28 April 2023

What is the Viceroyalty of New Spain? – History, organization and territories of the Spanish Viceroyalty

By Donald

The Viceroyalty of New Spain was an entity established by the Spanish monarchy in America in 1535. It lasted more than three centuries and left a deep mark on the culture, economy and society of the region.

What was the Viceroyalty of New Spain?

It was a political entity established by the Spanish Crown in the 16th century, which covered a large area of ​​what is now Mexico, as well as parts of the United States, Central America and the Caribbean.

The government was established in 1535, after the conquest of the Mexican territories by the Spanish led by Hernán Cortés. For more than three centuries, It was one of the most transcendental colonies of Spain, both in terms of its economic importance and its strategic value.

the viceroyalty divided into several provinces each of which was led by an official called a governor. At the top of the hierarchy was the viceroy, who was the representative of the king of Spain in the colony. He had authority over all the provinces and was responsible for enforcing the laws and regulations of the Crown in New Spain.

During the viceroyalty period, many important cities and monuments were built such as Mexico City, Guadalajara and Puebla. New industries were also established and resources such as silver and gold were exported to Spain, creating great wealth for the colony.

However, the viceroyalty it also had its challenges. The indigenous people and other ethnic groups found themselves subjugated and exploited by the Spanish empire, which generated great social tension. In addition, the influence of the Catholic Church in the life of the colony was very strong and was sometimes used as a tool to maintain control over the population.

What are the characteristics of the Viceroyalty of New Spain?

It had several qualities that distinguished it as a unique entity in the history of Latin America. I will describe you below some of the main characteristics of the viceroyalty:

  • Political hierarchy: This was organized on a scale with the viceroy as the highest authority. Below this, there were governors and other officials who administered the different provinces that made up the colony.
  • Economy based on mining: New Spain was rich in resources especially silver. The exploitation of these deposits was the main financial activity of the colony and generated great wealth for Spain.
  • Entrust system: This mechanism it was a form of social and economic organization. In which the natives became forced laborers for the Spanish colonizers. The encomenderos had the responsibility of teaching the Indians religion and protecting them, but they often exploited them.
  • Strong influence of the Catholic Church: the church played an important role in the life of the viceroyalty. Catholicism was the official doctrine of the colony and had a great influence on education, culture, and politics.
  • Social inequality: the society of New Spain was divided into several castes, who were distinguished by their race, ethnic origin and economic position. White Spaniards had the highest status and power in society, while indigenous people and enslaved Africans were at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
  • Colonial architecture: This is a mixture of European styles and indigenous designs. Colonial buildings include cathedrals, churches, monasteries, palaces, and houses. They are known for their rich ornamentation and baroque details.

Political organization of the Spanish Viceroyalty

This structured in a hierarchy of powers, where the highest authority was the viceroy, who represented the king of Spain in the colony.

Below this, there was a series of officials who were in charge of administering the different provinces that made up the viceroyalty. These were named by the king and reported to the viceroy. Among the most important were the governors, who were responsible for the administration of the provinces and reported to the viceroy.

In addition to them, the viceroyalty also had other authorities, such as the corregidores, who were in charge of maintaining public order in the cities and towns, and the mayors, who were the highest-ranking judges in the colony.

The Church also played an important role in the organization. The bishops and archbishops were in charge of the dioceses and were responsible for the supervision of religious life in the colony. In addition, the church had great power in education and culture, members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy held positions of authority in colonial management.

Regarding the administration of justice, courts and tribunals were established to ensure the application of Crown laws and regulations. The highest court in the colony was the Royal Court, which was in charge of the administration of justice in civil and criminal matters.

Agriculture in the Viceroyalty of New Spain – Economy

This was an important financial activity, although not as significant as silver mining. Most agriculture was done on small plots. Especially for self-consumption and supplying local markets.

The most common crops in the colony were corn, beans, chili, tomato, pumpkin, potato, avocado, cotton and tobacco. These crops were adapted to the different regions of the population, many of them were exported to other parts of the world.

In addition to food crops, the colony also produced a wide variety of fruits, including bananas, oranges, lemons, guavas, mangoes, and pineapples. These were highly valued in Europe and were exported to Spain and other European countries.

Population and territories of the Spanish Viceroyalty

The land covered a large area of ​​present-day Mexico, as well as parts of Central America and the United States. The population of the Viceroyalty of New Spain was made up of various ethnic groups, including indigenous people, mestizos, criollos, peninsular Spaniards, and Afro-descendants.

These were the largest population and They were divided into different ethnic groups. each with their own language and culture. The mestizos, who were descendants of the mixture between Europeans and indigenous people, formed an important and growing group in the population. The Creoles were descendants of Spanish natives of America, and constituted a social and economic elite.

The peninsular Spaniards were those who had been born in Spain and who came to America in search of fortune or for reasons of service to the king. People of African descent were slaves brought from Africa to work on plantations, mines, and in the homes of the Spanish.

Most important characters in the Viceroyalty of New Spain

Being such a long period of time, in this course of history, people emerged who have been transcendental. Next, I present some of the most outstanding characters of the viceroyalty:

  • Hernán Cortés: Spanish conquistador who led the expedition that dominated the Aztec Empire in 1521, which led to the founding of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
  • Moctezuma II: Aztec emperor who ruled during the period when the Spanish arrived in Mexico. He was taken prisoner by the conquistadores and died under disputed circumstances.
  • Fray Bartolomé de las Casas: Spanish Dominican friar who advocated for Native American rights and fought against slavery and exploitation.
  • Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz: Mexican writer, poet and philosopher, She is considered one of the most important figures in seventeenth-century Spanish literature.
  • Miguel Hidalgo: Mexican priest and leader of the Mexican War of Independence against Spain. is considerate the father of the Mexican homeland.
  • Antony de Mendoza: First Viceroy of New Spain, appointed by King Carlos V in 1535 to govern the region.
  • Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora: 17th century Mexican scientist and writer who made important studies on the history and the geography of the country.
  • Hernando de Soto: Spanish researcher who led the expedition that explored the southeastern United States in the 16th century and reached the Mississippi River.
  • Juan Ruiz de Alarcon: Mexican writer and playwright of the 17th century, considered one of the most important of his time.
  • Bernardo de Gálvez: Spanish Governor of Louisiana who supported American insurgents in the American Revolutionary War and who fought against the British in the Gulf of Mexico region.

What are the most important events of the Spanish Viceroyalty?

Being more than three centuries of government, it was filled with many crucial events. Here are some of the most prominent:

  • The conquest of Mexico: One of the most significant events in history, the domain of Mexico by the Spanish led by Hernán Cortés, occurred between 1519 and 1521. This conquest led to the founding of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
  • The War of Independence: An armed conflict that took place between 1810 and 1821 in which Mexican insurgents fought against Spanish rule and They achieved the independence of Mexico.
  • The Golden Age: A period of great cultural and artistic flowering that took place in the 17th century in Spain and its colonies, including New Spain. During this time, great poets, writers, artists and architects emerged. In addition, important historical monuments and buildings were built.
  • The Inquisition: The Court of the Holy Office of the Inquisition settled in New Spain in 1571, he played a crucial role in supervising and eliminating religious practices considered heretical.
  • The Bourbon Reforms: A series of administrative, economic and political changes implemented by the Spanish monarchy in the 18th century. With the purpose of modernize the Viceroyalty and make it more productive.
  • The Independence of the United States: Spanish support for American insurgents during the American War of Independence had major political consequences and economic in the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
  • The Reform Laws: A set of regulations approved in the 19th century that sought to modernize and secularize the Mexican State, including the elimination of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and the confiscation of Church lands.
  • The Enlightenment movement: It arrived in Mexico in the 18th century and had a great impact on education, science, literature and philosophy.