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The Lords of Tetzcoco: Sixteenth-Century Transformation of Indigenous Leadership in the Aztec Empire's Second City


When Spaniards arrived in central Mexico in 1519, Tetzcoco was one of the two most important ethnic states in the region. It was a cultural center--home to famed "poet-kings"--and was second in power only to the Aztec capital of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. Yet by the beginning of the seventeenth century, Tetzcoco had been reduced to a mere shadow of its former grandeur. This dissertation focuses specifically on Tetzcoco's native nobility in this period of waning influence. Using a combination of Spanish- and Nahuatl-language documents as well as indigenous pictorial sources from archives in Spain and Mexico, this work chronicles the strategies employed by the indigenous hereditary nobles of Tetzcoco to navigate the first century of Spanish rule and serves as a case study of the powerful forces that reshaped and transformed local power and indigenous leadership. These changes did not occur as quickly as once believed; the Spanish conquest, while tumultuous, did not destroy native aristocrats. Indeed, some factions of the Tetzcoca nobility benefited from the Spanish arrival, as Cort�s and his men eliminated rivals in local government. The native aristocracy continued to govern in a manner similar to that of the precontact period until the 1560s. By the last few decades of the sixteenth century, however, the family's power and place in local politics was under increasing pressure. Spaniards increasingly challenged the native nobles' control over local land and tribute. Several wealthy and influential mestizos, or individuals of mixed-race, emerged to rival the indigenous members of the aristocracy for influence. And after the death of the Tetzcoca leader in 1564, the viceroy took power from the old ruling family by appointing local leaders of his choosing in Tetzcoco. The traditional native aristocrats became divorced from the corporate roles that they traditionally played in Tetzcoco's political life and no longer participated in direct governance. Being ousted from local office effected different nobles in different ways. Some were reduced to poverty and obscurity. Those that possessed the family's entailed estate, however, simply withdrew into private lives of affluent leisure modeled on the aristocracies of Europe.

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