Lady Yohl Ik’nal – The first female ruler of the Mayans

Lady Yohl Ik'nal

Lady Yohl Ik’ nal was the first recorded female ruler of the Mayan city of Palenque and the first to have a full royal title. Historians believe that her role was unusual because she held power for twenty-one years.[1] This is because women only held power temporarily through their son, who was too young to rule.[2] Historians also think that hers was a very impressive one, considering that she withstood two attacks from her neighbours (the Calakmul and the Bonampak) and remained in power longer than her contemporaries in the region.[3]

Lady Yohl Ik’ nal’s birthdate is unknown. We only know her reign date, which was 23 December 583 A.D.[4]  Her name means “Lady Heart Wind Place”.[5] Historians most likely believe that she was the daughter of the previous ruler, Kan Bahlam I, though some say that she was his sister.[6] The Mayans preferred patrilineal descent in determining who was to be the ruler of the Palenque. When Lady Yohl Ik’ nal was chosen to become their next ruler, it must have proved a desperate and troubled time for the Mayans.[7] Historians believe that there may have been an unrecorded warfare that eliminated male candidates for rulership.[8] This may have been the reason why Lady Yohl Ik’ nal ascended to the position as queen.[9] 

Lady Yohl Ik’ nal may have been married to Janaab Pakal, though some historians say he may have been her second son.[10] She had a son named Ajen Yohl Mat.[11] She may also have given birth to Lady Sak K’uk, though some historians debate that she was her granddaughter.[12] What is generally agreed is that her descendant is K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, one of the Mayans’ greatest rulers.[13]

On 23 April, 599 A.D., she suffered a humiliating defeat against the Calakmul. It is unclear whether it was a full-scale war or a smaller raid for taking elite captives.[14] Still, it showed the Palenque’s weakening state. She also suffered another invasion by the Bonampak at an unknown date.[15] Despite these failures, Lady Yohl Ik’ nal still held onto her power, and according to the records left by Pakal and his son, K’inich Kan Bahlam II, she was treated with veneration throughout her reign.[16] She died on 7 November, 604.[17] Her son, Ajen Yohl Mat’s reign was less successful. However, her grandson or great-grandson, K’inich Janaab’ Pakal would be the most famous of all the Mayan kings.[18] He ruled for 68 years.[19]

At the end of the day, there is still much to be known about this queen of the Mayans. The fact that she that ruled as a queen for several years and outlived a number of contemporaries proves that she was a strong, vibrant woman. She had a few humiliating defeats, but overall she held her position and paved the way for one of her descendants to come to power that was one of the most powerful Mayan rulers.


Aldana, Gerardo. The Apotheosis of Janaab’ Pakal: Science, History, and Religion at Classic

     Maya Palenque. University Press of Colorado, Boulder, 2010;2007;

Lee, David. Approaching the End: Maya Royal Ritual in the Palace Group at El Perú-Waka’

     Petén, Guatemala, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2012.

Sharer, Robert J. Daily Life in Maya Civilization. 2nd ed., ABC-CLIO, 2009.

Skidmore, Joel (2010). The Rulers of Palenque (PDF) (Fifth ed.). Mesoweb Publications.

     Retrieved 12 October 2015.

Witschey, Walter R. T. Encyclopedia of the Ancient Maya. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

[1] Lee, p. 18

[2] Lee, p. 18

[3] Aldana, p. 23

[4] Skidmore, p. 39

[5] Skidmore, p. 42

[6] Skidmore, p. 42

[7] Skidmore, p. 39

[8] Skidmore, p. 39

[9] Skidmore, p. 39

[10] Skidmore, 54

[11] Sharer, p. 79

[12] Skidmore pp. 56-57

[13] Witschey, p. 261

[14] Witschey, p. 261

[15] Skidmore, p. 53

[16] Skidmore, p. 53

[17] Skidmore, p. 51

[18] Skidmore, pp. 56-57

[19] Skidmore, p. 71



About Lauralee Jacks 165 Articles
I am a former elementary teacher in Tennessee. I have a bachelor’s degree in Liberal and Civic Studies from St. Mary’s College of California, a master’s in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Mary. Because my family are from East Asia, I have a passion for historical Chinese and Korean television shows. I always wanted to separate fact from fiction in dramas. Writing articles from History of Royal Women gives me a chance to dig deeper and explore these royal women as they might have been in real life. Also, it gives me a chance to look at the history and culture of where my family originated. I love researching East Asian royalty because they rarely get enough attention in the West often being overshadowed by European royalty. I find these royal women to be just as fascinating and their stories deserve to be told. Thus, I am excited to write for History of Royal Women!

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