After the discovery of the New World, Spain and Portugal took the lead in both exploring and colonizing the continents. It was a daunting task -- especially for a nation of a population not unlike that of the modern state of Virginia.
Viceroyalty of New Spain in 1795, at its geographical height. The pink is New Granada, of which, Venezuela had been part of New Spain until 1717.
While the Portuguese possessions on the Americas amounted to the enormous territory of Brazil, that of Spain was divided into several "kingdoms" each managed by a Viceroy. North America, Central America (except Panama) and the Caribbean, along with the Philippines in Asia, made up the Viceroyalty of New Spain, governed from Mexico City. South America was initially the Viceroyalty of Peru, with the viceroy resident in Lima, but in the 18th century, the Viceroyalties of New Granada (modern day Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador) and Rio de La Plata (modern day Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay) were established under the Bourbon monarchs. Today, we take a glance at New Spain and the governmental structure of the Viceroyalty:
- The viceroy was the highest official appointed by the crown, he answered to a Council for the Indies, and the viceroyalties were divided into Audiencias (high courts, presided over by either the Viceroy himself, or a President), and autonomous Captaincy Generals (for unstable or threatened areas -- the President of the Audiencia, as Captain General, held extra martial authority to co-ordinate civil and military functions), and under these were provinces. All the same, the Indians were given their own villages and allowed to keep much of their old leadership, but “instead of fearful temples…there were Christian churches; while upon the Indians themselves have been bestowed the hardly won prizes of ages of slow progress, the developed arts, the various domestic animals, the grains, vegetables, and fruits, the use of letters, and the printing press, and the forms of government.” Abuses did remain a serious problem (though there was a triennial audit of these realms) as did the ravages of disease (particularly smallpox) – all the same, there was an earnest attempt to convert, civilize, and protect the Indians by the crown and Church. The crown spent its own money seeing to the introduction of missionaries, and orders such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, & Jesuits made important gains. By the end of the 16th century there was a thriving Spanish New World culture, complete with “universities, scholars, authors, presses, scientists, and saints.” [Quotations from Bourne, cf. below]
Map of New Spain in 1650.
- New Spain: The Spanish crown would, in 1535, establish a Viceroyalty of New Spain with its seat in Mexico City. New Spain consisted of a number of subdivisions, including the following audiencias, and 18 provinces [* refers to the date of the establishment of a diocese, ** is for an Archdiocese]:
- Audiencia of Santo Domingo was formed in 1526, which (*1511 S. Domingo, **1545 Santo Domingo became the first Archdiocese in the Americas) had its seat in the city founded in 1496 (made a Captaincy General, as well, in 1535). The audiencia was a kind of governing high court with an area of jurisdiction. It, as all later governmental structures, would report to the Council of the Indies in Seville. This Audiencia of Santo Domingo consisted of Hispaniola (site of Santo Domingo, of course), Puerto Rico (San Juan, *1511; a separate Captaincy General in 1580), Cuba (Conquered by Diego de Velazquez in 1511, founding Havana in 1519, it became a C.G. in 1607), Jamaica (until surrendered to England in 1655), Trinidad, Florida (Discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513, St. Augustine was founded under Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565), and, until 1717, when it was shift to the new Viceroyalty of New Granada, Venezuela. These Caribbean islands were quickly eclipsed by the mainland, as disease, mismanagement of early colonists, and the absence of precious metals took their toll. A census in 1574 revealed the thin population in these areas: in Hispaniola, there were 10 Spanish villages with about a population of 1,000 Spaniards with 12,000 blacks, mainly raising sugar – and only 2 Indian villages. Cuba had but 240 Spanish colonists, with 70 in Havana. Puerto Rico and Jamaica were similarly de-populated. Although prime growing territory for sugar, the dynamics of the treasure fleet (only so much room, meaning priority to the most valuable products) meant that aside from Havana, where the fleet departed, and the capital at Santo Domingo, the Spanish Caribbean remained isolated and given to ranching and subsistence farming until the time of independence. It could not compete with the precious metals of the mainland. The Spanish crown was concerned, however, with the growth of other foreign interests and colonies, hence the new Captaincies General established in the 17th century.
- Audiencia of Mexico (conquered by Hernan Cortez from the Aztecs in 1519-1521) with the capital at Mexico City (*1530) was the seat of an Audiencia and the Viceroy himself. It would be elevated to a Viceroyalty in 1535 under Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza (1535-1550). This was a very populated and prosperous area. The same 1574 census figures registered as follows: Mexico City had 15,000 Spaniards and 150,000 Indians – along with a university, schools, and four hospitals. In the bishopric of Tlaxcala (*1525) to the east of Mexico City, there were two Spanish towns (Vera Cruz had 200 Spanish families and 600 blacks), and 200 Indian villages, with 250,000 Indians. St. Juan Diego (1531) lived in this viceroyalty, of course. Mexico was wealthy because of fantastic silver mines such as those at San Luis Potosi, Taxco, and Guanajuato. The main seaports were Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico (point of embarkation for Mexican silver) and Acapulco on the Pacific Coast (the trade route to the Philippines).
- Guadalajara was the seat of an Audiencia that included the Province of New Galicia (modern Jalisco & Zacatecas), northern Mexico and the Southwest United States (New Mexico [Santa Fe, 1608] & California). The city itself, at 5,000 ft. was officially founded in 1542, though settlement in the area started around 1530, after the initial conquest of the area by Nuno de Guzman from 1529-1531. The audiencia was formed in 1548 (*1548). The California missions of Blessed Junipero Serra came in the 1770s. This area also had important silver mines, such as those at Zacatecas.
- Central America formed the Audiencia of Guatemala, conquered for Spain by Pedo ad Alvarado from 1523-24, in became the seat of an Audiencia in 1543, and in 1609, a Captaincy General was established (Guatemala, *1534), though this excluded Panama, which was politically attached to South America.
- The Captaincy General of Yucatan was formed in southern Mexico in 1617. It was previously under Mexico City directly. The Maya here had been subdued from 1527-1546 by Francisco de Mantejo the elder and younger, father then son.
- The Philippines in Asia was part of this Viceroyalty, first seriously subdued starting in 1564 with arrival of Lopez Legaspi, who founded Manila in 1571. It became the Captaincy General of the East Indies in 1574. There would be an Audiencia in Manila in 1583. *1595.