History Department
History Department

IHS Workshop: “The Devil’s Rodeo: The Logistics of the Spanish Imperial Petitioning System” by Adrian Masters, University of Texas at Austin (New Work in Progress Series)

Tue, March 27, 2018 | GAR 4.100

2:00 PM - 3:30 PM

My dissertation, “Creating Law in the Spanish Empire: Petitioners, Royal Decrees, and the Council of the Indies, 1524-1598,” overviews the process through which vassals petitioned the Spanish Empire’s supreme Council of the Indies, and how these letters resulted in the Empire’s one-hundred-thousand-plus royal decrees by the time of King Philip II’s 1598 death. The first chapter provides a “thick descriptive,” micro-historical approach to three collective petitions to the Crown: Peru’s mestizo priests in 1582-1588, the black men and women of Panama in 1576-1580, and the Nahua artisans of Tlatelolco, Mexico City, 1555-1565. The second demonstrates how legal intermediaries and translators made this system of petitioning very open, and even free, for many vassals.

I will be presenting Chapter Three of my dissertation. It is a logistical history of the Indies-to-Madrid communications system in the sixteenth century. It traces three stages of communications history: the era of Atlantic and Caribbean consolidation from 1492 to 1520, the period of inland conquests, viceregal development, and Pacific settlements from roughly 1520 to 1560, and lastly, the period of piracy and the fleet system from 1560 to about 1600. I argue that though the Crown sought to provide its subjects with equal access to royal justice, the communications systems were dramatically slow, often depended on unreliable merchant couriers, frequently ignored minor towns, and suffered from interferences by prying Indies inhabitants and pirates alike. Despite these major obstacles and inequalities, the Empire maintained strong communications with its overseas dominions. Methodologically, this chapter calls for historians to remember that early modern communications were profoundly material, and that this materiality had major social implications, not least for vassal-Crown relations.

Subsequent chapters will address the Council’s response to petitions and their creation of royal decrees (Chapter 4), the delivery of decrees back to the Indies (Chapter 5), the gamut of vassals’ legislative implementation strategies (Chapter 6), the Council’s hermeneutics of suspicion about the truth or falsehood of Indies letters (Chapter 7), and the formation of imperial ideology and archives to the detriment of petitioners, from roughly 1570 to roughly 1600 (Chapter 8).

Read more about Adrian Masters and his work at:

Susan Deans-Smith
Associate Professor of History
University of Texas at Austin

Chair and Coordinator, New Work in Progress Series:
Eyal Weinberg
Ph.D. Candidate in the History Department
University of Texas at Austin

Free and open to the public. Please RSVP to cmeador@austin.utexas.edu to sign-up to attend and received the pre-circulated paper. Refreshments provided.

View the complete New Work in Progress Series for 2017-2018:

Sponsored by: Institute for Historical Studies in the Department of History

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