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Adelantado, title often given to the leader of an expedition of conquest in medieval Castile and in the New World. The term adelantado was employed in medieval Castile for the military and political governor of a frontier province. The title was later used in the conquest and colonization of the Canary Islands and continued to be used in the conquest and colonization of the New World. Typically, an adelantado held the military title of captain-general and served as governor and chief magistrate over the men in the expedition. When a conquest was successful, the adelantado took over governance of the native population. In his contract (capitulación) with the crown, an adelantado normally received land for himself and the rights to assign land to his followers, to oversee the collection of revenues, and to administer justice. Sometimes he could assign native labor as well. The era of the adelantados came to an end as the crown sought to end the disruption and instability resulting from conquest and to establish tighter control over the New World. To accomplish this, the crown created audiencias and, beginning in 1535, sent out viceroys with substantial authority. Many adelantados, however, had been granted extensive landholdings and had access to native labor. Although their formal political power was restricted by royal bureaucrats, they and their immediate heirs remained important members of the emerging colonial aristocracy. Although men titled adelantados were still leading conquests on the frontiers of the colonial world in the late sixteenth century, the era of the adelantado had ended by the 1570s.

See alsoAudiencia; Conquistadores; Viceroyalty, Viceroy.


Clarence H. Haring, The Spanish Empire in America (1947), pp. 22-25.

Lyle N. McAlister, Spain and Portugal in the New World, 1492–1700 (1984), pp. 35, 63-64, 91, 97, 99, 137, 184, 312.

Additional Bibliography

Elizondo, Carlos. El escorpión de oro: Luces y sombras en la extraordinaria vida de Hernán Cortés. México, D.F.: EDAMEX, 1996.

Grunberg, Bernard. "The Origins of the Conquistadores of Mexico City." Hispanic American Historical Review 74:2 (May 1994): 259-283.

López de Gómara, Francisco, and Silvia L. Cuesy. Historia de la conquista de México. México, D.F.: Editorial Océano de México, 2003.

                                  Mark A. Burkholder

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