Peru Under Spanish Rule

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Peru Under Spanish Rule

Spanish rule in Peru was consolidated in 1533 with the execution of Atahualpa, the reigning Inca monarch, and the conquistadors' military occupation of the Inca capital of Cuzco. And in that same year Spanish rule was solidified by the installation of Manco Inca Capac, a nephew of Atahualpa, as a puppet king in alliance with the Spaniards. The leader of the conquistadors, Francisco Pizarro (ca. 1475–1541), established a Spanish municipal government in Cuzco in 1534 that was modeled on Spanish cities. But in order to further establish Spanish hegemony, Pizarro moved the capital in 1535 to the newly established Spanish city of Lima on the Pacific coast, where there had been no prior Inca city.

Other Spaniards established municipalities at key points throughout the interior in order to facilitate trade and communication with other Spanish territories. These towns and cities became the building blocks of colonization in Peru, from which the Spanish implemented a policy of "pacification and colonization" (pacificación y población) that enabled Spanish military rule in the Andean regions, underpinned by a steady influx of Spaniards in search of land, wealth, and new opportunities. The new city of Lima would become the capital of the viceroyalty of Peru and, when the discovery of Peruvian silver stimulated the development of a rich commerce with Europe, the largest and most important trading center in South America. Internal rivalries amongst Pizarro and his associates, however, would lead to civil wars among the Spaniards—and finally to the assassination of Pizarro in 1541.

Hence, the rapid collapse of the Inca kingdom did not ensure the immediate stability of Spanish rule in Peru. Although consolidation of Spanish rule continued apace, Peru remained wracked by tensions and conflicts between Spaniards and the indigenous population for most of the sixteenth century. Manco Inca Capac broke his alliance with the Spaniards and led a great rebellion that almost overturned Spanish rule in Cuzco. Manco then withdrew to the mountains, where in 1536 at Vilcambamba he established a small Inca kingdom. Though Manco's kingdom never constituted a serious threat to Spanish rule, it remained independent until finally destroyed in 1572. Yet the revived Inca kingdom provided further impetus for a reinforced Spanish military presence and stronger colonial administrative apparatus.

At Cuzco, the Spaniards reestablished peace with the Incas by crowning Paullu (ca. 1510–1550) as Inca king, but they quickly entered into violent conflicts among themselves. While factions led by Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro (ca. 1474–1538) fought over the spoils of conquest during the late 1530s, they also resisted efforts by the Spanish Crown to impose its authority by sending a viceroy to Peru—which finally transpired with the appointment of Blasco Nuñez Vela (d. 1546) to the office in 1544.

Faced with the near decimation of the indigenous population by the end of the sixteenth century—some estimates suggest up to 90 percent of the indigenous population was lost to war, disease, and forced labor—the Spaniards were caught between their need for labor, mounting pressures from the Spanish monarchs for laws protecting the rights of the Indians, and the interests of the colonizers to maintain control over their newly acquired property in Peru. As in New Spain, a system of royal land grants (encomiendas) to Spanish colonists was the primary mode of colonization—controversial grants that also included rights to indigenous labor and taxation over the Indians, although outright slavery was forbidden. These grants also included the obligation to provide for the conversion to Christianity and continued religious education of the indigenous charges, the failure of which was a source of continued tension between landowners and religious communities.

Following vociferous complaints from the religious communities in New Spain, the Spanish monarchs implemented the "New Laws" in 1542, which, among other things, required these grants, or encomiendas, be returned to the crown's jurisdiction upon the death of the original encomendero (grant holder). The uproar in Peru over the denial of heredity value to their newly acquired land led Gonzalo Pizarro (ca. 1506–1548), the brother of Francisco, to lead a rebellion against and finally execute Viceroy Nuñez Vela, who demanded that Spaniards comply with the New Laws. Gonzalo Pizarro was defeated in 1548, but conflict with the crown did not end there. In 1553 Francisco Hernández Girón (1510–1554) lead another rebellion of other encomenderos who rejected royal attempts to curb their exploitation of the Indians. Using Indians as auxiliary troops, Hernández Girón fought until he was defeated the following year.

The consolidation of the Spanish presence and the transformation of Peru into a prosperous and stable Spanish colony were most closely linked not to agriculture but to the development of silver mining. The discovery of the vast silver mines of Potosí in 1545 heralded a new era that transformed the social and economic landscape of Peru and led to its conversion into Spain's wealthiest colony.

The millions of tons of silver extracted from the mines of Cerro Rico at Potosí—at the expense of as many as eight million of the coerced indigenous workers and imported African slaves—made Potosí among the most populous cities in the world before the eighteenth century. At over 200,000 inhabitants, and with more churches than any other city in the Spanish world, Potosí rapidly became a key economic center of the Spanish Empire, financing rich flows of transatlantic trade, stimulating agriculture and industry throughout the Andean region, and providing Spanish kings with the fiscal revenues that underpinned their exercise of power in Europe and beyond.

Potosí further funded the extravagant lives of many European monarchs, and financed continued global exploration for more than two hundred years. Although the decline of silver production in the seventeenth century did much to precipitate the declining power of the Spanish Empire, the recovery of Peruvian mining during the later eighteenth century ensured that Peru remained an important colony with close ties to Spain.

The long-term modes of colonial administration in Peru were consolidated by the end of the sixteenth century. The viceroyalty of Peru became the administrative arm of the Spanish monarchy in South America, and the person of the viceroy presided over a society stratified by class and ethnicity, and almost wholly dependent upon forced indigenous labor. Second in geographical expanse only to the viceroyalty of New Spain, the authority of Lima covered the entire South American continent save Portuguese-controlled Brazil and part of Venezuela. The viceroy implemented laws, collected taxes, settled disputes among the local colonists, and managed the delicate and tenacious relations between the Spaniards and the indigenous population.

The new capital of Lima also became the center for the royal audiencia, a supreme court and administrative body that acted as a support for and check upon the viceroy, and which oversaw relations between the colonists and the crown. Governance of the indigenous population throughout Peru was brought under the office of the corregidor, an office implemented to provide royal supervision over local indigenous leaders who were installed in certain areas to govern, albeit in a limited way, their own territories. The corregidor also oversaw disputes between the indigenous and Spanish populations.

The stabilization of Spanish rule in Peru owed much to Viceroy Francisco de Toledo (1520–1583), the most influential of the Spanish viceroys. Toledo attempted during his long viceregency between 1569 and 1581 to reaffirm royal authority and to bring an end to the tumultuous period following the conquests of Pizarro. In taking steps to implement systematic control over the Spanish and indigenous population, Toledo combined repression with reform. He ordered the end of the Inca kingdom at Vilcambamba in 1572 and finally executed Túpac Amaru, the last remaining Inca king—bringing about a sharp rebuke from the Spanish monarch in Madrid, but not a reduction of the viceroy's power.

Toledo established indigenous communities (reducciones) under the supervision of Catholic priests. The reducciones isolated the Indians from contact with Spaniards save for religious education and required labor. Toledo also worked to end abuses of indigenous labor and promoted limited local rule in indigenous communities based on pre-extant Inca laws. It was also under Toledo's leadership that intensive investigations into indigenous religious life were conducted; this information was used in the "extirpation of idolatry" campaigns of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, which attempted to end altogether pre-Columbian religious practices. But, perhaps most importantly from the Spanish perspective, Toledo provided a system of coerced native labor for the silver mines through the infamous mita system, which forced indigenous communities to supply a steady labor force for the mines at Potosí and elsewhere.

Under Toledo's leadership Lima also became the center for religious control over Peru, especially as the archbishopric of Lima quickly became among the most highly paid and powerful positions in colonial society. The archdiocese controlled the religious education of colonial elites through the newly founded University of San Marcos, and oversaw the rapid growth of convents and monasteries under its expansive jurisdiction. New authority was granted to the archdiocese with the arrival of the Inquisition in 1569. Three major councils of the church met between 1570 and 1583, the third and most famous of which required priests and missionaries to learn indigenous languages and formally adopted catechisms in the Aymara and Quechua languages.

In 1700 the Bourbon dynasty replaced Hapsburg rule in Spain, and the new Bourbon rulers promoted economic development and reform in the colonies. However, Peru was weakened in the eighteenth century by the creation of two other new viceroyalties—New Granada (1717) and Río de la Plata (1776). These new jurisdictions ended the domination of Lima in continental affairs and its monopoly over trade relations, and further meant the loss of Peru's lucrative silver mines at Potosí.

Bourbon rule was further complicated by a series of indigenous revolts that shook Peru in the eighteenth century. After more than a dozen large-scale uprisings, a Jesuit-educated mestizo named José Condorcanqui (ca. 1742–1781) took on the name of his executed ancestor, Túpac Amaru, and executed the Spanish corregidor in Cuzco on charges of cruelty. Appealing both to Inca traditions and to Christian traditions, Túpac Amaru launched a revolt against the excesses of the colonial government that began in the Cuzco region, but quickly spread throughout the southern Andes, only ending with his capture and execution in 1781.

Spanish rule survived this great threat from the indigenous population, and during the emerging years of the independence movements in Latin America, Peru tended to side with the Spanish monarchs. Weary of their treatment by the same Spanish Creoles who fought Spain for liberty, much of the indigenous population sided with royalist forces even during the wars of independence. Suspicious of Argentine and Chilean ambitions, and with a sizable number of elites still protective of their institutional and economic privileges with the crown, Peru was only liberated from Spanish rule by the successful occupation of Lima by the Argentine general José de San Martín (1778–1850) in 1821.

A failed alliance between San Martín and General Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) resulted in Bolívar finally establishing the Republic of Peru after the battles of Ayacucho and Junín in 1824. With these military victories, Bolívar not only established a new republic, but opened the way to the subsequent declaration of independence in 1825 of Upper Peru into the new Republic of Bolivia. Hence Peru's silver mines at Potosí, which had determined so much of its history, were permanently liberated from Peruvian rule by an independent Bolivia.

see also Inca Empire; Lima; Mining, the Americas; Pizarro, Francisco; Túpac Amaru, Rebellion of.


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