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History : New Spain
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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The Spanish settled first in the Islands of Greater Antilles before going to Mexico in 1517.


Mexico was discovered in 1517 by Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba and became the purpose of the Conquest in 1519. The expedition, led by Hernán Cortés, landed first at Cozumel off the Yucatán Coast and then reached the Mexican Coast where the city of Veracruz was built. It is the place where Cortés greeted the ambassadors of Moctezuma, Emperor of the Aztecs.

Cortés and his troops He went to Mexico City with 600 men, crossing Tlaxcala which rallied him. In Cholula, he slaughtered 3,000 Indians suspected of plotting against him. He was welcomed in Tenochtitlán by Moctezuma, and he stayed with his troops in the palace of Axayacatl, but, feeling unsafe in this huge city, he took the emperor as a hostage.

Left picture : Cortés and his troops

While Cortés was fighting Narvaez, Pedro de Alvarado provoked an uprising from the Indians. The Emperor had to give a speech to his people to calm them but the furious crowd stoned him. He died a few days later. Cuitlahuac had his troops ready to fight : Cortés decided to beat a retreat. It happened during the rainy night of June 30th, 1520, called since the “Noche Triste” (the sad night). They reorganized themselves in Tlaxcala. Cortés had 13 boats built to cross the lakes. Cuitlahuac died and Cuauhtemoc was the new elected emperor. After 75 days of siege, with a huge Indian army as allies, the Spanish took Tenochtitlán on August 13th, 1521 and took Cuauhtemoc prisoner. The city of Tenochtitlán was completely dismantled to make room for a new capital, Mexico City, whose cathedral was edified with the stones of the grand Aztec teocalli (main temple).


From the beginning, the Conquest of Mexico by the Spanish showed two aspects : economic for sure, but also religious and cultural.
The virtuous Franciscans came to evangelize the Indians. They started many schools and stood up for the submissive people. Bartolomé de Las Casas, bishop of Chiapas, and the lawyer Francisco de Vitoria were big protectors of this people. Then the Augustinians and Dominicans came to start the spiritual Conquest of the country. The Spanish often built their cities on the site of Indian cities like in Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, Valladolid, Guadalajara, or on the silver road like in Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, Fresnillo, Durango....

The administration

The superior authority was the king of Spain, assisted since 1524, by the Council of India. The viceroy ruled the colony with the support of assistance. The tribunal of Inquisition, without authority upon the Indians, insured the respect of the religion. The archbishops organized the Church. The king of Spain nominated the bishops. The priests were Creole with poor allowances.

The economy

Spain didn’t allowed trade with foreign countries. Many products needed to be bought in Spain. These interdictions favored contraband and piracy. The Spanish introduced a lot of new products cultivated in the haciendas : cattle, workhorses, corn and other cereals, fruits, coffee, sugar cane, cochineal. Europe received from America maize, potatoes, tobacco, avocados, tomato and chocolate among other products. But the Spanish were mostly interested in gold and silver whose production was the most important in the world. The economic activity provoked the construction of big roads, all leading to the capital.


They built schools for the Indigenous children. The first University of America opened in Mexico City in 1553. It was as good as the European Universities but it collapsed at the end of the Colonial period and was supplanted by the School of Mines. New Spain produced many intellectuals and artisans. You can find their works in literature, sciences, architecture and arts.

The reforms of the XVIIIth century

In order to fight the growing power of the Church, the Bourbons of Spain took dispositions to stop the construction of new convents and the admission of novices; they banned the intervention of religious in testaments and obligated them to deposit annuities on lands and buildings to the Royal treasure. Lastly, they evicted the Jesuits from their territories. Some liberal ideas, which led to the Independence of the US or the French revolution, penetrated little by little the Spanish colonies. Many people thought that the reforms should be deeper.


Who are the gachupines ?

Over these three centuries of domination over Mexico, the king of Spain successively nominated sixty two viceroys to govern New Spain. The most famous were Antonio de Mendoza, Luis de Velasco, Revillagigedo and Bucareli who knew how to harmoniously rule this huge country and give all the benefits to Spain. In fact, all the mineral resources and art objects were sent to Spain. In Mexico, the viceroy was assisted with an audiencia, a structure that combined administrative and legal powers. The administrative units were ruled by corregidores or alcades mayore. These public servants were gachupines nominated and sent by Spain, unlike the creoles that were born in Mexico.

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