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Residencia, judicial review of an official's actions in office conducted at the conclusion of his tenure. The residencia had Castilian precedents and was extended to the New World as early as 1501, as part of the crown's effort to establish control over its officials there. Residencias were subsequently employed for viceroys, audiencia ministers, district administrators such as Corregidores, and a variety of other officials. Although they were used throughout the colonial period, their effectiveness was often nil. Nonetheless, the information collected during these reviews is an important source for historians.

In conducting a residencia, a specially appointed judge (juez de residencia), often an audiencia minister or, for district officials, an incumbent's successor, posted the time and place where he would be available to receive accusations about the behavior of the official in question. After gathering the information and hearing the official's defense, the judge prepared a formal report, pronounced sentence, and sent the relevant documentation to the local audiencia or, for senior officials, to the Council of the Indies.

The penalties levied for abuse of office, and especially for malfeasance, included fines, prohibition from further royal service, loss of property, and imprisonment. Appeals, however, were commonplace, and rarely did the sentenced official have to suffer the full punishment originally specified.

Residencias, like visitas and pesquisas, represented the Spanish crown's deep and frequently justified suspicion that colonial officials could not be trusted to implement its will. The myriad, often conflicting legislation promulgated for the Indies, moreover, meant that officials invariably violated some laws. Nonetheless, as a major administrative tool to keep colonial officials true to their responsibilities, the residencia never fully met royal expectations. Despite its threat, officials typically balanced local pressures and personal objectives against royal intentions, and rarely suffered permanently from this form of imperial surveillance.

See alsoJudicial Systems: Spanish America; Pesquisa, Pesquisador; Visita, Visitador.


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

Clarence H. Haring, The Spanish Empire in America (1947), pp. 148-153.

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.

Barrios, Feliciano. El gobierno de un mundo: Virreinatos y audiencias en la América hispánica. Cuenca: Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha: Fundación Rafael del Pino, 2004.

Burkholder, Mark A., ed. Administrators of Empire. Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 1998.

Dym, Jordana and Christophe Belaubre. Politics, Economy, and Society in Bourbon Central America, 1759–1821. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2007.

                             Mark A. Burkholder