Biography of Manco Inca (1516-1544): Ruler of the Inca Empire

The Puppet Ruler Who Turned on the Spanish

Inca Españoles
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Manco Inca (1516-1544) was an Inca Prince and later a puppet ruler of the Inca Empire under the Spanish. Although he initially worked with the Spanish who had put him on the throne of the Inca Empire, he later came to realize that the Spanish would usurp the Empire and fought against them. He spent his last few years in open rebellion against the Spanish. He was eventually treacherously murdered by Spaniards to whom he had given sanctuary.

Manco Inca and the Civil War

Manco was one of the many sons of Huayna Capac, ruler of the Inca Empire. Huayna Capac died in 1527 and a war of succession broke out among two of his sons, Atahualpa and Huascar. Atahualpa's base of power was in the north, in and around the city of Quito, while Huascar held Cuzco and the south. Manco was one of several princes who supported Huascar's claim. In 1532, Atahualpa defeated Huascar. Just then, however, a group of Spaniards arrived under Francisco Pizarro: they took Atahualpa captive and threw the Inca Empire into chaos. Like many in Cuzco who had supported Huascar, Manco initially saw the Spaniards as saviors.

Manco's Rise to Power

The Spanish executed Atahualpa and found they needed a puppet Inca to rule the Empire while they plundered it. They settled on one of Huayna Capac's other sons, Tupac Huallpa. He died of smallpox shortly after his coronation, however, so the Spanish selected Manco, who had already proven himself loyal by fighting alongside the Spanish against rebellious natives from Quito. He was formally crowned Inca (the word Inca is similar in meaning to king or emperor) in December of 1533. At first, he was an eager, compliant ally of the Spanish: he was happy that they had selected him for the throne: as his mother had been lesser nobility, he most likely never would have been Inca otherwise. He helped the Spanish put down rebellions and even organized a traditional Inca hunt for the Pizarros.

The Inca Empire Under Manco

Manco may have been Inca, but his empire was falling apart. Packs of Spanish rode across the land, looting and murdering. The natives in the northern half of the empire, still loyal to the murdered Atahualpa, were in open revolt. Regional chiefs, who had seen the Inca royal family fail to repel the hated invaders, took on more autonomy. In Cuzco, Spaniards openly disrespected Manco: his home was robbed on more than one occasion and the Pizarro brothers, who were the de facto rulers of Peru, did nothing about it. Manco was allowed to preside over traditional religious rituals, but Spanish priests were putting pressure on him to abandon them. The Empire was slowly but surely deteriorating.

Abuses of Manco

The Spanish were openly contemptuous of Manco. His house was robbed, he was repeatedly threatened to produce more gold and silver, and the Spanish even spat upon him occasionally. The worst abuses came when Francisco Pizarro went to found the city of Lima on the coast and left his brothers Juan and Gonzalo Pizarro in charge in Cuzco. Both brothers tormented Manco, but Gonzalo was the worst. He demanded an Inca princess for a bride and decided that only Cura Ocllo, who was the wife/sister of Manco, would do. He demanded her for himself, causing a great scandal among what was left of the Inca ruling class. Manco deceived Gonzalo for a while with a double, but it didn't last and eventually, Gonzalo stole Manco's wife.

Manco, Almagro and the Pizarros

Around this time (1534) a serious disagreement broke out among the Spanish conquistadors. The conquest of Peru had originally been undertaken by a partnership between two veteran conquistadors, Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro. The Pizarros tried to cheat Almagro, who was rightfully irked. Later, the Spanish crown divided the Inca Empire between the two men, but the wording of the order was vague, leading both men to believe that Cuzco belonged to them. Almagro was temporarily placated by allowing him to conquer Chile, where it was hoped he would find enough loot to satisfy him. Manco, perhaps because the Pizarro brothers had treated him so badly, supported Almagro.

Manco's Escape

By late 1535, Manco had seen enough. It was obvious to him that he was ruler in name only and that the Spanish did not intend to ever give back the rule of Peru to the natives. The Spanish were plundering his land and enslaving and raping his people. Manco knew that the longer he waited, the harder it would be to remove the hated Spanish. He tried to escape in October of 1535, but he was captured and put into chains. He regained the confidence of the Spanish and came up with a clever plan to escape: he told the Spanish that as Inca he needed to preside over a religious ceremony in the Yucay Valley. When the Spanish hesitated, he promised to bring back a life-sized golden statue of his father that he knew was hidden there. The promise of gold worked to perfection, as Manco had known it would. Manco escaped on April 18, 1535, and launched his rebellion.

Manco's First Rebellion

Once free, Manco sent out a call to arms for all his generals and local chieftains. They responded by sending massive levies of warriors: before long, Manco had an army of at least 100,000 warriors. Manco made a tactical mistake, waiting for all of the warriors to arrive before marching on Cuzco: the extra time given to the Spanish to make their defenses proved crucial. Manco marched on Cuzco in early 1536. There were only about 190 Spaniards in the city, although they had many native auxiliaries. On May 6, 1536, Manco launched a massive attack on the city and nearly captured it: parts of it were burned. The Spanish counterattacked and captured the fortress of Sachsaywaman, which was much more defensible. For a while, there was a stalemate of sorts, until the return in early 1537 of the Diego de Almagro expedition. Manco attacked Almagro and failed: his army dispersed.

Manco, Almagro and the Pizarros

Manco was driven off, but saved by the fact that Diego de Almagro and the Pizarro brothers began fighting among themselves. Almagro's expedition had found nothing but hostile natives and harsh conditions in Chile and had returned to take their share of the loot from Peru. Almagro seized the weakened Cuzco, capturing Hernando and Gonzalo Pizarro. Manco, meanwhile, retreated to the town of Vitcos in the remote Vilcabamba Valley. An expedition under Rodrigo Orgóñez penetrated deep into the valley but Manco escaped. Meanwhile, he watched as the Pizarro and Almargo factions went to war: the Pizarros prevailed at the battle of Salinas in April of 1538. The civil wars among the Spanish had weakened them and Manco was ready to strike again.

Manco's Second Rebellion

In late 1537 Manco rose up in rebellion once again. Instead of raising a massive army and leading it himself against the hated invaders, he tried a different tactic. The Spaniards were spread out all over Peru in isolated garrisons and expedition: Manco organized local tribes and revolts aimed at picking these groups off. This strategy was partly successful: a handful of Spanish expeditions were wiped out, and travel became extremely unsafe. Manco himself led an attack on the Spanish at Jauja, but was rebuffed. The Spanish responded by sending out expeditions specifically to track him down: by 1541 Manco was on the run again and retreated again to Vilcabamba.

The Death of Manco Inca

Once again, Manco waited things out in Vilcabamba. In 1541, all of Peru was shocked when Francisco Pizarro was murdered in Lima by assassins loyal to the son of Diego de Almagro and the civil wars flared up again. Manco again decided to let his enemies slaughter one another: once again, the Almagrist faction was defeated. Manco did give sanctuary to seven Spaniards who had fought for Almagro and feared for their lives: he put these men to work teaching his soldiers how to ride horses and use European weapons. These men betrayed and murdered him sometime in mid-1544, hoping to gain a pardon by doing so. Instead, they were tracked down and killed by Manco's forces.

Legacy of Manco Inca

Manco Inca was a good man in a tough spot: he owed his position of privilege to the Spanish, but soon came to see that his allies would destroy the Peru he knew. He therefore put the good of his people first and started a rebellion which lasted almost ten years. During this time, his men fought the Spanish tooth and nail all over Peru: had he re-taken Cuzco swiftly in 1536, the course of Andean history might have altered dramatically.

Manco's revolt is a credit to his wisdom in seeing that the Spanish would not rest until every ounce of gold and silver was taken from his people. The blatant disrespect showed to him by Juan and Gonzalo Pizarro, among many others, certainly had much to do with it, too. Had the Spaniards treated him with dignity and respect, he might have played the part of puppet emperor longer.

Unfortunately for the Andean natives, Manco's revolt represented the last, best hope for the removal of the hated Spanish. After Manco, there was a short succession of Inca rulers, both Spanish puppets and independent ones in Vilcabamba. Túpac Amaru was killed by the Spanish in 1572, the last of the Inca. Some of these men fought the Spanish, but none of them had the resources or skills that Manco did. When Manco died, any realistic hope for a return to native rule in the Andes died with him.

Manco was a skilled guerrilla leader: he learned during his first rebellion that large armies are not always best: during his second rebellion, he relied on smaller forces to pick off isolated groups of Spaniards and had much more success. When he was killed, he was training his men in the use of European weapons, adapting to the changing times of warfare.


Burkholder, Mark and Lyman L. Johnson. Colonial Latin America. Fourth Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Hemming, John. The Conquest of the Inca London: Pan Books, 2004 (original 1970).

Patterson, Thomas C. The Inca Empire: The Formation and Disintegration of a Pre-Capitalist State.New York: Berg Publishers, 1991.

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Minster, Christopher. "Biography of Manco Inca (1516-1544): Ruler of the Inca Empire." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Minster, Christopher. (2020, August 27). Biography of Manco Inca (1516-1544): Ruler of the Inca Empire. Retrieved from Minster, Christopher. "Biography of Manco Inca (1516-1544): Ruler of the Inca Empire." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).