Bogotá, Santa Fe de: The audiencia

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Bogotá, Santa Fe de: The audiencia

The audiencia of Santa Fe de Bogotá was first installed in 1550, with jurisdiction over the area that today constitutes most of the modern republics of Colombia and Venezuela. Spanish settlements on the Caribbean coasts were previously under the jurisdiction of the audiencias of Panama and Santo Domingo, but after Spaniards had penetrated into the Andean interior (where they established the Kingdom of New Granada in 1539), Charles I decided to create the new Audiencia of Santa Fe in order to impose royal control over New Granada's unruly conquerors and enco-menderos, and to enforce the New Laws of 1542. By 1563 the audiencia's territorial jurisdiction had taken the shape that it was to retain for most of the colonial period. This extended over much of modern Colombia, apart from the great southern territory of the province of Popayán, which became part of the Audiencia of Quito (established in 1563), and most of modern Venezuela, except Caracas which remained within the jurisdiction of the Audiencia of Santo Domingo.

The first audiencia tribunal consisted of four Oid-ores (judges), all lawyers, one of whom was appointed as president. The first president died en route to Bogotá, however, and the presidency was not subsequently exercised until 1563, by Andrés Venero de Leiva (1563–1574). Government then returned to the audiencia as a collegiate body until the presidency was revived under Antonio González (1590–1597) and Francisco de Sande (1597–1602). The first half-century of the audiencia's life was one of considerable turbulence, characterized by conflicts with encomen-deros, clergy, and among the oidores themselves.

In 1605, the Crown sought to strengthen the audiencia's authority and efficiency by altering its presidency. Juan de Borja became governor and captain-general of New Granada and presidente de capa y espada, with military duties and powers. From 1630, the Crown tried further to consolidate the audiencia's authority by appointing Spanish nobles as presidents, in a largely ineffective effort to counter the power of local elites.

During the eighteenth century, the audiencia underwent fresh alterations to its jurisdiction, power, and composition. Reform began in 1717, following a crisis within the audiencia in 1715 when the oidores deposed and imprisoned President Francisco de Meneses. The Audiencia of Santa Fe was enlarged to include Panama in its jurisdiction, and in 1719 the first viceroy of New Granada replaced the audiencia's president as the Crown's leading official. Suppressed in 1723, the Viceroyalty of New Granada was reestablished in 1739, and Santa Fe again became an audiencia, with the viceroy as governor and captain-general of New Granada and ex-officio president of the audiencia.

The second Bourbon reform of the audiencia stemmed from Charles III's program of colonial reform and was implemented in New Granada during the visita general of 1778–1783. The audiencia was expanded in 1776 to include a regent and a fiscal del crimen (crown criminal prosecutor). Also, another oidor was added. Furthermore, it was "Europeanized" by the appointment of peninsular lawyers who were free of local ties. To further reduce their susceptibility to local interests, they now served for shorter periods and were discouraged by the Madrid government from marrying into local Creole society. Subordinated to the viceroys in Santa Fe, the eighteenth-century audiencia reflected the general shift from the consensual government of the Hapsburg monarchy to the centralized, absolutist model favored by the Bourbons.

The audiencia judges were forced to leave Bogotá when viceregal government was overthrown in 1810, and the audiencia moved to Panama until New Granada was reconquered by Spain in 1815. When Spanish rule ended in 1819, the Viceroyalty and Audiencia of Santa Fe were supplanted by republican government.

See alsoAudiencia; Colombia: From the Conquest Through Independence.


R. B. Cunningham Graham, The Conquest of New Granada, Being the Life of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada (1922).

Manuel Lucena Salmoral, Nuevo Reino de Granada, Real Audiencia y Presidentes: Presidentes de Capa y Espada (1605–1628) (1965) and Nuevo Reino de Granada, Real Audiencia y Presidentes: Presidentes de Capa y Espada (1628–1654) (1967).

Sergio Elías Ortíz, Nuevo Reino de Granada, Real Audiencia y Presidentes: Presidentes de Capa y Espada (1654–1719) (1966).

Anthony McFarlane, Colombia Before Independence: Economy, Society, and Politics Under Bourbon Rule (1993).

Additional Bibliography

Mayorga García, Fernando. La Audiencia de Santa Fé en los siglos XVI y XVII. Bogotá: Instituto Colombiano de Cultura Hispánica, 1991.

Ortiz de la Tabla Ducasse, Javier, Agueda Rivera Garrido, and Montserrat Fernández Martínez. Cartas de cabildos hispanoamericanos. Audiencia de Santa Fe. Sevilla, Spain: Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1996.

                                   Anthony McFarlane

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