From the Conquest Through Independence

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From the Conquest Through Independence

In November 1532 Atahualpa Inca, victorious in a civil war against his half-brother Huascar, was encamped with his army outside Cajamarca. Drawing his chief support from Quito and the northern part of the Tahuantinsuyu (Inca Empire), Atahualpa was triumphant and confident. He saw little danger in the group of strangers who had trekked inland from Túmbez to Cajamarca. He did not anticipate the cunning and brutality of Francisco Pizarro's Spaniards nor the military advantages of their weapons and horses. Accepting Pizarro's invitation to meet in Cajamarca, the Inca perhaps intended to take the 168 invaders captive. Instead, Pizarro launched the conquest of Peru.

THE CONQUEST, 1532–1538

Accompanied by several thousand warriors armed only with ceremonial weapons, Atahualpa entered the walls of Cajamarca late on the afternoon of 16 November. His anxious men hidden in rooms surrounding the central plaza, Pizarro sent out Friar Vicente de Valverde with an interpreter to require the Incas' submission to Spain and Christianity. After Atahualpa haughtily rejected the friar's presumption, Pizarro and his men stormed into the plaza. The Spaniards massacred many of Atahualpa's entourage, toppled the emperor from his litter, and took him captive. By seizing the god-ruler of the Tahuantinsuyu, Pizarro was consciously following the strategy of Hernán Cortés in capturing Motecuhzoma I and ruling the Aztecs through him during the conquest of Mexico.

Aided by divisions among the Andean peoples, the Spaniards spread their grasp to other parts of the Tahuantinsuyu during the following months. Atahualpa attempted to ransom himself with a fabulous treasure of gold and silver artifacts, which the invaders melted down and distributed among themselves, careful to reserve the royal fifth for the king. Pizarro's partner, Diego de Almagro, arrived with 150 or more reinforcements, but Pizarro refused to grant them a share in the spoils. Between January and June, Pizarro dispatched scouts to Pachacamac, the great religious center near modern-day Lima, and to Cuzco, the Inca capital. Fearing the Spaniards might depose him in favor of Huascar, Atahualpa secretly ordered his followers to execute his captive rival. Meanwhile, the Huascar faction looked to the Spaniards as liberators who might rid them of subjugation by Atahualpa's conquering armies. On 26 July 1533, the Spanish executed Atahualpa Inca to remove him as a possible focus of resistance. A few days later they began to move southward toward Cuzco, which Pizarro's main force entered on 15 November 1533. In December they installed a puppet ruler from the Huascar faction, Manco Inca, who seemed anxious to cooperate.

The Spaniards quickly moved to exploit their conquest, and a hybrid Hispano-indigenous society developed. Conquistadores took wives and mistresses from the Inca nobility. From these unions began to emerge the mestizo population of the realm. Yanaconas (artisans and servants tied to the indigenous state or aristocracy) became bound instead to individual Spaniards. Kurakas (provincial chieftains) sought independence from Inca rule by allying themselves with the Spaniards. During these years, the invaders also founded Spanish cities, laid out in a grid pattern where possible and governed by a cabildo (council). Pizarro already had established San Miguel de Piura (1532) when he entered the Tahuantinsuyu. In mid-1534 the Spanish formally established Jauja. On 23 March 1534, Pizarro created the Spanish municipality of Cuzco. Convinced that efficient government required a coastal city to facilitate communications between Cuzco and Panama, Pizarro founded Lima, or the City of the Kings, in January 1535. Its port of Callao soon began to develop.

Nonetheless, Spanish occupation of Cuzco did not bring tranquility. The Quitan faction associated with Atahualpa remained bellicose. Once Manco Inca understood that the Spaniards were exploiters rather than allies, he secretly gathered a huge army of up to 200,000 to lay siege to Cuzco. In May 1536 they attacked, nearly overrunning the 190 Spaniards in the city. Only desperate resistance, the withdrawal of the Andeans for harvest, and the arrival of reinforcements from Lima and Panama relieved the ten-month siege. Manco and some of his forces withdrew to the mountains of Vilcabamba, where they established a neo-Inca state. Meanwhile, a disgruntled Almagro, who had gone off to explore Chile, returned with his expedition and in 1537 seized Cuzco. At the battle of Las Salinas on 26 April 1538, Pizarro's forces defeated Almagro and then tried and executed him in July. Pizarro had conquered Peru, but as royal governor his control of the Andes was insecure.


As the first Spanish governor of New Castile (as Peru was also known in the early years), Pizarro had neither the vision nor the ability to establish peace and prosperity, and the realm devolved into brutality and civil strife. Pizarro awarded encomiendas (grants of Indian tribute) to his followers, but even had he desired to, he lacked the energy to control their treatment of the Amerindians. Abuses mounted. The Spaniards pillaged shrines, burial sites, and storehouses. They slaughtered llama herds for meat and conscripted thousands of Andeans as porters for little or no pay. Nor did they maintain the infrastructure of the Tahuantinsuyu. Irrigation canals and agricultural terraces fell into disrepair. From their stronghold around Cuzco, Almagro's partisans bitterly plotted to avenge the death of their leader. On 26 July 1541 they assassinated Francisco Pizarro, provoking open hostilities between the two factions. In Vilcabamba, Manco Inca offered refuge to the assassins. As a reward for his hospitality, they treacherously murdered him in 1544 in a futile attempt to curry favor with the crown.

In May 1544 Blasco Núñez Vela, sent by Charles I of Spain to rule as the first viceroy of Peru, arrived in Lima. He established an audiencia (high court) to help him enforce the New Laws of 1542, which outlawed almost all indigenous slavery and attacked the encomienda system. Spaniards who held such grants could retain them but could not pass them to their heirs. All who had fought in the recent war between Pizarro and Almagro were to forfeit their encomiendas. This ruling affected almost all the Peruvian encomenderos. Oblivious to the dangers of the situation, Núñez Vela demanded complete obedience, and the encomenderos rebelled, led by Gonzalo Pizarro, a member of the Pizarro clan. Abetted by the audiencia, the rebels expelled the viceroy from Lima in October 1544 and in January 1546 defeated and killed him at the battle of Añaquito. In control of Peru and Panama, Gonzalo and the rebels could not bring themselves to declare Peru independent of the monarchy. When Pedro de la Gasca arrived in 1547 as president of the audiencia, he shrewdly won over many of Gonzalo's supporters with conciliatory promises. Near Cuzco on 9 April 1548, Gasca's royal forces defeated Gonzalo's depleted ranks, and the principal rebels were quickly tried and punished. Some, including Gonzalo, were executed; others were flogged or exiled. Gasca's victory brought temporary respite to the war-ravaged land.

One last rebellion convulsed the colony before the crown brought Spanish Peru under control. Angered when the government prohibited the Spaniards from demanding personal service or forced labor of the Indians, Francisco Hernández Girón led a revolt in November 1553 that lasted for nearly a year before royalist forces defeated and executed him. Vilcabamba still held out as an independent Inca state, although many Inca nobles resided in Cuzco, opting to collaborate with the Spaniards.


With the appointment of the viceroy and the establishment of the audiencia, Charles I had prepared the foundations for colonial rule. Peru constituted the core of the viceroyalty, but the viceroy's jurisdiction included the realms of Chile and Charcas (with the Río de la Plata) to the south and Quito, Panama, and New Granada (modern Colombia) to the north. Distance and slow communications made it impossible for the viceroy in Lima to govern the outlying territories effectively. Between 1545 and 1570, the crown created audiencias in Bogotá, Quito, Charcas, and Concepción (Chile), although the latter survived only a short time. Settlement of additional territory brought the creation of new provinces (generally called corregimientos) and appointment of provincial governors (usually corregidores). Branches (cajas reales) of the royal treasury opened in the more important cities to collect the crown's revenues.

Spain's economic interest in the colony centered on silver mining. In 1545 Indians revealed to the Spaniards the location of the great silver deposits of Potosí in modern-day Bolivia. So many Spaniards and Indians flocked to Potosí that the settlement of other regions of Peru was slowed down. Mining boomed with the use of indigenous smelting technology. By the 1570s, however, Spanish mine owners were using amalgamation, a process requiring mercury, to refine much of their ore. Mercury came from Huancavelica, southeast of Lima, a source that the Anagaraes people had disclosed to Amador de Cabrera in 1563. The capital requirements of the new process, plus the need for mercury, eliminated most native Andean silver producers.

Christianization of Peru proceeded fitfully. Missionary friars arrived soon after the Conquest, but the civil wars hindered evangelization. In 1546 Lima became the seat of an archdiocese with responsibility for overseeing almost all of Andean South America. In 1570 the Inquisition opened its doors in Lima. One manifestation of growing indigenous resistance to the Spaniards and Catholicism was the emergence of Taki Onqoy, the "dancing disease." It flourished from Lake Titicaca to Huamanga among indigenous converts to Catholicism, who renounced Christianity and were possessed by uncontrollable fits of dancing and shaking. Adherents to Taki Onqoy claimed the huacas (deities and other objects of veneration) were angry because the people no longer sacrificed to them. They would rise to drive the Spaniards and their religion out of Peru through floods and plagues of worms. Andeans must abandon Christianity and return to the old gods. The Spaniards discovered the resistance in 1564 and quickly moved to eradicate it. But many clung tenaciously to the old ways.

No individual shaped the colony more than Viceroy Francisco de Toledo y Figueroa (1569–1581), who formally established many policies and institutions that regulated Peruvian life until independence. In particular, Toledo defined the relationship between the Spaniards and the people they conquered. Determined to eliminate the threat and attraction of Vilcabamba, he captured the Inca Túpac Amaru in 1572 and beheaded him in Cuzco. In a propaganda campaign against the Inca state, Toledo commissioned informaciones (a series of reports) that stressed the warlike and oppressive character of the Tahuantinsuyu. He personally visited much of the viceroyalty and ordered a census of the indigenous population, in precipitous decline from abuse, war, migration, and Old World diseases. He then undertook a massive resettlement campaign to consolidate Amerindian villages. These reducciones (reductions) promoted more effective government supervision of Spanish-Indian relations, facilitated the work of Catholic missionaries, and organized indigenous society for more effective exploitation by the colonial economy. Upon the reductions Toledo imposed tribute assessments, to be collected by corregidores rather than encomenderos, and established the colonial Mita, a system of rotating forced indigenous labor.

While Toledo's initiatives sought to protect the Andeans from unbridled abuse, his legislation made the viceregal government a partner in the economic exploitation of the native population. For example, the crown was the chief beneficiary of tribute monies. To pay their assessments, conquered peoples often had to work for Spaniards, and tribute thus forced them into the colonial labor market. Anxious both to stimulate and to regulate the flood of silver flowing from Potosí's mines, Toledo expropriated the Huancavelica mines, establishing a crown monopoly over the distribution and sale of the mercury needed to amalgamate silver ores. He also granted the Huancavelica mine operators a mita of low-wage, forced labor to produce the mercury, just as he established a mita at Potosí. By the time Toledo left Peru in 1581, he had created the legal structures that governed social and economic life well into the eighteenth century.

Toledo left what seemed to Spanish eyes a stable and prosperous viceroyalty, blessed with mineral riches. Although it lay in Upper Peru (modern Bolivia), Potosí was the economic motor that drove much of the viceregal economy. Its official annual production rose from 1 million troy ounces of silver in the early 1570s to more than 5 million during the following decade. No one knows how much silver escaped registration and taxation. At the time, the most important mining district in Lower Peru was Castrovirreina, discovered in 1555. The silver permitted Peru to purchase imported merchandise, and it monetized the viceregal economy. A royal mint operated irregularly in Lima from 1568 to 1590 and then reopened in 1683. Prior to the latter year, most Peruvian coins came from the Potosí mint, established in 1572.

Other sectors of the domestic economy also adapted to the Spanish presence. Agriculture evolved to meet the conquerors' tastes. While continuing to produce such indigenous staples as maize, potatoes, quinoa, and chile peppers, farmers also cultivated European crops, especially wheat. Vineyards planted near Arequipa, Ica, and Pisco yielded the wine crucial to Catholic ritual and Spanish palates. Coastal plantations produced sugar and olive oil. On the eastern slopes of the mountains, the Andeans continued to harvest coca leaves, chewed by the indigenous population for their narcotic effect, which suppressed hunger and made work tolerable at high altitudes. Seeing profits in coca leaves, Spaniards began to take over the trade. European horses, cattle, pigs, and fowl added diversity to Andean livestock. During the Conquest, Spaniards had used llamas and Amerindians to transport goods. Mules from Tucumán soon dominated transportation because they could carry heavier cargoes.

Peruvian prosperity rested precariously on massive exploitation of indigenous labor, but Peru was in the midst of a precipitous demographic decline. Before contact with Old World diseases, the indigenous population of Peru numbered perhaps as high as 9 million. Even before Pizarro arrived, smallpox had spread from the Caribbean down into the Andes and killed, among others, Huayna Capac, the last great Inca ruler. With no biological immunities to such killers as smallpox, measles, and influenza, millions died. The abuse, malnutrition, and psychological devastation accompanying the Conquest contributed to the impact of such diseases. By 1570 the native population had fallen to 1.3 million. Fifty years later it was only 600,000. Mortality was highest in coastal areas. The indigenous population received another catastrophic blow in the great epidemics of 1717–1720 and then experienced long-term growth. Meanwhile, the number of Spaniards, mestizos, blacks, and mulattoes increased, and competition for indigenous labor intensified.


For forty or fifty years after Toledo, Peru reigned supreme as the jewel of Spain's American empire, largely due to the riches flowing out of Potosí. Official silver output there peaked in the 1590s at nearly 6.5 million ounces per year. Thereafter, Potosí experienced a gradual decline until registered production was sometimes less than a million ounces per year in the 1710s. Contraband output may have been substantial at times, and large amounts of silver were undoubtedly lost to smuggling via the Río de la Plata or the Pacific coast around Arica. Even so, the wealth of Potosí flowed toward Lima to enrich the government, the church, and entrepreneurs in Peru. A bustling small-scale market of women vendors provided the city with food and supplies. Well into the seventeenth century, Peru happily depended on Potosí as the motor for its economic life.

Yet Peru's colonial economy developed beyond a simple dependence on silver mining. By the seventeenth century, the vineyards, sugar plantations, and olive groves planted earlier had matured to lend prosperity in some regions. Acquisition of African slaves partially compensated for the decline in indigenous labor in the coastal valleys. Arequipa and Moquegua sold wine to Cuzco, La Paz, and Potosí. The vintners of Nazca and Ica trafficked with Lima and northern Peru. Sugar from Lambayeque found ready customers throughout the viceroyalty. The output of Peruvian obrajes (textile workshops) made the colony less dependent on Europe for cloth, although only Quito offered much of a challenge to the higher grades of overseas fabrics. Artisans organized themselves into guilds in the major cities and produced many consumer goods. Around 1600, in fact, Peru's general prosperity led a friar to remark: "All Peru lacks is silk and linens, for they have a surplus of everything else" (Fray Martín de Murua, Historia general del Perú [1986], p. 46).

In the late sixteenth century, Creole culture began to flourish in Peru, influenced by its Andean ambience but consciously imitating Spanish standards. Indigenous painters adorned the walls of churches and mansions with religious and mythological themes. The Cuzco School of artists gained fame for its depiction of Renaissance and sacred subjects. El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, a mestizo son of a conquistador and an Andean princess, employed Renaissance literary techniques to write about the history of his mother's people in Royal Commentaries (1609, 1617). In an exotic blend of Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara, Felipe Guamán Poma De Ayala wrote a long letter to the king, Primer nueva corónica y bueno gobierno (1936), containing 400 illustrations and a treasure of ethnographic detail. A royal decree of 1551 established the University of San Marcos in Lima, although its doors did not effectively open until the 1570s. Religious orders founded colleges and seminaries in several of the principal cities. While some Peruvians attended Spanish universities, many studied in these Andean schools. Archbishop Toribio de Mogrovejo reformed the Peruvian church and displayed a pastoral zeal rarely seen within the clergy prior to his arrival in 1581. He was later sainted for his efforts, as were Saint Rosa De Lima, a mystical nun, and Saint Martín de Porres, a mulatto whose charitable service won wide respect among Lima's lower classes. Spanish, Creole, and elite indigenous families sought to place their daughters into convents, which also provided a source of borrowed capital throughout society.

Silver enabled Peru to import goods from Europe and, to a lesser extent, from the Far East. Imperial commercial policies provided security for shipping and ensured government fiscal control rather than promoting market mechanisms. In theory an annual fleet (the Galeones) carried merchandise from Spain to Nombre de Dios and later to Portobelo in Panama. There Peruvian merchant houses purchased goods that were then carried overland to the Pacific and embarked on the Armada del Sur (South Seas Fleet). Lima served as the distribution point for most of the viceroyalty. From 1609 the crown generally prohibited trade between Mexico and Peru. Responding in 1613 to petitions from the merchants of Lima, the crown created the consulado (merchant guild), thereby sanctioning the virtual monopoly that Lima enjoyed in overseas trade.

Ironically, the Lima consulado solidified its control just as the volume of overseas trade started to decline. The tide of imports peaked in the 1630s and then gradually abated. This downturn reflected the flagging output of the silver industry, Spain's own economic and maritime difficulties, and probably the increasing maturity of the Peruvian economy, which had become less dependent on European suppliers for some goods. By the mid-seventeenth century, Spain frequently failed to dispatch the annual fleet to Panama and thus left the Peruvian market unsupplied. Around 1700, several years sometimes passed between fleets, creating great fluctuations in the availability of goods and in prices.

Despite these problems, Peru's reputation for fabulous wealth attracted foreign interlopers. Some were content to trade illegally along the coast, marketing cloth and other goods for silver. To some extent they compensated for Spain's failure to meet Peruvian demand. Of graver concern were those who marauded Peruvian waters, attacking Spanish shipping and occasionally sacking coastal towns. Francis Drake, the most famous of these, plundered the Pacific coast in 1578. Other pirates also ravaged Peru. In the early seventeenth century they were Dutch—later, English and French. To combat the attacks, coastal cities built fortifications, the most imposing of which were at Callao, Lima's port. The government also funded naval forces to combat the marauders at sea. Nonetheless, shipping was sometimes precarious. In the 1680s piracy forced Peru to stop shipping mercury from Huancavelica by sea to Arica and then carrying it inland on mules to Potosí and Oruro and bringing back the royal treasure along the same route. Thereafter, such shipments traveled overland.

As the seventeenth century drew to a close, Spanish Peru faced other crises. Some were geographical. In 1687 a great earthquake devastated central Peru, leaving Lima and Callao in ruins. Such disasters were not rare in the seismically active Andes: Arequipa suffered major tremors, sometimes in conjunction with volcanic eruptions, in 1582, 1600, and 1604. But in addition to the destruction of fortifications, buildings, and human life in Lima and Callao, the 1687 earthquake demolished much of the intricate irrigation systems that watered farmlands around the capital. The ensuing agricultural crisis left Lima dependent on other regions for foodstuffs, especially Chilean wheat.

Labor shortages also afflicted the realm, particularly in provinces subject to the mitas of Potosí and Huancavelica. Mining interests complained that the state failed to provide the requisite number of mita workers and that corregidores, kurakas, and priests interfered out of self-interest with fulfillment of the quotas. Critics of the mita alleged that those provinces had experienced serious demographic decline from mortality at the mines or emigration to avoid mita service. Melchor de Navarra y Rocaful, duque de la Palata, who was viceroy in 1681–1689, made the last great effort to reinvigorate the Toledan system. He ordered that a new census of the viceroyalty be conducted on 1 October 1683. It registered more than enough Indians to fill the labor drafts, but many complained the enumeration had artificially inflated the totals. The duke's successor, Melchor Portocarrero, conde de Moncolva, reversed most of Palata's initiative.

From an imperial perspective, Peru presented an increasing challenge. The viceroyalty's registered silver production for 1691–1700 was 42.5 million pesos, slightly more than half of what it had been at its height in 1631–1640. Yet the viceregal fiscal system depended heavily on revenues from mining taxes. Peruvian elites had successfully resisted attempts to broaden the fiscal base and tax their wealth on a permanent basis. After 1660 the Peruvian treasury was no longer able both to meet bureaucratic and military expenses in South America and to remit sizable quantities of revenue to Spain. Until mid-century the Lima treasury, acting as clearinghouse for the viceroyalty, remitted from a third to nearly half of all its income to Spain. For the final thirty years of the century, the average was only 4 percent. By 1700 the viceregal government was badly indebted, encumbered by financial commitments it had no realistic hope of paying.

Spanish control over Peru had weakened. On the negative side, most public officials, including judges on the audiencia, corregidores, treasury officials, and members of cabildos purchased their offices from the crown. Many officials engaged in venal practices, showing greater devotion to self-interest than to royal justice. The corregidores embezzled tribute monies and used the reparto to force the colonized people to purchase costly and unwanted merchandise. Provincial treasury officials often failed to send annual reports to the Tribunal of Accounts, and the fleet system sailed so infrequently that officials in Madrid waited years to learn about conditions in Peru. But for the creoles, this debility had a positive side. Spanish control was so weak that they enjoyed more freedom of action than earlier. Spain's inability to enforce its commercial regulations allowed more room for entrepreneurship. Peru, while still a colony, largely avoided Spanish domination in the late 1600s.


Spanish Hapsburg rule over Peru ended with the death of Charles II in 1700, but the new Bourbon dynasty had little immediate effect on the viceroyalty. With the support of his grandfather, Louis XIV, Philip of Anjou became king of Spain as Philip V, although the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1713), in which England and Austria opposed Philip, engulfed the peninsula. To fend off English naval incursions, Philip V allowed the French navy to patrol colonial waters. In compensation for such protection, the king made commercial concessions to the French, allowing them access to colonial markets for the duration of the war. Thus, for Peru the most evident early result of the dynastic change was the presence in Peruvian waters of French shipping, which continued illegally after the war ended. The French siphoned off considerable bullion but supplied Peruvian markets with the merchandise that the decrepit fleet system could not provide.

Peru presented checkered prospects for the Bourbons. Lima still suffered from the effects of the 1687 earthquake. In the north, the sugar-producing regions around Trujillo and Lambayeque prospered during the seventeenth century, but sugar prices had begun to decline by 1700. Viticulture in the southern coastal valleys stood ready to expand through the conversion of excess wine production into brandy. The mining economy languished from depletion of the silver ores at Potosí, the failure to discover new silver districts, corruption, and low mercury output at Huancavelica.

During the eighteenth century, the Bourbons' absolutist state-building eventually imposed severe restraints on Peruvian autonomy, and the government increased its appropriation from the colonial economy. Lima treasury revenues from 1781 to 1785 were double those at the beginning of the century. The increase was much larger for some of the provincial treasury offices. In Arequipa, for instance, the treasury collected nearly sixteen times more revenue in the early 1780s than it had around 1700. The new royal policies led to tensions with creole elites, who saw their privileged status threatened, and with the indigenous and mestizo masses, which bore the brunt of the heightened economic exploitation. Although the crown attempted to stimulate economic growth, it did so primarily to enhance its own revenues and to strengthen imperial defenses rather than to improve the well-being of its Peruvian subjects.

The first period of Bourbon initiatives for Peru lasted until 1766, the year before the initiatives of Charles III began to affect Peru. Creation of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, first attempted in 1717 and permanently established in 1739, stripped territory from Lima's jurisdiction. It foretold the demise of Lima's monopoly over political and economic power in Spanish South America. Abolition of the fleet system in 1739 reduced Lima's power to control overseas trade, as Buenos Aires and Chile received direct shipping from Spain. But the consulado's political and commercial networks enabled it to retain substantial influence. Meanwhile, the crown attempted to invigorate the Peruvian mining industry. To stimulate silver output, the government in 1736 cut the chief mining tax from a quinto (fifth) to a diezmo (tenth). Production grew, building on a small increase evident during the preceding decade. Headed by Jerónimo de Sola y Fuente, a team of Spanish technicians arrived at Huancavelica in 1737 and achieved a 20 to 30 percent higher level of mercury production. The guild of miners managed to maintain the higher level until 1770 and so assisted the expansion of silver refining.

Bourbon policymakers also tried to curtail the worst examples of abuse and venality in the Peruvian colony. In 1720 they ordered the abolition of the Huancavelica mita on humanitarian grounds. But the miners' guild resisted, and the crown allowed itself to be convinced that the measure was impractical, given the need for mercury and the heavy mortality associated with the great epidemics of 1717–1720. The secret report compiled in the 1740s by the naval officers Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa (Noticias secretas de América [1826]) indicted the corrupt, exploitative practices of the corregidores. To curtail abuses associated with the repartos, the government in 1753–1754 stipulated the quantity of goods each governor could dispense. Yet by so doing, the crown gave official sanction to one of the most abusive practices in Peru.

Around mid-century Peru's economy was expanding modestly, although royal policy probably had little to do with the growth. Potosí had begun a noticeable recovery after 1720, and Cerro de Pasco's silver output grew after 1740 until it surpassed Potosí late in the century. Additional bullion entered the economy from Huantajaya, reopened around 1718 in the Atacama Desert, and from Hualgayoc, discovered in 1766. More abundant supplies of overseas merchandise, from both Spanish and contraband sources, probably helped stimulate the mining expansion, as consumers needed silver to purchase the goods. In turn, mining spurred commercial growth. Following the epidemics of 1717–1720, Peru's population increased, both from natural growth and from a wave of Spanish immigrants after 1750. Agricultural output expanded in a number of regions, including Arequipa, Cuzco, and Trujillo, although the price of agricultural products, especially for cash crops such as sugar, wine, and brandy, declined during the 1700s.

During the final third of the century, Peru suffered the imposition of more radical royal initiatives, which threatened the fiber of colonial life dating back to Toledo's time. Charles III and his ministers, especially Secretary of the Indies José de Gálvez, instituted policies designed to make the viceroyalty more economically profitable to Spain. To achieve this end they required greater political control over Peru. The expulsion in 1767 of the powerful and wealthy Jesuit order, too independent-minded for royal absolutists to tolerate, showed that the king was willing to attack privileged groups.

The crown began to undermine Lima's privileges, which had been greater than those of any other Peruvian city. In 1776 the creation of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata deprived Lima of jurisdiction over Upper Peru (including Potosí), Paraguay, and Buenos Aires. Two years later the expansion of free trade to Peru swept away many of the Lima consulado's monopolistic privileges and forced it to compete with goods imported through other ports, including Arica. Despite their loud complaints, the Lima merchants still managed to dominate much of the overseas trade in their reduced orbit.

Imperial pressure reached a peak with the arrival in 1777 of José Antonio de Areche as visitador general. Sent by Gálvez to carry out a far-reaching restructuring of Peru, he abolished the Huancavelica guild and turned the mine over to a single operator, who soon died. Thereupon, he placed Huancavelica under royal management, with disastrous results. The cost of its mercury to the state doubled, and in 1786 the top half of the mine collapsed due to the negligence of royal officials. Meanwhile, Areche established royal customhouses throughout the viceroyalty to provide more thorough and efficient collection of commercial taxes. He raised the alcabala (sales tax) from 4 to 6 percent and instituted other tariffs. The visitador quarreled with Viceroy Manuel de Guirior and secured his dismissal. Areche also planned to carry out a census of the mestizo and mulatto populations, with the intent of making them pay tribute like the Indians.

Social upheavals were nothing new in the Andes. Dozens of village revolts had perturbed the realm. From 1742 to 1752, Juan Santos, under the name Atahualpa, and his Indian followers ravaged the eastern provinces of the Central Andes. Although royal forces failed to defeat them, neither was Juan Santos able to rally the masses to his cause. But combined with the colonial system's long-standing social tensions, Areche's authoritarian policies prepared Peru for explosion.

The result was the Great Andean Rebellion. It endangered Spanish rule more than anything since Manco Inca's revolt in 1536. Indians protested repartos, mitas, and corregidores. Creoles resented the new taxes and the state's discrimination against them in favor of Spanish immigrants (derisively called chapetones). Conspiracies and insurrections flared in several Peruvian provinces, including Arequipa and Cuzco, and news of similar disturbances in Chayanta, La Paz, and Cochabamba added to the turmoil. In November 1780 José Gabriel Condorcanqui, under the name Túpac Amaru, a kuraka from Tinta, executed an abusive corregidor. Raising an army and appealing to Creoles and mestizos as well as soldiers of pure Andean heritage, he then unsuccessfully besieged Cuzco. By early 1781, much of the southern half of Peru and most of Charcas were in rebellion. Ethnic animosities among the rebels and the leaders' failure to attract Creole support doomed the insurrection. Nonetheless, before it ended in 1783, 100,000 had died.

The Great Rebellion affected Peru for the remainder of the colonial period. Gálvez replaced Areche with a less abrasive Jorge Escobedo, abolished the repartos in 1782, and eliminated the corregidores in 1784 by instituting the Intendancy System. Consolidating dozens of corregimientos were seven intendancies: Lima, Tarma, Trujillo, Arequipa, Cuzco, Huamanga, and Huancavelica (Puno was transferred from the Río de la Plata Viceroyalty to Peru's jurisdiction by a decree of 1795). The intendants curbed some of the worst abuses of the indigeneous population and improved public administration. Meanwhile, the mita survived, as did Creole resentment against the chapetones. But the rebellion's racial violence also chastened the Creoles, many of whom preferred colonial status to the risk of more bloodshed. In 1787 Gálvez created a new audiencia in Cuzco to provide better government for the rebellious provinces, thereby diminishing Lima's power still further.

Despite all its problems, Peru still displayed vitality and grandeur as the Bourbon period drew to a close. Aided by the importation of large stocks of European mercury, the silver-mining industry continued to flourish. Liberalized commerce flooded Peruvian markets with so many European goods that prices fell. Enlightenment thought infused the pages of Mercurio Peruano (a newspaper founded in 1791) and the writings of José de Baquíjano and Hipólito Unánue. Sponsored by the monarchy in 1778, the botanical expedition of Hipólito Ruiz and José Antonio Pavón spent a decade gathering specimens and drawing Peruvian flora. In 1788 the crown sent the mining mission of Baron Thaddeus von Nordenflicht to raise the technological standards of the Andean industry.


In 1808 Napoleon invaded Spain, toppled the monarchy of Ferdinand VII, and created a constitutional crisis for the Spanish Empire. Peru and the other American colonies theoretically belonged to the monarchy rather than the Spanish nation. With the king in exile and unable to rule, Peru was left to decide whether or not to obey the junta (committee) organized extralegally by Spanish patriots to rule the empire until the French could be expelled. The other options were self-rule in the name of the king and complete independence. Viceroy José Fernando Abascal (1806–1816) worked with vigorous efficiency to preserve Peru for Spain and to roll back the tide of insurrection elsewhere on the continent. Under his able command, Peru became a royalist bastion in South America, and independence finally came to Peru only through liberating armies from outside.

In fact, Peru showed little inclination to break away until 1814. There was considerable discontent with Spanish colonial policies, but the Creoles feared that a war to drive out the chapetones might result in even more disastrous racial violence than that of the Great Rebellion of 1780. Creole liberals generally preferred to seek redress for their grievances within the empire rather than pursue the perilous goal of independence. As for the heterogeneous lower classes, they either lacked the political consciousness or saw little advantage to independence if it meant unfettered, oppressive Creole rule.

Abascal's government not only dealt efficiently with signs of rebellion within Peru but put down insurrections outside the viceroyalty. In 1809 royalist forces quashed revolts in Chuquisaca and Quito. Peasant discontent in Huánuco flared into rebellion in late 1811, but its violence alienated Creoles, and the intendant of Tarma soon subdued the rebels. A more serious challenge erupted in 1814, when Creole and Indian dissidents in Cuzco seized the city and named as their leader the mestizo general and kuraka, Mateo Pumacahua. Pumacahua had helped the government defeat Túpac Amaru three decades earlier and more recently had provided Abascal with troops to quell unrest in Upper Peru. In 1814, however, he was upset because the Spaniards refused to accept his appointment as president of the Cuzco audiencia and because the state showed no sign of improving conditions for indigenous peoples. The Pumacahua Rebellion involved three expeditions: one occupied Puno peacefully and captured La Paz with great bloodshed; another, led by Pumacahua, took Arequipa and killed the intendant; and the third was defeated after liberating Andahuaylas and Huamanga. By mid-1815, royalists had shattered the rebellion.

Despite these successes, the royalist cause was losing strength. Abascal's efforts to block the tide of rebellion had created a financial crisis for his government, and the hostilities sapped the economy. Returned to the throne, Ferdinand VII proved so reactionary that some dismayed creoles went over to the rebels. In 1816 Abascal left office, replaced by General Joaquín de la Pezuela, who was unable to revive Peru's economic base. Neither could he deter the army of Argentine general José de San Martín, who had invaded Chile and defeated a Peruvian force at Maipú on 5 April 1818. Convinced that Argentine independence was not secure as long as Spain held Peru, San Martín launched his campaign against Peru in March 1819, using the ships of the British mercenary Admiral Alfred Lord Cochrane to blockade Callao. San Martín landed forces at Pisco, south of Lima, in September 1820. At nearly the same time Pezuela learned of the Riego Revolt in Spain, which forced Ferdinand VII to reinstate the liberal Constitution of 1812 and enforce its promulgation in Peru. The revolt also meant that Spain could not send a planned expedition against Buenos Aires, which might have undercut San Martín's strategy against Peru. In December 1820 the intendant of Trujillo, José Bernardo Tagle y Portocarrero, pronounced for independence, and most of northern Peru soon followed his lead.

With the royalist cause collapsing, Pezuela retreated from Lima and consolidated his hold over the central and southern highlands. San Martín entered Lima and declared Peru independent on 28 July 1821. Soon thereafter he outlawed personal service such as the mita and recognized Indians as citizens. Enthused with French liberalism, creoles blocked San Martín's effort to establish an independent Peruvian monarchy. San Martín presided over the election of Peru's first parliament in 1822 but remained pessimistic about the nation's republican future. At Guayaquil in July 1822, he and Simón Bolívar met to plan the final liberation of Peru. Bolívar brought forces south to reinforce the Peruvians. The final blow to Spanish Peru was struck on 9 December 1824, when General Antonio José de Sucre defeated and captured Viceroy José de la Serna at the Battle of Ayachuco, near Huamanga.


Francisco Pizarro, 1535–1541

Diego de Almagro, 1541–1542

Cristóval Vaca de Castro, 1542–1544

Blasco Núñez Vela, 1544 (first viceroy)

Gonzalo Pizarro, 1544–1547

Pedro de la Gasca, 1547–1550

Antonio de Mendoza, 1550–1552

[Audiencia, 1552–1556]

Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza, Marqués de Cañete, 1556–1561

Diego López de Zúñiga y Velasco, Conde de Nieva, 1561–1564

Lope García de Castro, 1564–1569

Francisco de Toledo y Figueroa, 1569–1581

Martín Enríquez de Almansa, 1581–1583

[Audiencia, 1583–1586]

Fernando de Torres y Portugal, Conde de Villadompardo, 1586–1589

García Hurtado de Mendoza, Marqués de Cañete, 1589–1596

Luis de Velasco, Marquès de Salinas, 1596–1604

Gaspar de Zúñiga Acevedo y Fonseca, Conde de Monterrey, 1604–1607

Juan Manuel de Mendoza, Marqués de Montesclaros, 1607–1615

Francisco de Borja y Aragón, Principe de Esquilache, 1615–1621

Diego Fernández de Córdoba, Marqués de Guadalcázar, 1621–1629

Luis Jerónimo Fernández, Conde de Chinchón, 1629–1639

Pedro de Toledo y Leyva, Marqués de Mancera, 1639–1648

García Sarmiento de Sotomayor, Conde de Salvatierra, 1648–1655

Luis Enríquez de Guzmán, Conde de Alba de Liste, 1655–1661

Diego de Benavides, Conde de Santisteban, 1661–1666

Pedro Antonio Fernández, Conde de Lemos, 1666–1674

Bartolomé de la Cueva Enríquez, Conde de Castellar, 1674–1678

Melchor Liñán de Cisneros, 1678–1681

Melchor de Navarra y Rocaful, Duque de la Palata, 1681–1689

Melchor Portocarrero y Lasso de Vega, Conde de Moncolova, 1689–1705

Manuel Oms, Marqués de Castelldosrius, 1705–1710

Diego Ladrón de Guevara, 1710–1716

Carmine Niccolo Caracciolo, Principe de Santo Buono, 1716–1720

Diego Morcillo, 1720–1724

José de Armendáriz, Marqués de Castelfuerte, 1724–1736

Antonio de Mendoza, Marqués de Villagarcía, 1736–1745

José Antonio Manso de Velasco, Conde de Superunda, 1745–1761

Manuel de Amat y Junient, 1761–1776

Manuel Guirior, Marqués de Guirior, 1776–1780

Agustín de Jáuregui, 1780–1784

Teodoro de Croix, Conde de Croix, 1784–1789

Francisco Gil de Taboada y Lemos, 1790–1796

Ambrosio O'Higgins, 1796–1801

Gabriel Avilés, Marqués de Avilés, 1801–1806

José Fernando Abascal y Souza, Marqués de la Concordia, 1806–1816

Joaquín de la Pezuela, 1816–1821

José de la Serna, 1821–1824

See alsoAgriculture; Commercial Policy: Colonial Spanish America; Slavery: Spanish America; Sugar Industry.


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Cahill, David Patrick. From Rebellion to Independence in the Andes: Soundings from Southern Peru, 1750–1830. Amsterdam: Aksant, 2002.

Dean, Carolyn. Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ: Corpus Christi in Colonial Cuzco, Peru. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

Fisher, John Robert. Bourbon Peru, 1750–1824. Liverpool, U.K.: Liverpool University Press, 2003.

Graubart, Karen B. With Our Labor and Sweat: Indigenous Women and the Formation of Colonial Society in Peru, 1550–1700. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.

Mills, Kenneth. Idolatry and Its Enemies: Colonial Andean Religion and Extirpation, 1640–1750. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Montoya Rivas, Gustavo. La independencia del Perú y el fantasma de la revolución. Lima, Peru: Instituto Francés de Estudios Andinos, Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2002.

Morote, Herbert. El militarismo en el Perú: Un mal comienzo, 1821–1827. Lima, Peru: Jaime Campodónico Editor, 2003.

Premo, Bianca. Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Rivara de Tuesta, María Luisa. Pensamiento prehispánico y filosofía colonial en el Perú. Lima, Peru: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2000.

Salas de Coloma, Miriam. Estructura colonial del poder español en el Perú: Huamanga (Ayacucho) a través de sus obrajes: Siglos XVI-XVIII. Lima, Peru: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Fondo Editorial, 1998.

Silverblatt, Irene M. Modern Inquisitions: Peru and the Colonial Origins of the Civilized World. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

Stavig, Ward. The World of Túpac Amaru: Conflict, Community, and Identity in Colonial Peru. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

Tardieu, Jean-Pierre. El negro en el Cuzco: Los caminos de la alienación en la segunda mitad del siglo XVII. Lima, Peru: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Banco Central de Reserva del Perú, 1998.

Walker, Charles. Smoldering Ashes: Cuzco and the Creation of Republican Peru, 1780–1840. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

                                            Kendall W. Brown

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From the Conquest Through Independence