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 Politics, Political Culture and Policy Making: the reform of viceregal rule in the Spanish world under Philip V (1700-1746).


When Charles ii, fifth and last Habsburg king of Spain, died without having fathered an heir on 1st November 1700, the Spanish Monarchy remained an archetypical example of the early modern European composite monarchy.[1] In other words, it incorporated numerous territories each, at least formally, with its own set of laws and privileges, independent from each other and joined simply by their loyalty to the same monarch and royal family.[2] Amongst these politically distinct territories, those of Navarre, Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia in the Iberian Peninsula, Majorca, Sardinia, Sicily and Naples in the Mediterranean, and New Spain and Peru in the Americas, were ruled by viceroys. When Charles’s successor, Philip v —the first Bourbon king of Spain—, died in1746, the total number of viceroyalties in the Spanish Monarchy had been reduced to four. Three —Naples, Sardinia and Sicily— had been lost in the War of the Spanish Succession —although when the last two were briefly reoccupied, between 1717 and 1720, the viceregal institution was not reintroduced. Another four —Aragon, Catalonia, Majorca and Valencia— were suppressed by the Crown between 1707 and 1716. And a brand new viceroyalty, that of New Granada, had been finally established in 1739 after a first experiment between 1717 and 1723 failed. Why did this institution, which had been an integral part of the Monarchy’s system of imperial governance under Habsburg rule,[3] experience such a turbulent, and seemingly contradictory, reform during the rule of the first Bourbon king of Spain? Were these reforms prompted by political ideas and policy objectives specific to the new dynasty? Why were some viceroyalties suppressed while a new one was created? And does the fact that, in three instances, the institution survived the period apparently intact mean that no significant changes affected viceregal rule in Navarre, New Spain and Peru?

My inquiry into the reform of viceregal rule during the period is profoundly influenced by recent historiographical developments in the study of early Bourbon Spain. Thus, I am not only concerned with the transformation of the viceregal institution itself, but devote significant attention to the personnel working within it and to the correlation between the changing profile of viceroys appointed under Philip v and changes to the institution. I also consider it fundamental to situate the reforms of viceregal rule within the broader set of reforms introduced by early Bourbon ministers. Thus, in analysing the reform of viceregal rule, the thesis explores wider themes of the early Bourbon period. In particular, I am concerned with three issues. How do these reforms reflect the emergence and evolution of new political ideas? What impact did the changing distribution and balance of political power at court have in the introduction and survival of reforms? And how did the evolution of decision making and implementation mechanisms at the heart to the monarchy’s central administration affect the nature and characteristics of the reform of viceregal rule?

One issue of particular interest for the thesis is the relation between reforms intended to be applied in Peninsular Spain and those aimed towards Spanish America. As is the case with much of the historiography on any period of early modern Spanish history, most of the studies dealing with the early Bourbon period seem to ignore or disregard the existence of Spanish America altogether. Similarly, historians of Spanish America tend to pay very little attention to developments in Spain. Most studies of the region tend to disregard both the fact that the Spanish court was a political arena in which decisions regarding the government of the Indies were often the result of internal power struggles, and that the Spanish American territories did not exist in isolation from other Spanish provinces. Thus, beyond the scarcity of studies on the early Bourbon period in Spanish America, we know very little about how reforms affecting the Indies were formulated, what their objectives were, or how they correlate with those introduced in the Peninsula.

Because it is my main objective to address these issues, the thesis is more concerned with the policy-making side of reform than with its impact, and builds on the existing historiography on the articulation between changing political ideas and the evolution of institutions of provincial governance in the Spanish world.[4] Throughout the chapters I analyse carefully the discourse surrounding the reforms of the viceregal institution, documenting during the early Bourbon period the emergence of a set of ideas which emphasise the government’s responsibility for securing regional economic development. By studying viceregal appointees as a group and highlighting their links and association with up-and-coming groups within Philip v’s army and with those entrusted with local and provincial governance in the Peninsula, the thesis contributes to our understanding of the social component of early Bourbon administrative reforms.[5] Finally, the thesis aims at deepening our understanding of Spanish policy making by showing how both court politics and changes in procedure had significant effects on the pace and permanence of reform. In this regard, my study suggests there were interesting parallels and coincidences between the pace of political and economic reform during the period.[6]

Chapter 1 offers an overview of the origins, development and political dynamics of viceregal rule in the Spanish world under the Habsburgs. It emphasises the significance of political ideas in the development of institutions of provincial governance, and highlights conscious royal attempts to introduce a degree of uniformity across the different viceroyalties. The chapter intends to provide a base line from which the reforms introduced during the eighteenth century can be analysed. The second chapter explores the process through which viceregal rule was suppressed during the War of Succession in the four kingdoms of the Crown of Aragon, and its replacement by a system of rule by captains-general. The chapter offers a first approximation to the themes and tensions which characterised reforms to viceregal rule throughout the period.

In chapter 3, I analyse mechanisms which led to the decision to create a third viceroyalty in Spanish America precisely at the time when the institution was being suppressed in Europe. I explore the aims behind the first creation of the viceroyalty of New Granada and highlight the correlation between both the creation and subsequent suppression of the viceroyalty and changing distribution of political power at court. Chapter 4 focuses on the background and experience of the men appointed as viceroys to Peru and New Spain during the first reign of Philip v. It stresses the contrast between the men appointed in the 1720s and their predecessors, as well as the traits and characteristics shared between these latter appointees and the provincial governors and captains-general of the Peninsula.

The last chapter extends the analysis of the themes developed in the previous chapters to the second reign of Philip v. On the one hand it focuses on the second creation of the viceroyalty of New Granada, contrasting it with the previous unsuccessful experience, and discussing at length the discourse used in justifying this second experiment. On the other, the chapter continues the analysis of the profile and experience of the men appointed to the three Spanish American viceroyalties in the 1730s and 40s and the increasing militarisation of provincial rule in the Indies during the final years of the reign.

This thesis, then, is not intended to be a study of how the reform of viceregal rule affected those territories ruled, or formerly ruled, by viceroys, interesting though that subject is. It is, rather, an analysis of what led the Spanish Crown to introduce those reforms and of the obstacles it found within the institutions responsible for the central administration of the Monarchy. Thus, this study aims at furthering our understanding of the process of political reform under Bourbon rule by giving detailed attention to the genesis of reform in the first stages of Bourbon government during the early eighteenth century.

[1] Christopher Storrs, The resilience of the Spanish monarchy, 1665-1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) p. 191.

[2] Bernardino Bravo Lira, 'Régimen virreinal. Constantes y variantes de la constitución política en Iberoamérica (siglos XVI al XXI),' Congreso Internacional. El Gobierno de un Mundo. Virreinatos y Audiencias en la América Hispana, ed. Feliciano Barrios Pintado (Cuenca: Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha / Fundación del Pino, 2004) p. 384; Alejandro Cañeque, The King's Living Image. The Culture and Politics of Viceregal Power in Colonial Mexico (New York, NY: Routledge, 2004) p. 10.

[3] Amongst others, Jesús Lalinde Abadía, La institución virreinal en Cataluña (1471-1716) (Barcelona: Instituto Español de Estudios Mediterráneos, 1964); Carlos José Hernando Sánchez, '"Estar en nuestro lugar, representando nuestra propia persona". El gobierno virreinal en Italia y la Corona de Aragón bajo Felipe II,' Felipe II y el Mediterráneo ed. Ernest Belenguer Cebrià, vol. III La monarquía y los reinos (1) (Madrid: Sociedad Estatal para la Conmemoración de los Centenarios de Felipe II y Carlos V, 1999); Cañeque, The King's Living Image... .

[4] See, in particular, Colin M. MacLachlan, Spain's Empire in the New World. The Role of Ideas in Institutional and Social Change (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998); Cañeque, The King's Living Image... ; Pablo Fernández Albaladejo, Fragmentos de monarquía: trabajos de historia política (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1992); and Gabriel B. Paquette, Enlightenment, Governance, and Reform in Spain and its Empire, 1759-1808 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

[5] See Didier Ozanam with collaboration from René Quatrefages, Los capitanes y comandantes generales de provincias en la España del siglo XVIII (Córdoba: Universidad de Córdoba / Caja Sur, 2008); Francisco Andújar Castillo, 'Las elites de poder militar en la España borbónica. Introducción a su estudio prosopográfico,' Sociedad, Administración y Poder en la España del Antiguo Régimen, ed. Juan Luis Castellano (Granada: Universidad de Granada / Diputación Provincial de Granada, 1996); Francisco Andújar Castillo, 'Capitanes generales y capitanías generales en el siglo XVIII,' Revista de Historia Moderna. Anales de la Universidad de Alicante 22 (2004); and Eduardo Martiré, 'La militarización de la monarquía borbónica (¿Una monarquía militar?),' Congreso Internacional. El Gobierno de un Mundo. Virreinatos y Audiencias en la América Hispana, ed. Feliciano Barrios Pintado (Cuenca: Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha / Fundación del Pino, 2004).

[6] On this issue see Anthony McFarlane, Colombia before independence: economy, society and politics under Bourbon rule (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); and on economic, especially trade, reform during the period Stanley J. Stein and Barbara H. Stein, Silver, Trade and War. Spain and America in the Making of Early Modern Europe (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).



Joint Supervisors:


Dr. Guy P. C. Thomson

School of Comparative American Studies

Department of History

The University of Warwick

Tel: 02476 523422

Personal website.


Prof. Anthony McFarlane

School of Comparative American Studies

Department of History

The University of Warwick

Tel: 02476 523425

Personal website.