Bourbon reforms with causes and consequences

Bourbon reforms

Set of measures implemented by the Spanish Bourbons during the 18th century. In this article we will providing you the information about Bourbon reforms.

The Bourbon Reforms were a set of political , administrative , religious , cultural and economic measures implemented by the Spanish Bourbons during the 18th century . These were applied in Spain and especially in the American dominions .

The implementation of these reforms was influenced by some of the ideas of the Enlightenment . Its objective was to strengthen royal power , centralize administration , increase tax collection and ensure domination over the American colonies , threatened by the expansion of Portugal and the attacks of English and French pirates.

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What were the Bourbon Reforms?

The Bourbon Reforms can be classified as political-administrative, religious, cultural and economic.


The main political-administrative reforms were related to the American colonies. Among them the following can be mentioned:

  • The viceroyalties of Nueva Granada (1717) and Río de la Plata (1776) were created, which were separated from the Viceroyalty of Peru .
  • The Captaincy Generals of Cuba (1777), Venezuela (1777) and Chile (1778) were created. These administrative divisions were located in regions exposed to attack by foreign powers.
  • Each viceroyalty was divided into municipalities  governed by a governor intendant. These officials, who replaced the old governors, had financial, military and administrative powers, and were appointed directly by the king.
  • The Crown preferred the peninsulares over the Creoles in appointments to the most important positions in the colonial administration.


The main religious reforms were the following:

  • Regalism was affirmed , that is, the set of principles that affirmed that the authority of the king was superior to that of the Pope in matters that had to do with the sovereignty of the State, such as the appointment of bishops and the review of the decisions of the ecclesiastical courts.
  • In 1767 the Society of Jesus was expelled from both Spain and its colonial dominions.


The main cultural reforms were the following:

  • They were created schools of Arts and Crafts in Spain and in America.
  • Scientific expeditions to overseas territories were organized , such as that of Alejandro Malaspina, who between 1788 and 1794 traveled the coasts of South America, Central America, California, the Philippines and several islands in Oceania.


The main economic reforms were the following:

  • The single port monopoly was made more flexible, by enabling 24 American ports to trade directly with 13 mainland ports. This provision, contained in the “Regulations for free trade from Spain to the Indies” of 1778, did not eliminate the monopoly since the prohibition on trading with foreign powers remained in force.
  • The fleet and gallon system was abolished and replaced by that of ships of record , which with prior authorization from the Casa de Contratación could travel between the new ports enabled for trade between Spain and America.
  • The development of agriculture and the creation of agricultural colonies were stimulated .
  • The construction of public works , such as roads and canals, was promoted .
  • New taxes were created and the aliquots of existing ones were increased, as happened with the alcabalas, which went from 2 to 4%.

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Causes and consequences of the Bourbon reforms


The main causes of the implementation of the Bourbon Reforms were the following:

  • The influence of some of the ideas of the Enlightenment , especially those that pointed to the need to stimulate agriculture, commerce and the education of the people, as well as a certain anti-clerical spirit.
  • The concern of the Spanish Crown for the excessive independence with which the Society of Jesus was managed and its insistence on recognizing the authority of the Pope over that of the King of Spain.
  • The need to combat smuggling (illegal trade) in America and to increase tax collection .
  • The independence with which many colonial officials in the American dominions handled themselves, the abuses of power they committed, and the acts of corruption they were suspected of carrying out.
  • The threat posed to Spain by the attacks of  English and French pirates  on the Caribbean coast and the expansionist attempts of the Portuguese on the Banda Oriental .


The most important consequences of the Bourbon Reforms were the following:

  • The increase in trade flows between Spain and America, as a consequence of the flexibility of the monopoly.
  • The development of some economic activities benefited by the Atlantic trade, such as the River Plate cattle ranching.
  • The reorientation of the commercial circuits of the Upper Peru region (present-day Bolivia) from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, through the port of Buenos Aires, which was opened to direct trade with Spain.
  • The rise of cities that had been relegated by the previous system, for example Buenos Aires, which from being a marginal city of the Spanish colonial Empire became a viceregal capital where the viceroy, his court, an audience, a consulate and a military garrison.
  • The decline of the reductions, Indian towns, which had been administered by the Jesuits in different American regions, especially those of the government of Paraguay, which had had an enormous expansion.
  • The intensification of the conflicts between Spain and Portugal over the dominance of the Banda Oriental, which took place before, during and after the 7 Years’ War .
  • The dissatisfaction of the indigenous people at the increase in tax pressure. This malaise resulted in the outbreak of a great rebellion that between 1780 and 1782 led by Túpac Amaru and that was harshly repressed by the colonial authorities.
  • The suspicion of many Creoles before the preference of the Crown for the peninsular to occupy the most important positions of the colonial administration (viceroys, judges, mayors). This led some Creoles to develop independence ideas , taking as a model the Independence of the United States (1776) and influenced by the ideas of freedom and equality spread by the French Revolution (1789).

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