Recopilación de Leyes de las Indias

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Recopilación de Leyes de las Indias

Recopilación de Leyes de las Indias, compilation of legislation related to the New World. The Recopilación de leyes de los reynos de las Indias, published in Madrid in 1681, is a four-volume collection of laws relating to the Indies. Initiated by order of the Council of the Indies in 1624, it tried to systematize laws promulgated since Columbus's exploration of the New World. Antonio de León Pinelo was the principal author of the work, but Juan de Solórzano Pereira's contribution in settling the final form of the collection also deserves recognition. The draft was completed in 1636, but several successive financial crises prevented its publication for decades. Finally, 3,300 copies were printed in 1681. In addition to organizing more than eleven thousand laws for imperial officials, the Recopilación, in D. A. Brading's words, "demonstrated the justice and legitimacy of Spanish rule in the New World."

The Recopilación consists of nine parts (libros) which ordered legislation related to the following major topics: the church, clerics, educational institutions, and publishing (I); councils, audiencias, and related staff associated with the provision of justice (II); viceroys, presidents, the military, and lesser offices (III); discovery, conquest, settlement, local government and services, and mines and commerce (IV); district administration, the supervision of the medical profession, judicial procedures, residencias (V); the native population and its treatment and financial and labor obligations, encomiendas and repartimientos (VI); special investigations, the black and mulatto population, jails and judicial sentences (VII); taxes and their collection, the sale of offices, treasury and accounting offices and their responsibilities (VIII); the House of Trade, oversight of trade to and from the Indies, naval personnel, travel and travelers to and from the Indies, the merchant guilds of Mexico City and Lima (IX). Fortunately, the Recopilación contains a detailed index.

Described by Clarence H. Haring as "one of the most humane, and one of the most comprehensive, codes published for any colonial empire," the Recopilación contains legislation that illuminates much of the colonies' institutional structure and procedure. Nearly all of its prescriptions should, however, be read as statements of good intentions rather than actual statutes that were enforced.

See alsoCouncil of the Indies; Judicial Systems: Spanish America; Solórzano Pereira, Juan de; Spanish Empire.


Recopilación de leyes de los reynos de las Indias, 4 vols. (1681; repr. 1973).

Clarence H. Haring, The Spanish Empire in America (1947), pp. 110-114.

D. A. Brading, The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State 1492–1867 (1991), pp. 213-215.

Additional Bibliography

Domínguez Ortiz, Antonio. La sociedad americana y la corona española en el siglo XVII. Spain: M. Pons, 1996.

                                    Mark A. Burkholder

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Recopilación de Leyes de las Indias

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