Title page of an edition of 1632
|Author||Captain Bernal Diaz del Castillo|
|Original title||Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España|
|Subject||Cortés, Hernán, -- 1485-1547.|
Mexico -- History -- Conquest, 1519-1540.
|Published||1800 (Printed for J. Wright, Piccadilly, by John Dean, High Street, Congleton)|
1963 (Penguin Books)
Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (The True History of the Conquest of New Spain) is a first-person narrative written in 1576 by military adventurer, conquistador, and colonist settler Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1492–1581), who served in three Mexican expeditions; those of Francisco Hernández de Córdoba (1517) to the Yucatán peninsula; the expedition of Juan de Grijalva (1518), and the expedition of Hernán Cortés (1519) in the Valley of Mexico; the history relates his participation in the fall of Emperor Moctezuma II, and the subsequent defeat of the Aztec Empire.
In the colonial history of Latin America, it is a military account which historian J.M. Cohen described as establishing Bernal Díaz del Castillo "among chroniclers what Daniel Defoe is among novelists". Late in life, when Díaz del Castillo was 84 years old and living in his encomienda estates in Guatemala, he wrote The True History of the Conquest of New Spain to defend the story of the common-soldier conquistador within the histories about the Spanish conquest of Mexico. He presents his narrative as an alternative to the critical writings of Bartolomé de Las Casas, whose Indian-native histories emphasized the cruelty of the conquest, as well as the histories of the hagiographic biographers of Hernán Cortés (specifically that of Francisco López de Gómara, who Díaz del Castillo believed minimized the role of the 700 enlisted soldiers instrumental to conquering the Aztec Empire). That said, Díaz del Castillo strongly defended the actions of the conquistadors, whilst emphasising their humanity and honesty in his eyewitness narrative, which he summarised as this: "We went there to serve God, and also to get rich."
The history is occasionally uncharitable about Cortés; like other professional soldiers who participated in the Conquest of New Spain, Díaz del Castillo found himself among the ruins of Tenochtitlán only slightly wealthier than when he arrived to Mexico. The land and gold compensation paid to many of the conquistadores proved a poor return for their investment of months of soldiering and fighting across Mexico and the Anahuac Valley.