The manuscript must date from after 6 July, 1529 (since Cortes is referred to on fol. 15r as ‘marques del Valle’ (Codex Mendoza, I.5) and before 1553 (when it was in the possession of André Thevet (below)).
The circumstances of its production are partly explained on fol. 71v (as translated in Codex Mendoza IV.148): ‘The reader must excuse the rough style in the interpretation of the drawings in this history, because the interpreter did not take time or work at all slowly ... The interpreter was given this history ten days prior to the departure of the fleet, and he interpreted it carelessly because the Indians came to agreement late; and so it was done in haste and he did not improve the style suitable for an interpretation, nor did he take time to polish the words and grammar or make a clean copy.’ That is, the manuscript was first painted by native artists, then hurriedly glossed in Spanish, to be sent to Spain. Although there is no definitive association with Antonio de Mendoza, viceroy of New Spain (1535–50), he is a plausible patron.
Dating to c. 1541 is based on the following testimony (?1547) of the ex-conquistador Jerónimo López, as translated by H. B. Nicholson (in Codex Mendoza, I.1–2): ‘it must have been about six years ago more or less that entering one day into the home of an Indian who was called Francisco Gualpuyogualcal, master of the painters, I saw in his possession a book with covers of parchment and asking him what it was, in secret he showed it to me and told me that he had made it by the command of Your Lordship [i.e. Viceroy Mendoza], in which he had to set down all the land since the founding of the city of Mexico and the lords that had governed and ruled until the coming of the Spaniards and the battles and clashes that they had and the taking of this great city and all the provinces that it ruled and had made subject and the assignment of these towns and provinces that was made by Motezuma to the principal lords of this city and of the fee that each one of the knights gave him from the tributes of the towns that he had and the plan that he employed in the aforesaid assignment and how he sketched [?] the towns and provinces for it.’ Zavala (1938) and Gómez de Orozco (1941) believed that the manuscript referred to by López was the Codex Mendoza, but the identification is disputed.
André Thevet (d. 1592), cosmographer of Henri II of France, by 1553: his name and date, fols. 1r, 71v; his name, fols. 2r, 70v. Perhaps one of the ‘two books about the idols writ by hand containing the genealogy and history of the kings and great lords of that country, and the pictures of the idols they adored’, which Thevet claimed came into his possession ‘after having been presented to the late Queen of Spain, daughter of Henry II of France’ (Codex Mendoza, I.5). There is no direct evidence of how Thevet acquired the present manuscript. Samuel Purchas, writing in 1625, claimed that the manuscript, while travelling from Mexico to Europe for presentation to the Emperor Charles V, was captured by French pirates, from whom Thevet obtained the manuscript, but other aspects of Purchas’ narrative are unreliable (see below and Codex Mendoza, I.7).
Richard Hakluyt, 1552?-1616. According to Purchas (Codex Mendoza, I.7) Hakluyt purchased the manuscript for 20 French crowns after Thevet’s death (in 1592) while he was chaplain to the English ambassador in France. In fact Hakluyt served as chaplain from 1583 to 1588, but then left Paris. An English inscription on fol. ii verso implies that the manuscript was in England in 1587.
Samuel Purchas, 1577?-1626, obtained according to his own testimony from Hakluyt’s papers in accordance with the terms of Hakluyt’s will.
His son, Samuel Purchas, 1605/6–1658/9.