Colonial Administration

viceroyalties The name for the four administrative units of Spanish possessions in the Americas: New Spain, Peru, New Granada, and La Plata.

Columbus, Cortés, and Pizarro had claimed the lands they had discovered for the Spanish crown. How were these lands governed? Already in 1503, the Spanish had granted the port of Seville a monopoly over all traffic to the New World and established the House of Trade to oversee economic matters. In 1524 Spain added to this body the Royal and Supreme Council of the Indies, with authority over all colonial affairs subject to approval by the king. Spanish territories themselves were divided into viceroyalties or administrative divisions (see Map 16.2).

Within each territory, the viceroy, or imperial governor, exercised broad military and civil authority as the direct representative of Spain. The viceroy presided over the audiencia (ow-dee-EHN-see-ah), a board of judges that served as his advisory council and the highest judicial body. Later, King Charles III (r. 1759–1788) introduced the system of intendants to Spain’s New World territories. These royal officials possessed broad military, administrative, and financial authority within their intendancies, smaller divisions within each viceroyalty, and were responsible not to the viceroy but to the monarchy in Madrid.

Spanish Viceroyalties in the New World

New Spain: Created in 1525 with Mexico City as its capital
Peru: Created in 1542 with Lima as its capital
New Granada: Created in 1717 with Bogotá as its capital
La Plata: Created in 1776 with Buenos Aires as its capital

The Portuguese governed their colony of Brazil in a similar manner. After the union of the crowns of Portugal and Spain in 1580, Spanish administrative forms were introduced. Local officials called corregidores (kuh-REH-gih-dawr-eez) held judicial and military powers. Royal policies placed severe restrictions on Brazilian industries that might compete with those of Portugal and Spain.