Council of the Indies

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Map of the Spanish Empire in 1598.
Territories administered by the Council of Castile
Territories administered by the Council of Aragon
Territories administered by the Council of Portugal
Territories administered by the Council of Italy
Territories administered by the Council of the Indies
Territories appointed to the Council of Flanders Philip II's realms in 1598.png
Map of the Spanish Empire in 1598.
  Territories administered by the Council of Castile
  Territories administered by the Council of Aragon
  Territories administered by the Council of Portugal
  Territories administered by the Council of Italy
  Territories administered by the Council of the Indies
  Territories appointed to the Council of Flanders

The Council of the Indies; officially, the Royal and Supreme Council of the Indies (Spanish : Real y Supremo Consejo de las Indias, pronounced  [reˈal i suˈpɾemo konˈsexo ðe las ˈindjas] ), was the most important administrative organ of the Spanish Empire for the Americas and the Philippines. The crown held absolute power over the Indies and the Council of the Indies was the administrative and advisory body for those overseas realms. It was established in 1524 by Charles V to administer "the Indies," Spain's name for its territories. Such an administrative entity, on the conciliar model of the Council of Castile, was created following the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire in 1521, which demonstrated the importance of the Americas. Originally an itinerary council that followed Charles V, it was subsequently established as an autonomous body with legislative, executive and judicial functions by Philip II of Spain and placed in Madrid in 1561. [1] The Council of the Indies was abolished in 1812 by the Cádiz Cortes, briefly restored in 1814 by Ferdinand VII of Spain, and definitively abolished in 1834 by the regency, acting on behalf of the four-year-old Isabella II of Spain. [2] [3]

Spanish, or Castilian, is a Romance language that originated in the Iberian Peninsula and today has over 450 million native speakers in Spain, the Americas and a small part of Africa. It is a global language and the world's second-most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese.

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, the Asian archipelago of the Philippines, what they called "The Indies" and 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 one of the empires described as the most powerful of the 16th and 17th centuries. The Spanish Empire became known as "the empire on which the sun never sets" and reached its maximum extension in the 18th century.

Americas Landmass comprising North America, Central America and South America

The Americas comprise the totality of the continents of North and South America. Together, they make up most of the land in Earth's western hemisphere and comprise the New World.



The palace of the Alcazar in Madrid, residence of the kings of Spain, in which the Council of the Indies was installed till 1701. Alcazar de Madrid siglo XVII.jpg
The palace of the Alcázar in Madrid, residence of the kings of Spain, in which the Council of the Indies was installed till 1701.
Pedro Moya de Contreras, former archbishop of Mexico, President of the Council of the Indies PedroMoyaContreras.jpg
Pedro Moya de Contreras, former archbishop of Mexico, President of the Council of the Indies
Luis de Velasco II, Marques de Salinas, Viceroy of New Spain and of Peru, later President of the Council of the Indies LuisdeVelascoII.jpg
Luis de Velasco II, Marqués de Salinas, Viceroy of New Spain and of Peru, later President of the Council of the Indies
Juan de Solorzano Pereira, member of the Council of the Indies. Politica indianapor Iuan de Solorzano Pereira.jpg
Juan de Solórzano Pereira, member of the Council of the Indies.

Queen Isabella had granted extensive authority to Christopher Columbus, but then withdrew that authority, and established direct royal control, putting matters of the Indies in the hands of her chaplain, Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca in 1493. The Catholic Monarchs (Isabella and Ferdinand) designated Rodríguez de Fonseca to study the problems related to the colonization process arising from what was seen as tyrannical behavior of Governor Christopher Columbus and his misgovernment of Natives and Iberian settlers. Rodríguez de Fonseca effectively became minister for the Indies and laid the foundations for the creation of a colonial bureaucracy. He presided over a committee or council, which contained a number of members of the Council of Castile (Consejo de Castilla), and formed a Junta de Indias of about eight counselors. Emperor Charles V was already using the term "Council of the Indies" in 1519.

Isabella I of Castile Queen of Castile and León

Isabella I reigned as Queen of Castile from 1474 until her death. Her marriage to Ferdinand II in 1469 became the basis for the de facto unification of Spain. 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.

Christopher Columbus Italian explorer, navigator, and colonizer

Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer and colonizer who completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean that opened the New World for conquest and permanent European colonization of the Americas. Columbus had embarked with intent to find and develop a westward route to the Far East, but instead discovered a route to the Americas, which were then unknown to the Old World. Columbus's voyages were the first European expeditions to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. His Spanish-based expeditions and governance of the colonies he founded were sponsored by Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, the Catholic Monarchs of the budding Spanish Empire. Columbus never clearly renounced his belief that he had reached the Far East.

Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca (1451–1524) was a Spanish archbishop, a courtier and bureaucrat, whose position as royal chaplain to Queen Isabella enabled him to become a powerful counsellor to Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs. He controlled the Casa de Contratación, an agency which managed expeditions to the New World on behalf of the Spanish crown. He later served as the president of the Council of the Indies, when it was founded in 1521. He managed the administration of a number of significant Spanish expeditions including voyages by Christopher Columbus and Magellan's circumnavigation of the earth.

The Council of the Indies was formally created on August 1, 1524. [4] The king was informed weekly, and sometimes daily, of decisions reached by the Council, which came to exercise supreme authority over the Indies at the local level and over the Casa de Contratación ("House of Trade") founded in 1503 at Seville as a customs storehouse for the Indies. Civil suits of sufficient importance could be appealed from an audiencia in the New World to the Council, functioning as a court of last resort. [5] There were two secretaries of the Council, one in charge of Peru, Chile, Tierrafirme (northern South America), and the Kingdom of New Granada; the other was in charge of New Spain, encompassing Mexico, Guatemala, Nueva Galicia, Hispaniola, and the Philippines. The name of the Council did not change with the addition of the indias orientales of the Philippines and other Pacific territories claimed by Spain to the original indias occidentales. [6]

<i>Casa de Contratación</i> crown agency for the Spanish Empire

The Casa de Contratación or Casa de la Contratación de las Indias was established by the Crown of Castile, in 1503 in the port of Seville 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. Its official name was La Casa y Audiencia de Indias.

The supreme court is the highest court within the hierarchy of courts in many legal jurisdictions. Other descriptions for such courts include court of last resort, apex court, and highcourt of appeal. Broadly speaking, the decisions of a supreme court are not subject to further review by any other court. Supreme courts typically function primarily as appellate courts, hearing appeals from decisions of lower trial courts, or from intermediate-level appellate courts.

Internecine fighting and political instability in Peru and the untiring efforts of Bartolomé de las Casas on behalf of the natives' rights resulted in Charles's overhaul of the structure of the Council in 1542 with issuing of the "New Laws," which put limits on the rights of Spanish holders of encomiendas, grants of indigenous labor. Under Charles II the Council undertook the project to formally codify the large volume of Council and Crown's decisions and legislation for the Indies in the 1680 publication, the Laws of the Indies ( es:Recopilación de las Leyes de Indias ) and re-codified in 1791. [7]

Viceroyalty of Peru Spanish Imperial territory

The Viceroyalty of Peru was a Spanish imperial provincial administrative district, created in 1542, that originally contained modern-day Peru and most of Spanish-ruled South America, governed from the capital of Lima. Peru was one of the two Spanish Viceroyalties in the Americas from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

Bartolomé de las Casas Spanish Dominican friar, historian, and social reformer

Bartolomé de las Casas was a 16th-century Spanish colonist who acted as a historian and social reformer before becoming a Dominican friar. He was appointed as the first resident Bishop of Chiapas, and the first officially appointed "Protector of the Indians". His extensive writings, the most famous being A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies and Historia de Las Indias, chronicle the first decades of colonization of the West Indies. He described the atrocities committed by the colonizers against the indigenous peoples.

New Laws laws intended to prevent the exploitation and mistreatment of the indigenous peoples of the Americas

The New Laws, also known as the New Laws of the Indies for the Good Treatment and Preservation of the Indians, were issued on November 20, 1542, by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and regard the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Following complaints and calls for reform from individuals such as the Dominican friar Bartolomé de Las Casas, these laws were intended to prevent the exploitation and mistreatment of the indigenous peoples of the Americas by the encomenderos, by strictly limiting their power and dominion over groups of natives. The text of the New Laws has been translated to English.

The Council of the Indies was usually headed by an ecclesiastic, but the councilors were generally non-clerics trained in law. In later years, nobles and royal favorites were in the ranks of councilors, as well as men who had experience in the high courts (Audiencias) of the Indies. A key example of such an experienced councilor was Juan de Solórzano Pereira, author of Política Indiana, who served in Peru prior to being named to the Council of the Indies [8] and led the project on the Laws of the Indies. Other noteworthy Presidents of the Council were es:Francisco Tello de Sandoval; es:Juan de Ovando y Godoy; Pedro Moya de Contreras, former archbishop of Mexico; and Luis de Velasco, marqués de Salinas, former viceroy of both Mexico and Peru.

Juan de Solórzano Pereira Spanish jurist

Juan de Solórzano Pereira (1575-1655) was a Spanish jurist who became oidor of Lima and was an early writer on the colonial law of the Spanish empire in the Americas.

Pedro Moya de Contreras Roman Catholic archbishop

Pedro Moya de Contreras was a prelate and colonial administrator who held the three highest offices in the Spanish colony of New Spain, namely inquisitor general, Archbishop of Mexico, and Viceroy of Mexico, September 25, 1584 - October 17, 1585. He was the 6th Viceroy, governing from September 25, 1584 to October 16, 1585. During this interval he held all three positions.

Although initially the Council had responsibility for all aspects of the Indies, under Philip II the financial aspects of the empire were shifted to the Council on Finance in 1556-57, a source of conflict between the two councils, especially since Spanish America came to be the source of the empire's wealth. When the Holy Office of the Inquisition was established as an institution in Mexico and Lima in the 1570s, the Council of the Indies was removed from control. The head of the Supreme Council of the Inquisition, es:Juan de Ovando y Godoy became president of the Council of the Indies 1571-75. He was appalled by the ignorance of the Indies by those serving on the Council. He sought the creation of a general description of the territories, which was never completed, but the Relaciones geográficas were the result of that project. [9]

Mexican Inquisition Expansion of the Spanish Inquisition to New Spain

The Mexican Inquisition was an extension of the Spanish Inquisition to New Spain. The Spanish Conquest of Mexico was not only a political event for the Spanish, but a religious event as well. In the early 16th century, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation and the Inquisition were in full force in most of Europe. The Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon had just re-conquered the last Muslim stronghold in the Iberian Peninsula, the kingdom of Granada, giving them special status within the Roman Catholic realm, including great liberties in the conversion of the native peoples of Mesoamerica. When the Inquisition was brought to the New World, it was employed for many of the same reasons and against the same social groups as suffered in Europe itself, minus the Indians to a large extent. Almost all of the events associated with the official establishment of the Holy Office of the Inquisition occurred in Mexico City, where the Holy Office had its own “palace”, which is now the Museum of Medicine of UNAM on Republica de Brasil street. The official period of the Inquisition lasted from 1571 to 1820, with an unknown number of victims.

Peruvian Inquisition

The Peruvian Inquisition was established on January 9, 1570 and ended in 1820. The Holy Office and tribunal of the Inquisition were located in Lima, the administrative center of the Viceroyalty of Peru.

Relaciones geográficas were a series of elaborate questionnaires distributed to the lands of King Philip II of Spain in the Viceroyalty of New Spain in North America. They were done so, upon his command, from 1579–1585. This was a direct response to the reforms imposed by the Ordenanzas, ordnances, of 1573.

The height of the Council's power was in the sixteenth century. Its power declined and the quality of the councillors decreased. In the final years of the Habsburg dynasty, some appointments were sold or were accorded to people obviously unqualified, such as a nine-year-old boy, whose father had rendered services to the crown. [10]

With the ascension of the Bourbon dynasty at the start of the eighteenth century, a series of administrative changes, known as the Bourbon reforms, were introduced. In 1714 Philip V created a Secretariat of the Navy and the Indies (Secretaría de Marina e Indias) with a single Minister of the Indies, which superseded the administrative functions of the Council, although the Council continued to function in a secondary role until the nineteenth century. Fifty years later Charles III set up a separate Secretary of State for the Indies (Secretarío del Estado del Despacho Universal de Indias). [11] In the late eighteenth century, the Council became powerful and prestigious again, with a great number of well qualified councillors with experience in the Indies. [12] In 1808 Napoleon invaded Spain placed his brother, Joseph Napoleon on the throne. The Cádiz Cortes, the body Spaniards considered the legitimate government in Spain and its overseas territories in the absence of their Bourbon monarch, abolished the Council in 1812. It was restored in 1814 upon Ferdinand VII's restoration, and the autocratic monarch appointed a great number of Councillors with American experience. [13] The Council was finally abolished in 1834, a year after Ferdinand VII's death and after the loss of most of Spain's empire in the Americas.

The archives of the Council, the Archivo General de Indias one of the major centers of documentation for Spanish, Spanish American, and European history, are housed in Seville.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Spanish Constitution of 1812 the first Constitution of Spain

The Political Constitution of the Spanish Monarchy, also known as the Constitution of Cádiz and as La Pepa, was the first Constitution of Spain and one of the earliest constitutions in world history. It was established on 19 March 1812 by the Cortes of Cádiz, the first Spanish legislature. With the notable exception of proclaiming Roman Catholicism as the official and sole legal religion in Spain, the constitution was one of the most liberal of its time: it affirmed national sovereignty, separation of powers, freedom of the press, free enterprise, abolished feudalism, and established a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. It was one of the first constitutions that allowed universal male suffrage, through a complex indirect electoral system. It was repealed by King Ferdinand VII in 1814 in Valencia, who re-established absolute monarchy.

Antonio de Mendoza Spanish colonial administrator

Antonio de Mendoza y Pacheco was the first Viceroy of New Spain, serving from November 14, 1535 to November 25, 1550, and the third Viceroy of Peru, from September 23, 1551, until his death on July 21, 1552.

<i>A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies</i> 1552 book

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The Real Audiencia, or simply Audiencia, was an appellate court in Spain and its empire. The name of the institution literally translates as Royal Audience. The additional designation chancillería was applied to the appellate courts in early modern Spain. Each audiencia had oidores.

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Council of Castile former part of the Spanish Empire

The Council of Castile, known earlier as the Royal Council, was a ruling body and key part of the domestic government of the Crown of Castile, second only to the monarch himself. It was established under Queen Isabella I in 1480 as the chief body dealing with administrative and judicial matters of the realm. With the 1516 ascension of King Charles I to the throne of both Castile and Aragon, the Royal Council came to be known as the Council of Castile because Charles was king of many dominions other than Castile, while the Council retained responsibility only over Castile.

Laws of the Indies

The Laws of the Indies are the entire body of laws issued by the Spanish Crown for the American and the Philippine possessions of its empire. They regulated social, political, religious, and economic life in these areas. The laws are composed of myriad decrees issued over the centuries and the important laws of the 16th century, which attempted to regulate the interactions between the settlers and natives, such as the Laws of Burgos (1512) and the New Laws (1542).

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The Real Audiencia de Manila was the Real Audiencia of the Spanish East Indies, which included modern-day Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Micronesia and the Philippines. Similar to Real Audiencias throughout the Spanish Empire, it was the highest tribunal within the territories of the Captaincy General of the Philippines, a dependency of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

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Juan Bautista Muñoz Spanish philosopher and historian

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<i>Historia general de las Indias</i> book by Francisco López de Gómara

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  1. Fernando Cervantes, "Council of the Indies" in Encyclopedia of Mexico, vol. 1, p. 36163. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn 1997.
  2. El Consejo Real de Castilla y la Ley
  3. Gibson, Charles (1966). Spain in America . New York: Harper & Row. pp.  92.
  4. Gibson, 94-95.
  5. Recopilación de las leyes de Indias, Libro II, Título VI.
  6. Gibson, 109-110, note 24.
  7. Cervantes, "Council of the Indies" p. 361.
  8. Cervantes, "Council of the Indies", p. 362.
  9. Burkholder, Mark A. "Council of the Indies", vol. 2, p. 293. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996.
  10. Gibson, 167-168.
  11. Burkholder, "Council of the Indies" p. 293.
  12. Burkholder, "Council of the Indies" p. 293.

Further reading