Honduras as his own on the order of Diego Velázquez. Velazquez's allegiance with Olid in the case of Honduras made Cortés suspect betrayal again.
Charles V, on the other hand, had bigger concerns than New Spain and therefore put Adrian of Utrecht in charge and there were investigations of Cortés and his actions. Several changes of power occurred with the governor of New Spain and Cortés decided to travel to Spain and appeal to Charles V in 1528. He felt he was fighting to prove his loyalty with figures such as Veláquez. Charles V greeted him and bestowed him with many honors and titles, such as Márquez del Valle de Oaxcaca.
Cortés retained military power but upon his return to Mexico he was met with anarchy and unrest. He had several accusations thrown at him and from then on spent most of his time in Cuernavaca, returning to Spain very few times.