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Bernal Díaz del Castillo

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Who is Bernal Díaz del Castillo?

Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1492 – ca. 1580) was a conquistador, who wrote an eyewitness account of the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards under Hernán Cortés, himself serving as a rodelero under Cortés. Born in Medina del Campo (Spain), he came from a family of little wealth and he himself had received only a minimal education. He sailed to Tierra Firme in 1514 to make his fortune, but after two years found few opportunities there. Much of the native population had already been killed by epidemics and there was political unrest. So he sailed to Cuba, where he was promised a grant of Indian slaves. But that promise was never fulfilled, leading Díaz, in 1517, to join an expedition being organized by a group of about 110 fellow settlers from Tierra Firme and similarly disaffected Spaniards. They chose Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, a wealthy Cuban landowner, to lead the expedition. It was a difficult venture, and although they discovered the Yucatán coast, by the time the expedition returned to Cuba they were in disastrous shape.

Nevertheless, Díaz returned to the coast of Yucatán the following year, on an expedition led by Juan de Grijalva, with the intent of exploring the newly discovered lands. Upon returning to Cuba, he enlisted in a new expedition, this one led by Hernán Cortés. In this third effort, Díaz took part in one of the legendary military campaigns of history, bringing an end to the Aztec empire in Mesoamerica. During this campaign, Díaz spoke frequently with his companions in arms about their experiences, collecting them into a coherent narration. The book that resulted from this was Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (English: The True History of the Conquest of New Spain). In it he describes many of the 119 battles in which he claims to have participated, culminating in the fall of the Aztec Empire in 1521.

As a reward for his service, Díaz was appointed governor of Santiago de los Caballeros, present-day Antigua Guatemala. He began writing his history in 1568, almost fifty years after the events described, in response to an alternative history written by Cortés's chaplain, who had not actually participated in the campaign. He called his book the Historia Verdadera ("True History"), in response to the claims made in the earlier work.

Díaz died in 1585, without seeing his book published. A manuscript was found in a Madrid library in 1632 and finally published, providing an eye-witness account of the events, often told from the perspective of a common soldier. Today it is one of the most important sources in understanding the campaign that led to the collapse of the Aztec Empire and the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Source:

Books: 30 published

Hometown: Medina del Campo

Fans count: 37 readers

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