Last updated

A captaincy (Spanish : capitanía [kapitaˈni.a] , Portuguese : capitania [kɐpitɐˈni.ɐ] , Croatian : kapetanija) is a historical administrative division of the former Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires. It was instituted as a method of organization, directly associated with the home-rule administrations of medieval feudal governments in which the monarch delimited territories for colonization that were administered by men of confidence.


The same term was or is used in some other countries, such as Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Ottoman Empire, Slovakia or Austria.

Captaincy system

Portuguese Empire

The Captaincies of the Portuguese Empire were developed successively, based on the original donatário system established by King John I of Portugal in Madeira, and expanded with each successive new colony discovered. [1] Prince Henry the Navigator instituted the Captaincy system to promote development of Portuguese discoveries, but it was in the Azores, where this system effectively functioned. [1] The prince and his successors (the Donatários) remained on the mainland, unable to leave the court, owing to numerous responsibilities related to the Royal Household during the period of trans-Atlantic exploration. [1] When the King constituted and bestowed the Donatary system, he never specifically thought of sending his donatários to the archipelagos. [1] Consequently, the expansion of Portuguese overseas maritime authority resulted in the expansion of this system to their other dominions, including Madeira, Goa, Daman, Bombay and Bassein, the Azores and eventually Brazil.

Spanish Empire


Croatia has so-called port captaincies that are responsible for the civilian administration of maritime matters.


In Austria, district captaincies (Bezirkshauptmannschaften) have existed since 1849. These are responsible for the general administration on a district level and are comparable to county offices in the United States.

See also

Related Research Articles

Azores Portuguese archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean

The Azores, officially the Autonomous Region of the Azores, is one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal. It is an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands in the Macaronesia region of the North Atlantic Ocean, about 1,400 km (870 mi) west of Lisbon, about 1,500 km (930 mi) northwest of Morocco, and about 1,930 km (1,200 mi) southeast of Newfoundland, Canada.

Captaincies of Brazil 1534–1549 Portuguese hereditary fiefs of Brazil

The Captaincies of Brazil were captaincies of the Portuguese Empire, administrative divisions and hereditary fiefs of Portugal in the colony of Terra de Santa Cruz, later called Brazil, on the Atlantic coast of northeastern South America. Each was granted to a single donee, a Portuguese nobleman who was given the title captain General.

João Vaz Corte-Real Portuguese explorer

João Vaz Corte-Real was a Portuguese sailor, claimed by some accounts to have been an explorer of a land called Terra Nova do Bacalhau, speculated to possibly have been a part of North America. For his efforts, Corte-Real was offered the Donatário-Captaincies of São Jorge and Angra, respectively.

Gonçalo Velho Cabral

Gonçalo Velho Cabral was a Portuguese monk and Commander in the Order of Christ, explorer and hereditary landowner responsible for administering Crown lands on the same islands, during the Portuguese Age of Discovery.

A donatary captain was a Portuguese colonial official to whom the Crown granted jurisdiction, rights, and revenues over some colonial territory. The recipients of these grants were called donatários (donataries), because they had been given the grant as a doação (gift) by the king, often as a reward for service.

Vila do Porto (parish) Civil parish in Azores, Portugal

Vila do Porto is a civil parish in the municipality of Vila do Porto, located on the island of Santa Maria, in the Portuguese autonomous region of Azores. It is the southernmost and easternmost parish in the archipelago of Azores. The population in 2011 was 3,119, in an area of 25.55 km².

A donatário, sometimes anglicized as donatary, was a private person—often a noble—who was granted a considerable piece of land by the Kingdom of Portugal. The king exempted these titleholders from normal colonial administration; the donatários were comparable to a royal governor or a British Lord Proprietor. As the donataria were often captaincies, the position is also translated as captain.

Manuel Vieira de Albuquerque Touvar was a Portuguese nobleman who served first as Captain General in the colony of Brazil, but ultimately as the 9th Captain General of the archipelago of the Azores.

Diogo de Teive was a maritime captain and squire to the House of Infante D. Henrique (1394-1460) during the Portuguese period of discovery. Following his exploration into the western Atlantic in the area of Newfoundland, in 1452 he discovered the western islands of the archipelago of the Azores: for his efforts he was appointed Donatary for the islands of Flores and Corvo.

João Soares de Albergaria, also referred to as João Soares, was the second Portuguese Dontary-Captain of the islands of Santa Maria and São Miguel, succeeding his maternal uncle Gonçalo Velho Cabral in the title. After selling his rights to the Captaincy of São Miguel to Rui Gonçalves da Câmara, he continued as Donatary-Captain of Santa Maria.

The Captaincies of the Portuguese Empire were the socio-administrative territorial divisions and hereditary lordships established initially by Henry the Navigator, as part of the Donatário system in order to settle and developed the Portuguese overseas Empire. Pioneered on the island of Madeira and institutionalized in the archipelago of the Azores, the captaincy system was eventually adapted to the New World.

Rui Gonçalves da Câmara, was the second son of João Gonçalves Zarco, and inherited the title of Donatary-Captain of the island of São Miguel in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. Rui Gonçalves da Câmara was made the third person to administer/manage the colonization of the island of São Miguel by regal charter on 10 March 1474. After his 21-year mandate to administer the island of São Miguel, in which he was successful in promoting and establishing settlements throughout the colony, the Vila Franca do Campo received a foral (charter) as town.

João Rodrigues da Câmara, son of Rui Gonçalves da Câmara, who became the second Captain-Donatário of the island of São Miguel.

Lighthouse of Ponta Garça Lighthouse

The Lighthouse of Ponta Garça is a beacon/lighthouse located along cliffs of the civil parish of Ponta Garça in the municipality of Vila Franca do Campo, in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. The lighthouse was built in the 20th century, and consists of a circular tower and rectangular communications block, comparable to other lighthouses in the archipelago, namely Ponte do Cintrão and Ponta do Rosais.

Rui Gonçalves da Câmara, was the son of João Rodrigues da Câmara and successor to the Donatary-Captaincy of the island of São Miguel in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores.

The Captaincies of the Azores were the socio-political and administrative territorial divisions used to settle and govern the overseas lands of the Azores by the Kingdom of Portugal. These territories, a segment of the Captaincies of the Portuguese Empire, which usually conformed to the individual islands, allowing the stewardship of the King through the Donatary and Captaincy system.

A Captaincy-General of the Azores (1766—1832) was a politico-administrative structure of governance imposed in the Azores on 2 August 1766, with its seat in Angra. It remained the de facto system of governance for 65 years, until it was abolished on 4 June 1832 by D. Peter IV, but by 1828 its de jure status had made it nonoperational, owing to the revolutionary movements that lead to the Liberal Wars. The creation of the Captaincy-General was part of the Pombaline reforms to the Portuguese administration, during the reign of Joseph I, under the initiatives of Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the Marquess of Pombal, then prime minister. A Captaincy-General operated from the Palace of the Captains-General, under the direction of the titular Captain-General, who operated as the Governor of the Azores, with additional jurisdiction on every island of the Azorean archipelago. The Captaincy-General was succeeded by the Province of the Azores, an ephemeral administrative structure that was collapse in the immediate years.

Dinis Gregório de Melo Castro e Mendonça was a member of high nobility, military and Portuguese colonial administrator, who exercised the role as the Captain-General of the Azores (1771-1793).

José António de Melo da Silva César e Meneses, the 8th Count of São Lourenço, 2nd Count of Sabugosa, alcaide-mor of Elvas, ensign-chief of Portugal, gentleman of Royal Household, holder of the Grand-Cross in the Order of Christ and Commander in the Order of the Tower and Sword, was a high noble and general in the Portuguese Army, who between 1804 and 1806 was the 4th Captain General of the Azores.

Saudades da Terra

Saudades da Terra is a manuscript that was published by father Gaspar Frutuoso. It forms a reference work on the knowledge of Macaronesia in the late 16th century.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Susana Goulart Costa (2008), p.232