Part 1 – The Candidates For the Mayan Red Queen.
“The Red Queen” was the nickname given by archeologists to the red cinnabar-permeated skeleton of a tall woman, covered with jade and shells, found inside a sarcophagus whose inner walls were also coated red. They knew she was someone important, probably royalty related to famous Maya king K’inich Janaab Pakal, since Temple XIII which contained her sarcophagus was adjacent to his burial pyramid in Palenque. After an expert Mexican physical anthropologist determined the skeleton was female, speculation ran rampant over who she was. Discovering her identity would be difficult, however, because the crypt and sarcophagus did not have any inscriptions. This was surprising, since Pakal’s crypt walls, sarcophagus walls and lid were literally covered with Maya hieroglyphs, symbols and portraits of ancestors. The process of deduction led to identifying four candidates in Pakal’s family. From Pakal’s burial, tablets and panels we know the names of his mother and grandmother. From panels in the Palace and Temple of the Inscriptions we can identify the names of his wife and daughter-in-law. He apparently did not have any sisters or daughters, although he did have four sons.
The candidates for The Red Queen were Pakal’s grandmother, mother, wife and daughter-in-law.
Yohl Ik’nal was the grandmother of Pakal. Her birth date is not known, but the glyphs recorded that she ascended to the throne of Palenque in 583 CE. She was the first Mayan woman to rule in her own accord, and most probably inherited rulership from her father, Kan Bahlam I. She ruled successfully for 21 years, fending off attacks from Kalakmul and bringing prosperity and new constructions to her city. Although there is disagreement among Mayanists about dynastic succession, the interpretation I’m following holds that Yohl Ik’nal was the mother of Aj Ne Ohl Mat, a son who ruled from 605-612 CE, and Sak K’uk, a daughter who ruled from 612-615 CE.
Sak K’uk was the mother of Pakal. She was born around 578 CE, and became the second Mayan woman to rule in her own right. She took over during a chaotic
period in Palenque, when the city suffered a devastating defeat by Kalakmul near the end of her brother’s reign. After he was killed, the city was without leadership and in spiritual crisis, because their sacred portal to the Gods and Ancestors (the Sak Nuk Nah–White Skin House) had been destroyed. Sak K’uk managed to assume the throne and hold it until her son, Pakal, was 12 years old and acceded. It’s highly likely that she continued to provide leadership for several more years.
Tz’aakb’u Ahau was the wife of Pakal. Her birth date is unknown; they married in 626 CE. Born in a neighboring town, very little is recorded about her. She bore Pakal four sons, two of whom became rulers. She is depicted on the Dumbarton Oaks tablet sitting with Pakal on either side of their second son to rule, K’inich Kan Joy Chitam, and again on the Palace Tablet tendering him the symbols of divine ancestry. Her death in 673 CE is recorded in the Tablets of the Temple of the Inscriptions. An image that many consider to be her appears on the inner piers of that Temple, cradling the lineage deity Unen K’awiil (of the Palenque Triad Deities).
K’inuuw Mat was the daughter-in-law of Pakal. She married Pakal’s youngest son, Tiwol Chan Mat (647-680 CE.) Although two of Pakal’s older sons ruled, neither of them left heirs. Succession passed on after the last brother died to the nephew of the previous kings. We know almost nothing about K’inuuw Mat, except that she was not from Palenque. Her son K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Nab III continued Pakal’s dynasty by acceding to the throne in 721 CE.
The lives of these Mayan queens are told in compelling historical fiction in The Mists of Palenque series. www.mistsofpalenque.com