Tecuichpo: Last Aztec Empress

David Bowles
3 min readJun 5, 2023

Many historical figures who were in and around the Isle of Mexico during the siege of Tenochtitlan in 1521 appear in my latest book, Secret of the Moon Conch, co-written by Guadalupe García McCall

Among these people was the last queen of Tenochtitlan, last empress of the Aztecs, known by her people the Mexica as Tecuichpochtzin … and by history as Isabel Moctezuma.

Here’s an image of Tecuichpo (the short form of her nickname) and her father, the Emperor Moteuczoma II, from the Codex Cozcatzin, a post-Conquest indigenous text:

Tēcuichpōchtzin addresses her father on his throne. Behind him is the glyph for Tenōchtitlan

She will find herself married six times throughout her strange and tragic life. Before the Conquest, it’s to Atlilxcatzin — son of previous emperor Ahuitzotl — who is both her cousin and maternal uncle. He dies in 1520.

When Cortés enters Tenochtitlan and takes Moteuczoma hostage, the emperor hands Tecuichpo and two other daughters of his over to the Conquistador. Then the emperor is killed and the Spanish are expelled. During that flight, Cortés attempts to take all of the king’s children with him. Tecuichpo manages to get free.

Once Cuitlahuac is crowned king of Tenochtitlan, Tecuichpo is married to him. The king pretty quickly succumbs to smallpox as the disease sweeps through the city, and the young queen finds herself married to Cuauhtemoc (who, rumor suggests, has just had her brother killed to keep him from the throne). But then the city falls after the three-month-long siege depicted in Secret of the Moon Conch.

Her story’s not done, but let’s dissect her nickname. It’s about to change. Tēcuichpōchtzin is the full, reverential form. So “tēuc-” (te:kw) means “lord” and “ichpōchtli” means “daughter.” Her name means “[the] lord’s beloved daughter.” That breaks my heart. You’re about to see why.

[Note that Nahua historian Alva Ixtlilxóchitl claimed that her birth name was Miyahuaxochitl or “corn tassel flower,” though she was known as Tecuichpo because she was her father’s favorite.]

Cuauhtemoc is tortured and executed. His wife becomes the special “ward” of Cortés. She “converts” to Catholicism and is baptized “Isabel Moctezuma.” In June 1526, Cortés has “Doña Isabel” marry his friend Alonso de Grado. Her dowry? The entire city-state of Tlacopan. Isabel’s new husband…

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David Bowles

A Mexican American author & translator from South Texas. Teaches literature & Nahuatl at UTRGV. VP of the Texas Institute of Letters.