Born around 1485 in Medellín, Spain, Cortés first served as a soldier in an expedition of Cuba led by Diego Velázquez in 1511. In 1519 Cortés was to command his own expedition to Mexico, but Velázquez cancelled it. Cortés ignored the order and traveled with about 500 men and 11 ships to Mexico.
Cortés became allies with some of the native peoples he encountered, but with others he used deadly force to conquer Mexico. He fought Tlaxacan and Cholula warriors and then set his sights on taking over the Aztec empire. He marched to Tenochitilán, the Aztec capital and home to ruler Montezuma II. Cortés took Montezuma hostage and his soldiers raided the city. Cortés left the city after learning that Spanish troops were coming to arrest him for disobeying orders. He returned to Tenochitilán to find a rebellion in progress. The Aztecs eventually drove the Spanish from the city, but Cortés returned again to defeat them and take the city in 1521. After this victory, Cortés continued to seek opportunities to gain wealth and land. He sent more expeditions out into new areas, including what is present-day Honduras. He spent much of his later years seeking recognition for his achievements and support from the Spanish royal court. He died in Spain in 1547.
Biography courtesy of BIO.com