The Last Aztecan Princess

La historia de Isabel Moctezuma: ¿la última princesa azteca ...
A painting of Tecuichpotzin

While driving to Florida the past week a passed a town called Montezuma, Georgia. I thought to myself, “isn’t that the Aztec leader that was conquered by the Spanish?” Well, it turned out that the town in Macon county was named after Moctezuma by soldiers returning from the Mexican War when the town was founded in 1851. This was after my google search which led me down a rabbit hole of learning that Moctezuma’s daughter had a child with the invader himself, Hernán Cortés. Which lead me further down another rabbit hole of the details around this situation. How could the daughter of a leader of a conquered land, fall for the conquerer himself? The conquerer who would go on to plunder, pillage, and even kill her very own father for the land that belonged to her people? Most know the story of the famous conquistador, Hernán Cortés, and his exploitation of the Aztec Empire, but many do not know that he had a child with the eldest daughter of Moctezuma II, the last leader of the Aztec Empire.

Hernán Cortés was a Spanish conquistador who with the blessing of the Spanish crown, was to discover and plunder kingdoms of the new world to acquire gold and arable land for the enterprise of Spain. After the supposed discovery of the new world by Christopher Columbus, Spain became a world power and for decades after, sent various conquistadors and their fleet over to the new world in search of resources for the Spanish crown. Stories like El Dorado and the Fountain of Youth became popular legends during this time. Some of these stories leading various explorers down a never-ending journey that many times amounted to empty promises. Hernán Cortés was one of the lucky ones.

Moctezuma’s eldest daughter, Tecuichpotzin, was married to her first husband, Atlixcatzin, as a young child. He passed away around the same time that Moctezuma was killed during the fight between the Spanish and Aztecs. After her father was killed, Tecuichpotzin was married off to her uncle Cuitláhuac, who was next in line for the throne. Six days after Cuitláhuac took the throne he, unfortunately, passed away from smallpox, a disease brought on by the Spanish. Techuichpotzin was then married off to the 

Pic 12: Cuauhtémoc is caught by the Spanish
Cuauhtémoc surrending to the Spanish

last Aztecan emperor there ever was, Cuauhtémoc. Cuauhtémoc reigned for one year. During his reign, he made allies with neighboring cities and tribes to fight and eventually rid his world of the Spanish. Unfortunately like Moctezuma, the Spanish had more advanced artillery and weapons (and horses), therefore leading to Cuauhtémoc’s surrender to the Spanish. He was tortured by the Spanish but later was given his position back but not as the sovereign ruler. He was later killed by the Spanish for supposedly conspiring to kill Cortés and his men.

Isabel de Moctezuma : Family tree by Chantal LAURENT - Geneanet
Techuichpotzin later known as Doña Isabel

Cortés viewed Tecuichpotzin as a symbol of what could be the unification of the Aztec and Spanish culture as one. She became a Christian and converted to Catholicism thereafter. Becoming Catholic, meant she would be baptized under a saint named Isabel, and her full name became Doña Isabel Moctezuma. Records show that she became a devout Catholic but unfortunately remained illiterate in reading and writing in Spanish. Cortés arranged a marriage between Isabel and his right-hand man, Alonso de Grado. As a marriage gift, they were given an encomienda. What is an encomienda? Basically, land was given that was provided with the purpose to cultivate using a form of slavery or indentured servancy, etc. Profits would be shared with the Spanish crown. The land that was granted to Isabel included the northwest portion of modern-day Mexico City called Tabuca, the largest encomienda granted to anyone in Mexico in history. Isabel’s encomienda lasted for centuries and up until 1933, all descendants of Isabel were given a pension by the government of Mexico. Alonso de Grado died shortly after their marriage while performing his position given to him by Cortés, punishing any illegal slaving of Aztec natives. 

Hernán Cortés

After the death of Grado, Doña Isabel was around 17 years of age and moved in with Cortés. She ended up pregnant with Cortés child. Doña Isabel was then married off to another one of Cortés associates, Pedro Gallego de Andrade. Cortés child with Isabel was named Leonor Cortés Moctezuma. Leonor was then sent off to live with another one of Cortés associates, Juan Gutiérrez de Altamirano. Leonor grew up in Altamirano’s household as an out-of-wedlock child who was treated well by her father, Cortés but was never acknowledged by her mother Doña Isabel until she had neared death. Leonor grew to become a wealthy woman with her inheritance from both Cortés and Isabel’s estate (granted in Isabel’s will) in addition to a portion of land in Isabel’s estate (20% of the estate). She went on to wed Juan de Tolosa a discoverer of the silver mines and city of Zacatecas in modern-day Mexico. The couple had three children together and so created the future aristocracy in the new Spanish colony of the new world. Mixed with Mexica royal and Spanish blood.

Doña Isabel went on to marry one more time after her fifth husband, Andrade died, which totaled six husbands in her lifetime. With her sixth husband, she had five children. In her death, she gave 1/5th of her slaves to the Catholic Church, and the rest she set free.

Fall of Titnotichlan (With images) | Aztec art, Aztec culture ...
The conquered and the conquerers at war.

Little is known about Doña Isabel but she is known to have made a surprisingly smooth transition from Aztecan princess to Spanish royalty. Without her relationship with Cortés and Spanish dignitaries in the New World, the transition to Spanish occupation may not have turned out as it did. It is not known if Isabel did it out of necessity or she welcomed the change. The change may have provided her more power as a woman to have owned more than she ever would have as an Aztecan princess.

For generations to come, anyone with lineage to Aztecan royalty or Spanish nobility was treasured – a welcomed ticket into Mexico’s high society.

In addition to learning about Doña Isabel, I also have now learned that the Aztec and Mexican peoples did not just let the Spanish takeover as has been prescribed by the many stories told about the conquering of the Mexican empire. There were several years of fighting before the natives would concede to the Spanish with the unification of different native tribes, the ongoing wars between the two factions, and the continuation of an Aztecan leader for years to come after the Spanish had arrived and even as a figurehead for years following Cortés victory for Spain.

Pic 19: Isabel Moctezuma features (top right) in the Codex Techialoyan García Granados, which depicts the genealogy of leading Mexica nobility
Doña Isabel’s lineage through the generations.



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