Tlacaelel in history

Stephen A. Colston

Tlacaelel’s Descendants and the Authorship of the “Historia Mexicana”

Fray Diego Duran (1537 ? – 1588 ?) escribió su ” Historia
“basada en un manuscrito escrito en Nahuatl al
cual el cronista se refería como la “historia mexicana”
. La posición heroica que la” Historia” atribuye al
Cihuacoatl. Tlacaelel, dentro del marco de la historia
de los Tenochca claramente pertenece al carácter partisano
de la “historia mexicana” . Aunque la identidad
del autor de la “historia mexicana” se queda desconocida,
es probable que esta historia Nahuatl fuera escrito
por uno de los numerosos descendientes de Tlacaelel.

Tlacaelel (1398 ? – 1487 ? ) , the Cihuacoatl (or principal advisor)of the Tenochca rulers from Motecuhzoma I to Ahuitzotl (1), emerges from the pages of Duran’s “Historia” as clearly the greatest figure in Mexica history (2). Indeed, much of that chronicle assumes the nature of Tlacaelel’s biography rather than a history of Tenochtitlan. Duran reveals the reason his “Historia” enumerated the feats of Tlacaelel so extensively: his major source (anonymously written and regrettably lost), which he refers to as the “historia mexicana” , “made long mention” of the importance of Tlacaelel in Tenochca history (Duran 1967,11: 573). In fact, so highly does the “historia mexicana”
praise Tlacaelel that he assumes the qualities of an idealized figure, placing all individuals, including the Tenochca rulers, in the shadow of his omnipotence (3).

Although there is no concrete evidence which might explain the partisanship of the “historia mexicana” , 1 concur with Nicholson (1964: 1409) that the most probable explanation is that the author of this history was a descendant
of Tlacaelel (4). Certainly, there is a well-known historical precedent of familial glorification in the mestizo Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s attempt to further his own position through the exaltation of his Tetzcocan

Other than their genealogies, scarcely little more is known of Tlacaelel’s descendants, the notable exception being his grandson,Tlacotzin. The ” Crónica Mexicayotl” (CM), which has been variously attributed most recently to Tezozomoc by León (CM 1949:”Introducción”) andtoTezozomocandChimalpahin by Kirchhoff (1951: 225 – 227), contains the most detailed genealogical account of Tlacaelel’s descendants extending to three generations (counting from the first generation of mestizo descendants) following the Conquest (CM : 122-130), A modicum of genealogical information is also found in Duran’s “Historia” (II: 369, 573). Yet, these sources by no means contain material pertaining to all the possible candidates for the putative descendant-author of the ” historia mexicana” . Of the eighty-three children reportedly fathered by Tlacaelel (CM:129), only seventeen are known by name (CM : 122 and passim); additionally, genealogical data is found for only two (Cacamatzin and Tlilpotoncatzin, CM : 122-127) and dates are sadly wanting
for all known children and their known descendants.

While ascribing the authorship of the “historia mexicana” to a particular individual of Tlacaelel’s lineage is futile in the face of available historical resources, Duran’s “Historia” and the CM at least suggest several clues as
to his possible relationship to Tlacaelel. Since the “historia mexicana” was “written” in Nahuatl (Duran, 11:158, 175), the earliest probable terminus post quem of that document would be c . 1531, allowing time for an adolescent
or adult Indian at the time of the Conquest to acquire a functional knowledge of the Roman alphabet, while the terminus antiquem fell no later than 1579-1581, the time during which the”Historia” was composed (5). This
would suggest that the author of the “historia mexicana” could have been any one of Tlacaelel’s descendants beginning with his grandchildren (the “generation” of Tlacotzin, the Cihuaco^tl at the time of the Conquest), since one
can assume that most – if not all – of his children, who were presumably born during the first half of the fifteenth century (considering Tlacaelel’s birth date of c. 1398), had died before the arrival of the Spaniards.

Duran noted that the person who wrote the “historia mexicana” was “un indio “(II: 546) .There are two possibilities which can explain the chronicler’s use of this word. Either Duran knew the author to be an Indian, which would
then exclude Tlacaelel’s mestizo descendants beginning with his great-greatgrandchildren (CM : 123-127), or he assumed the author to be an Indian since the text of the “historia mexicana” was written in Nahuatl. Judging from the
number of Tlacaelel’s known mestizo descendants, it is certainly possible that the enigmatic author of the “historia mexicana” may well have been a mestizo who, like Alva Ixtlilxochitl, wrote a history in Nahuatl glorifying his Indian forbear.

The author of the “historia mexicana” may have stated his relationship to Tlacaelel in his manuscript, although such information was not recorded in the “Historia” by Duran. Perhaps the author did not include this data because
his relationship to Tlacaelel may have been so widely known that further references to his filiation would not seem necessary.

All that can be presently said of the author of the “historia mexicana” must, of course, remain speculative, save that his identity is unknown. Only the fruits of future archival research will afford us the opportunity to shed
light on the mystery surrounding this figure and specifically define his relationship to Tlacaelel.


About arnulfo

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