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The last of the Montezumas

31 May 2014

Thanks to a footnote in Alexander von Humbolt’s Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain — in a discussion of politics of water drainage systems over the centuries (one reason I like Humbolt is the guy was interested in … well… everything) I learned something new.  The water drainage discussion came right after his statistical analysis of meat consumption, compared with that of Paris… concluding Mexicans ate more meat than the French, by the way) .  Cuauhtemoc was not the last of the Aztec royal family to rule what is now Mexico.

While I had always been aware that up until 1611, there was a Caicique from the Montezuma family nominally ruling the “Indian subjects”, they never really had any political power, or any say in policy.  But… a Montezuma by marriage did.

Conde_de_MontezumaThe first wife of José Sarmiento Valladares, the 32nd Viceroy of New Spain, was María Jerónima Moctezuma y Jofre de Loaisa, the great-great grand-daughter of Moctezuma Xocoyotzin.  After her death in 1692, Sarmiento assumed the title of Condes de Moctezuma.  His appointment as Viceroy in 1696 may have owed more to having the Grand Inquisitor for a brother, but the title didn’t hurt any.

He was, by all accounts, an unusual viceroy  (besides being cross-eyed), entering his realm incognito, had himself sworn in by the Audiencia (supreme court) in the middle of the night and took up his new duties, probably to the relief of the acting viceroy, the Bishop of Michaocán, Juan Ortega y Montañés, who had reluctantly taken up the job when the thirty-something viceroy, Gaspar de la Cerda quit in the middle of a plague (which, incidentally killed Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz) and student riots.  While Bishop Ortega had managed to contain the riots, he left the clean up to the count of Montezuma, who used his title to at least claim he could speak for the Mexicans of Mexico, and was a relatively progressive adminstrator, expanding Spanish control north into what is now California, putting down banditry and reforming the Mexico City government.  It was to the Count of Montezuma who divided Mexico City into “barrios”, the beginning of what is now the Capital’s colonias and Delegaciones divisions.  He championed Mexican born artists and architects in his extensive public building campaign.

Carlos II (2)What seems most amazing is that the Count of Montezuma was appointed to his post by  Carlos II… also known as Carlos the Bewitched, Carlos the Unfortunate, and Carlos the Butt-Ugly.  The last of the Hapsburg Spanish monarchs, Carlos was the product of centuries of inbreeding… thought as a child to be retarded (he wasn’t toilet trained until he was in his early teens), physically deformed and possibly impotent.  He wasn’t known for making good decisions, but then… he often wasn’t capable of making any decisions, but whoever actually made the decision on who to appoint to the critical position of Viceroy of New Spain made a relatively decent choice, considering how badly the Empire was managed during Carlos’ reign.  With the King’s death in 1700, the Count returned home, to take part in the War of Spanish Succession… which led to the Bourbon dynasty, who had very different ideas on how to administer the colonies.

Mexico would have another Hapsburg ruler… as incompetent as Carlos II, but not quite as ill-favored, but never another Montezuma.


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