Cortés kills Narváez at Veracruz, 1520
What if the great conquistador Hernán Cortés decides to kill Pánfilo de Narváez when he defeats him at Cēmpoalātl (Cempoala) in May 1520, instead of taking him prisoner?
Here is the original discussion thread...
After a successful night ambush, Cortés captures Narváez and is overcome with anger as Narváez describes how Cortés is wanted for treason against the Spanish Empire. When his enemy begins to describe how he'll be executed when he's caught, Cortés loses control. He unsheathes his sword and stabs him in the gut. Realizing that Narváez won’t die quickly from his first wound he stabs him a second time with a thrust to the vital organs. Narváez bleeds out and dies shortly thereafter.
His men are shocked; it wasn’t good form to kill a fellow Spaniard in cold blood, especially in response to charges of treason. It's almost like Cortés knows that he is a traitor to the Spanish crown and wanted to stop Narváez from revealing it to everyone else. The unnerving and disheartening nature of these events makes convincing Narváez’s men to follow Cortés to gold and glory a bit more difficult, but they follow him anyway. Cortés leads them back to Tenochtitlan where Alvarado has pissed off the Aztecs by causing a massacre during a religious festivity. On the trip back, though, the memory of murdering Narváez pushes Hernán Cortés to a dark place. He begins to take very seriously a plan that has been knocking around his head for a while: taking the great Indian metropolis for himself instead of taking it for King Carlos. It seems like he’d increase his chances of living if he would just outright rebel against his homeland.
There are so many damn butterflies possible during the events to come that this darker, more rebellious Cortés might not even be as successful as he was in OTL. Take La Noche Triste, for instance, which is coming up fast. The timeline could easily change to “WI Cortés and his men are massacred in 1520?” which we've talked about before. Could this different Cortés decide to take a different route in escaping from Tenochtitlan, perhaps along the north causeway which would involve a longer route through the city, but a safer one and a shorter distance to Tlaxcala on the other side? Perhaps the southern causeway? If they still decide to take the shorter western route out of the city, they could be killed, and it is very likely Alvarado will die. His escape in OTL was very lucky.
Working out the Butterflies
I am estimating that there is a 60% chance Cortés still takes the western causeway, a 30% chance he changes his mind and goes north, and a 10% chance he takes the southern causeway. Using random.org to generate random numbers the result is: OTL decision, Cortés will take the western causeway.
So far so good. Who dies then during La Noche Triste? I think Cortés and the others on horses had a good chance of escaping, they just formed a vanguard party and left the rest of their group to try their luck at making a run for it. There's no reason to butterfly the casualty rate just because Cortés has diverged psychologically from OTL, as he still makes the same escape plans. It was very likely at some point that Aztec sentries would detect their departure. What could be butterflied, however, is who dies. Gonzalo de Sandoval was part of the vanguard, as was Diego de Ordaz and Francisco de Lugo, so they live. Malinche was heavily protected close to the vanguard as well, along with the two priests Father Olmedo and Father Díaz. But what about the others? I don’t want this to become “Cortés Dies during La Noche Triste” so it is a given that he lives during this episode. The other important people are fair game though. I give each of them a 60% chance of survival, much higher than the regular foot soldier’s chance of survival. Using random.org for random numbers… Wow, better than I thought. Pedro de Alvarado perishes, but Velázquez de León, the other captain of the rearguard, survives, a swap of OTL. Also counted amongst the survivors were Alonso de Ávila, Cristóbal de Olid, Martín López, Jerónimo de Aguilar, one of the most skilled horsemen, Lares (unlike OTL), and the astrologer Botello (unlike OTL). Montezuma’s son Chimapopoca still dies, but his sister does not (unlike OTL). I think the most important change in all of this is the death of Alvarado and the survival of Velázquez.
Would we see butterflies in the subsequent Battle of Otumba? I say it is unlikely, though the victory seemed miraculous. The Spanish didn’t do anything especially out of the ordinary, they just launched their cavalry attacks and stayed in a reinforced square formation. Aztec deaths could have been as high as 20,000 out of 40,000. The Spanish really did have a huge advantage with their cavalry. The same events will likely play out here.
By the time Cortés reaches Tlaxcala in this point of the story, there are only a few divergences from OTL. First of all, Hernán Cortés is a little more disturbed and paranoid. His men, especially those that were from the Narváez contingent are even less trusting of their captain-general. Pedro de Alvarado is dead and his position has been given to Velázquez de León. Do the Tlaxcala still push for an alliance? Yes, especially because Velázquez survives. He had a strong relationship with the Tlaxcala after marrying into the local nobility. In the short-term though, there is a strong rebellious streak among the Spanish soldiers. They form around the leadership of Cortés’ business partner, Andrés de Duero, a shrewd man who declares that the best option is to cut their losses, return to Veracruz and reassess their circumstances (as well as turn in Hernán Cortés as a traitor and murderer and establish new leadership for the expedition). Unlike in OTL, they don’t even write a letter expressing their opinions, they come out against him vocally, demanding a retreat.
There is a chance here that Andrés de Duero could have lead a successful mutiny, but Cortés had dealt with rebellion before. The man who burnt his own ships to keep his men motivated has only become more of a megalomaniac. Things get more heated than OTL: there are violent scuffles and some men desert the main group into the jungle, but Cortés establishes order by executing the ringleaders of the rebellion. One of them is Andrés. Cortés will not return to Cuba to face the gallows. He makes his OTL rousing speech about how "fortune favors the bold”, but it is a little less inspirational and a little more damn scary and intimidating.
Things could have gotten worse, but Cortés makes his OTL deal with his men. They’ll launch an offensive with the Tlaxcalans against the Aztec stronghold of Tepeaca, which they would need to anyway in order to return to Veracruz safely, and if it goes well, they’ll continue on their conquest. It sounds reasonable enough; the soldiers really have no reason not to follow through with it, and they might just get to bring some gold back with them to Veracruz after the battle. Any plans for a mutiny are kept dormant until after Tepeaca is taken. On the first of August the Spanish host with two thousand Tlaxcalan warriors depart to the southwest for another battle against the Aztecs.
Map of Cortés' Route through Mesoamerica, April - November 1519
All of this happened in our timeline as well as this timeline. Hopefully it will help readers identify where everything is located in relation to each other.
Retribution from Cuba?
No, not yet. How could the Spanish authorities on Cuba figure out so quickly that Cortés had killed Narváez? La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, the settlement that Cortés had founded and which provided him resupply was under the command of a trusted captain, Alonso Caballero, who in OTL at least twice lured unsuspecting groups of Spanish into the port only to arrest them at sword-point and send them overland under guard to Cortés so that they could be utilized. Caballero had control of that vital information, and wouldn’t let it filter out so easily to the Caribbean. He is, after all, still competing for gold and glory with his brothers Hernando and Diego who are involved with the government in Santo Domingo. To give up now on this expedition would mean going back to Santo Domingo empty-handed and Alonso Caballero would rather take the risk that Hernán Cortés would make him rich. He keeps the information to himself, so that by even September 1520 Governor Velázquez of Cuba is still in the dark.
In the weeks after the murder of Narváez, Velázquez sends a henchman of his named Pedro Barba to Vera Cruz to reinforce the expedition. Alonso Caballero lures them into the port, pretending to be part of the Narváez group, but when the moment is right he and his men holds them up and takes away their weapons. Barba and thirteen soldiers, a stallion and a mare, are sent westwards to the General Hernán Cortés. Pedro Barba and his men don't ask many questions, and luckily enough for Cortés they declare their loyalty to his expedition when they get to him (as in OTL).
Cortés doesn’t get so lucky with the next group. It is another supply ship from Cuba and it is loaded with much needed cordage for fabricating crossbow strings. Its captain and fourteen soldiers are commandeered by Alonso Caballero and before they can be marched off to the west, they learn that Narváez was brutally killed by Cortés. Halfway to Cortés’ camp, fearing that they will also be executed by Cortés, the captain and five soldiers try to make a run for it. Two men are killed by the guards, the rest disappear into the jungle and are never seen again.
Similar incidents happen once or twice afterwards with other press-ganged Spanish men, unlike in OTL. Almost all of the supplies meant for Narváez make it to Cortés’ camp, thanks to Alonso’s loyalty, but not all of its men. Rumors keep on spreading that Cortés is paying only lip service to the Spanish crown, and will kill anyone who wants to make a big deal about it. The rumors prove absolutely true. To most it doesn’t bother them… don’t all conquistadors pay only lip service to Spain? Maybe, but most aren’t planning a declaration of independence from the Spanish Empire.
Still, Governor Velázquez can do nothing to inform King Carlos V of Cortés’ killing of Narváez, because every time he sends a ship to figure out what is going on, no one returns. After October 1520 he begins to suspect the worse, that either Cortés or the natives have destroyed Narváez’ expedition, but even if he could confirm these hunches, bad weather will prevent a ship from sailing to Spain until March 1521. As such, at this time no one in the Spanish Empire is aware of the events occurring in the lands of the Mexica.
And, by the way, there is no second letter from Hernán Cortés to King Carlos V on October 30, 1520. In his mind, he's already passed the point of no return. It isn’t even worth the effort to act as if he is loyal to the crown… Cortés won't write a letter to a man he is sure is already mustering an army against him. This means that from August 1521 on, when Carlos would have been somewhat reassured of Cortés’ loyalty by such a letter, he isn’t ITTL, and that’s when trouble starts.
Tepeaca and La Segura de la Frontera
Cortés and his men take Tepeaca as easily as in OTL. He also lets his Tlaxcalan allies raze, plunder, and kill as many of their enemies as they want. The bloodshed is so terrible that it sickens even the Spanish, who had already caused a number of massacres themselves. Staring out over the carnage and recognizing fear and distrust on his men’s faces, Hernán Cortés realizes something important. If he is really going to go through with this and become the Emperor of the Mexica, he’s got to start depending on the natives. The visions of good Spanish families filling empty Aztec cities are gone. That won’t be possible now. It is the last massacre he impassively turns a blind eye to. After all, Alvarado had massacred the natives in cold blood and what had happened? God had the Spaniards punished, nearly destroyed during La Noche Triste. Cortés needed the favor of the Lord to survive here in this kingdom that would be his, among these people who he would make good Christians. No more massacres. It’s already established that he is willing to execute any Spaniard who complains, so it’s no big deal to issue a new rule from the increasingly authoritarian Hernán Cortés: you kill enough innocent Indians in cold blood and you’ll be taken into the jungle and executed. That would apply to the Tlaxcalans, too, as soon as he could talk to Maxixcatzin and the other Tlaxcalan leaders. There’s no problem with taking slaves or looting conquests, but no killing innocents and certainly no cannibalism. As he is pondering all of this, he forgets to go through with his plan to brand the faces of the prisoners of war taken at Tepeaca. That bit of history doesn’t happen ITTL.
The edict doesn't put an end to tragedy and barbarity among the Spanish, but the large massacres don't happen. When Cortés is presented with two thousand men from the city of Quechula, which surrendered before the army of Cristobal de Olid, Cortés doesn't have them lined up and killed. Instead they are made into slaves. The other similar massacres at Acapetlahuacan, Izucar, and Tecamacalco do not happen, even though many are killed in battle, taken into slavery, and the Tlaxcalans do grab some innocent civilians on the sly to be sacrificially cannibalized. The Spanish still create a terrible reputation for themselves in the surrounding region, but the edge of such terror is taken off, and that will be very important in the future.
Tepeaca is renamed La Segura de la Frontera and it becomes Cortés’ base of operations. His next priority is to take control of the surrounding region in order to cut Tenochtitlan off from the eastern sea. His men take few casualties, especially now that smallpox is tearing through the region weakening all of his enemies. Gold, slaves, and other treasures begin to fill the treasury at former Tepeaca, and there is much more of it now that Cortés has stopped sending the Royal Fifth back east. The allegiance of the Spanish under Cortés’ control is assured once more, though there are still mutinous whispers if you make friends in the right circles.
While this is underway, supplies come in from Veracruz. This includes 180 new Spanish soldiers (instead of 192), 21 horses, weapons and ammunition, and five ships, three of which had belonged to Francisco de Garay, the current governor of Jamaica. What to do with the ships? Some suggest Cortés send back treasure and men to Santo Domingo in order to convince the colonial government of his. They could also buy needed supplies, horses, and advertise the wealth of the Mexica’s empire in order to attract more volunteers. Cortés says no. He was becoming ever more paranoid. In his mind, the ships would be confiscated along with any men and treasure he would send with it and used against him.
Instead, the three ships that are Garay’s a beached and stripped of valuables. The other four ships in Cortés’ possession are sent to Jamaica. The men purchase what horses, mares, weapons and ammunition they can from Governor Garay himself. They have a lot of treasure, but Jamaica doesn’t have a whole lot to sale. Garay at some point comes into contact with the crew and notices that some were part of his colonial projects up north, he demands to know what they are doing in Jamaica. The captains lie to him that his colony was attacked by natives and all of his ships lost at sea in a storm. They picked up the few survivors. Still, one sailor manages to get a short conversation in with Garay: the Spanish have resorted to cannibalism in Mexico, Cortés has sworn an oath to worship heathen gods and any Spanish vessel that approaches Vera Cruz is overtaken by the rebels. As soon as the ships leave Governor Garay writes a wordy letter to Governor Velázquez. The letter gets to Havana in November 1520. Unfortunately, the ship bearing the letter also has some Aztec gold that traded hands and the sailors are excited to share rumors of cities filled with treasure on the mainland. It causes plenty of unrest in Cuba: yeah, Velázquez says that Cortés is a monster that has sold his soul to the Devil, but there’s money to be made! Some independent conquistadores leave for Vera Cruz soon after hoping to get a slice of the Aztec pie for themselves.
Nervous Laughs in Tlaxcala
It's December. After a showy ceremony in Tlaxcala in which Xicotenga the Elder and his son are baptized as Christians, Hernán Cortés takes the aged, blind elder of the Tlaxcala nation aside and, through Jerónimo de Aguilar and Malinche, communicates that he is disappointed with the Tlaxcalan soldiers that have been serving alongside his men. They’ve been eating innocent human beings. Xicotenga frowns. "So what?" he thinks. Cortés angrily tells him that now that he is a Christian, he has got to put an end to the ritual cannibalism among the Tlaxcalan warriors or the Christ God will strike them all down before they can get to Tenochtitlan. Looting and slaving is fine, but cannibalism is out.
Xicotenga the Elder is frustrated. He didn't think his new faith would come with restrictions. But, he passes the information along to the other chiefs and generals. They are even more shocked and baffled by Cortés' request. Put an end to cannibalism? Eating one’s enemies was a way to show gratitude to the gods. Even ignoring possible divine wrath, how could they ever convince their warriors to put an end to such an important tradition? Some of the generals tell their men and it leads to uneasiness. Many Tlaxcalans decide to sit out on whatever campaign the Spanish are planning which doesn't involve cannibalism. Other generals tell their soldiers that the rule is actually "No cannibalism in front of Spaniards". Other generals just flat-out don’t communicate the new rules to their armies. But word gets around. It is somewhat demoralizing to the Tlaxcalans, but they are already in too deep in this war against the Mexica. They’ve got to follow through with this alliance with the Spanish or face retribution later.
Some time afterward, Cortés speaks in private with Chichimecatecle, who has been selected to lead the Tlaxcalans in the coming offensive against Tenochtitlan, following HIS baptism. The Spanish want more order among his warriors, and if any of them are found eating or sacrificing the innocent or causing unnecessary chaos amongst the enemy, Chichimecatecle is to put them to death or the Spanish will do it for them. Chichimecatecle is pro-Spanish and a friend, but this is a challenging demand. Fortunately for Cortés, this Tlaxcalan general will uphold the new edict… but he’ll only execute those that have overwhelming evidence against them. In reality, it cuts down considerably on cannibalism and wanton destruction from the Tlaxcalans, but does not outright remove it.
Meanwhile, Hernán Cortés reviews his troops. They look fine, but they have very little in gunpowder. He has eight efficient field guns (instead of nine in OTL), and out of the 520 Spanish foot soldiers mustered, eighty are harquebusiers and crossbowmen. By this point, there are 30 Spaniards missing from Cortés group in comparison to OTL. These were either executed following the Duero mutiny, deserted into the jungle, were hung because they killed too many innocent natives in broad daylight, or have been killed in combat where they wouldn’t have been in OTL due to the debilitating effects of low morale. At least none of the harquebuses or crossbows has been lost. It should be noted that those counted among the dead include all of the captains of Narváez’ expedition, to the dismay of many who had beforehand been under their authority. They just couldn’t stop talking about how much they wanted to return to Santo Domingo… There are thirty-eight ready cavalrymen instead of forty IOTL. Morale has increased since they had last gathered in Tlaxcala following La Noche Triste: the men had gold and slaves again and Cortés’ host had claimed the eastern half of Mexico for "Spain". Yeah, their commander was crazy and scary and getting crazier and scarier, but, other than that, what was there to be upset about? At least he was a military genius.
The Spanish are now ready to begin the first phase of their offensive against Tenochtitlan. They would march up the mountains to Texcoco, one of the cities of the Triple Alliance. The Spanish hosts along with their Tlaxcalan allies are assembled in the central square of Tlaxcala and Hernán Cortés bellows out a fine speech which is translated by Malinche to Nahuatl. “The principal reason for us coming to these parts is to glorify and preach the Faith of Jesus Christ, even though at the same time it brings us honor and profit, which infrequently come in the same package.” So far perfectly OTL. But later on something is different. Instead of claiming that in marching against the Mexica they are “punishing rebellious vassals of Spain”, Cortés instead says that the reason is to “punish the murderers of Spanish citizens and the bloodthirsty tyrants of Mexico”. In fact, not once does he mention King Carlos, Spain, or even Castile. He says the word “Spanish” a lot, that these lands belong “to the Spanish”, but there is no mention of the crown. It is much more directed towards the natives than in OTL and makes up for the demoralizing restriction against their cannibalistic tradition. The Mexica aren’t evil because they are rebellious against the Spanish crown, they are evil because they have ruled unjustly. The Spanish aren’t the good guys because they are the legal authorities in the land, but because they are followers of Jesus Christ.
He then finishes this speech up by laying down a few ground rules. No blaspheming, no quarreling, no wagering away your horse or weapon, no raping the women, no overburdening yourself with treasure, no killing the innocent, follow the Ten Commandments, yada yada yada let’s go to Texcoco! At least, that’s how it would have happened in OTL. ITTL, Cortés stops for a moment and then shouts “…or you’ll be hung!” There’s whoops and hollers like in OTL, but ITTL some of the warriors just laugh nervously or stare at the ground.
The Devil is So in the Details: Yep, here's a summary of the first month and a half of the Siege of Tenochtitlan
By now you should have noticed that while there were some possible significant butterflies that could have happened during La Noche Triste, at least from a strategic point of view, by the time Cortés gets to Tlaxcala with Martín López, there’s really nothing stopping him from following his OTL strategy. Pacifying the eastern Mexica while building up his forces for a general siege of Tenochtitlan, sending López to build a secret fleet of brigantines… it's obviously the best plan Cortés could formulate. It should be said, though, that there is a delay in certain things: slightly fewer men, fewer horses, less ammunition and a more paranoid Hernán Cortés means a few more days of planning and training. Instead of leaving Tlaxcala on December 26 Cortés decides to wait until New Year’s Day.
The five hundred Spanish and the ten thousand Tlaxcalans head west, climbing the mountains that separates Tlaxcala from the Valley of Mexico. They arrive in Coatepec unmolested. Cortés is visited by Ixtlilxochitl, the brother of Coanocochtzin the current king of Texcoco, as in OTL, who offers his allegiance to Cortés in return for his brother’s throne. Later, as the host approaches Texcoco, scouts return bearing news of peaceful chieftains who wish to surrender the city. Cortés was suspicious of subterfuge at this point and ITTL he will be even more so, but he receives them. They report that King Coanocochtzin desires an alliance with the Spanish. Right… well, if Coanocochtzin wants an alliance so bad, why don’t they send him a huge charitable offering of Aztec gold? The messengers shrug and say that if they come into the city they can talk it over with their king. Now Cortés is sure it is a trap. He takes the messengers hostage and sends more scouts into the city to see what they can find. In OTL they just barged in that day.
When they do cautiously enter Texcoco on January 7, instead of a trap, Hernán Cortés and his men find a ghost town. No sign of Coanocochtzin either. What happened? If they had been there a day earlier, they would have sighted the exodus of the city’s populace towards Tenochtitlan. The rage Cortés would have felt at being deceived would have led him to brand and enslave the small remainder of the populace and burn down some random buildings. Here he is disappointed, but more mystified than angry. Where the hell did everyone go? How could he base his invasion out of Texcoco without any people in it to supply his troops? Natives are still enslaved, the city is still looted for food, idols are smashed, but at least there is no burning or branding. The next day the lords of three nearby tribute towns (that had also been evacuated) arrive at the city to beg forgiveness of Cortés. They had been forced by the Mexica to abandon their homes, and now they wanted an alliance. Cortés communicates something like: Sure thing, just get back to your homes and supply my troops! Not everyone comes back, but many do, unwilling to spend another day in the woods and hillsides. A few days later Cortés finds Ixtlilxochitl and makes him Texcoco’s puppet ruler.
What doesn’t get burned down? Well, two beautiful palaces that contain the royal archives of Texcoco. Many priceless maps, codices and genealogical records are thus preserved for historical examination. Good stuff, right?
Hernán Cortés finds himself in complete control of Texcoco without a single battle. Slaves are instructed to begin the expansion of the canals that will be needed to launch the brigantines that will be built here. Unfortunately, the people of the city are only able to supply the soldiers for so long. After eleven days, the Tlaxcalans are complaining that they will begin to starve. Cortés decides that they need to launch a raid against Tenochtitlan for the purpose of stealing food and treasure. Their target will be Iztapalapa, a satellite of Tenochtitlan, most of which was built on stilts over the lake. Cortés, ever more paranoid, brings 200 Spanish soldiers and 8,000 Tlaxcalans and Texcocans for the raid, more than in OTL. They face minor opposition in the beautiful waterborne city of Iztapalapa… it is easy to take, almost too easy. Then Cortés notices that the ground at his feet begins to fill with water. It was a trap! The Mexica had opened the dike of Nezhualcoyotl, sending salt water pouring into Iztapalapa. They were going to sink the city in order to drown Cortés inside of it.
Cortés came close to disaster at this part in OTL. Had we butterflied his realization that the city was sinking just an hour or two later, they all might have been drowned. Cortés is, however, as we mentioned, more paranoid here and comes to this realization even sooner. He leads a rapid retreat back to Texcoco. There are two less Spanish casualties and a horse is saved, but quite a few more Tlaxcalan ones because of their increased numbers. More of the gunpowder is saved. Otherwise, the raid wasn’t very successful: little supplies came about because of it. At least they got out alive. In the long-term though, it is a victory for the enemies of the Mexica. All throughout the valley it is declared that Cortés sunk Iztapalapa! What destructive power! Emperor Cuauhtémoc slaps his forehead and makes a formal declaration that it was HE, in fact, which had sunk Iztapalapa, but that doesn't do much for his PR. You did what to your own city? Without killing a single Spaniard? FAIL.
Food problems in Texcoco soon come to an end, though. Messengers arrive reporting the advance of a major Mexican force on four villages loyal to the Spanish. Hernán Cortés, Cristóbal de Olid and Velázquez de León leave with a force of two-hundred-and-fifty to defend the villages and realize that the Mexica are there to take the large maize plantations that are ready to harvest. Tenochtitlan is starving as well, after all, with all of those refugees. The Mexica are defeated and Cortés promises that forever after the villages can depend on the Spanish to defend their plantations. This is a huge strategic victory because later on, when Texcoco runs short on food, they merely send for maize from these villages which supplies them amply.
On Cortés’ return messengers from Chalco are there to inform him that they will swear allegiance to Cortés if he could liberate their city from the Mexican garrison that had been built there. Cortés sends his second-in-command, Gonzalo de Sandoval there in order to win a new ally. Aztec foot soldiers meet Sandoval on the open plains and are easily stricken down by the Spanish cavalry. A force of Tlaxcalans are left to guard and maintain control of the city, about 1,000 more than in OTL. Sandoval and Lugo return to Texcoco with the son of Chalco’s deceased emperor as a spoil of war. Cortés performs the acts of inauguration himself for the young prince and declares him the lord of Chalco, Tlamanalco, and Ayotzingo (in OTL, there were two princes, but… butterflies).
There are a lot of Mexican prisoners of war by now and not a lot of food to go around. Instead of sending some of them to Cuauhtémoc in order to suggest peace as happened in OTL they are divided up among the Spaniards as slaves. Once again, we see how distrustful of others Cortés has become.
As soon as Sandoval returns to Texcoco, Cortés orders him to lead a small force to Tlaxcala in order to check on the progress of the brigantines, which should be on their way by now. Cortés is more rushed than before due to his later start on his campaign: Sandoval is not to march through Zultepec which has a small Mexica garrison. They’ll destroy them later. Sandoval finds Martín López already on his way over the mountains with fifty-thousand Tlaxcalan porters bearing food, supplies, and the planks and timber shaped for assembly into brigantines. They arrive in Texcoco on February 16 and immediately begin putting together the ships in the channels previously dug in the vicinity of the city. The plan was to roll out the brigantines all on the same day and thus catch the Aztecs in surprise that they will attack Tenochtitlan by naval assault. Cortés orders Martín López to finish the assembly of the ships in fifteen days; in the meantime, he will lead a force to the other side of the lake in order to conduct reconnaissance and perhaps see if an ally could be made out of Tlacopan.
Let’s review the divergences so far:
- Though there was a six-day delay on the campaign and they spend a day outside of Texcoco where in OTL they didn't, by February 16 we are effectively aligned back with OTL as the brigantines arrive only a day later and this event kind of guides Cortés’ strategy from there on.
- Texcoco is being ruled by Ixtlilxochitl as a puppet leader from the very beginning. Much less of Texcoco was burned down by the Spanish and people there are a little less terrified of them, which can be good and can be bad. Ixtlilxochitl is a better leader than the two boy-kings which would have been put on the throne in OTL, so all in all Texcoco is a happier place all-around.
- Many more Tlaxcalans are left in Chalco to protect it than in OTL, and the possessions of Chalco are ruled by a single son of the deceased emperor, rather than two. This means a little more stability.
- A few hundred more Tlaxcalan casualties from the raid on Iztapalapa. Also, the Tlaxcalans are behaving themselves much better. They are more demoralized than in OTL… Cortés speech was good and all, but still no authorized cannibalism and some of them are in fact hung when they do without being careful.
- Zultepec and the surrounding region has yet to be fully pacified unlike in OTL where it was. The Spanish just haven’t had the time to formally force them to submit. At least it's not very strategically important.
- While more gunpowder was saved at Iztapalapa and one less horse was lost, Cortés force is still slightly smaller, less motivated and has less supplies compared to OTL. Effectively it hasn’t caused too many problems, as Cortés sends out even more men in his offensives than in OTL, leaving fewer behind to hold Texcoco… but eventually it will catch up to him.
- Less burning and raping and killing of innocents than in OTL, though there wouldn't have been too much of that by February 15. The divergences this creates will grow larger eventually.
- No peace overtures to Cuauhtémoc and no return of prisoners of war means quite a few more slaves to put to work in Texcoco.
Trouble in Tlacopan and Texcoco
Hernán Cortés will be at the head of the army to take Tlacopan; he had been sitting in Texcoco long enough waiting for the return of Gonzalo de Sandoval. He does delay leaving Texcoco for five days though, and with an army of 30,000 Tlaxcalans (the higher end of the 15,000 to 30,000 he is reported to have taken in OTL). They take the northern route around the lake, which takes them at first to the city of Xaltocán. There's really not much room for butterflies here: They take the city and what gold and valuable goods they can find, but ITTL they burn only a few military-related structures rather than the majority of the city.
For the next few days Cortés takes his army around the northern headland of Lake Xaltocán and finds one more abandoned city after the next. The inhabitants have fled in advance. Most residents have taken refuge in Tlacopan, the same city that Cortés intends to take. In OTL Cortés went to take Tlacopan at this point in order to initiate diplomacy with Cuauhtémoc and perhaps punish the residents for their participation in La Noche Triste. Here, his motivation is instead purely strategic: Tlacopan does have, after all, the shortest causeway into Tenochtitlán. The Aztecs are waiting for their arrival and have prepared a number of ditches in order to deny the Spanish their cavalry advantage. It doesn’t change much, though: the Mexica ranks are still broken up and Cortés leads his army into the abandoned city center and lodges them in the large houses there.
When Cortés wakes up the following morning, it is to hollers and whoops of Indians, and he fears an attack, especially when he smells smoke in the air. What was going on? His subordinates look up at him fearfully… the, uh, Tlaxcalans are burning the city. The temptation had been too much for them, this was, after all, one of the great cities of the Triple Alliance and an ancient enemy of the Tlaxcalans. They hadn’t been able to burn Texcoco down, at least Tlacopan would suffice. What would Cortés do? Well, Cortés is pissed. He goes to Chichimecatecle and tells him to order his men to cease and desist. Chichi is reluctant. Yeah he's Christian now, and he had agreed to punish those of his men who cannibalize their victims, but this was Tlacopan! Chichimecatecle tries to argue the point, but Cortés will not have it. He takes a group of Spaniards, goes to the nearest shrine that is being burnt down, and orders his men to arrest the nearest Tlaxcalans that are involved. The arrest order turns into an attack order and it doesn’t take long for Tlaxcalan warriors to start shouting, “Castile has betrayed us! The Spanish have allied themselves with Tlacopan!” Bedlam ensues.
Chichimecatecle has had his hand forced. It would be suicide for them to kill the Spanish now; it would destroy the entire anti-Mexica alliance they had been building around the Valley of Mexico. He decides to do whatever it takes to take control of his men. Throughout the morning he leads his captains throughout the city to convince the Tlaxcalans to not attack the Spanish and to stop burning the city. In the end, the two sides come back together when the Aztecs show up to take advantage of the chaos. But the consequences are terrible. Nearly a hundred Tlaxcalan warriors have been killed, with many more wounded. Many of the Spanish had also been wounded; though none killed (they had the element of surprise). Many Tlaxcalans start thinking something like: Yeah, the Spanish were really cool guys and all, helping them take out the Mexica, but the deaths of a hundred countrymen are a little much.
Cortés had wanted to lead a raid along the causeway into Tenochtitlán and perhaps see if he could find some of the treasure they had abandoned there (what was he thinking? It’s been almost a year, the Aztecs have cleaned up all traces of La Noche Triste by now), but now it seems the best thing to do is to return to Texcoco and forget the whole thing ever happened. They spend another two days in the city, looting but definitely not burning anything, repelling a few Mexica raids here and there, and then they make their way back around the lake to Texcoco. Cortés thus avoids an OTL battle on the causeway that would have lost him several Spanish soldiers, but would have also educated him considerably on the danger of fighting on the causeways without the support of brigantines.
When Cortés and the Tlaxcalans pass Xaltocán, they are met by a small band of Tlaxcalans and a Spanish page. The page reports that there has been an insurrection in Texcoco. It almost happened in OTL, in which a soldier tipped off Cortés that a mutiny had been planned on his return which involving nearly all of the Spaniards that had been left there. Here, there are only 200 rebellious Spaniards instead of 300, thanks to greater fear of repercussion, and with worse leadership: the ringleaders like Antonio de Villafaña who IOTL led the mutiny have already been singled out and hung in the last few months. But they are much more motivated to abandon ship due to Cortés’ increasingly totalitarian and treasonous manner. They managed to isolate Cortés second-in-command Gonzalo de Sandoval and have him assassinated. In the resulting chaos, the mutineers prepared their things, took as much treasure as they could and five horses, and left Texcoco for the quickest route to Veracruz. The remaining loyal Spaniards, only thirty strong and led by Andrés de Tapia, do not dare pursue them with so few.
When Hernán Cortés finally arrives at Texcoco after marching his troops hard through the night, the mutinous Spanish are already three days gone. The Texcocans and the Tlaxcalans are stunned with the recent turn of events: they needed the Spanish in order to keep the Mexica from delivering retribution, and now the Spanish were divided amongst themselves. They would help of course, in any way possible. Among the Tlaxcalan warriors, news is told of the deaths at Tlacopan. "See?" Some say, "That’s what happens when you give up cannibalism!" To Cortés his biggest worry is for Martín López. Is the shipbuilder still alive? Yes, López survived, but since the mutiny work on the brigantines has ceased.
If you thought the earlier divergences were interesting, this one is the biggest so far. Cortés is enraged at his poor luck... if Sandoval had just been able to keep the men in line for another week or two, they could have launched the brigantines on schedule and taken the city by summertime. Now there was one more delay to this assault. Cortés would have to do what he always did when there were other Spanish soldiers in Mexico that didn’t heed his command: he would seek them out and eliminate them. Velázquez de León is promoted to second-in-command, and he is ordered to sit tight in Texcoco, oversee the continued assembly of the brigantines with eighty Spanish soldiers and keep the Tlaxcalans and Texcocans under control. Hernán Cortés and Cristóbal de Olid will ride out with all but two of the horses to punish the mutineers. May God have mercy on them all.
The Battle of La Segura de la Frontera
Two hundred mutinous conquistadores have left Texcoco and are marching to the coast with Cortés hot on their tails. They are led by Leonel de Cervantes, a Castilian noble who in OTL was a supporter of Cortés, but wanted to return home to bring back his seven daughters to wed the other conquistadores. He is worried about his landholdings and fears that he may never return to them under Cortés' leadership. Other leaders include Gonzalo de Mexia and Pedro de Briones who in OTL would have rebelled years later. The group has only five horses, so they don’t move as fast as Cortés’ group which has thirty horses. By the time the mutineers get to Tlaxcala, Cortés has made up good time and is right behind them, perhaps a day's march. Cervantes stays long enough in Tlaxcala to steal some food and loses a few soldiers in the ensuing battle, then orders the Spaniards onward in the direction of La Segura de la Frontera. Why take the southern route instead of the northern? The rebels desire the allegiance of Francisco de Orozco and his men at La Segura which would give them a decisive advantage over Cortés. Cervantes assumes a battle is inevitable. When Hernán Cortés and Cristóbal de Olid arrive in Tlaxcala, the city is in chaos. It is suspected that the Spanish have betrayed the Tlaxcalans. There is a scuffle with the soldiers of Cortés and it takes some hours before it can be successfully communicated that the Spaniards who ransacked the city were deserters.
Cortés knows he has lost his advantage by nightfall. He could continue the chase and catch the mutineers on the open road, but he is cautious. He doesn’t think he can deal with the mutineers the same way he did with Narváez, that is, with diplomacy then deception. He pleads with Xicotenga the Elder to give him five thousand men in order to bring the rebellion to an end. The Tlaxcalan leadership is pissed. There are a few Tlaxcalans with Cortés’ group, and one of them leaks the news of the brawl the Tlaxcalans had with Cortés at Tlacopan. The alliance with the Castilians is proving quite expensive. But it is an investment that they’ve already committed to. No one in Tlaxcala wants to fight the rebel Spanish, and almost all of the experienced Tlaxcalan warriors are already occupying various cities in the Valley of Mexico. Nonetheless, they supply Cortés with food and 2,000 warriors… they better get back to Texcoco soon, though, it wouldn’t take much to destroy everything the Spanish-Tlaxcala alliance has been working for.
In two days Cortés is outside of La Segura de la Frontera with 2,000 Tlaxcalans, 230 Spanish soldiers and 30 horses. The rebels have indeed taken over the settlement and have prepared for a siege. Francisco de Orozco and a few other men are held hostage by Cervantes. Scouts report something strange: the mutineers swelled in numbers! There are nearly 330 Spaniards with 25 horses waiting to do battle with them! The only explanation is that the mutineers had co-opted some reinforcements from Veracruz. Cortés is not so sure now that he will be able to seize victory. Two messengers are sent in with the flag of truce in order to negotiate the surrender of the mutineers. Unlike Narváez, Cervantes orders the imprisonment of the messengers. The only way they’d be subdued would be by battle. More messengers are sent, but they too are captured. Cortés’ hand is forced. The mutineers have the advantage of the fortifications of La Segura, as well as its cannons and now more Spanish soldiers than Cortés and roughly the same number of horses. The only advantage Cortés has is the host of Tlaxcalan warriors. As usual, Cortés waits until night for a surprise attack, but the men under Cervantes are a little bit more careful than Narváez was. They have many sentries awake waiting for an attack. The Tlaxcalans and Spanish cavalry surge into La Segura and a massacre begins. The artillery is put to effective use, but the overwhelming numbers of the Tlaxcalans are more advantageous still. They soak up casualties and keep the mutineers on their feet even when Cortés orders tactical retreats.
Leonel de Cervantes knew about Cortés’ cavalry advantage and so prepared his men with a great number of pikes. Eight horses from both sides are killed in the fighting. The Tlaxcalans take hundreds dead. The Spanish on both sides take more casualties than they have in any battle for months: nearly thirty dead and many more wounded. Still, Cortés pulls out another victory. The rebels surrender. Leonel de Cervantes, Gonzalo de Mexia, and Pedro de Briones and twelve other leaders are executed and all other enemy combatants are imprisoned.
Hernán Cortés discovers that the mutineers allied themselves with a group of 70 Spaniards that arrived in La Segura just a day before them. They are adventurers and treasure-hunters from Hispaniola that came to Veracruz looking to join Cortés’ expedition to take the fabled El Dorado, the City of Gold. They brought with them twenty horses, four of which are now dead. At this point in time in OTL, Cortés’ supporters did indeed send 200 Spanish soldiers and 60 horses, however ITTL, Cortés has made very little effort to contact Santo Domingo and advertise his campaign, so the people that arrive aren’t organized, just self-interested profiteers who came following rumors. Many of these men are pardoned by Cortés, as they had been deceived by Cervantes and the other rebellious leaders. So, too, are pardoned the majority of the men of La Segura de la Frontera who were forced to join the mutiny once Orozco was put in chains. Indeed, it is probable that these 130 men who were in the wrong place in the wrong time contributed to the success of the Cortés loyalists due to their lack of motivation in the battle.
Cortés is quick to pardon others as well, knowing his campaign in Tenochtitlan needs as much personnel as possible. He keeps all of their names noted however, to keep an eye on them. All of those who participated in the rebellion in Texcoco are given lashes and have their gold taken away, but only 60 will be hauled back to Tlaxcala in chains. Cortés reinstates Francisco de Orozco as the commander of La Segura de la Frontera and leaves 40 soldiers with them, most of them wounded invalids.
At Tlaxcala, a few days later, Cortés gives to Xicotenga the Elder a sign of his loyalty and trust: the 60 mutinous conquistadores are to be imprisoned by the Tlaxcalans. Cortés repeats that they may not be sacrificed or in any way killed, but otherwise the Tlaxcalans can do with them as they would. To prevent collaboration among the prisoners, Xicotenga divides the prisoners in groups of six and sends each group to different cities in the Tlaxcalan Confederation. Many will die in the following imprisonment, a few will be sacrificed to the gods, some will thrive and marry Tlaxcalan women, but most will just languish in miserable Indian jails for a year or more. Being a prisoner is far from enjoyable. Tlaxcalans love to strip the Spaniards of their clothes and stuff them into small wooden cages. In this way they are paraded around the various villages and pelted with rocks, rotten fruit and feces. The message many Tlaxcalans want to make in doing so (far from Cortés' eyes) is “Look, the Spanish are humans, too! They aren’t gods! They can bleed and die just like us.” In a few instances, the European prisoners will teach the Tlaxcalans about wheels, gunpowder, horsemanship, Spanish steel, tactics… but this influence is negligible. There's little real improvements to Tlaxcalan society because of this.
Hernán Cortés makes his return to Texcoco in late March with 450 Spanish soldiers and another 10,000 Tlaxcalan warriors. Spanish forces at Texcoco are now at 530 soldiers and 48 horses. The new arrivals brought with them much needed new weapons, ammunition, and supplies from the Spanish Caribbean. It somewhat makes up for the terrible mutiny, but at this point in OTL Cortés’ position was much stronger. They arrive at Texcoco just in time to hear news of a Mexican army that is marching on Chalco.
The Siege of Tenochtitlan
An army of the Mexica 20,000 strong marches on Chalco. Velázquez de Leon is sent to defend the city with an army of Tlaxcalans. He is there several days and helps repels the Mexica, returning to Cortés with a score of Mexican prisoners. Cortés interrogates them and convinces a few to go to Tenochtitlan with peace overtures to Cuauhtémoc to end the war and become his vassals. This is the first time he has done so ITTL, unlike OTL. The losses from the mutiny have forced this crueler, more determined Cortés to do so. But it affects the war in no way whatsoever, like OTL.
Easter Sunday is celebrated on March 31 in Texcoco, and is followed soon afterwards by news of another Aztec attack on Chalco. Cortés takes a force of 300 Spaniards and 25 horsemen to Chalco and arrives to find that the Mexica have already attacked, and that the Tlaxcalan garrison along with the Chalca and other nearby peoples gathered to defend the city themselves from the offensives of Cuauhtémoc. Unfortunately, they have also begun rather openly practicing their ritual cannibalism. Cortés is smart enough to know that one more attack on the Tlaxcala to punish them for this would probably mean outright rebellion, and he’s had enough of that. He turns a blind eye to the practice. (As an aside: What if he doesn’t ignore the carnage? He turns on the Tlaxcala in Chalco and thus loses his alliance with the Tlaxcala. The result is probably the destruction of the Spanish army in Mexico…)
Instead, Cortés marches swiftly towards Xochimilca on the south side of the lake with a force of 20,000 Texcocans and Chalca. It turns out to be a much more difficult conquest than he expected. At first things go well, the Spanish with their Indian allies forge across the causeway to the city (which is on an island a half-mile from the shoreline) and capture Xochimilca very quickly. However, in the evening the Mexica arrive to bottle the Spanish up on the island. They carry specially-adapted lances and large two-handed swords that the Spanish left during La Noche Triste. During the attack, the advance guard is surrounded, two horses are killed and ten Castilians are captured. In OTL Cortés was part of the advance guard and nearly perished, here his more paranoid nature keeps him from exposing himself as much. The attack is more successful than OTL, which killed only one horse and captured “several” men. The captured Spaniards are in short order dismembered, then their faces flayed off to be made into masks.
Hernán Cortés is forced to spend the night in Xochimilca. Their gunpowder has been all used up. Fortunately they have plenty of Indian allies, which are ordered to fill the causeways in with the rubble from destroyed houses. The next day the Mexica send 12,000 warriors in canoes to attack the island. Fortunately, with the cavalry and filled-in causeways, the Spanish survive the siege for three days and kill many before they escape. Hearing of a large impending attack on Chalco, they return to that city to find that the Mexican offensive is actually a raid that fizzles out quickly. Cortés takes his forces back to Texcoco and receives wonderful news: Martín López is nearing completion of the twelve brigantines and the channel that will carry them secretly to the waters of the lake. The Siege of Tenochtitlan is ready to begin. Cortés feels like he needs to know the lake a bit better and do some necessary reconnaissance, but he wants to begin his naval blockade as soon as possible.
Before the Siege of Tenochtitlan begins, let us look at all of the divergences so far in the military situation…
- Just in terms of numbers, Hernán Cortés has 600 Spanish soldiers and 35 horses compared to 900 Spanish soldiers and 86 horses in OTL. There have been about 1,000 more Tlaxcalan casualties as well. Both the Spanish and Tlaxcalans are more demoralized than OTL, though it should be noted that with fewer Spaniards and no Royal Fifth sent back to Spain, the average soldier has much more personal treasure than in OTL (perhaps twice as much). The Spanish have much less gunpowder, ammunition and supplies to work with.
- Zultepec and the surrounding region is still pro-Mexica, though it isn’t strategically important.
- The entire region to the south of the lake, including Cuernavaca, Teputzlan, Yautepec, and Xiutepec, Tlaycapan have yet to be pacified and remain pro-Mexica, unlike in OTL. This is an area rich in farming, especially cotton, and could be strategically important if Cuauhtémoc coordinates a combined attack on Chalco in order to get food shipped from there to Tenochtitlan. However, if he is not able to do this, he may not get much out of this region other than some additional tribute.
- There were signs of rebellion in Texcoco at this time, but, better management of the city means that the Spanish and Tlaxcalans have a better relationship with the inhabitants of the city. They also have many more Mexica slaves, which helps the industries there somewhat. Less of the city was burnt down.
- Chalco is also doing better thanks to a larger Tlaxcalan garrison.
- There has been less burning, raping, sacrificial cannibalism and killing of innocents in the cities the Spanish have attacked, though the Tlaxcalans especially at Chalco are rapidly closing the gap with renewed application of their old cannibalistic traditions. This results in less fear of the Spanish among the enemies and less hatred of the Spanish among their allies. Also, more Mexican warriors are slightly better fed because the internal economy of Tenochtitlan is doing better. In the long-term this could be beneficial to the Spanish, but in the short-term it won’t help them militarily unless it helps some polity switch to their side.
- No Gonzalo de Sandoval. No Julián de Alderete. No Friar Melgarejo. No Pedro de Alvarado. There are other important nameable people that aren’t part of Cortés’ campaign here, but I’m not sure they matter so much militarily. Oh, and, of course, Velázquez de Leon is alive! He shares the place of Cortés’ second-in-command with Cristóbal de Olid. Cortés isn't sure which he trusts more, as they are both good captains but have been rebellious at times before.
- Did I mention there are more Mexica in general? There have been far fewer battles here to lower their numbers. That's not such a bad thing, as they will starve faster once the naval blockade is established... unless their increased numbers allows them to break out of course.
- Cortés has done less reconnaissance and so has a less of an idea of the geography of the Valley and he has done less causeway fighting so he’s a little bit worse at it compared to OTL.
(Author's Note: Here is where I started to speed things up because the TL was not generate much interest and I wanted to finish it)
The siege of Tenochtitlan is far from easy. Instead of putting armies on three of the four causeways that lead to the city, in this alternate scenario the lack of Spanish soldiers and horses and gunpowder means only two causeways could be blocked. Coyoacan is the hole left open, which means that instead of running supplies through Tepeyac, Cuauhtemoc has supplies coming in from the southern, rich region surrounding Cuernavaca. Cortes' only option is to take the fortress at Xoloc (which by itself would be incredibly difficult) and have the army at Iztapalapa (likely under Cristobal de Olid) move around to cut the supply route. By the time that happens, quite a few supplies have been moved into the city. Much less has been burnt down. The Mexica are still hungry, but they are in a much better situation than IOTL. Plus, the Tepeyac causeway will still be open! Cortés would have to make a tough decision, to split his armies even further in order cut off this supply route.
With his forces so thin, making headway into the city is insanely difficult. A more cautious and humbled Cortés prevents some of the dumb maneuvers that happened in OTL, like when the Mexica surrounded a pocket of Spanish forces and captured fifty Spaniards which were soon sacrificed. That was a huge Aztec victory for morale and nearly lost Cortés the war because all of his native allies, even the Tlaxcala, abandoned him briefly because they were sure the gods, now satiated with Spanish blood, would sweep them from the valley. That doesn't happen ITTL, but Cortés still loses a lot of men because the war of attrition is much longer. He is forced to burn down large portions of Tenochtitlan, just like in OTL, despite how much more ITTL he despises burning down the Mexican cities.
How long does this alternate siege take compared to OTL's? I'd estimate the campaign takes twice as long. And that's assuming more brigantines aren't sunk and that none of the leaders are lost, and that the Spanish don't make a dumb move and get themselves captured and sacrificed, and that they will still be able to start manufacturing their own gunpowder by taking sulfur from the nearby volcanoes, and that Cortes' allies won't switch sides due to even more bloodshed than in OTL. The Spanish need a lot of good luck. The easy capture of Cuauhtemoc is butterflied away... when he flees the city, probably in November, the higher attrition probably means less brigantines and less of a chance he would be intercepted. He and a few other select Aztec nobles find refuge among the Otomi. That means that the Spanish and their Amerindian allies won't see an official victory even in November 1521... despite the fact that the formal government resistance has ended and the entire city has been burnt and occupied, there is still independent resistance after this point. After a few months Cuauhtemoc is found and captured by other Amerindian groups and brought to Texcoco. He is presented to Cortes and (in this darker timeline) publicly executed after a brief amount of torture to force him to tell the Spanish where more treasure is.
As such, the official end to hostilities doesn't come until *gasp* February 1522. There's no more than 500 Spaniards left under Cortes' command. The Tlaxcalans and Texcocans and others have been bled dry... the victory is most certainly pyrrhic one.
Things Get Even More Complicated
Before victory in Tenochtitlan, however, in June 1521, Julian de Alderete shows up in Veracruz, fresh from Santo Domingo and with more than a hundred men. He's the nearest royal treasurer, you see, and he's just the man to investigate the campaign underway. His task is to figure out if Cortes is loyal to the crown or not. If he is, he's to exact the royal fifth of all gains made in the campaign and send the treasure to Spain in order to prove the loyalty of Cortes. If he is not loyal, well, he'll get news back to the Caribbean, which will soon be passed on to Spain and King Carlos will have to make further decisions. Julian lands at Veracruz and is smart enough to keep his men armed when they land in order to prevent being press-ganged into the illegal campaign. They hear the usual reports of cruelty and craziness. Intrigued, but not totally convinced, Julian makes his way to La Segura de la Frontera and takes over the sparsely-manned post there. A messenger is sent to Cortes requesting a meeting. Cortes is smart: he sends the messenger back to Alderete with a letter of invitation to come and see the City of Gold and pick up the Royal Fifth. Cortes wants to capture Alderete and take command of his men. But, Alderete is smarter than that. He answers Cortes' invitation with a demand for the royal fifth before he sets foot in the Valley of Mexico.
Cortes is not so foolish as to stop the siege of Tenochtitlan in order to deal with Alderete. He captures all future messengers and forces an information blackout. After a month waiting for Cortes' compliance, Alderete abandons La Segura, taking all the Spanish he can find under his command to retreat towards Veracruz. Based in Veracruz, Alderete consolidates Cortes' gains for himself, taking over Cempoala, Jalapa, and some other nearby towns. There's not much loot left over, but Alderete takes what he can find. A ship is sent to Santo Domingo with a formal report by Alderete concerning Cortes' insurrection. It also carries a gift of maize and a few Aztec treasures. Alderete wants to be in command of New Spain now, and he will hold the fort until reinforcements can arrive.
And they do arrive! By March 1522 Cristobal de Tapia arrives with another 170 men. Spanish loyalists under Julian de Alderete swells to more than 400 soldiers, inexperienced but well-supplied, with sufficient horses and gunpowder for any campaign. Throughout the summer they take control of the large coastal system of alliances that Cortes once held.
Shortly after he executes Cuauhtemoc, Cortes declares himself Tlatoani of the Aztec Empire. Spies bring back news of events in the eastern regions and so he rallies his armies in defense of his conquests. At the height of summer, Cortes leaves 200 conquistadores under Andres de Tapia at Tenochtitlan and takes the remaining 300 to lead a a direct attack on Veracruz with tens of thousands of Amerindians behind him. Alderete doesn't have a chance... Cortes prepares his surprise attack well and has the port surrounded on all sides by native warriors wearing their best regalia and armed with pikes to negate the advantage of cavalry. Some survivors are press-ganged, others imprisoned, others executed. The local Amerindians are informed of Cortes' ascent as emperor.
As an aside, those who remain under Cortes' command do not lead yet another mutiny or rebellion. With fewer soldiers and a Cortes desperate for approval, the encomienda system is established much sooner and riches are divided equally. The conquistadores are wealthier and happier in many ways. There are some odd cases of disgruntled Spaniards here and there, but most go along with Cortes' rebellion against the Spanish crown as long as they can live as kings.
By October 1522 a fleet from Spain arrives in Veracruz captained by none other than Nuno de Guzman with more than 4,000 men and a smaller supporting fleet sent by the Jamaican Governor Garay consisting of 900 Spaniards and 100 Jamaican warriors. All together their forces number about 5,000. Here's where it gets interesting. Guzman plows through the coastal regions, already devastated three times by Cortes, Narvaez, and Alderete respectively. He was one of the worst conquistadores in OTL, he'll be no different here. One massacre follows the next, and all cities are left burning in his wake. How will Cortes, after three years of bleeding out both his forces and his native allies, be able to cope? Fortunately, Guzman's forces are inexperienced and they don't have many allies among the natives. Cortes' Spanish forces number 800, but facing so much military might, a rebellion breaks out led by captains that came to the mainland with Alderete. Cortes has the support of the former Aztecs who see Guzman as a much worse conqueror than Cortes could ever be. But, 5,000 well-supplied Spanish soldiers with horses and guns is a force extremely difficult to reckon with. Things get worse when, thanks to all the new arrivals, a new epidemic breaks out. Measles, this time. It decimates the local populations just like smallpox did in 1519-1520.
Cortes can't win. He is smart and manages to take out a lot of Guzman's army, but by this point he is over-matched. Here is where I see several possibilities on how the timeline could progress:
Perhaps he will make a last stand at Tenochtitlan just like the Mexica did two years before. Some rebuilding could be done before Guzman gets there, and despite the mass death from measles, Cortes will have native allies to help him, unlike Guzman. Cortes will put cannons in towers to create coastal defenses, he will build more brigantines to patrol the lake, and he'd be manufacturing his own artillery by this point. The locals would be using wheeled carts to make logistics easier and they'd be well-trained in using pikes against horses and in keeping the causeways and supply routes open. Cortes might even have bucket brigades organized to douse fires where Guzman lights them and thereby keep the upper ground in reconstructed buildings. But Guzman has no conscience, thousands of men and now a direct supply route from the Caribbean. Cortes would eventually fall.
Perhaps Cortes could lead a host of loyal soldiers to conquer the Tarascan Empire and thereby delay the inevitable. I think this is likely. Guzman would take Tenochtitlan and would have to deal with constant resistance from the Tlaxcalans and might not be able to send a huge force to the Tarascan Empire for years. But they would eventually come. Perhaps when they do Cortes would lead all of those still loyal to him, by this point including a Tarascan army, and forge northwards, to the lands of the Raramuri, or to the Pueblo Indians, or in sailing ships to the San Francisco Bay. I doubt anything would come about of it... more likely he would die somewhere beyond the sunset he rides off to.
And that would be that. New Spain would have had a much more violent birth: two conquests, each bloodier than the last, and a long occupation by Guzman. Less Aztecs. Less native culture preserved. The mestizos that inherit Mexico thereafter would be much more European and Spanish, both in looks and in culture. Perhaps because of this, Mexico would remain part of the Spanish Empire for as long as Cuba and Puerto Rico, even if someone like Napoleon comes along and invades the Iberian Peninsula. If something like the United States appears, its wars of westward expansion might involve a war against the entirety of the Spanish Empire. But there are so many butterflies possible...
Is there a slim chance though, for a Cortesian Empire?
It was already so improbable from the beginning! Cortes could have died during La Noche Triste, he could have died during the mutiny, he could have died during the Siege of Tenochtitlan or afterward. So, so improbable! But you want your High King Cortes ruling over the Aztec Empire and introducing Spanish technology and European animals and crops everywhere? Fine! Here's how it could happen.
What you need is a great storm, a divine wind, a kamikaze. It has happened a couple times in history. At the point where all hope is lost and defeat inevitable, the invasion force is swept away by mother nature. Careful, to use it even once risks pushing any timeline into ASB territory... to use it TWICE most certainly does so. When should it strike? I would use the kamikaze to scatter Guzman's fleet as it sets sail for Veracruz... such a storm is not impossible in early October. For maximum effect, Guzman's flagship sinks, as does the largest vessel in Garay's small armada. Another three-fourths of the ships perish in the high ocean waves. That's as much as I can give you. In mid-October, the ragtag fleet appears one or two ships at a time at Veracruz. Others land at other small coastal settlements nearby. Other ships will return to the Caribbean colonies. There are some shipwrecks, too. The main leadership is gone, but there will be the lesser captains who can command what is left. Veracruz could press-gang a few of these groups, but this is still a hostile invasion force. It will likely fall one way or another. But, Cortes will have the upper hand and use his forces to divide the weakened, scattered armies. Many will become part of his new empire, others will be imprisoned and killed.
Now, Spain has already sent a large retaliatory force, would it send another? The Spanish colonies in the Caribbean have been depopulated of men, all because of this mad venture of Cortes'. Protestantism grows stronger every year. No. No more Spaniards will be sent to Veracruz to just disappear. Instead after a few years relations would be established with Cortes' empire, which will be Spanish influenced after all. Trade happens. There would be an exchange of peoples... some Spaniards would want to return home finally and others will want to live like a king on the Mexican frontier. Spanish diseases will be delayed and with a centralized bureaucracy and Spanish technologies, the native population could rebound fast enough after every epidemic to maintain a population of close to 15 million. The Tarascans and other tributary peoples would be conquered, though Tlaxcala could eventually cause some serious problems. There will be pagan uprisings and conquistador uprisings and minority rebellions, but once a formal Spanish reconquista is out of the question, there is little that could keep Cortes from conquering it all.
There won't be much to gain to the north and to the south of the former Aztec Empire, so those peoples will be left alone for a time. The Mayans kept the Spanish out for a long time, they'll keep Cortes' empire out too. There is a good chance they'll remain independent except for a few Spanish conquests here and there. There is little to keep Pizarro from being interested in Peru, the POD is not far back enough. He'll still go after the Incas, but butterflies could make the campaign there more difficult. If Pizarro does conquer the Incas, the Spanish Empire will then devote more men into colonizing South America than IOTL. Perhaps more of an effort will be made into colonizing Florida and there could even be a Spanish colony on the mouth of the Mississippi. Maybe then the French would focus on colonizing Canada rather than the Mississippi river basin. English colonies on the Eastern Seaboard, if they still happen, would have to contend with stronger Spanish colonies to the south and to the west. Cortesia would eventually expand northward and conquer the Pueblos and California. Perhaps the English-Americans would team up with the Cortesians in order to divide Spanish North America between them. A powerful alliance could be created in this way, resulting in a cross-cultural trade of ideas and technologies that would be very interesting to watch develop. But there are so many butterflies that could push the timeline wherever you want it.