Spanish Political Positions And Functions

New World in the 16th Century

Viceroy This position was very much like the Right Hand Man of the King in a specific territory. The person that was awarded this position was very much like a mini-king in the area. They lived the life of luxury with all of the rights and privileges. They were only answerable to the King. The first Viceroy in the New World, was Christopher Columbus; but, by 1495, these powers were diminished and eventually lost. Diego Colon (Columbus) took the King to court, to get the family privileges restored and eventually won, becoming the second Viceroy in 1511. until 1526.

Consejo de las Indias The Council of the Indies was created in 1524 and  were given almost total control of all affairs dealing with the Indies. It was given the  Executive, Legislative and Judicial power to govern all of the land of the Indies. Once it was formed, the Viceroy would have to answer to them, and not the King. With the formation of the Council, the Viceroyalty became a political position with some Executive powers; but, it lost most of its Legislative and Judicial powers. During the 16th century, two additional Viceroyalties were added, one for New Spain (Mexico) and one for Peru. The Viceroyalty of Española, was closed and its territories came under control of New Spain.

Nueva España (New Spain), created in 1535 with its seat of government in Mexico City, included all lands north of South America, Panama, Central America, Mexico, and Southwest US up to San Francisco, and east to the Saint Louis, the Gulf of Mexico, Florida and the West Indies. The first Viceroy of New Spain was Antonio de Mendoza.

The Viceroyalty of Peru included all of South America, except Brazil.

Audencia Each Viceroyalty was sub-divided into Judicial Districts which served the function of an Appeals Court. Each Audencia had it's own Oidor (Judge), although in Mexico, the Viceroy generally served as Oidor. Audencias in New Spain were located in Panama, Santo Domingo (West Indies and Venezuela), Mexico (Mexico City, Gulf of Mexico and Florida), Guatemala (Southern Mexico and Central America, up to Panama), Nueva Galica (Northwest Mexico and US Southwest)

Capitan General  The Captain-General position was generally a position that ruled a large territory inside of a Viceroyalty, but independent of the Viceroy. Juan Ponce de León was awarded this position by the King, to prevent the Viceroy, Diego Colon, from interfering in the affairs of the Captain-General's territory. They had the power of the Viceroy in their territory, and only answered directly to the Crown. Sometimes, a Viceroy was also a Captain-General.

Presidente  A  President was equal to a Captain-General, but lacked the Military authority that the Captain-General had. All Military matters were handled by the Viceroy, but if the President needed it, he had to petition the Viceroy for the power. The President was a sub-division of the Audencia (Precidencia).

Governador  This position was granted to somebody that governed a territory larger than a city and this territory was settled and pacified of all Indian hostility. Typically, the Governor ruled a Precidencia or a Captaincy-General, or some portion of it. Sometimes the territory was called a Province

Adelantado  This position is very much like that of the Governador, except that the Adelantado ruled over areas that were may have been settled; but, it was not pacified and the area was in a state of alert and prepared for hostilities. An Adelantado was always the governor of the area, and may have been a Captain-General.

Corregidor The Corregidor ruled over an area called a Corregimiento or Corregidoria. The territory could be as large as a province, but generally, it was a territory within a province and tended to only contain one large town within the area. The Corregidor was sometimes called a Governador. The Corregidor was the link the Crown had with a municipality.

Cabildo This was the Municipal Council and was made up of regidores (Councilmen or Aldermen) that were elect to the position by the Spaniard of pure blood. Mestizo's and Negro's could not vote. The regidores were collectively called the regimiento. The Cabildo would elect Alcaldes (Judges) from within their own ranks. The Alcaldes would in turn, select an Alcalde Mayor (Chief Judge). The judicial district of the Alcalde was called an Alcaldía..

Alguacil There was an Alguacil in every town, and he had the power of a Constable, or Bailiff, or Sheriff. This position could also be that of a Jailer or a Governor. 

Alcaide This was the position of Jailer or Warden and generally helped the Alguacil.

Bruce C. Ruiz
February 12, 2003