From the August 2017 Edition
La Noche Triste (“The Night of Sorrows”, literally “The Sad Night”) on June 30, 1520, was an important event during the Spanish conquest of Mexico, wherein Hernán Cortés and his invading army of Spanish conquistadors and native allies were driven out of the Mexican capital at Tenochtitlan following the death of the Aztec king Moctezuma II, who had been held hostage by the Spaniards.
Cortés’ expedition arrived at Tenochtitlan, the Mexica 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 Mocte-zuma II, the king or Hueyi Tlatoani of the Mexica, 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 98 days, Cortés and his native allies, the Tlaxcaltecas, were increasingly unwelcome guests in the capital.
Cortés heads off Spanish punitive expedition
In June 1520, news from the Gulf coast reached Cortés that a much larger party of Spaniards had been sent by Governor Velázquez of Cuba to arrest Cortés for insubordination. Leaving Tenochtitlan in the care of his trusted lieutenant, Pedro de Al-varado, Cortés marched to the coast, where he defeated the Cuban expedition led by Pánfilo de Narváez sent to capture him. 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.
Loss of control in Tenochtitlan
During Cortés’ absence, Pedro de Alvarado in Tenochtitlan obtained information that the Aztecs were about to attack him. In response, de Alvarado 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 com-pound, 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.
Cortés ordered Moctezuma to address his people from a terrace in order to persuade them to stop fighting and to allow the Spaniards to leave the city in peace. The Aztecs, however, jeered at Moctezuma, and pelted him with stones and darts. By Spanish accounts, he was killed in this assault by the Mexica people, though they claim he had been killed instead by the Spanish.