On the 28th February  1525 Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec Emperor, was executed on the orders of the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. Cuauhtémoc, which means “One who swoops down like an eagle” continues to be a highly regarded in modern-day Mexico as the only Aztec emperor to have survived the Spanish conquest.

Little is known of Cuauhtémoc’s early life and, by the time he was elected leader of Tenochtitlan in 1520, the Aztec city-state had already been invaded by the Spanish and experienced the successive deaths of Moctezuma II and his brother Cuitlahuac. The new ruler attempted to defend the city against the continued Spanish attacks, but was captured on the 13th August 1521 while trying to escape.

Cuauhtémoc surrendered to Cortés and was spared, with contemporary sources claiming that the conquistador initially treated his captive with respect. However, having failed to find large quantities of gold in the city, he tortured Cuauhtémoc by covering his feet in oil and placing them over a fire. Despite this ordeal, Cuauhtémoc allegedly refused to give away the location of his treasures, though a small amount of gold was later found in the house of a noble. Afterwards he was allowed to keep the title of tlatoani but was stripped of his sovereign powers.

In 1525, when Cortés undertook an expedition to Honduras, he took Cuauhtémoc with him. Some suggest that this is because he was concerned the former emperor might lead a revolt in his absence. While they were away Cortés was informed of a rumour that Cuauhtémoc was conspiring to kill him. He was hanged on the 28th February alongside other nobles.

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