Manco Inca’s Rebellion (1535-1544)

Manco Inca
Manco Inca. Artist Unknown

Manco Inca’s Rebellion (1535-1544):

Manco Inca (1516-1544) was one of the last native lords of the Inca Empire. Installed by the Spanish as a puppet leader, Manco grew increasingly angry at his masters, who treated him with disrespect and who were plundering his empire and enslaving his people. In 1536 he escaped from the Spanish and spent the next nine years on the run, organizing a guerrilla resistance against the hated Spanish until his assassination in 1544.

Ascent of Manco Inca:

In 1532, the Inca Empire was picking up the pieces after a long civil war between brothers Atahualpa and Huáscar. Just as Atahualpa had defeated Huáscar, a far greater threat approached: 160 Spanish conquistadors under Francisco Pizarro. Pizarro and his men captured Atahualpa at Cajamarca and held him for ransom. Atahualpa paid, but the Spanish killed him anyway in 1533. The Spaniards installed a puppet Emperor, Tupac Huallpa, upon Atahualpa's death, but he died shortly thereafter of smallpox. The Spanish selected Manco, a brother of Atahualpa and Huáscar, to be the next Inca: he was only about 19 years old. A supporter of the defeated Huáscar, Manco was lucky to have survived the civil war and was thrilled to be offered the position of Emperor.

Abuses of Manco:

Manco soon found that serving as puppet emperor did not suit him. The Spaniards who controlled him were coarse, greedy men who did not respect Manco or any other native. Although nominally in charge of his people, he had little real power and mostly performed traditional ceremonial and religious duties. In private, the Spanish tortured him to make him reveal the location of more gold and silver (the invaders had already carted off a fortune in precious metals but wanted more). His worst tormentors were Juan and Gonzalo Pizarro: Gonzalo even forcibly stole Manco's noble Inca wife. Manco tried to escape in October of 1535, but was recaptured and jailed.

Escape and Rebellion:

In April of 1836 Manco tried to escape again. This time he had a clever plan: he told the Spanish that he had to go officiate at a religious ceremony in the Yucay Valley and that he would bring back a golden statue he knew of: the promise of gold worked like a charm, as he had known it would. Manco escaped and summoned his generals and called for his people to take up arms. In May, Manco led a massive army of 100,000 native warriors in a siege of Cuzco. The Spanish there only survived by capturing and occupying the nearby fortress of Sachsaywaman. The situation turned into a stalemate until a force of Spanish conquistadors under Diego de Almagro returned from an expedition to Chile and dispersed Manco's forces.

Biding His Time:

Manco and his officers retreated to the town of Vitcos in the remote Vilcabamba Valley. There, they fought off en expedition led by Rodrigo Orgoñez. Meanwhile, a civil war had broken out in Peru between the supporters of Francisco Pizarro and those of Diego de Almagro. Manco waited patiently in Vitcos while his enemies made war on one another. The civil wars would eventually claim the lives of both Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro; Manco must have been pleased to see his old foes brought down.

Manco’s Second Rebellion:

In 1537, Manco decided it was time to strike again. Last time, he had led a massive army in the field and had been defeated: he decided to try new tactics this time. He sent out word to local chieftains to attack and wipe out any isolated Spanish garrisons or expeditions. The strategy worked, to an extent: some Spanish individuals and small groups were killed and travel through Peru became very unsafe. The Spanish responded by sending another expedition after Manco and traveling in larger groups. The natives did not succeed, however, in securing an important military victory or driving the hated Spanish out. The Spanish were furious with Manco: Francisco Pizarro even ordered the execution of Cura Ocllo, Manco’s wife and a captive of the Spanish, in 1539. By 1541 Manco was once again in hiding in the Vilcabamba Valley.

Death of Manco Inca:

In 1541 the civil wars broke out again as supporters of Diego de Almagro's son assassinated Francisco Pizarro in Lima. For a few months, Almagro the Younger ruled in Peru, but he was defeated and executed. Seven of Almagro's Spanish supporters, knowing they would be executed for treason if captured, showed up in Vilcabamba asking for sanctuary. Manco granted them entrance: he put them to work training his soldiers in horsemanship and the use of Spanish armor and weapons. These treacherous men murdered Manco sometime in mid-1544. They were hoping to gain a pardon for their support of Almagro, but instead they were quickly tracked down and killed by some of Manco's soldiers.

Legacy of Manco’s Rebellions:

Manco's first rebellion of 1536 represented the last, best chance the native Andeans had of kicking out the hated Spanish. When Manco failed to capture Cuzco and annihilate the Spanish presence in the highlands, any hope of ever returning to native Inca rule collapsed. Had he captured Cuzco, he could have tried to keep the Spanish to the coastal regions and maybe force them to negotiate. His second rebellion was well thought-out and did enjoy some success, but the guerrilla campaign did not last long enough to do any lasting damage.

When he was treacherously murdered, Manco was training his troops and officers in Spanish methods of warfare: this suggests the intriguing possibility that had he survived he many have eventually used the Spanish weapons against them. With his death, however, this training was abandoned and future rogue Inca leaders such as Túpac Amaru did not have Manco's vision.

Manco was a good leader of his people. He initially sold out to become ruler, but swiftly saw that he had made a grave mistake. Once he escaped and rebelled, he did not look back and dedicated himself to removing the hated Spanish from his homeland.


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

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Minster, Christopher. "Manco Inca’s Rebellion (1535-1544)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Minster, Christopher. (2020, August 26). Manco Inca’s Rebellion (1535-1544). Retrieved from Minster, Christopher. "Manco Inca’s Rebellion (1535-1544)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).