Nobility and Privileges granted by Emperor Charles V to the Nephew of Moctezuma II and his Descendants

AMERICAS. AZTECS. MEXICO. Moctezuma II, Aztec Emperor (1466 - ca. 30 June, 1520)

Documents confirming the nobility and privileges of descendants of the family of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma II. Manuscript on paper, in Spanish.

Mexico: 1711- 1758


Folio: 31.5 x 21.5 cm. 30, [1] foliated manuscript leaves.

Bound in contemporary vellum, buckled and with defects, especially along the spine. Leaves frayed at the extremities, in some instances coming close to the text. Small wormtrail in upper margin. Some leaves with early paper repairs, occasionally costing a few letters, some light soiling, small losses to blank margins and lower corner of first leaf and a few others. With a full-page painted coat-of-arms on purple linen, quite possibly 16thc.

A series of notarial copies of reales cédulas, or royal decrees, from 1675, 1711, 1741, 1742, and 1758 (and with a copy of an original document from 1536), along with supporting documentation, confirming the nobility and privileges of members of the family of the ill-fated Aztec emperor Moctezuma II. One of the outstanding features of the volume is the inlcusion of a full-page, painted coat-of-arms on purple linen, quite possibly from the 16thc.

The subjects of these documents were from a lineage of noble Indian caciques or lords who held prominent posts in and around Tula, in the modern state of Hidalgo. They all traced their descent from Francisco Moctezuma, who was the son of a high-ranking brother of Moctezuma, "Sumacoa" (a corruption of an Aztec name, or possibly of cihuacoatl, the title of the Aztec royal vizier.)

Don Francisco and his brother joined the Spaniards and assisted them in conquering Mexico, thereby becoming indios conquistadores,  or Indian conquistadors. Included (folios 9r-10v) is a copy of the original real cédula (dated 16 February, 1536) from Charles V thanking don Francisco and don Diego for their service to the Spanish Crown, and granting them titles of nobility (Francisco had travelled to Spain to petition for the grant and the privileges it bestowed.)  Charles V also issued them a coat-of-arms (depicted on a separate linen sheet in this volume), with the letters "R" and E," which, as he explained, represent the first two letters of his title, Rey

One of Francisco's descendants, don José Larios, governor of Atotonilco (modern-day Atotonilco de Tula, Hidalgo, Mexico) married into a (Spanish) conquistador family in the middle of the 17th century. He married doña María Montaño, daughter of the conquistador don Gaspar de Montaño. The family thus became intertwined with Spanish conquistador nobility and emphasized it throughout these documents, claiming papeles de conquista or "papers of conquest" as proof. Interestingly, none of them identified as mestizos or people of mixed-race ancestry, but rather as Indians. 

As these documents attest, the family used their prestigious ancestral connections to Moctezuma and conquistador nobility throughout the 18thcentury to receive official confirmation of their nobility. 

The family's efforts involved many informaciones or testimony (included here) from various people from Mexico City and Tula regarding the ancestry and reputation of the family. Much of it came from common indigenous and mestizo craftsmen. They also successfully won the right to bear arms and to be exempt from tribute. Numerous interesting details about the family are interspersed throughout, such as the mention of a pleito or legal dispute between don José Larios and the Spaniard Capitán Marcos de Obregón Salazar over the use of an oven for making limestone; the case eventually went before the real audiencia, the highest court in colonial Mexico. 

In the first document in this volume, dated 1711, Doña Maria de los Reyes Acevedo y Moctezuma and her husband Don Felipe de Santiago, native Mexican nobles (caciques) petitioned to have the Moctezuma coat of arms recognized as belonging to Doña Maria. The first 6 leaves provide genealogical information about Doña Maria, the fact that she is legitimately married to Don Felipe, etc.  It is further shown that she is a cacica of the important region of Tula.

The volume as whole is not simply a certification of one family's nobility, but is instead a rich history of a surviving branch of Aztec nobility, spanning three centuries. The story it tells is not one of demoralization or tragedy, but rather of successful adaptation and maneuvering, from don Francisco's rewarding alliance with Cortez and the Conquistadors in 1521, to his descendants' successful use of his legacy in the 1740s to win exemptions from tribute.

Patents of nobility for indigenous people of New Spain are extraordinarily rare and almost never appear on the market. The fact that these documents are for the descendants of the preeminent Aztec royal family makes them all the more extraordinary.

(With special and sincere thanks to David Szewczyk for his contributions to this description.)