Moctezuma II, bless him, was wonderfully trusting. Born in 1466, his name (Moctezuma, Montezuma, Moteuczoma, or Motecuhzoma) means “he who frowns like a lord”, and why wouldn’t he? (Not much needs to be known about Moctezuma I except that he was better than II. You had to be.) He was the ninth tlatoani, or ruler of Tenochtitlan, which would change. Before the coming of the Spanish, Moctezuma had expanded the Aztec Empire to its greatest, and that would change too.
Accounts vary concerning the life of Moctezuma, according to which conquistador tells the tale. (Bernal Díaz del Castillo praised Moctezuma, noting that he took a bath every afternoon and was “quite free from sodomy.” Well la-ti-da!) When asked after the fact, the Native population depicted him as weak-willed, superstitious, and indulgent. That might just have been sour grapes, but then they were the ones who had stoned him to death, so they must have felt strongly about the matter.
In their first meeting, Moctezuma offered Cortés calendars of gold and silver, which Cortés melted down for their material value. Undeterred, he invited Cortés to his palace. Much has been made about Moctezuma welcoming Hernán Cortés as the second coming of the god Quetzalcoatl. It’s argued that offering a stranger your throne may have meant different things in different cultures. Could be, but I’m flummoxed as to what. Finally, there were some harsh words between Spanish and Aztec, and Moctezuma became a prisoner in his own home to secure the Spaniards’ safety.
The Spanish forced Moctezuma to appear on the balcony of his palace and appeal to his countrymen to retreat. He was then pelted with rocks and debris until he died. Some argue against this, saying that Cortés himself had Moctezuma stabbed after it was clear he was no longer of use as a hostage. If so, that Cortés later slept with Moctezuma’s daughter defines “adding insult to injury.”
The life of Moctezuma II shows us that the armoured, sword-wielding men that show up randomly on your doorstep may be up to no good.