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(ca. 1485-1547): Spanish conquistador who participated in the conquest of Cuba. In 1519 the Cuban governor Diego Velázquez commissioned him to sail west and explore the mainland coast. Fearing that Velazquez would change his mind, he left Cuba secretly and began a mission of conquest rather than exploration. On the coast of the Yucatan the Cortés expedition was joined by the Spanish castaway Jeronimo de Aguilar and a Nahua captive known as "La Malinche" or "Doña Marina," who served as translators. After traveling north, they defied the authority of Velazquez by founding the city of Veracruz, an act which allowed him to take legal control of the expedition. The Spanish then pressed inland, surviving an attempted massacre in the city of Cholula and making allies with the Tlaxcalans, who were traditional enemies of the Aztecs. He was welcomed by Aztec emperor Montezuma II at Tenochtitlan, but he took Montezuma prisoner; he was forced to return to the coast to deal with a punitive expedition sent by Velazquez and commanded by Panfilo de Narvaez. He won the new arrivals over to his side, but the situation in Tenochtitlan deteriorated as the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado murdered celebrants at a festival. Shortly after he returned to the city, Montezuma was killed and the Spanish were forced to flee during the Noche Triste (Night of Sorrows). After escaping, he marshalled Spanish and indigenous forces to fight the Aztecs, who were successively led by the emperors Cuitlahuac and Cuauhtemoc. After the Aztec defenders were seriously weakened by an outbreak of smallpox, he and his followers captured Tenochtitlan in 1521 and rebuilt it as Mexico City. Much of our knowledge of the conquest of Mexico comes from a follower named Bernal Díaz del Castillo, who wrote detailed memoirs of the expedition.
(June 18, 1815, Belgium) Napoleon's escape from Elba began a period known as the "Hundred Days," in which the emperor briefly returned to the throne of France. The struggle between the restored emperor and the "Seventh Coalition" began when Napoleon's Army of the North marched into the Low Countries, hoping for a showdown with the British, Dutch, and Prussians before the Austrian and Russian armies gathering further east could come to their aid. The French brushed aside Allied advance guards at the two preliminary battles of Quatre Bras and Ligny on June 16. Napoleon's victory over the Prussians at Ligny led him to falsely believe that he had enough time to pursue and defeat the British without further Prussian interference. On June 18 Napoleon's advance on Brussels approached the crossroads of Mont St. Jean, where the Duke of Wellington had set up a defensive position for a combined army of British Peninsular War veterans, Dutch, and pro-British Germans. On the French left, British troops defended the walled farm of Hougoumont from a series of infantry assaults; in the center, Marshal Michel Ney's massed cavalry charge was broken by the square formations of the British infantry; on the right, Gebhard von Blücher's Prussian army arrived to attack the French army in the flank. Napoleon's final gamble was to commit his Imperial Guard to a renewed assault on the Allied center. The guardsmen were cut down by the fire of British light infantry, leading to the general collapse of the French army. Napoleon was exiled once more, this time to the isolated South Atlantic island of St. Helena, where he died in 1821.
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