Palafox y Mendoza, Juan de (1600–1659)

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Palafox y Mendoza, Juan de (1600–1659)

Juan de Palafox y Mendoza (b. 1600; d. 1659), bishop of Puebla (1640–1654), visitor-general, and seventeenth viceroy of New Spain. Palafox, born in Fitero, Navarra, was the illegitimate son of an Aragonese noble. After studying law at Salamanca, he rose rapidly in both the church and the royal bureaucracy, serving on the Council of the Indies while still in his thirties. In 1639, he was named visitor-general of New Spain and bishop of Puebla. A moralist with mystical leanings, Palafox believed strongly in the Christian mission of the Hapsburg monarchy and sought to rectify the colonial administration, thereby making it a fit instrument for the reformation of society. He therefore never hesitated to employ the full extent of his authority: Most notably, as bishop he engineered the removal of New Spain's viceroy, the duque d'Escalona, in 1642 because of the latter's supposed pro-Portuguese sympathies. During Palafox's ensuing term as viceroy (June-November 1642), the Inquisition launched a massive persecution of Mexican crypto-Jews (secret Jews), which culminated in the great autos-da-fé of 1646–1649.

As bishop, Palafox sponsored an impressive program of ecclesiastical construction, building some fifty churches and a seminary (to which he donated his personal library of more than 5,000 volumes), founding the convent of Santa Inés, and completing the imposing Puebla cathedral, which was consecrated in 1649. To strengthen episcopal power, he transferred control of thirty-six parishes from the mendicant orders to the secular clergy. Beginning in 1641, Palafox became embroiled in disputes with the Jesuits concerning tithes on their landed estates and episcopal authority over Jesuit priests. As the conflicts deepened, the new viceroy, García Sarmiento De Sotomayor, conde de Salvatierra, sided with the Jesuits, putting Palafox in an increasingly precarious position. In 1647, to avoid arrest, he fled Puebla and went into hiding until the crown announced its verdict in his favor. However, this triumph was short-lived: In 1649 royal authorities ordered the disputatious bishop back to Spain, where he was named bishop of Osma (in Soria); he was forced to surrender the see of Puebla in 1654. Palafox's ultimate failure, like that of the marqués de Gelves, the reform-minded viceroy who was ousted by a riot in 1624, demonstrated the Spanish crown's inability to challenge entrenched power holders and make significant alterations in the colonial status quo. Palafox died in Osma.

See alsoCatholic Church: The Colonial Period; Inquisition: Spanish America; Jesuits; Puebla (City).


Charles E. P. Simmons, "Palafox and His Critics: Reappraising a Controversy," in Hispanic American Historical Review 46 (November 1966): 394-408.

Jonathan Irvine Israel, Race, Class, and Politics in Colonial Mexico, 1610–1670 (1975), pp. 190-247.

Genaro García, ed., "Don Juan de Palafox y Mendoza: Su virreinato en la Nueva España … etc.," in Documentos inéditos o muy raros para la historia de México (1982), pp. 519-663.

D. A. Brading, The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State, 1492–1867 (1991), pp. 228-251.

Additional Bibliography

Alvarez de Toledo, Cayetana. Politics and Reform in Spain and Viceregal Mexico: The Life and Thought of Juan de Palafox, 1600–1659. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Torre Villar, Ernesto de la. Don Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, pensador político. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas, 1997.

                                         R. Douglas Cope