Council of the Indies
The Royal and Supreme Council of the Indies, or simply Council of the Indies, was an institution created by the Crown of Castile in the 16th century to organize policies linked to the American colonies .
Together with the Councils of Castile and Aragon , the Council of the Indies was one of the bodies that advised the kings and proposed the policies to be followed in the different regions reached by royal power.
The Council of the Indies regulated most aspects of colonial organization . It was a bureaucratic body that was extremely slow in making decisions since it exercised its functions through communication through written documents that arrived in America months and even years after being issued.
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Creation and historical context
After the conquest of America , the process of occupation of the new territories began . This process included evangelization, the founding of cities, the distribution of land, and the organization of a legal, legislative, and administrative system that would ensure effective control of the continent . All of these tasks placed a huge burden on the court bureaucracy.
At first, the functions of colonial organization were in charge of the Council of Castile, the advisory body of the kings on issues related to the region of Castile. In 1519, the complexity and volume of the problems that arose made it necessary to create within the Council of Castile a special section to deal only with the affairs of the Indies.
Finally, in 1524, the King Carlos I of Spain created the Council of the Indies that lasted for two centuries, until the rise of the Bourbons to the Spanish throne. The Council did not have a permanent seat until 1561, when it settled in Madrid together with the royal court.
In the framework of the Bourbon reforms that sought to modernize the Spanish State, during the 18th century , the Council of the Indies gradually lost functions that led to government secretariats. It was definitively dissolved in 1834.
Duties of the Council of the Indies
The functions of the Council of the Indies were numerous. Some of them were the following:
- He proposed to the kings the candidates to occupy the positions of the colonial government , such as viceroys, governors, oidores, judges, etc. In addition, it appointed the Residence Judge who would put the officials on trial upon their return to Spain.
- It was the king’s consultative body for decision-making regarding the American colonies on issues such as indigenous affairs, bureaucracy, territorial organization, patronage, etc.
- They presented to the monarch the affairs of the Indies, proposed solutions, and transmitted to the colonies the laws, decrees, and institutions that reflected the king‘s wishes.
- It solved the conflicts that arose between the civil servants who worked in America.
- It reviewed and approved or rejected the permits for the circulation of books, passengers and correspondence between Europe and America.
- He dealt with the organization of religious aspects .
- It functioned as the court of last resort for American questions . They analyzed the decisions originated in the Indies and approved or disapproved.
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Organization of the Council of the Indies
The Council of the Indies was organized as follows:
- It was made up of a president, a prosecutor, a secretary for each viceroyalty ( Viceroyalty of Peru and Viceroyalty of New Spain), a notary public, and a series of administrative officials . The Council was also composed of the Chief Cosmographer of the Indies , an official who was in charge of informing the kings of the discoveries made; the Cronista Mayor de Indias , who wrote history and the lawyer for the poor .
- Its members were appointed by the king. Although there were some representatives of the nobility, in general, the members were literate commoners , that is, men who had studied law at the universities.
- The council deliberated and submitted weekly “consultations” to the king. These documents informed the discussions and made recommendations to the monarch for the government of the Indies.