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HISTORY OF THE SPANISH EMPIRE
 
 


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Spaniards and Indians: 16th - 18th century


The settlement of the new Spanish colonies, and long-term reward for the conquistadors, is achieved by a system of grants known as encomiendas. Indians are 'commended' to a conquistador (himself the encomendero), giving him ostensibly the responsibility to protect them and educate them in the Christian faith. In return he has the right to receive tribute from them, usually paid in labour.

Entire Indian villages are often commended to an individual conquistador, giving him a status similar to that of a feudal lord.
 










The conquistadors are of necessity hard and ruthless men. In many cases they treat the Indians under their protection as slaves. But this causes a passionate reaction in defence of the Indians, promoted above all by a Dominican friar, Bartolomé de Las Casas.

Las Casas' humanitarian arguments receive a friendly hearing at the Spanish court, which is by now the most important secular arm of the Catholic Reformation. Charles V decrees in 1542 the so-called New Laws (Leyes Nuevas), putting in place regulations to protect the Indians on the encomiendas.
 







The New Laws at first have no effect in the Spanish colonies. In Peru the viceroy attempting to introduce them is beheaded by insurgent colonists. In Mexico the laws are not even proclaimed. Back in Spain, in 1545, many of the more provocative clauses in the legislation are revoked.

Nevertheless the direction pioneered by Las Casas eventually prevails. The encomienda system is brought to an end in the 18th century, replaced by more conventional wage labour. Spanish conscience in this matter is well ahead of its time. In this heated 16th-century debate, Spain's imperial administrators become by far the earliest of their kind to consider the rights of indigenous peoples.
 






Spanish colonialministration: 16th - 19th c.

The Spanish monarch is the first to be confronted with the problem of administering large tracts of conquered territory on the other side of an ocean. From the start careful measures are taken to control a difficult situation. Ferdinand and Isabella entrust the building of an administration, from as early as Columbus' second voyage in 1493, to their personal chaplain Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca.

Some of Fonseca's responsibilities are formalized in 1503 in the Casa de Contratación, dealing with trade. After his death in 1524 the political side of his administration becomes the Royal and Supreme Council of the Indies, sitting in Madrid.
 









In America the king's authority is exercised by his viceroys, who live in great magnificence and wield much power. In the 16th century there are only two viceroyalties. The viceroy of New Spain, with his capital in Mexico City, governs the West Indies and all the Spanish territories on the mainland from Florida to California in the north down to Venezuela in the south. In 1571 the Philippines are added to his responsibilities. A galleon sails annually from Acapulco to carry his instructions to the governor-general in Manila.

The viceroy of New Peru, with his capital at Lima (founded by Pizarro in 1535), governs all Spanish colonies in south America except Venezuela.
 







In the 18th century these two viceroyalties seem unwieldy. They are split into four. New Spain keeps the West Indies and the mainland down to Panama (though the southern region, Guatemala, has semi-autonomy under a captain-general). New Granada has Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. New Peru retains only Peru, most of Chile and western Bolivia. The viceroyalty of La Plata governs eastern Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and the southern tip of Chile.

These vast regions are successfully controlled from Madrid until the independence movements of the early 19th century. British rule may later span more of the globe. But Spain's is the longest lasting of all the modern European empires - with the Philippines remaining in Spanish hands until 1898.
 






The Philippines and Spain: 1521-1898

Like the other island groups of southeast Asia, the Philippines have very early human inhabitants - perhaps even as long as 60,000 years ago. In more recent history the main outside influences are Chinese, Hindu and - from the 15th century - Muslim. But no external power tries to dominate or unify the scattered islands (more than 7000 in the archipelago) until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.

Magellan, sailing on behalf of Spain, is the first European to reach the Philippines (in 1521). But the first permanent Spanish settlement is established in 1564 by Miguel López de Legazpi.
 









Legazpi, appointed governor general, makes his capital at Manila in 1571. In the same year he names the new colony the Philippines in honour of the Spanish king, Philip II.

Until the end of the 17th century Spanish rule is often precarious, with the main threat coming from the Dutch (as a rival colonial power in the far east) and from the Muslims (whose presence in the southern islands has preceded that of the Spanish). The Muslims are known to the Spanish as Moros, linking them with Spain's historic Muslim enemies in Europe - the Moors of Morocco.
 







The colonizing of the Philippines for Spain is carried out as much by Roman Catholic friars as by any state administration. In addition to the Jesuits (the main missionary presence elsewhere in the east), the orders of friars active in the Philippines include the Franciscans, the Dominicans and the Augustinians.

This most distant part of the Spanish empire remains within the fold longer than the more economically important regions of Latin America. Indeed the Philippines are a Spanish province for well over three centuries, until ceded by Spain to the United States in 1898 after the Spanish-American War.
 






American mission settlements: 16th - 18th century

In both Spanish and Portuguese colonies of Latin America the preaching orders of the Roman Catholic church - Franciscans, Dominicans and above all the Jesuits - play a prominent role.

The voyages of conquest have from the start proclaimed one of their main purposes to be the conversion of heathens to Christianity. Friars take part in almost every expedition.
 









In the early years conquest and conversion go hand in hand rather too easily for the spiritual side to be entirely convincing. Within ten years of Cortes landing in Mexico, one Franciscan friar claims to have personally baptized more than 200,000 Indians - including 14,000 in one day.

As the colonies settle down, the friars establish mission stations where Indians live as part of a Christian community. The friars also (as exemplified by the Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas) become staunch defenders of the Indians against exploitation by Spanish and Portuguese colonists.
 







Most prominent in these activities are the Jesuits, the order founded as the spearhead of the spiritual crusade of the Catholic Reformation. In Brazil the efforts of the Jesuits contribute greatly to extending the province inland, as they press every further up the rivers to organize and educate the Indians in self-supporting frontier settlements.

In Paraguay the Jesuit settlements (known as reducciones) are so numerous and so successful that the order governs a virtually independent territory, protected by their own army and with a population of about 100,000 Indians.
 







The power and wealth of the Jesuits arouses much opposition, particularly in the anti-clerical mood of the later 18th century. They also make enemies by protecting the Indians against the predatory demands of colonists.

The move against the missions is led by Portugal. The Jesuits are expelled from Brazil in 1759. Spain follows suit in its American viceroyalties in 1767. The thirty-two reducciones of Paraguay are abandoned and fall into decay. It is all part of a broader reaction in Europe, leading to the suppression of the entire Jesuit order in 1773.
 






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