Quito, Audiencia (Presidency) of

views updated

Quito, Audiencia (Presidency) of

Audiencia (Presidency) of Quito, governing body for the administrative division of the Spanish Empire in the New World that encompassed roughly the area of modern Ecuador. The term audiencia is also used sometimes to refer to the district governed by the audiencia. After having overthrown Inca rule in the north Andes by 1534, the Spanish invaders first governed the region by distributing the Amerindian towns in grants of encomienda. These protectorates allowed the Europeans to collect taxes and exact labor from the Andean villagers in return for providing military protection and religious instruction. To centralize Spanish control over these encomenderos, Francisco Pizarro established a governorship in 1534 over the region extending from Popayán in the north to Loja in the south and from the highlands to the coastal city of Guayaquil. Nevertheless, periodic civil wars among the conquistadores impeded the consolidation of Spanish rule until 1563, when the crown formed an audiencia (high court) in the city of Quito to head the imperial bureaucracy. By then, a more stable government had begun to form in the region, extending Spanish control over the Native American peoples and helping to establish a viable colonial socioeconomic order.

The new Audiencia of Quito exercised jurisdiction over the region encompassed by the old governorship established by Pizarro and later extended its control over the frontier provinces of Atacames (in the northwest) and Quijos, Macas, Mainas, and Yaguarzongo (east of the Andes). The audiencia district was further divided into smaller provincial units, called either corregimientos (magistracies) or gobiernos (governorships). The first corregimiento was established in the city of Quito in 1548. By the eighteenth century, such provincial magistracies were also located in Guayaquil, Cuenca, Loja-Zamora, Chimbo-Guaranda, Latacunga, Otavalo, Ibarra, Riobamba, and Pasto. The governorships were usually situated in more isolated regions such as Popayán, Atacames, Quijos-Macas, Mainas, and Yaguarzongo (later Jaén de Bracamoros). Cabildos (city councils) in the major cities and indigenous village councils in rural areas formed the lowest echelon of the royal bureaucracy in the audiencia district.

The viceroy of Peru initially exercised political, military, and administrative powers over the Audiencia of Quito, but in practice he delegated effective control over most local affairs to the tribunal. The audiencia administered civil and criminal cases, enforced royal and viceregal edicts, and issued laws to govern the realm. The exact size of the audiencia varied during the colonial period, but the crown usually maintained a chief justice (president), two to four oidores (civil justices), two alcaldes del crimen (criminal judges), and one or two fiscales (crown attorneys).

By the seventeenth century, competing elite political factions had gained considerable control over the audiencia. Strong-willed presidents such as Antonio de Morga (1615–1636) asserted the prerogatives of the court at the expense of the viceroy. In addition, as the crown began selling audiencia appointments from 1687, local partisan groups bought the posts and exercised direct political power through the tribunal. By the first half of the eighteenth century, the court had a well-deserved reputation for representing local factions rather than imperial interests.

This decline of royal power culminated in the overthrow of the audiencia in 1765. In that year, Viceroy Pedro de Messía De La Cerda transferred the administration of the alcabala (sales tax) and the aguardiente (cane liquor) monopoly from local tax farmers to direct royal control. Fearing opposition from the audiencia justices, he dispatched a special commissioner from Bogotá, Juan Díaz de Herrera, to implement the policy.

The growing assertiveness of local partisan interests led the Bourbon monarchs to make numerous administrative changes over the course of the eighteenth century, all aimed at increasing royal control in the audiencia district. To this end, officials in Madrid experimented briefly in 1718 with suppressing the Audiencia of Quito and placing the region under the jurisdiction of the newly created Viceroyalty of New Granada (Colombia). The Madrid government reestablished the tribunal in 1720 and suppressed the new viceroyalty in 1722, placing the tribunal once again under the jurisdiction of the Viceroyalty of Peru. This arrangement lasted until 1739, when the crown reestablished the Viceroyalty of New Granada and put the Audiencia of Quito under its control permanently. Metropolitan authorities later restricted the power of local partisan groups by ending the sale of audiencia judgeships in Quito—and elsewhere—by 1750.

After mid-century, the demographic and economic expansion of the southern highlands and the coast also prompted crown authorities to upgrade the corregimiento of Guayaquil to a governorship in 1763 and that of Cuenca to an intendancy in 1770. Local opposition to royal control prompted the Quito Revolt of 1765. A popular coalition government suspended the audiencia and ruled over the district until royal troops from Guayaquil restored the justices to power in September 1766. In the aftermath of the revolt, the crown dispatched officials to conduct visita general (special inspection) in 1778. It was under the control of the new audiencia president-regent (a newly created post of presiding officer) José García de León y Pizarro, and was charged with increasing revenues and heightening administrative control over the region. During his tenure as president-regent, García Pizarro and his royalist allies gained firm control over the audiencia and local politics.

Despite the crown's successes in reasserting its authority over the audiencia district of Quito, popular discontent erupted again in 1809 after the abdication of Charles IV and his son, Ferdinand VII. A junta (provisional government) controlled by quiteño elites disbanded the audiencia in that year and tried to extend its own control throughout the district. Although the junta fell in 1812 and the audiencia regained control, royal power remained tenuous. Finally, after the insurgent armies of General Antonio José de Sucre defeated the royalist forces in 1822 at the Battle of Pichincha, the victors permanently suppressed the Audiencia of Quito.

See alsoQuito; Quito Revolt of 1765; Spanish Empire.


Recent treatments are John Leddy Phelan, The Kingdom of Quito in the Seventeenth Century: Bureaucratic Politics in the Spanish Empire (1967); Alfredo Pareja y Diez Canseco, Las instituciones y la administración de la Real Audiencia de Quito (1975); Christiana Borchart De Moreno, "El periódo colonial," in Pichincha: Monografía histórica de la región nuclear Ecuatoriana, edited by Segundo Moreno Yánez (1981), pp. 195-274; Jean Paul Deler, N. Gómez, and M. Portais, El manejo del espacio en el Ecuador-Etapas claves (1983). For the audiencia judges in an imperial context see Mark A. Burkholder and D. S. Chandler, From Impotence to Authority: The Spanish Crown and the American Audiencias, 1687–1808 (1977).

Additional Bibliography

Andrien, Kenneth J. The Kingdom of Quito, 1690–1830: The State and Regional Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Borchart de Moreno, Christiana Renate. La Audiencia de Quito: Aspectos económicos y sociales (siglos XVI-XVIII). Quito, Ecuador: Ediciones del Banco Central del Ecuador, 1998.

                                   Kenneth J. Andrien