An Analysis of Spanish Administration in Local Elites

Category: Spain, Spanish
Last Updated: 31 May 2023
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Table of contents

The Spanish administration rested upon a balance of power groups which are the administration, church and the local elites. The administration possessed political though little military power, and derived its authority from the sovereignty of the crown and its own bureaucratic function. Secular sovereignty was reinforced by the church, whose religious mission was backed by jurisdictional and economic power. But the greatest economic power lay with the elites, property owners.

By the 18th century, local oligarchies were firmly rooted in Spanish America, based on vested interests in land, commerce and mining, on enduring ties of kinship and alliance with the colonial bureaucracy, with the viceregal entourage and the judges of audencia, and on a strong sense of regional identity (Bethell, 1987). All decisions concerning the newly acquired colony were approved by the viceroy headquartered in Mexico City.

The viceroy was a royal appointee especially selected for the post by the king and consisted of a member of Spain's nobility. The viceroy reigned like a king in the region he was assigned to govern. He had all the authority as well as the comforts that were enjoyed by the royal family. The Royal Audencia served as a court of appeals as well as the monitor of ecclesiastical tribunals and communicated directly with the king in the Council of Indies. The Council of Indies maintained policies that demanded the acquisition of continuous information and knowledge (Fish, 2011).

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Development of Colonial Brazil

In general the development of Brazil occurred more slowly than the rest of the region. This is logical as the colony did not initially yield the massive wealth of the Spanish colonies. While Portugal imposed many of the same mercantilist policies in Spain, the regulations were looser and not enforced as rigorously. After the discovery of diamond and gold, the Portuguese interest in the control of the colony intensified. The mercantilist policies were further weakened by both the UK and Portugal that gave British ships access to the Brazilian ports.

Further, Portugal tried to integrate Brazil into its empire rather than to create separate Brazilian institutions. The reality, however, was that Brazilian educational development was ignored just as the overall development of Brazil was ignored. Almost all things of value, people and goods, were to be extracted for the benefit of Portugal. Also the natives were not given powers to influence the development of colonial societies. For example, the colonial court that existed defended only the claims of the Portuguese.

In a nutshell, the development of Brazil was slow in three ways. Due to absence of discovery of mineral wealth, the early development of Brazil was based on agriculture. Second, the mercantilist policies of the Portuguese were never thorough as it was the case in other colonies. Finally, the mercantilist policies ended early because the natural trade relations of the mother country and the colony were influenced by the world's rising economic power of the time (Reyes & Sawyer).

Patronato Real

The pope charged Spain with Christianization of the native people of the new lands and issued the patronato real. The Spanish patronato real was a royal patronage, an understanding which recognized strong prerogatives for the Crown in the affairs of the Church as well as the royal government's support for the church and its mission in Spain as well as the growing Spanish empire. For instance, it made the king to be the head of the New World church. Through a series of the bills that were issued in 1493 and 1508, the papacy had charged the Spanish crown with the New World spiritual conquest.

In its turn, the crown entrusted the mission to the regular clergy. Under patronato real, the king was obligated to provide financial support to the church in its overseas possessions, so the missionaries were carried abroad royal ships to America, Philippines and Moluccas. Once the missionaries were engaged in mission work, the crown through its colonial agents provided stipends for the maintenance of missionaries and allowance for their churches. As the crown's power became more centralized, the royal control over the ecclesiastical activities in the colonies tightened correspondingly (Bethell, 1984). The patronato real permitted the Royal government to nominate all higher church dignitaries. In practice, the king was the head of the Church and therefore he controlled all church activities (Suchlicki, 2000).

Mercantilist Principles

The mercantilist principles guided the design of Spanish commercial policies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Other people assign a wider meaning to the term mercantilism, defining it as a system that influenced the transformation of the domestic economies in a period to capitalism. The common claim associated with mercantilism is that the wealth of Spain depended on the accumulation of precious metals. Consequently, Spain needed to accumulate balance of payments surpluses to avoid bullion outflow. People believed that wealth existed in a fixed quantity and therefore the economic advancement of a country depended on its capacity to enlarge its global wealth share, thus affecting the relative position of the country.

Given that trade surpluses were the essential goal of the mercantilist policies, the accumulation of precious metals could be achieved only at the expense of others. In seeking trade surpluses, the menu of mercantilist policies included the substitutions of imports by fostering home industries and incentives to exporters. Under mercantilist principle, an average colonist enjoyed the rights of the Englishmen and the average colonist was economically better of as compared to an average English person (Thomas, Coatsworth & Conde, 2006).

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An Analysis of Spanish Administration in Local Elites. (2023, May 25). Retrieved from

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