New Spain

views updated May 18 2018


The viceroyalty of New Spain included all of the territory claimed by Spain in North America and the Caribbean from the conquest of the Aztec Empire in the 1520s until the final assertion of Mexican independence in 1821. Although never fully settled or controlled by Spain, this area included the entire modern nation of Mexico, and Central America north of what is now Panama. New Spain also encompassed Florida and much of the western portion of what became the United States, including California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas.

colonial administration and society

In 1528 the creation of a high court, the audiencia, marked the first step in a long and ultimately incomplete effort to establish Spanish royal authority throughout the region, followed by the appointment of a viceroy in 1535 to oversee royal interests from the capital of Mexico City. Along with its southern counterpart, the viceroyalty of Peru, New Spain was subject to the legislation of the Council of the Indies, a body of from six to ten royal councilors in Seville overseeing the entirety of Spanish holdings in the Western Hemisphere. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Spanish administration of New Spain centered on the mining of silver, the defense of the colony from other European powers, and the evangelization and assimilation of Native American peoples into the Spanish colonial system.

In addition to the earlier, better-known waves of conquistadors and missionaries, New Spain attracted numerous colonists and bureaucrats eager to exploit the mineral wealth of the New World and the labor of its indigenous inhabitants, known in New Spain as indios. Early European conquistadors and settlers established the encomienda system, in which individual Spaniards received the right to collect labor or tribute or both from specific indio communities. In areas of intensive silver mining, such as Guanajuato and Zacatecas, a separate system of forced labor known as the repartimiento required indigenous communities to make a minimum number of laborers available for hire as miners.

Africans had been present in New Spain since the earliest expeditions of exploration and conquest, participating as both conquistadors and enslaved laborers and personal servants. Over the course of the colonial period, New Spanish elites brought in some 200,000 African slaves to supplement an indigenous labor force that had been drastically reduced through diseases like smallpox and yellow fever. While the majority of the enslaved African population in New Spain remained located near the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, individual Africans of both free and enslaved status spread throughout the viceroyalty, establishing themselves in larger cities and municipalities, serving in militias, settling among indigenous communities, and participating in the silver mining booms.

Over time, members of New Spanish society formed new ethnic identities as Spaniards intermarried with Native Americans and Africans. A subtle castelike system developed, with peninsulares (natives of Spain) at the top of the social hierarchy. Creoles (individuals of Spanish descent born in the Americas) also formed part of the colonial elite, while mestizos (people of both Spanish and indio ancestry) and castas (people of a variety of mixed European, African, and indigenous ethnicities) tended to be excluded from many powerful positions. Although each separate racial classification carried specific privileges and restrictions, all groups had access to the courts. Social mobility for people of mixed ethnic ancestry was limited but possible, as wealth and occupation also played an important role in social status.

During the eighteenth century the population of New Spain grew as mining and agricultural production increased. With the exception of remote missions and military outposts in New Mexico, Spanish settlement of the northern frontier portions of New Spain had remained slow throughout the colonial period. These territories were home to numerous indigenous peoples who often resisted evangelization and "pacification" efforts, and forced labor systems like the encomienda and repartimiento were never successfully introduced there. Europeans made little effort to colonize these regions until the late seventeenth century, when French explorer and fur trader René-Robert Cavelier de LaSalle landed at Matagorda Bay in 1685. Although his colony was destroyed by disease and warfare with nearby indigenous groups, Spanish authorities from nearby Coahuila responded to the threat of French expansion into New Spain by sending their own expedition into Texas. In the early 1700s the French set up an outpost at Nacogdoches in eastern Texas, and the Spanish responded in kind with a new mission settlement of their own in San Antonio. New missions also appeared in California during this time.

bourbon reforms

During the second half of the eighteenth century, New Spain underwent a series of reforms implemented by the Bourbon dynasty. Spanish monarchs and their administrators attempted to overhaul the machinery of empire and revitalize royal control over the empire's American colonies. These Bourbon Reforms included the curtailment of ecclesiastical power, reapportionment of colonial territory, restructuring of colonial military forces, and new efforts to increase royal revenues.

Roman Catholic clergy had participated in the colonization of New Spain from the very beginning, with secular clergy (not members of a particular religious order) serving Spanish colonists in towns and cities and regular clergy establishing convents in settled urban areas and missions on the cultural frontier among newly evangelized indigenous communities. By the mid-eighteenth century the church was increasingly coming into conflict with the interests of the crown, resulting in efforts on the part of the Bourbon monarchs to reduce the power and influence of the clergy, and especially of the regular ecclesiastical orders. The best-known royal action of this sort was the expulsion of the Jesuit order from Spanish territories in 1767. While this banishment was carried out swiftly and without much resistance in many areas of Spanish America, New Spain experienced a period of intense protest following the action.

In order to rule more efficiently their American empire, the Bourbons created a new jurisdictional system in the colonies. In 1776 King Charles III authorized the reorganization of the northern frontier region into a separate semiautonomous administrative district known as the Provincias Internas (interior provinces). Northern districts like Texas, New Mexico, and the Californias were all governed by a military commander based first in Arispe, Sonora, and later in Chihuahua. In 1786 Charles III divided the rest of New Spain into twelve intendancies (administrative districts governed by an intendant, or royal governor). These political reforms increased the visible presence of royal administrators in the everyday life of the inhabitants of New Spain and disrupted traditional social relations in many areas of the viceroyalty. Additionally, the fact that most of the officials appointed to oversee these many districts of colonial government were peninsular (born in Spain) rather than Creole led to increased resentment on the part of the colonial Creole elite.

The Bourbons also felt it necessary to restructure colonial militias as a safeguard against aggression from other European powers and internal social unrest. The crown's desire to cut expenses limited its ability to furnish peninsular units for protection and control of the colonies. Thus, permanent Creole regular army units, ejércitos fijos, were established, and colonial militias expanded to include free blacks, mulattos, Indians, and mestizos. These military reforms led to increased social status for both castas and Creoles in New Spain and eventually provided the basis for the armies of independence. This provided a new degree of social and ethnic mobility and a social base for future revolutionary leadership. In order to fund the formation of these new militias and pay for imperial expenses in Europe, the Bourbons intensified tax collection efforts. Ultimately, their reforms disrupted traditional social relations within the colonial system and contributed to favorable conditions for independence movements.

relations with the united states

After the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), Spain was forced to cede Florida to Britain but received the massive Louisiana Territory from France in return. In the interim, between 1763 and the start of the American Revolution, settlers from British colonies in North America began moving southward into Florida and westward into Louisiana. During this period Spain gave Euro-American merchants the right of deposit in New Orleans, allowing them to use the port for their trade goods. In 1779 Spain joined France in supporting the American Revolution against Britain, and the Treaty of Paris on 3 September 1783 returned Florida to the Spanish Empire. Spanish authorities, concerned about the growing influence of Euro-American traders in Louisiana, attempted to close the Lower Mississippi River valley to U.S. trade from 1784 to 1788 and imposed tariffs on American imports and exports through New Orleans from 1788 to 1795. After the United States and Spain signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo (Pinckney's Treaty) in 1795, the Spanish governor of West Florida required high duties from Americans shipping goods via the Mobile River. Euro-Americans living in the borderlands also resented Spain's failure to resolve disputed land claims in the area, and they accused Spanish authorities of instigating Indian attacks. Although these actions created resentment toward the Spanish among Euro-Americans, settlers and traders from the United States continued to move into Spanish-controlled territory during the last years of the eighteenth century.

With the increased Euro-American settlement in Spanish territory and the increased tensions resulting from Spanish trade and land policies, Euro-American interest in New Spain took on a new form after the turn of the nineteenth century. As a result of the low population density in the northern regions of New Spain, Spanish officials were unable to maintain a regular schedule of border patrols. Spain's North American holdings, particularly the Floridas, seemed to lack enough troops and loyal subjects to repel independent, privately led American invasions, or filibusters. A group of businessmen in New Orleans organized themselves into the Mexico Society with the aim of eventually annexing northern portions of New Spain to the United States. From 1804 to 1807 Aaron Burr (vice president from January 1802–March 1805), disgruntled with his lack of political success in the East, conspired to form a separate nation out of portions of northern New Spain and the newly acquired Louisiana Territory of the western United States. His attempt failed from lack of support and betrayal by a co-conspirator, General James Wilkinson, but other filibustering expeditions soon followed.

mexican independence

After Napoleon invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 1808, a crisis of political legitimacy occurred throughout Spanish America. In 1810 a parish priest, Miguel Hidalgo, initiated the independence struggle in New Spain by raising a force of peasant soldiers to wrest control of the viceroyalty from peninsular Spaniards. Thousands of indios, castas, and even Creoles joined the insurrection, which experienced sporadic success during the subsequent decade. After initial large-scale battles including tens of thousands of rebels, the independence struggle settled into bitter guerrilla warfare in which individuals often changed their loyalties midstream. This chaotic political atmosphere attracted further filibustering expeditions from the United States and the Louisiana Territory as enterprising and idealistic individuals attempted to take advantage of Spain's predicament and capture Texas.

As Mexico's war for independence drew toward its close, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams signed the Transcontinental Treaty on 22 February 1819, fixing the boundary between the United States and New Spain. The treaty surrendered American claims to Texas but arranged for the United States to acquire Florida in 1821. On 24 February 1821 former royalist commander Agustin Iturbide, a Creole, joined forces with the Mexican insurgents and proclaimed the independent empire of Mexico. Iturbide's empire only lasted two years before succumbing to proponents of a republic, but 1821 marked the end of over three hundred years of Spanish dominion in North America. The new Mexican republic continued to claim jurisdiction over the former territory of New Spain, including Texas, but the border between the two new nations would remain porous for years to come.

See alsoLatin American Revolutions, American Response to; Mexico; Religion: Spanish Borderlands; Spain; Spanish Borderlands; Spanish Empire; Transcontinental Treaty .


Archer, Christon I., ed. The Birth of Modern Mexico, 1780–1824. Wilmington, Del. : Scholarly Resources, 2003.

Burkholder, Mark A., and Lyman L. Johnson. Colonial Latin America. 5th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Chipman, Donald E. Spanish Texas, 1519–1821. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.

Gerhard, Peter. The North Frontier of New Spain. Rev. ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.

Hamnett, Brian R. Roots of Insurgency: Mexican Regions, 1750–1824. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Meyer, Michael C., and William L. Sherman. The Course of Mexican History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Rodríguez O., Jaime E., ed. Mexico in the Age of Democratic Revolutions, 1750–1850. Boulder, Colo.: Rienner, 1994.

Tutino, John. From Insurrection to Revolution: Social Bases of Agrarian Violence, 1750–1940. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Weber, David J. The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992.

Barry Matthew Robinson

New Spain

views updated May 18 2018

New Spain

The term New Spain refers to both a geographic space and a specific historical era. Spatially, it denotes substantial territories in North and Central America that include the modern nations of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, as well as much of the modern United States west of the Mississippi River. Temporally, it defines that territory only during the Spanish colonial era, which in New Spain lasted from 1521, when Hernán Cortes (1485–1547) defeated the Aztecs, until 1821, when Agustín de Iturbide (1783–1824) declared Mexico independent from Spain. In economic terms, New Spain was one of the most valuable possessions of Spanish monarchs, for a number of reasons that include the kinds of commodities it produced, the trade links that it facilitated, and the revenue that it generated for the Spanish rulers. Moreover, despite the Crown's tendency toward mercantilism in New Spain, the colony also exerted significant influence on the creation of a permanent, global trading network.


During the three centuries of Spanish rule the diverse territory of New Spain served as an important source of commodities for global markets. Spanish colonists sought to exploit the region's rich resources for their own personal benefit; the result in terms of economic production was often an adaptation of the pre-existing economy. For instance, some of the earliest forms of exploitation in the sixteenth century involved merely extracting, as tribute payments, agricultural and manufactured goods that were already being produced by indigenous laborers. In the sixteenth century these goods included such items as cotton and cotton textiles, maize, cochineal and other dyestuffs, tobacco, and cacao. Of these, cochi-neal (a red dyestuff) rose to prominence as the second-most valuable export from New Spain.

The most valuable export to come from the colony, however, came from New Spain's abundant deposits of silver ore. Silver quickly rose to prominence from the first northern strikes in Zacatecas by 1546, and Spanish miners and merchants spread out across the arid northern half of New Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to exploit the great quantity of silver ore that they found there. This activity, in turn, drove a great deal of commercial livestock and agriculture to feed and equip miners, which transformed the trade routes and population patterns within New Spain. Moreover, from the 1565 addition of Manila and the Philippines to the jurisdiction of New Spain, a Pacific Ocean trade link between New Spain and East Asia arose that connected Mexican silver to Chinese exports, particularly silk. Silver, in fact, was the most important export from New Spain throughout the colonial era, and during the eighteenth century the colony was the most valuable property of the Spanish Crown due to the mining boom underway there.

Thus, New Spain produced many commodities for export, including such goods as silver and cochineal. Meanwhile, Spain exported primarily agricultural goods (including wine and olive oil) to its colony in North America. Many manufactured goods from other parts of Europe and Asia also came to New Spain, primarily in exchange for the valuable silver. New Spain's commodities therefore provided a substantial stimulus to world trade.


All of this trade took place in the context of Spanish imperial rule, which for the entire three centuries of New Spain's existence meant that trade policies were built on the theory of mercantilism. This economic theory assumed that colonial production, commodity consumption, and trade should benefit primarily the metropolis (Spain). To achieve this goal, the Spanish Crown instituted a number of practices intended to restrict trade (and particularly bullion) flows between Spain and its colony.

For instance, to assure that the royal government could protect its trade routes into and out of New Spain, the Crown established a system of regular annual fleets (flotas). To better control trade, for almost the entire colonial period the Crown required that legal trade between Spain and New Spain connect a single port in Spain (Seville until 1717, and Cádiz thereafter) to a single port in New Spain (Veracruz). Only in the late eighteenth century did this structure of trade change. On the Pacific coast of New Spain, too, commercial connections were restricted to a single port, Acapulco. Annual ships (the "Manila Galleon") linked that port to Manila, in the Spanish Philippines.

Goods arriving in New Spain's two commercial ports were offered for sale in large trade fairs. Of course, because of the nature of this annual cycle of trade, whereby all of the goods for an entire year would arrive at once, this feature of Spanish mercantilism artificially depressed prices for newly arrived commodities. Moreover, the flota had a limited time in port before it had to return to Spain.

As a result, a network of powerful and well-connected import-export merchants emerged as an important feature of both the world trade and the commodity production in New Spain. Senior partners resided in the main Spanish port. Meanwhile, their junior partners lived in New Spain's capital, Mexico City, storing and reselling the European imports throughout the year and accumulating silver and other commodities to send back to Spain on the next year's flota. Consequently, within the Spanish mercantilist system a small group of wealthy merchants gained considerable influence over commercial policy and the export economy in New Spain.

Spanish merchants, though, were not the only persons who influenced New Spain's global trade. In addition, despite the mercantilist policy of the Spanish Crown, the economy of New Spain did not benefit only the Spanish rulers. Indeed, increasingly over time other trade connections between the colony and foreign merchants in Europe arose. One such link was via smuggling, which is difficult to measure, but certainly increased as other European trading ports arose in the Caribbean Sea. A second foreign commercial connection occurred when foreign merchants gained legal access to New Spain's wealth in commodities such as silver and cochineal. They did so by obtaining licenses from the Spanish government to become "naturalized" and thereafter trade in Seville as if they were Spanish subjects. A third foreign entry into New Spain's trade came with non-Spanish ships supplying the colony with African slaves. In all of these cases, the restrictions that the Spanish Crown hoped to impose on trade with New Spain failed to prevent the valuable commerce of the colony from establishing connections beyond Spain alone.

New Spain thus contributed not only thousands of tons of silver to the world economy between 1521 and 1821, but also served as a node linking trade between Europe, the Americas, and East Asia.

SEE ALSO Barcelona; Bullion (Specie); CÁdiz; Cartagena; Coffee; Colombia; Columbus, Christopher; Conquistadors; Cuba; Empire, Spanish; Encomienda and Repartimiento; Ethnic Groups, Africans; Gold and Silver; Haiti; Imperialism;Laborers, Aztec and Inca;Laborers, Coerced;Lisbon;Magellan, Ferdinand;Mercantilism;Mexico;New Orleans;Piracy, Privateers;Seville;Slavery and the African Slave Trade;Smuggling;Sugar, Molasses, and Rum;Tobacco;Venezuela;West India Company, Dutch.


Bakewell, Peter J. Silver Mining and Society in Colonial Mexico: Zacatecas, 1546–1700. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1971.

Brading, D. A. Miners and Merchants in Bourbon Mexico, 1763–1810. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1971.

Fisher, John R. Commercial Relations Between Spain and Spanish America in the Era of Free Trade, 1778–1796. Liverpool, U.K: Centre for Latin-American Studies, University of Liverpool, 1985.

Flynn, Dennis O., and Giráldez, Arturo. "Cycles of Silver: Global Economic Unity through the Mid-Eighteenth Century." Journal of World History 13, no. 2 (Fall 2002): 391–427.

MacLeod, Murdo J. Spanish Central America: A Socioeconomic History, 1570–1720. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.

Schell, William. "Silver Symbiosis: ReOrienting Mexican Economic History." Hispanic American Historical Review 81, no. 1 (February 2001): 89–133.

Schurz, William Lytle. The Manila Galleon. New York: Dutton, 1939.

Walker, Geoffrey J. Spanish Politics and Imperial Trade, 1700–1789. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979.

Jason L. Ward

New Spain, Viceroyalty of

views updated Jun 27 2018

New Spain, Viceroyalty of

Viceroyalty of New Spain, the first viceroyalty created in the Americas. Antonio de Mendoza was appointed its viceroy in 1530 but did not actually occupy the position until 1535. New Spain was defined to include all of Mexico north of Chiapas, incorporating the audiencias of Mexico and Nueva Galicia and the interior provinces of the far north. For governmental purposes, the viceroy's authority theoretically extended over the Caribbean, Central America, and even the Philippines; in actual fact, however, the three jurisdictions outside of New Spain were effectively ruled by their governors and audiencias, and the viceroy concentrated on governing Mexico. Viceroys have often been portrayed as ruthless tyrants brutally repressing the indigenous population. However, twenty-first-century scholars have questioned this extreme portrait by looking at the limitations of viceregal power. With minimal resources to govern such a large territory, a viceroy could not arbitrarily impose his will. Academics have therefore studied how the government directed public rituals to symbolically establish the authority of the viceroy and the Spanish colonial state. The truth of the position probably lies between the two extremes. Beyond governance, some viceroys are also of consequence because they left behind important historical accounts. Lorenzo Suárez de Mendoza, for example, ordered the compilation of Nahua knowledge known as the Codex Mendoza, which offers a wealth of data about the pre-contact culture of Anáhuac.


Antonio de Mendoza, 1535–1550

Luis de Velasco, 1550–1564

Audiencia, 1564–1566

Gastón de Peralta, marqués de Falces, 1566–1567

Martín Enríquez de Almansa, 1568–1580

Lorenzo Suárez de Mendoza, conde de la Coruña, 1580–1582

Luis de Villanueva y Zapata, 1582–1583

Pedro Moya y Contreras, 1583–1585

Álvaro Manrique de Zúñiga, marqúes de Villamanrique, 1585–1590

Luis de Velasco, marqués de Salinas, 1590–1595 (first term)

Gasper de Zúñiga y Acevedo, conde de Monterrey, 1595–1603

Juan Manuel de Mendoza y Luna, marqués de Montesclaros, 1603–1607

Luis de Velasco, marqués de Salinas, 1607–1611 (second term)

Francisco García Guerra, 1611–1612

Pedro de Otálora, 1612

Diego Fernández de Córdoba, marqués de Guadalcázar, 1612–1621

Diego Carrillo de Mendoza y Pimental, marqués de Gelves y conde de Priego, 1621–1624

Rodrigo Pacheco y Osorio, marqués de Cerralvo, 1624–1635

Lope Diáz de Armendáriz, marqués de Cadereyta, 1635–1640

Diego López Pacheco Cabrera y Bobadilla, duque de Escalona, 1640–1642

Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, 1642

García Sarmiento de Sotomayor, conde de Salvatierra y marqués de Sobroso, 1642–1648

Marcos de Torres y Rueda, 1648–1649

Matías de Peralta, 1649–1650

Luis Enríquez de Guzmán, conde de Alba de Liste y marqués de Villaflor, 1650–1653

Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, duque de Albuquerque, 1653–1660

Juan de Leyva y de la Cerda, marqués de Leyva, conde de Baños, 1660–1664

Diego Osorio de Escobar, 1664

Antonio Sebastián de Toledo, marqués de Mancera, 1664–1673

Pedro Núñez Colón de Portugal, duque de Veragua y marqués de Jamaica, 1673

Payo Enríquez de Rivera, 1673–1680

Tomás Antonio Manrique de la Cerda y Aragón, conde de Paredes y marqués de Laguna, 1680–1686

Melchor Portocarrero y Lasso de la Vega, conde de la Monclova, 1686–1688

Gaspar de Sandoval y de la Cerda Andoval Silva y Mendoza, conde de Galve, 1688–1696

Juan de Ortega y Montañes, 1696–1697 (first term)

José Sarmiento de Valladares, conde de Moctezuma y de Tula, 1697–1701

Juan de Ortega y Montañes, 1701–1702 (second term)

Francisco Fernández de la Cueva Enríquez, duque de Albuquerque, 1702–1711

Fernando de Alencastre Noroña y Silva, duque de Linares, 1711–1716

Baltasar de Zúñiga y Guzmán, marqués de Valero y duque de Arión, 1716–1722

Juan de Acuña y Bejarano, marqués de Casafuerte, 1722–1734

Juan Antonio de Vizarrón y Equiarreta, 1734–1740

Pedro de Castro y Figueroa, duque de la Conquista y marqués de Gracia Real, 1740–1741

Pedro Malo de Villavicencio, 1741–1742

Pedro Cebrián y Agustín, conde de Fuenclara, 1742–1746

Juan Francisco de Güemes y Horcasitas, conde de Revillagigedo, 1746–1755

Agustín de Ahumada y Villalón, marqués de las Amarillas, 1755–1760

Francisco de Echévarri, 1760

Francisco Cajigal de la Vega, 1760–1761

Joaquín de Monserrat, marqués de Cruillas, 1761–1766

Carlos Francisco de Croix, marqués de Croix, 1766–1771

Antonio María de Bucareli y Ursúa, 1771–1779

Martín de Mayorga, 1779–1783

Matías de Gálvez, 1783–1784

Vicente de Herrera y Rivero, 1784–1785

Bernardo de Gálvez, conde de Gálvez, 1785–1786

Eusebio Sánchez Pareja Beleño, 1786–1787

Alonso Núñez de Haro y Peralta, 1787

Manuel Antonio Flores, 1787–1789

Juan Vicente de Güemes Pacheco y Padilla, conde de Revillagigedo, 1789–1794

Miguel de la Grúa Talamanca y Branciforte, marqués de Branciforte, 1794–1798

Miguel José de Azanza, 1798–1800

Félix Berenguer de Marquina, 1800–1803

José de Iturrigaray, 1803–1808

Pedro Garibay, 1808–1809

Francisco Javier de Lizana y Beaumont, 1809–1810

Francisco Javier Venegas, 1810–1813

Félix María Calleja del Rey, marqués de Calderón, 1813–1816

Juan Ruíz de Apodaca, conde del Venadito, 1816–1821

Francisco Novella, 1821

Juan O'Donojú, 1821

See alsoAnáhuac; Audiencia; Viceroyalty, Viceroy.


Peter Gerhard, A Guide to the Historical Geography of New Spain (1972).

Additional Bibliography

Barrios, Feliciano, ed. El gobierno de un mundo: Virreinatos y audiencias en la América hispánica. Cuenca: Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, 2004.

Berdan, Frances F., and Patricia Rieff Anawalt. The Codex Mendoza. 4 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

Cañeque, Alejandro. The King's Living Image: The Culture and Politics of Viceregal Power in Colonial Mexico. New York: Routledge, 2004.

                                          John E. Kicza

New Spain, Viceroyalty of

views updated May 23 2018


New Spain refers to Spanish possessions in the New World during the colonial period. At its height New Spain included what are today the southwestern United States, all of Mexico, Central America to the Isthmus of Panama, Florida, much of the West Indies (islands in the Caribbean), as well as the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean. The viceroyalty (a province governed by a representative of the monarch) of New Spain was governed from the capital at Mexico City beginning in 1535.

The era of Spanish colonization began with the radical de-population of portions of the Western Hemisphere caused by the slaughter of the indigenous people by the Conquistadores and the mass deaths caused by epidemic disease, mostly measles and small pox. This traumatic de-population produced mortality rates as high as 90 percent. It was a catastrophe which disorganized the culture in ways which may only compare to the trauma of Middle Passage voyage below decks for the newly enslaved Africans.

More than anything, the Spanish conquerors were intent on locating and removing precious metalsgold and silverfrom the Aztec and Inca empires that they encountered. The mining of silver was accomplished by the enslaving of the native people, later supplemented by importing African slaves. The mines at Potosí (in modern Bolivia) yielded great quantities of silver.

This lust for gold and silver resulted in a ruinous inflation in Spain as the imported bullion suffused throughout the Spanish economy. The initial impact of the inflation was to raise the price of Spanish exports. This helped to destroy Spain's economy, especially its textile industry. Over several decades during the sixteenth century this inflation spread out to the rest of Europe. Since the economies of Europe were mostly experiencing healthy expansion, this somewhat milder wave of inflation did not have the same destructive impact on the rest of Europe as it did in Spain.

Since the Spanish did not bring women with them they intermarried with the native peoples. The resulting mixture of parentage, plus the missionary efforts of the Catholic Church, produced a complex caste system and a creolized culture further complicated by the addition of African slaves to the population. The leaders of the Spanish forces of occupation sometimes installed themselves in almost feudal splendor based on the encomienda system of tribute (in precious metal) levied on the local villages.

In 1821 a Mexican rebellion ended Spanish rule there and the colonial empire of New Spain was dissolved. By 1898 Spain had relinquished all its possessions in North America. Its last holdings were the islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, which were ceded to the United States after Spain lost the Spanish-American War (1898).

During the colonial period Spain claimed other territories in the New Worldin northern and western South America. Most of these holdings fell under the viceroyalty of Peru, which was administered separately from the viceroyalty of New Spain. Spain lost these possessions as well by the end of the 1800s.

See also: Mesoamerica, Middle Passage, Spanish-American War

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