Men of iron mounted on strange beasts out to conquer an Empire
There can be few more substantial and all embracing accounts of the Conquistadors than that of Bernal Diaz del Castillo. Whilst all first-hand accounts are invaluable it is unusual to find them as comprehensive as that of Bernal Diaz particularly from the 16th century. His work is so expansive it fills two substantial volumes in this special Leonaur edition. The deeds of the Conquistadors—literally conquerors—are broadly known by all. Here were small armies of determined and ruthless men from the Old World sailing perilous oceans into the unknown to set foot in the equatorial jungles of a New World. They came for fame, discovery, new lands to expand European Empires—and for gold. They brought organised war to an unsuspecting indigenous people and they toppled civilisations with sword, lance and gunpowder—men mounted on beasts of war unlike anything their more numerous enemy had ever beheld. This is the common view of a far more complex time. Diaz lived through the conquests in New Spain and Mexico and recounts a time of violence and blood perpetrated seemingly without let by both sides; and he reports the constant infighting and divisions between the Conquistadors themselves in such a way that far off times come vividly back to life and legend takes the form of real men as his words whisper history into our imaginations. This is an exceptional two volume set of books by any standards. For those who know something of the history of the Conquistadors it will be an essential addition to their libraries and for the curious it will be a revelation. Available in softcover and hardback with dust jackets for collectors.
If the body of warriors was vast which had fallen upon Ordas, that which at the same instant attacked our quarters was by far more so; and so vigorously did they assail us with lances, arrows, and stones, that, in an instant, forty of our men were wounded, twelve of whom subsequently died. The numbers who attacked us in front, from behind, and from the tops of the houses, were so vast that Ordas was unable, for a length of time, to cut his way through. Our cannon, muskets, crossbows, and lances, did, certainly, great havoc among the enemy’s ranks, who, in fact, rushed in upon our weapons; yet they continued the combat with the same fury, and closed their ranks more firmly, nor could we drive them back a single inch. It was only after a good deal of hard fighting that Diego and his men were able to regain our quarters, though with twenty-three soldiers less than when he had left it, and the rest all wounded: add to which, the enemy’s numbers were every moment increasing; nor did they spare abusive language, calling us old women, ragged scoundrels, and such like beautiful names. But the loss we sustained at present was nothing to what we subsequently suffered. They even carried their audacity so far as to throw fire into our quarters, while one body attacked us in front and another from behind, so that we should soon have been suffocated by the flames and smoke if we had not succeeded in putting out the fire by throwing quantities of earth on it, and by pulling down the apartments from which the fire was spreading.<br>
The combat continued the whole day until late at night, during which time they continued to throw such quantities of stones and lances into our quarters, that the place was literally covered with them. In the meantime we had to dress our wounds, to repair the damage done to our buildings, and get some rest till the next morning. As soon as day began to dawn, Cortes determined to sally out with the whole of his troops, including those of Narvaez and the cannon, either to beat the enemy out of the field altogether, or at least to give them a greater proof of our power than we had been able to do on the previous day. The Mexicans, it seemed, had also determined to do their utmost, and they not only fought with uncommon bravery but came in overwhelming numbers, so that every instant they poured in fresh men to the attack. Indeed ten thousand Trojan Hectors, and as many Rolands, would in vain have tried to break through the enemy’s ranks! At this moment even, that battle is fresh in my memory; but no words can describe the unyielding stubbornness of the foe. All the volleys from our heavy guns and muskets were to no purpose; it was in vain we rushed forward upon them, and killed from thirty to forty of their numbers at a time; their ranks still remained firmly closed, while their courage seemed to increase with every loss. Whenever we did drive them back into the streets to some distance, they had merely retreated in order that we should follow them, and by so doing be drawn further away from our quarters, when they hoped more easily to surround us, and so render our escape impossible. And sure enough by these retrograde movements they invariably made the greatest destruction among our ranks. Neither did it avail us anything whenever we set fire to any of the houses; for, as I have above mentioned, it was only possible to pass from one house to another by means of wooden drawbridges. If the latter were drawn up we had to wade through deep water to gain another house. But our men suffered most from those of the enemy’s troops who pelted them with stones and lances from the housetops. Indeed I cannot imagine how I thus coolly relate all that passed. Three or four of our men who had previously served in the Italian wars, swore over and over again that they had never witnessed such furious fighting, neither in the wars with the king of France, nor even in those with the grand Turk himself. Indeed it was no easy matter for us to retreat to our headquarters, so desperately did they assail us under the most horrible sound of drums, pipes and trumpets, accompanied by the most obscene and abusive language. This day we lost ten or twelve men, and none of us escaped without a wound. We passed the night in deliberations and in preparing for another attack. We now resolved that after the lapse of two days as many of us as were healthy should sally out with two moving towers. These we had strongly put together of wood, and were so constructed, that under each of them twenty-five of our men could stand to move them along. These towers contained loopholes, from which our heavy guns could be fired; besides that there was space enough for a number of musketeers and crossbow-men. At the side of these towers marched a strong body of musketeers and crossbow-men, as also the whole of our horse, who were from time to time to charge the enemy at full gallop. The construction of these towers and the repairing of several small breaches which the enemy had made in our quarters, occupied us the whole of the following day, so that we could not sally out till the next. <br>
The enemy, however, continued their attacks upon our quarters, not merely from ten or twelve, but from twenty different points at once; so that what with the constructing of the towers, repairing the breaches, and beating off our assailants who had fixed ladders to our quarters, we had enough to do. The whole of us, they cried out, were to be sacrificed to their gods, our hearts were to be torn from our bodies, the blood was to be drawn from our veins, and our arms and legs were to be eaten up at their festivals. The remaining parts of our bodies would be thrown to the tigers, lions and serpents, which they kept in cages; these had not been fed for these two days, in order that they might devour our flesh the more greedily. Our gold and other things would be their booty, and they told the Tlascallans they should be locked up in cages where they fattened people for their sacrifices. Only deliver us up our monarch Motecusuma,—added they with great vehemence; while their noise and their attacks continued through the whole night.