The Most Powerful Women in the Americas
Did you know that the American Continents had queens? This may be a startling idea, but the Mayan civilization had a number of women rulers. Powerful women who shaped history hold special fascination for me. In the era of patriarchy, how did they attain and apply leadership? During the Classic Maya period (250-900 CE), we have records of several women who either ruled in their own right, or managed the throne until their sons came of age. Royal succession was not strictly patrilineal, though descent through the male line was preferred. Most important was the purity of lineage, tracing back to the founder of each dynasty. At times this meant a ruler’s daughter was the choice for succession, as happened in Europe when England’s Queen Elizabeth II inherited the throne, ascending after her father King George VI died with no male heirs.
At Palenque, a famous Maya site in Chiapas, Mexico, the first women ruler was Yohl Ik’nal, the only surviving child of prior ruler Kan Bahlam I. She ruled for 20 years, from 583-604 CE. Her daughter Sak K’uk ascended after the death of an older brother. She ruled only for 3 years, from 612-615 CE, after which her son succeeded. Controversy surrounded both these accessions, because they changed the patrilineal pattern. Some argue that when daughters succeed, the lineage shifts to the queen’s husband. But this
depends on how the continuing dynasty is titled. In England’s case, the Windsor dynasty of King George was continued through Elizabeth. In Palenque, Yohl Ik’nal continued the Bahlam dynasty through her daughter, Sak K’uk who passed the dynasty down through her son K’inich Janaab Pakal I. If the husband of a royal daughter who is heir assumes the throne, then the dynasty shifts to his family. In the cases of Elizabeth and the two Mayan queens, their husbands were royal consorts, not kings assuming the throne.
Records carved on monuments give evidence of other women rulers: Lady of Tikal, Lady Six Sky of Naranjo, and Lady Ik’ Skull of Yaxchilan. The tomb of a great Maya warrior queen was uncovered in Guatemala in 2012. Lady K’abel (Lady Snake Lord) ruled El Peru-Waka for her family, the empire-building Kan (Snake) dynasty of Kalakmul, from 672-692CE.
Mayan women rulers are the focus of my historical fiction series, Mists of Palenque. The first in this 4-ebook series is The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque. The story based in Palenque (ancient Lakam Ha) takes you into the living world of this fascinating high culture.