Cabildo (council)

Last updated
1810 meeting of the cabildo in Buenos Aires Cabildo abierto.jpg
1810 meeting of the cabildo in Buenos Aires
Depiction of the main cabildo buildings of the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata. Cabildos del Virreinato.JPG
Depiction of the main cabildo buildings of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.

A cabildo (Spanish pronunciation:  [kaˈβildo] ) or ayuntamiento (Spanish:  [aʝuntaˈmjento] ) was a Spanish colonial, and early post-colonial, administrative council which governed a municipality. Cabildos were sometimes appointed, sometimes elected; but they were considered to be representative of all land-owning heads of household ( vecinos ). The colonial cabildo was essentially the same as the one developed in medieval Castile.


The cabildo was the legal representative of the municipality—and its vecinos—before the Crown, therefore it was among the first institutions established by the conquistadors themselves after, or even before, taking over an area. For example, Hernán Cortés established La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz to free himself from the authority of the Governor of Cuba.

The word cabildo has the same Latin root (capitulum) as the English word chapter, and in fact, is also the Spanish word for a cathedral chapter. Historically the term ayuntamiento was often preceded by the word excelentísimo (English: "most excellent") as a style of office, when referring to the council. This phrase is often abbreviated


Cabildo of Salta, Argentina. Salta-Cabildo1.jpg
Cabildo of Salta, Argentina.

The Castilian cabildo has some similarities to the ancient Roman municipium and civitas —especially in the use of plural administrative officers and its control of the surrounding countryside, the territorium—but its evolution is a uniquely medieval development. With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the establishment of the Visigothic Kingdom, the ancient municipal government vanished. In many areas, seeking to escape from the political instability around them, people entrusted themselves to large landholders, exchanging their service for the landholder's protection, in a process that ultimately led to feudalism. (See also, Manorialism.) In areas where the old territoria survived, the Visigothic kings appointed a single officer, called either a comes or a iudice to replace the defunct municipia or civitates. After the Muslim conquest, the new rulers also appointed various judicial officers to manage the affairs of the cities. Qadis heard any cases that fell under the purview of Sharia law and sahibs oversaw the administration of the various other areas of urban life, such as the markets and the public order. [1]

The cabildo proper began its slow evolution in the process of the Reconquista. As fortified areas grew into urban centers or older cities were incorporated into the expanding Christian kingdoms of Portugal, León and Castile, kings (and sometimes local lords) granted the cities various levels of self-rule and unique sets of laws (the fueros ) and made them the administrative center of a large terminus or alfoz , which was analogous to the ancient territorium. In general, municipal governments often consisted of a council (consejo) open to all the property-owning adult males of the city and a nobleman appointed to represent the king and organize the defense of the city and terminus. By the 13th century, these open councils proved unwieldy and were replaced by a smaller body, the cabildo or ayuntamiento consisting of set number of regidores (usually twenty-four in the largest cities) elected by the property owners in the city. These new bodies took their permanent form by the end of the 14th century. As part of the same process, a municipal council (the consell) with different attributes and composition also evolved in the neighboring Kingdom of Aragon during this period. [2]


Vargas, Jose Maria; Cevallos Garcia, Gabriel and others investigators. (1985) Espectaculo de india exorcizada durante la Misa Mayor en el Altar de la Virgen de Guapulo 1646 en presencia de la Audiencia, el Presidente Martin de Arriola, el Obispo Agustin Duarte y el Cabildo, por Miguel de Santiago.JPG
Vargas, José María; Cevallos García, Gabriel and others investigators. (1985)

In theory, every municipality in the Spanish colonies in the Americas and the Spanish Philippines had a cabildo. Municipalities were not just the cities but included the surrounding lands. All lands were ultimately assigned to a municipality. Usually the cabildo made local laws and reported to the presidente (president) of the audiencia , who in turn reported to the viceroy. The cabildo had judicial, legislative and administrative duties. For this reason it was often addressed with the formula, Consejo, Justicia y Regimiento (Council, Justice and Government).

Gerardo Flores Ivaldi Oil TUCUMAN-1812.jpg
Gerardo Flores Ivaldi Oil

The cabildo consisted of several types of officials. There were four to twelve regidores , depending on the size and importance of the municipality. Regidores, were not just deliberative officers, but all shared in the administration of the territory, dividing tasks among themselves. Initially the regidores were elected by all the heads of household. In the late Middle Ages, these elections often turned violent, with citizens forming bands to control elections and even resorting to murder. To minimize this kings began to appoint a certain number of, or even all of, the regidores in certain cities. By the modern era different cabildos had different mixes of elected and appointed regidores both on the Peninsula and overseas. Finally, to add another layer of control, the kings introduced corregidores to represent them directly and preside over the cabildos. Although many municipalities lost their right to elect all or some of their regidores as time went on, cities and cabildos gained new power with the development of the Castilian and Leonese parliaments (the cortes ) because cities had a right to representation in them. [3]

In addition to the council members, the cabildo had one or two magistrates, the alcaldes , whom the regidores elected every January 1. Alcaldes served as judges of first instance in all criminal and civil cases and acted as presiding officers of the cabildo, unless there was a corregidor. In provincial capitals the first alcalde would fill in for incapacitated governors. Other officers were the alférez real (royal standard-bearer), who had a vote in cabildo deliberations and would substitute the alcalde if the latter could not carry out the functions of his office; the alguacil mayor, who oversaw local law enforcement; the fiel ejecutor, who was the inspector of weights, measures and markets, in charge of the supplies of the city and oversaw municipal sanitation; the procurador or city attorney; and a scribe.

After the Bourbon Reforms, peninsulares were almost exclusively appointed to the positions of viceroy and bishop. Other offices, such as oidores of the audiencia, corregidores (in the places where it continued to exist after the Bourbon Reforms) and intendants, also saw a rise in the proportion of peninsulares being appointed. These last ones had been positions to which creoles once had easy access, especially after the approval of the sale of offices which began during the financial crisis at the end of the 16th century. As a result of being shut out of these offices, creoles turned to the cabildos for political power. Soon enough cabildos became the center of power for creoles, as evidenced in many of the clashes, usually with the peninsular-dominated audiencias, in the period leading up to the wars of independence. In the first decades of the national period, the traditional form of the cabildo was kept in several Spanish American nations, although they were eventually replaced by legislative municipal councils.

Currently existing

Because cabildos were the city government, the city administrative offices were often called the "cabildo". These names are preserved in parts of Latin America, and even in New Orleans.

At present, cabildos exist only on the Canary Islands (cabildos insulares), one governing each island, and they are elected. Cabildos there resemble the consells insulars (island councils) of the Balearic Islands.

See also

The "Cabildo Abierto" of may 22, 1810, in the city of Buenos Aires (now part of Argentina, then part of the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata), where it was decided to remove the viceroy Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros. Cabildoabierto-Subercaseaux.jpg
The "Cabildo Abierto" of may 22, 1810, in the city of Buenos Aires (now part of Argentina, then part of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata), where it was decided to remove the viceroy Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros.

Related Research Articles

Alcalde is the traditional Spanish municipal magistrate, who had both judicial and administrative functions. An alcalde was, in the absence of a corregidor, the presiding officer of the Castilian cabildo and judge of first instance of a town. Alcaldes were elected annually, without the right to reelection for two or three years, by the regidores of the municipal council. The office of the alcalde was signified by a staff of office, which they were to take with them when doing their business. A woman who holds the office is termed an Alcaldesa.

Ayuntamiento is the general term for the town council, or cabildo, of a municipality or, sometimes, as is often the case in Spain and Latin America, for the municipality itself. Ayuntamiento is mainly used in Spain; in Latin America alcaldía is also for municipal governing bodies, especially the executive ones, where the legislative body and an executive one are two separate entities. In Catalan-speaking parts of Spain, municipalities generally use the Catalan cognate, ajuntament, while Galician ones use the word concello, Astur-Leonese conceyu and Basque udaletxea. Since ayuntamiento is a metonym for the building in which the council meets, it also translates to "city/town hall" in English.

Adelantado was a title held by Spanish nobles in service of their respective kings during the Middle Ages. It was later used as a military title held by some Spanish conquistadores of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.

<i>Santa Hermandad</i> Spanish law enforcement association

Santa Hermandad was a type of military peacekeeping association of armed individuals, which became characteristic of municipal life in medieval Spain, especially in Castile. Modern hermandades in Spain, some of which evolved from medieval origins, are now for the most part religious confraternities retaining only a military structure and ethos.

Municipalities of Mexico

Municipalities are the second-level administrative divisions of Mexico, where the first-level administrative division is the state. As of the establishment of two new municipalities in Chiapas in September 2017, there are 2,448 municipalities in Mexico, not including the 16 alcaldías of Mexico City. The internal political organization and their responsibilities are outlined in the 115th article of the 1917 Constitution and detailed in the constitutions of the states to which they belong. Municipalities are distinct from cities, a form of Mexican locality; some municipalities as large as states, while cities can be measured in city blocks.

Francisco Primo de Verdad y Ramos

Francisco Primo de Verdad y Ramos was a New Spain lawyer and politician and a proponent of independence from Spain. He was imprisoned by the Spanish authorities for his advocacy, and died in prison. He is considered one of the protomartyrs of Mexican independence.

Municipalities of El Salvador

The municipalities or municipios of El Salvador correspond to the second level administrative division in the Republic of El Salvador which divide its departments. El Salvador contains 262 municipalities.

A regidor is a member of a council of municipalities in Spain and Latin America. Portugal also used to have the same office of regedor.

A corregidor was a local administrative and judicial official in Spain and in its overseas empire. They were the representatives of the royal jurisdiction over a town and its district.

Captaincy General of Puerto Rico Spanish 1580-1898 possession in the Caribbean

The Captaincy General of Puerto Rico was an administrative district of the Spanish Empire, created in 1580 to provide better military management of the island of Puerto Rico, previously under the direct rule of a lone governor and the jurisdiction of Audiencia of Santo Domingo. Its creation was part of the, ultimately futile, Habsburg attempt in the late 16th century to prevent incursion into the Caribbean by foreign powers. Spain also established Captaincies General in Cuba, Guatemala and Yucatán.

Mayor of Ponce, Puerto Rico Head of government of Ponce, Puerto Rico

The Mayor of Ponce is the head of government of Ponce, Puerto Rico. The current mayor is María Meléndez, also known as "Mayita".

Síndico Procurador was a Spanish term for a colonial city attorney or municipal corporation counsel used in the former Viceroyalty of New Spain based in Spanish colonial México. It was used to identify the local administrative and judicial position within a town council, corresponding to a present-day city attorney or corporation counsel.

Alcalde ordinario refers to the judicial and administrative officials in the cabildos in the Spanish Viceroyalties in the Americas during the times of the Spanish Empire in the 16th through 19th centuries Spanish West Indies Empire. Always existing in pairs, they were called Alcalde de primer voto and Alcaldes de segundo voto. The alcalde ordinario was a judicial magistrate who, with some exceptions, was responsible for the administration of civil and criminal justice within their municipal jurisdiction.

1979 Spanish local elections

The 1979 Spanish local elections were held on Tuesday, 3 April 1979, to elect all 67,505 councillors in the 7,870 municipalities of Spain and all 1,152 seats in 43 provincial deputations. The elections were held simultaneously with local elections in the four foral deputations of the Basque Country and Navarre and the ten island councils in the Balearic and Canary Islands.

Local government in Spain refers to the government and administrative powers exercised by what the Constitution calls "local entities", principally municipalities, but there are also various forms of supra-municipal bodies such as provincial councils and cabildos and sub-municipal bodies such as comarcas. Together, these local entities make up the third tier of government, the first tier being the state (Spain) and the second tier the regions. Spain adheres to the European Charter of Local Self-Government although it declares itself not bound to the full extent by the requirement for direct elections of all local authorities.

An alcalde mayor was a regional magistrate in the Spanish Viceroyalties in the Americas during the times of the Spanish Empire in the 16th through 19th centuries Spanish West Indies Empire. These regional officials had judicial, administrative, military and legislative authority. Their judicial and administrative functions superseded those of an alcalde. Their area of territorial jurisdiction was called an alcaldía mayor. Judicial appeals from the decisions of an alcalde mayor were heard by an audiencia.

The concejo abierto is the regime under which the local government of some small Spanish municipalities operate. A case of direct democracy, the system allows for the existence of two bodies: the Mayor and the asamblea vecinal, also known as concejo, formed by the all the electors of the municipality. It is also used by other entities below the municipal level.

<i>Partido</i> (region) Administrative subdivision in various countries

Partido was a Spanish colonial term that referred to a governed local administrative region, roughly equivalent to today's municipality in terms of rural land areas included, and used in the Spanish colonies in the Americas during the times of the Spanish Empire. It was "the territory or district composed of a jurisdiction or administration from a main city."

Ayuntamiento de Granada Local government of the city of Granada

The Ayuntamiento de Granada is the institution charged with the government and administration of the Spanish municipality of Granada.


  1. O'Callaghan, A History of Medieval Spain, 30, 61-62, 142-143.
  2. O'Callaghan, A History of Medieval Spain, 269-271, 447, 593-596.
  3. O'Callaghan, A History of Medieval Spain, 447.