Viceroyalty, Viceroy

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Viceroyalty, Viceroy

Viceroyalty, the largest territorial unit in the Spanish colonies, and viceroy, its chief executive. The failure of the first audiencias to provide stable rule in the New World and the desire to gain control over the new colonies resulted in the Spanish crown's naming viceroys for the newly created viceroyalties (regions) of New Spain (1535) and Peru (1543). The viceroyalty of New Spain encompassed land from the northern boundary of the province of Panama to what is now the United States and included the Caribbean islands and part of the province of Venezuela. The Philippine Islands ultimately fell under its jurisdiction as well. The viceroyalty of Peru included Panama and all Spanish possessions in South America, with the exception of a coastal strip of Venezuela. When the crown created the viceroyalties of New Granada in northern South America and of the Río De La Plata (roughly present-day Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia) in 1739 and 1776, respectively, it reduced the viceroyalty of Peru to Peru, Charcas, and Chile.

Viceroys were to serve as the monarch's alter ego and, as such, lived in palaces surrounded by retainers. As the chief executive, a viceroy presided over the audiencia located in his capital; had ultimate responsibility for the receipt, expenditure, and remission to Spain of tax revenues; served as commander in chief of the military; exercised royal patronage over the church; was charged with the settlement and economic development of his territory; and was responsible for the humane treatment of the native population.

From 1535 to 1808, the crown gave regular appointments to ninety-two men for the posts of viceroy. In the beginning, it named men of impeccable social standing and demonstrated ability. Many viceroys had titles of nobility, claimed military qualifications, and belonged to military orders. When the extension of European conflicts to the New World led the crown to emphasize military ability, especially in the eighteenth century, the social background of viceroys declined. In general, the greater weight given to ability over birth resulted in viceroys who, as a group, served satisfactorily in their posts.

Viceroys were named for a limited tenure, in contrast with audiencia ministers. The average tenure in office of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century viceroys in New Spain and Peru was between six and seven years. With only a few exceptions, viceroys were men born and reared in Spain.

The title "viceroy" was also used in Brazil beginning in 1720, but the authority of the office was normally limited to a captaincy-general. Rio de Janeiro replaced Bahia as the viceregal capital in 1763.

See alsoSpanish Empire .


Clarence H. Haring, Spanish Empire in America (1947).

Dauril Alden, Royal Government in Colonial Brazil (1968).

Mark A. Burkholder, "Bureaucrats," in Cities and Society in Colonial Latin America, edited by Louisa Schell Hoberman and Susan Migden Socolow (1986).

Additional Bibliography

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

Cañeque, Alejandro. The King's Living Image: The Culture and Politics of Viceregal Power in Colonial Mexico. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Zimmerman, Arthur Franklin. Francisco de Toledo: Fifth Viceroy of Peru, 1569–1581. New York: Greenwood Press, 1968, especially chapters IV, V, VI, VII, VIII.

                                Mark A. Burkholder