Casa de Contratación

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Although the Casa de Contratacion was not located in a specific building, its documents can now be seen in the Archive of the Indies in Seville. Cathedral and Archivo de Indias - Seville.jpg
Although the Casa de Contratación was not located in a specific building, its documents can now be seen in the Archive of the Indies in Seville.

The Casa de Contratación (Spanish pronunciation:  [ˈkasa ðe kontɾataˈθjon] , "House of Trade") or Casa de la Contratación de las Indias ("House of Trade of the Indies") was established by the Crown of Castile, in 1503 in the port of Seville (and transferred to Cadiz in 1717) as a crown agency for the Spanish Empire. It functioned until 1790, when it was abolished in a government reorganization. Before the establishment of the Council of the Indies in 1524, the Casa de Contratación had broad powers over overseas matters, especially financial matters concerning trade and legal disputes arising from it. It also was responsible for the licensing of emigrants, training of pilots, creation of maps and charters, probate of estates of Spaniards dying overseas. [1] Its official name was La Casa y Audiencia de Indias. [2]

Crown of Castile Former country in the Iberian Peninsula

The Crown of Castile was a medieval state in the Iberian Peninsula that formed in 1230 as a result of the third and definitive union of the crowns and, some decades later, the parliaments of the kingdoms of Castile and León upon the accession of the then Castilian king, Ferdinand III, to the vacant Leonese throne. It continued to exist as a separate entity after the personal union in 1469 of the crowns of Castile and Aragon with the marriage of the Catholic Monarchs up to the promulgation of the Nueva Planta decrees by Philip V in 1715.

Seville Place in Andalusia, Spain

Seville is the capital and largest city of the autonomous community of Andalusia and the province of Seville, Spain. It is situated on the plain of the river Guadalquivir. The inhabitants of the city are known as sevillanos or hispalenses, after the Roman name of the city, Hispalis. Seville has a municipal population of about 690,000 as of 2016, and a metropolitan population of about 1.5 million, making it the fourth-largest city in Spain and the 30th most populous municipality in the European Union. Its Old Town, with an area of 4 square kilometres (2 sq mi), contains three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Alcázar palace complex, the Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies. The Seville harbour, located about 80 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean, is the only river port in Spain. Seville is also the hottest major metropolitan area in the geographical Southwestern Europe, with summer average high temperatures of above 35 °C (95 °F).

Spanish Empire world empire from the 16th to the 19th century

The Spanish Empire, historically known as the Hispanic Monarchy and as the Catholic Monarchy, was one of the largest empires in history. From the late 15th century to the early 19th, Spain controlled a huge overseas territory in the New World and the Asian archipelago of the Philippines, what they called "The Indies". It also included territories in Europe, Africa and Oceania. The Spanish Empire has been described as the first global empire in history, a description also given to the Portuguese Empire. It was the world's most powerful empire during the 16th and first half of the 17th centuries, reaching its maximum extension in the 18th century. The Spanish Empire was the first empire to be called "the empire on which the sun never sets".



Unlike the later East India Companies, chartered companies established by the Dutch, English, and others, the Casa collected all colonial taxes and duties, approved all voyages of exploration and trade, maintained secret information on trade routes and new discoveries, [3] [4] licensed captains, and administered commercial law. In theory, no Spaniard could sail anywhere without the approval of the Casa. However, smuggling often took place in different parts of the vast Spanish Empire. [5] [6] [7]

East India Company 16th through 19th-century British trading company

The East India Company (EIC), also known as the Honourable East India Company (HEIC) or the British East India Company and informally as John Company, Company Bahadur, or simply The Company, was an English and later British joint-stock company. It was formed to trade in the Indian Ocean region, initially with Mughal India and the East Indies, and later with Qing China. The company ended up seizing control over large parts of the Indian subcontinent, colonised parts of Southeast Asia, and colonised Hong Kong after a war with Qing China.

Dutch Empire overseas territories controlled by the Dutch Republic and, later, the modern Netherlands from the 17th century to the mid-1950s

The Dutch colonial empire comprised the overseas territories and trading posts controlled and administered by Dutch chartered companies and subsequently by the Dutch Republic (1581–1795), and by the modern Kingdom of the Netherlands after 1815. It was initially a trade-based system which derived most of its influence from merchant enterprise and from Dutch control of international maritime shipping routes through strategically placed outposts, rather than from expansive territorial ventures. With a few notable exceptions, the majority of the Dutch colonial empire's overseas holdings consisted of coastal forts, factories, and port settlements with varying degrees of incorporation of their hinterlands and surrounding regions. Dutch chartered companies often dictated that their possessions be kept as confined as possible in order to avoid unnecessary expense, and while some such as the Dutch Cape Colony and Dutch East Indies expanded anyway, others remained undeveloped, isolated trading centres dependent on an indigenous host-nation. This reflected the primary purpose of the Dutch colonial empire: commercial exchange as opposed to sovereignty over homogeneous landmasses.

British Empire States and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom

The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24% of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.

The Casa de Contratación was founded by Queen Isabella I of Castile in 1503, eleven years after the discovery of the Americas in 1492. [8] The Casa was the Spanish counterpart of the Portuguese organization, the Casa da Índia , or House of Índia of Lisbon, [9] [10] established in 1434 and destroyed by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.

Isabella I of Castile 15th and 16th-century Castilian queen

Isabella I reigned as Queen of Castile from 1474 until her death. Her marriage to Ferdinand II of Aragon became the basis for the political unification of Spain under their grandson, Charles V. After a struggle to claim her right to the throne, she reorganized the governmental system, brought the crime rate to the lowest it had been in years, and unburdened the kingdom of the enormous debt her brother had left behind. Her reforms and those she made with her husband had an influence that extended well beyond the borders of their united kingdoms. Isabella and Ferdinand are known for completing the Reconquista, ordering conversion or exile of their Muslim and Jewish subjects, and for supporting and financing Christopher Columbus's 1492 voyage that led to the opening of the New World and to the establishment of Spain as the first global power which dominated Europe and much of the world for more than a century. Isabella, granted together with her husband the title "the Catholic" by Pope Alexander VI, was recognized as a Servant of God by the Catholic Church in 1974.

Casa da Índia company

Casa da Índia was the Portuguese organization that managed all overseas territories during the heyday of the Portuguese Empire in the 16th century. It was both the central authority for managing all aspects of overseas trade, the central shipment point and clearing house. As an economic institution, it worked like a feitoria, being the most important economic institution in Portugal of the time. It was located at the Ribeira Palace, the royal palace in Terreiro do Paço square, in Lisbon.

Lisbon Capital city in Lisbon Metropolitan Area, Portugal

Lisbon is the capital and the largest city of Portugal, with an estimated population of 505,526 within its administrative limits in an area of 100.05 km2. Its urban area extends beyond the city's administrative limits with a population of around 2.8 million people, being the 11th-most populous urban area in the European Union. About 3 million people live in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, including the Portuguese Riviera,. It is mainland Europe's westernmost capital city and the only one along the Atlantic coast. Lisbon lies in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and the River Tagus. The westernmost areas of its metro area form the westernmost point of Continental Europe, which is known as Cabo da Roca, located in the Sintra Mountains.

Dr. Sancho de Matienzo became the first treasurer, Jimeno de Bribiesca the first contador, and Francisco Pinelo the first factor. They soon controlled the economic development of Hispaniola. [11]

Hispaniola island in the Caribbean

Hispaniola is an island in the Caribbean island group known as the Greater Antilles. It is the second largest island in the Caribbean after Cuba, and the most populous island in the Caribbean; it is also the eleventh most populous island in the world.


A 20 per cent tax, the quinto real (royal fifth) was levied by the Casa on all precious metals entering Spain. [12] [13] The other taxes could run as high as 40% to provide naval protection for the trading ships or as low as 10 per cent during financial turmoil to encourage investment and economic growth in the colony. Each ship was required to employ a clerk to keep detailed logs of all goods carried and all transactions. [14]

The quinto real or the quinto del rey, the "King's fifth", was a 20% tax established in 1504 that Spain levied on the mining of precious metals. The tax was a major source of revenue for the Spanish monarchy. In 1723 the tax was reduced to 10%.

The Casa de Contratación produced and managed the Padrón Real , the official and secret Spanish map used as a template for the maps carried by every Spanish ship during the 16th century. [15] It was constantly improved from its first version in 1508, and was the counterpart of the Portuguese map, the Padrão Real . The Casa also ran a navigation school; new pilots, or navigators, were trained for ocean voyages here. [16]

Spain employed the then standard mercantilist model, governed (at least in theory) by the Casa in Seville. Trade with the overseas possessions was handled by a merchants' guild based in Seville, the Consulado de mercaderes , which worked in conjunction with the Casa de Contratación. Trade was physically controlled in well-regulated trade fleets, the famous Flota de Indias and the Manila galleons.


By the late 17th century, the Casa de Contratación had fallen into bureaucratic gridlock, and the empire as a whole was failing, due primarily to Spain's inability to finance both war on the Continent and a global empire. More often than not, the riches transported from Manila and Acapulco to Spain were officially signed over to Spain's creditors before the Manila galleon made port. In the 18th century, the new Bourbon kings reduced the power of Seville and the Casa de Contratacion. [17] In 1717 they moved the Casa from Seville to Cádiz, diminishing Seville's importance in international trade. Charles III further limited the powers of the Casa, [18] and his son, Charles IV, abolished it altogether in 1790. [18] [19]


The mapmaking enterprise at the Casa de Contratación was a huge undertaking, and critical to the success of the voyages of discovery. Without good navigational aids, the ability of Spain to exploit and profit from its discoveries would have been limited. The Casa had a large number of cartographers and navigators (pilots), archivists, record keepers, administrators and others involved in producing and managing the Padrón Real. [20]

The famous explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who made at least two voyages to the New World, was a pilot working at the Casa de Contratación until his death in 1512. [21] A special position was created for Vespucci, the piloto mayor (chief of navigation), in 1508; [22] he trained new pilots for ocean voyages. [14] His nephew Juan Vespucci inherited his famous uncle's maps, charts, and nautical instruments, [23] and along with Andrés de San Martín was appointed to Amerigo's former position as the official Spanish government pilot at Seville. [24] [25] In 1524, Juan Vespucci was appointed examinador de pilotos (Examiner of Pilots), [26] replacing Sebastian Cabot who was then leading an expedition in Brazil. [27] [28]

In the 1530s and 1540s, the principal mapmakers (known as "cosmographers") in the Casa de Contratación working on the Padrón Real included Alonso de Santa Cruz, [29] Sebastian Cabot, and Pedro de Medina. [30] The mapmaker Diego Gutiérrez was appointed as cosmographer in the Casa on October 22, 1554, after the death of his father Diego in January 1554; he also worked on the Padrón Real. In 1562 Gutierrez published the map entitled "Americae...Descriptio" in Antwerp. It was published in Antwerp instead of Spain because the Spanish engravers did not have the necessary skill to print such a complicated document. [31] Other cosmographers included Alonso de Chaves, Francisco Falero, Jerónimo de Chaves, Sancho Gutiérrez (Diego's brother). [32] [33]

In the late 16th century, Juan Lopez de Velasco was the first Cosmógrafo-Cronista Mayor (Cosmographer-Chronicler Major) of the Council of the Indies in Seville. [34] He produced a master map and twelve subsidiary maps portraying the worldwide Spanish empire in cartographic form. [35] [36] [37] Although these maps are not especially accurate or detailed, his work represented the apogee of Spanish mapmaking in that period, and surpassed anything done by the other European powers. Cartographers in England, the Low Countries, and Germany, however, continued to improve their skills in making maps and in organizing and presenting geographic information, until by the end of the 17th century, even Spanish intellectuals were lamenting that the maps produced by foreigners were superior to those made in Spain. [38] [39] [40]

See also

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Further reading