The conquest of New Spain

by Bernal Diaz del Castillo, 1496-1584

Book, 1963



Call number

F1230 .D5442


Publisher Unknown


Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1492-1584) was a foot soldier in the army of Mexico's conqueror Hernán Cortés. The first edition of his True History of the Conquest of New Spain (as it was entitled in a later English translation) was published in Madrid in 1632 from a manuscript copy sent to Spain shortly after the author's death. Written in a highly accessible style, and describing the experiences of the troops themselves, the work became even more successful than the official accounts and went through many editions and translations. The two-volume edition reissued here was first published in 1904 and is considered a more reliable text, as it was based on the original manuscript preserved in Guatemala City. Volume 1 contains an introduction by the editor, the influential Mexican historian and book-collector Genaro García (1867-1920), a table of variant readings, and chapters 1-139 of the text.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lmichet
The most intense and exciting historical account I have ever read, and from a perspective I find unusual. As modern postcolonialists, we all look back on conquistadors with scorn and horror. But to get the point of view of a proud conquistador, a man who's actually really good about characterizing
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the mindset of the time, it unbelievably fascinating. Diaz writes in a perfectly ordinary and down-to-earth tone about killing hundreds, toppling governments, plotting secretly, smashing gods, and doing all sorts of absolutely wild and outrageous things. He writes about some things with regret, but about more things with a very satisfied tone, a back-in-those-days-you-would-never-have-guessed-how-magnificent-we-were tone. There's resentment and hatred for Cortes, but also unquestioning loyalty and admiration. There's an unusual attitude towards Montezuma-- the man they kept in a degrading state of imprisonment but respected like an uncle. There's an apocalyptic air about the whole affair: you can feel the sliminess-on-the-skin Diaz felt about watching this whole society crumble around him. And it's an action story, too: battles every other page, sacrifices, magnificent victories, harrowing losses, camaraderie, a Mayan princess, heaps of gold, marvellous characterizations of conquistadors and Aztec lords alike (you'll notice, though, as in Aztec society in general, the commoners are invisible), epic showdowns, legends, the whole thing. Everything seems so incredibly alive. But it's not just blind pride, either: Diaz has a complex relationship to his past that you get the sense he's trying to partially hide. He is very guilty about enslaving certain of the natives and he does seem to really admire the achievements of Aztec civilization, and is sad that they can no longer even be seen-- the temples are burned, the books destroyed, people like Montezuma reduced to puppets.

Anyway, if you like history AT ALL, please read this. It's an essential source when it comes to understanding the subjugation of native Mexico. It's also a damn good story. Read it in tandem with Broken Spears to get both sides of the story, native and Spanish.
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LibraryThing member Miro
Sometimes extraordinary events are recorded by a well placed participant. In this case, Bernal Diaz del Castillo (doubting his literary ability), wrote of the 16th century Spanish discovery and defeat of the Mexican empire in an account that is so compelling that it is difficult to put down.
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basic facts are not disputed and reveal the extraordinary military valour of Cortez and most of his men. He gives weight to existing tribal conflicts, the role of religious beliefs and also illustrates Cortez's manipulative cunning and great love of love of gold, even going as far as cheating his own men.
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LibraryThing member jpsnow
"And so we had morning Mass and headed out to conquer the savages for God and relieve them of their idolic gold." It's a great chronicle, written by a soldier and participant in Cortez's compaign to conquer Mexico. Bernal Diaz lived from 1492 to about 1580. His is the only chronicle written by a
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participant and arguably the most reliable, the others heavily criticized by him and others as modified for political purposes.
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LibraryThing member browsers
This is the book (not this copy, but the Penguin paperback) that got me hooked on the history of the Aztecs and the conquest of Mexico. In fact, this book got me reading history books much more regularly. By far one of the most fascinating events in history, and one of the most interesting
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first-hand accounts written (even if Diaz wasn't even there, as some suppose!) This particular set is spectacular with uncut pages, decorations, illustrations, maps (plates, fold-outs, loose in pockets, and one portfolio of them), heavy paper, full cloth, etc.
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LibraryThing member ben_a
One of the most riveting narratives in all of history.
LibraryThing member kabouter
Intriguing novel (although it shouldn't be considered fiction), by one of Hernan Cortés' soldiers who tells the tale of the conquest of New-Spain (read: Mexico). If gives an image of the lifes of those conquistadores, and the quest for glory (and gold) by the soldiers and their superiors. Although
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the outcome is quite clear from the beginning it is a good read (albeit with a lot of repetitions in the text). That outcome is achieved partly because the Mexicans believed a people would come from where the sun rises and they would later rule them, but also because of the military strength of the Spaniards. It also shows the minds of those early conquistadores, they really thought what they did was good, they didn't think about the consequences... Enslaving indians, no problem, forcing catholicism upon them, no problem...
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LibraryThing member dwhill
An absolutely amazing first-person account of the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish. A must read for anyone interested in the subject.
LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
The history of the Spanish Conquest of the Mexica (Aztec) state is enlivened by this edition and translation of the sixteenth Century memoir by a participant. Bernal Diaz de Castillo was a medium rank officer in that epic struggle, and was driven by his ego and by some legal grudges to add his
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account to the other books covering the period. J.M. Cohen produced a very readable translation, and assures the reader that he has excised a considerable amount of the original text which directly attacks several other historians and which describes the legal maneuvers that some of the original members of Cortes' army were driven to while trying to get their fair share of the booty of the conquest. Bernal Diaz's book provides a great deal of the colour that later historians have relied on. It is a book which a researcher in the field should pay respect to for its coverage. Cohen's introduction and notes are very high quality. Sadly, my Penguin copy does not rise to the luxury of an index, though the mapping is adequate.
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LibraryThing member burritapal
8/13/1521 was the day of the capture of Cuatemoc and the fall of Tenochtitlan.

Bernal del Castillo was a soldier who accompanied Cortes to the land they called new spain. He wrote this book 20 years after he got back from mexico. He, as others have said, must have had an eidetic memory. This book is
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a Marvel of a memoir.

As Bernal del Castillo said himself in his writings, the reader must tire of reading about day after day of endless strife and warfare. This war, Cortes taking Mexico for the king of Spain, Carlos V, he was not going to give up. Because he knew the land was full of silver and gold, and because he wanted to convert all of the Indians to christianity, he refused to give in, though many thousands of his men, and the Indian allies, were wounded and died. Many, many Spaniards were sacrificed to the idols of the indians.

I have a very low opinion of Spain and the conquerors who went to mexico, impoverished the country, stole the culture, forced their cult on the inhabitants, but when I read this part from when they first landed by modern-day Veracruz, it really pissed me off:
"... when we perceived their intentions we were on the point of firing at them, but it pleased God that we agreed to call out to them, and through Julianillo and Melchorejo, who spoke their language very well, we told them that they need have no fear, that we wished to talk to them, for we had things to tell them which when they understood them they would be glad that we had come to their country and their homes. Moreover, we wished to give them some of the things we had brought with us. As they understood what was said to them, four of the canoes came near with about 30 Indians in them, and we showed them strings of green beads and small mirrors and blue cut glass beads, and as soon as they saw them they assumed a more friendly manner, for they thought that they were Chalchihuites [jadeite] which they value greatly."

One part I liked the, is when the conquerors found out that some previously landed Spaniards have been taken prisoners, and were being used as slaves for the Chiefs of some tribes. Cortes used a bunch of those beads for a ransom to try to get them back. They did get one of them back, his name was Jerónimo de Aguilar, and they kept this Guy as a translator throughout the war With Tenochtitlán. As for the other one, his name was Gonzalo Guerrero, and he had married an Indian woman, and had three boys with her. The wife told off Aguilar saying,
" 'what is this slave coming here for talking to my husband - go off with you, and don't trouble us with any more words.' "

The way that Indians observed the Spaniards kneeling before trees they had cut into a cross made me laugh.
"Let us now leave this question of visits and relate that it was now the time of the Ave maria, and at the sound of a bell which we had in the camp we all fell on our knees before a cross placed on a sandhill and said our prayers of the Ave Maria before the cross. When Tendile and Pitalpotoque saw us kneeling as they were very intelligent, they asked what was the reason that we humbled ourselves before a tree cut in that particular way."
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