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Captaincy General of Guatemala

Captaincy General of Guatemala

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The Captaincy General of Guatemala , also known as the Kingdom of Guatemala (Spanish: Reino de Guatemala), was an administrative division in Spanish America which covered much of Central America
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

, including what are now the nations of Costa Rica
Costa Rica
Costa Rica , officially the Republic of Costa Rica is a multilingual, multiethnic and multicultural country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east....

, Nicaragua
Nicaragua
Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The country is situated between 11 and 14 degrees north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere, which places it entirely within the tropics. The Pacific Ocean...

, Honduras
Honduras
Honduras is a republic in Central America. It was previously known as Spanish Honduras to differentiate it from British Honduras, which became the modern-day state of Belize...

, El Salvador
El Salvador
El Salvador or simply Salvador is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. The country's capital city and largest city is San Salvador; Santa Ana and San Miguel are also important cultural and commercial centers in the country and in all of Central America...

 and Guatemala
Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

, and the Mexican state of Chiapas
Chiapas
Chiapas officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Chiapas is one of the 31 states that, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 118 municipalities and its capital city is Tuxtla Gutierrez. Other important cites in Chiapas include San Cristóbal de las...

. The governor-captain general
Captaincy
A captaincy is a historical administrative division of the former Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires. Each was governed by a captain general.-In the Portuguese Empire:...

 was also president of the Royal Audiencia of Guatemala
Royal Audiencia of Guatemala
The Royal Audiencia of Santiago de Guatemala , simply known as the Audiencia of Guatemala or the Audiencia of Los Confines, was a superior court in area of the New World empire of Spain, known as the Kingdom of Guatemala...

.

Antecedents



The colonization of the area that became the future Captaincy General began in 1524. In the north, the brothers Gonzalo and Pedro de Alvarado
Pedro de Alvarado
Pedro de Alvarado y Contreras was a Spanish conquistador and governor of Guatemala. He participated in the conquest of Cuba, in Juan de Grijalva's exploration of the coasts of Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico, and in the conquest of Mexico led by Hernan Cortes...

, Hernán Cortés
Hernán Cortés
Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century...

 and others headed various expeditions into Guatemala and Honduras. In the south Francisco Hernández de Córdoba
Francisco Hernández de Córdoba (founder of Nicaragua)
Francisco Hernández de Córdoba is usually reputed as the founder of Nicaragua, and in fact he founded two important Nicaraguan cities, Granada and León. The currency of Nicaragua is named the córdoba in his memory....

, acting under the auspices of Pedrarias Dávila
Pedrarias Dávila
Pedrarias Dávila y Ortiz de Cota , was a Spanish colonial administrator...

 in Panama
Panama
Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

, moved into what is today Nicaragua.

Moving of the capital


The capital of Guatemala has moved many times over the centuries. On 27 July 1524, Pedro de Alvarado
Pedro de Alvarado
Pedro de Alvarado y Contreras was a Spanish conquistador and governor of Guatemala. He participated in the conquest of Cuba, in Juan de Grijalva's exploration of the coasts of Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico, and in the conquest of Mexico led by Hernan Cortes...

 declared the Kaqchikel city, Iximche
Iximche
Iximche is a Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican archaeological site in the western highlands of Guatemala. Iximche was the capital of the Late Postclassic Kaqchikel Maya kingdom from 1470 until its abandonment in 1524. The architecture of the site included a number of pyramid-temples, palaces and two...

, as the first regional capital, styled Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala
Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala
Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala was the name given to the Spanish colonial capital of Guatemala in Central America. The name was first associated with the Kaqchikel Maya capital Iximche, adopted as the Spanish capital soon after the Spanish conquest of Guatemala began, in July 1524...

("St. James of the Knights of Guatemala"). However, hostilities between the Spaniards and the Kaqchikel soon made the city uninhabitable.

In 1526, the Spanish founded a new capital settlement at Tecpán Guatemala
Tecpán Guatemala
Tecpán Guatemala is a municipality in the department of Chimaltenango, in Guatemala, on the Inter-American Highway CA-1.The climate is generally cold...

, Tecpán being the Nahuatl
Nahuatl
Nahuatl is thought to mean "a good, clear sound" This language name has several spellings, among them náhuatl , Naoatl, Nauatl, Nahuatl, Nawatl. In a back formation from the name of the language, the ethnic group of Nahuatl speakers are called Nahua...

 word for "palace". Tecpán is sometimes called the "first" capital because of its status as the first permanent Spanish military center. The Spaniards soon abandoned Tecpán due to continuous Kaqchikel attacks that made defense of the city untenable.

In 1527, the capital was moved yet again to the Almolonga Valley to the east, being refounded on the site of today's San Miguel Escobar district of Ciudad Vieja
Ciudad Vieja
Ciudad Vieja is a municipality in the Guatemalan department of Sacatepéquez. According to the 2002 Guatemalan Census, the municipality has a total of 25,696 people.Ciudad Vieja was the second colonial capital of the country.- History :...

, near Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala famous for its well-preserved Spanish Mudéjar-influenced Baroque architecture as well as a number of spectacular ruins of colonial churches...

. This settlement was destroyed by a catastrophic lahar
Lahar
A lahar is a type of mudflow or debris flow composed of a slurry of pyroclastic material, rocky debris, and water. The material flows down from a volcano, typically along a river valley. The term is a shortened version of "berlahar" which originated in the Javanese language of...

 from Volcan de Agua
Volcán de Agua
Volcán de Agua is a stratovolcano located in the department of Sacatepéquez in Guatemala. It has been inactive since the mid 16th century. At 3,760 metres, Agua Volcano towers more than 3,500 metres above the Pacific coastal plain to the south and 2,000 metres above the Guatemalan...

 in 1541, and the survivors had no choice but to abandon the site.

In 1543, the capital was again refounded several miles away at Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala famous for its well-preserved Spanish Mudéjar-influenced Baroque architecture as well as a number of spectacular ruins of colonial churches...

. Over the next two centuries, this city would become one of the richest of the New World
New World
The New World is one of the names used for the Western Hemisphere, specifically America and sometimes Oceania . The term originated in the late 15th century, when America had been recently discovered by European explorers, expanding the geographical horizon of the people of the European middle...

 capitals. However, it too was destroyed, this time by a devistating series of earthquakes, and the city was ordered abandoned in 1776.

The final and current capital is the modern-day Guatemala City
Guatemala City
Guatemala City , is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Guatemala and Central America...

.

Role of the church


The Church played an important role in the administration of the overseas possessions of the Spanish crown. The first dioceses were established in León, Nicaragua
Roman Catholic Diocese of León en Nicaragua
The Roman Catholic Diocese of León in Nicaragua is a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Managua.-Ordinaries:*Venerable Diego Alvarez de Osorio *Francisco de Mendavia, O.S.H. *Antonio de Valdivieso, O.P...

 and Guatemala
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Guatemala
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Guatemala is a metropolitan diocese, responsible for the suffragan Dioceses of Escuintla, Jalapa, Santa Rosa de Lima, Verapaz, Cobán and Zacapa y Santo Cristo de Esquipulas. It was elevated on 16 December 1743...

 in 1534. Another diocese
Roman Catholic Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas
The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas is a suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of Tuxtla Gutiérrez. the bishop was Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel and the auxiliary bishop Enrique Díaz Díaz.-Ordinaries:*Juan de Arteaga y Avendaño *Bartolomé de las Casas, O.P...

 was created in Chiapas
Chiapas
Chiapas officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Chiapas is one of the 31 states that, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 118 municipalities and its capital city is Tuxtla Gutierrez. Other important cites in Chiapas include San Cristóbal de las...

 in 1539. The dioceses of Guatemala and Chiapas were suffragan to the Archdiocese of Seville
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seville
The Archdiocese of Seville is part of the Catholic Church in Seville, Spain. The Diocese of Seville was founded in the 3rd century. It was raised to the level of an archdiocese in the 4th century. The current Archbishop is Juan José Asenjo Pelegrina...

, until 1546 when they are placed under the Archdiocese of Mexico
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico is a metropolitan diocese, responsible for the suffragan Dioceses of Atlacomulco, Cuernavaca, Toluca and Tenancingo. It was elevated on February 12, 1546....

. The Diocese of León was made suffragan to Archdiocese of Lima
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lima
The Roman Catholic Metropolitan Archdiocese of Lima is part of the Roman Catholic Church in Peru which enjoys full communion with the Holy See. The Archdiocese was founded as the Diocese of Lima on 14 May 1541. The diocese was raised to the level of a metropolitan archdiocese by Pope Paul III on ...

 in 1546. Another short-lived diocese was set up in Verapaz, Guatemala
Alta Verapaz
Alta Verapaz is a department in the north central part of Guatemala. The capital and chief city of the department is Cobán. Verapaz is bordered to the north by El Petén, to the east by Izabal, to the south by Zacapa, El Progreso, and Baja Verapaz, and to the west by El Quiché.Also in Alta Verapaz...

 in 1559. Along the Caribbean coast, there were several attempts to establish a diocese in Honduras—which finally succeeded in 1561 with the Diocese of Comayagua
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa is a metropolitan see in Honduras. It was elevated as the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa on 2 February 1916.-Ordinaries:*Alfonso de Talavera, O.S.H....

—which was placed under the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santo Domingo
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santo Domingo is a Metropolitan Archdiocese, in the Dominican Republic. It is responsible for the dioceses of Baní, Barahona, Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia en Higüey, San Juan de la Maguana and San Pedro de Macorís.The see was elevated to an archdiocese on 12...

.

In 1543 the territory of the kingdom was defined with the establishment of the Audiencia of Guatemala
Royal Audiencia of Guatemala
The Royal Audiencia of Santiago de Guatemala , simply known as the Audiencia of Guatemala or the Audiencia of Los Confines, was a superior court in area of the New World empire of Spain, known as the Kingdom of Guatemala...

, which took most of Central America as its jurisdiction. This audiencia, along with the one in Lima
Real Audiencia of Lima
The Royal Audiencia and Chancery of Lima was a superior court in the New World empire of Spain, located in the city of Lima, capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru. It was created on November 20, 1542 as was the viceroyalty itself, by the Emperor Charles V...

, took over the territory of the first Audiencia of Panama
Royal Audiencia of Panama
The Royal Audiencia and Chancery of Panama in Tierra Firme was a governing body and superior court in the New World empire of Spain. The Audiencia of Panama was the third American audiencia after the ones of Santo Domingo and Mexico...

. It was the first institution to define Central America (with the exception of Panama) as a region within the Spanish Empire.

Establishment


In 1609 the area became a captaincy general
Captaincy
A captaincy is a historical administrative division of the former Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires. Each was governed by a captain general.-In the Portuguese Empire:...

, when the governor and Audiencia president was also granted the title of captain general
Captain General
Captain general is a high military rank and a gubernatorial title.-History:This term Captain General started to appear in the 14th century, with the meaning of commander in chief of an army in the field, probably the first usage of the term General in military settings...

 to deal with foreign threats to the area from the Caribbean, granting the area autonomy in administrative and military matters. Around the same time Habsburg Spain
Habsburg Spain
Habsburg Spain refers to the history of Spain over the 16th and 17th centuries , when Spain was ruled by the major branch of the Habsburg dynasty...

 created other captaincies general in Puerto Rico
Captaincy General of Puerto Rico
The Captaincy General of Puerto Rico was an administrative district of the Spanish Empire, created in 1580 to provide better military management of the island of Puerto Rico, previously under the direct rule of a simple governor and the jurisdiction of Audiencia of Santo Domingo...

 (1580), Cuba
Captaincy General of Cuba
The Captaincy General of Cuba was an administrative district of the Spanish Empire created in 1607 as part of Habsburg Spain's attempt better to defend the Caribbean against foreign powers, which also involved creating captaincies general in Puerto Rico, Guatemala and Yucatán. The restructuring of...

 (1607) and Yucatán
Captaincy General of Yucatán
The Captaincy General of Yucatán was an administrative district of colonial Spain, created in 1617 to provide more autonomy for the Yucatán Peninsula, previously ruled directly by a simple governor under the jurisdiction of Audiencia of Mexico...

 (1617).

In the 17th century a process of uniting the church hierarchy of Central America also began. The dioceses of Comayagua and León were made suffragan to the Archdiocese of Mexico in 1620 and 1647, respectively. Finally in the 18th century Guatemala was raised to an Archdiocese in 1743 and the dioceses of León, Chiapas and Comayagua are made suffragan to it, giving the region unity and autonomy in religious matters.

As part of the Bourbon Reforms
Bourbon Reforms
The Bourbon Reforms were a set of economic and political legislation introduced by the Spanish Crown under various kings of the House of Bourbon throughout the 18th century. The reforms were intended to stimulate manufacturing and technology in order to modernize Spain...

 in 1786 the crown established a series of intendancies
Intendant
The title of intendant has been used in several countries through history. Traditionally, it refers to the holder of a public administrative office...

 in the area, which replaced most of the older corregimientos
Corregidor (position)
A corregidor was a local, administrative and judicial position in Spain and its empire. He was the highest authority of a Corregimiento. In the Americas a corregidor was often called an alcalde mayor. They began to be appointed in fourteenth century Castile and the institution was definitively...

. The intendants were granted broad fiscal powers and were charged with promoting the local economy. The new intendancies were San Salvador (El Salvador), Ciudad Real (Chiapas), Comayagua (Honduras), and León (Nicaragua). The governor-captain general-president of Guatemala became the superintendente general of the territory and functioned as de facto intendant of Guatemala proper. The agricultural, southern region of Costa Rica remained under a civil and military governor with fiscal oversight of only military expenses; the expenses of the civil government were handled by the intendant of León. These intendancies helped shape local political identity and provided the basis of the future nations of Central America.

Independence


With the removal of Ferdinand VII during the Peninsular War
Peninsular War
The Peninsular War was a war between France and the allied powers of Spain, the United Kingdom, and Portugal for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war began when French and Spanish armies crossed Spain and invaded Portugal in 1807. Then, in 1808, France turned on its...

, independence movements
1811 Independence Movement
The 1811 Independence Movement known in El Salvador as the Primer grito de independencia was the first of a series of revolts in Central America in El Salvador against Spanish colonialism and dependency on the Captaincy General of Guatemala.- Antecedents :At the beginning of the 19th century,...

 broke out in the intendancies of San Salvador and León in 1811, which were quickly suppressed. In 1812 the Cádiz Cortes
Cádiz Cortes
The Cádiz Cortes were sessions of the national legislative body which met in the safe haven of Cádiz during the French occupation of Spain during the Napoleonic Wars...

 divided the region into two provinces: Guatemala (Guatemala, Chiapas, Honduras and El Salvador) and Nicaragua y Costa Rica. These provinces existed from 1812 to 1814 and once again from 1820 to 1821, the period during which the Spanish Constitution of 1812
Spanish Constitution of 1812
The Spanish Constitution of 1812 was promulgated 19 March 1812 by the Cádiz Cortes, the national legislative assembly of Spain, while in refuge from the Peninsular War...

 was in effect. The two provinces elected seven deputies to the Cortes during the first period. The jefe político superior (governor) of Guatemala remained the Captain General of Central America and Chiapas. The Captaincy General ended in 1821, when the regional elite supported the Plan of Iguala
Plan of Iguala
Plan of Iguala, also known as Plan of the Three Guarantees , was a peace treaty proclaimed on February 24, 1821, in the final stage of Mexican War of Independence from Spain. The plan attempted to establish a constitutional foundation upon which an independent Mexican Empire would be based...

, which lead to independence and the creation of the First Mexican Empire
First Mexican Empire
The Mexican Empire was the official name of independent Mexico under a monarchical regime from 1821 to 1823. The territory of the Mexican Empire included the continental intendencies and provinces of New Spain proper...

. With the exception of Chiapas, the region peacefully seceded from Mexico in July 1823, establishing the United Provinces of Central America
Federal Republic of Central America
The Federal Republic of Central America, known as the United Provinces of Central America in its first year of creation, was a sovereign state in Central America, which consisted of the territories of the former Captaincy General of Guatemala of New Spain...

. While the region remained politically cohesive for a short time, centrifugal forces soon pulled the individual provinces apart by 1842.

Further reading

  • Dym, Jordana and Christophe Belaubre, (editors). Politics, Economy, and Society in Bourbon Central America, 1759–1821. (Boulder: University press of Colorado, 2007) ISBN 978-0-87081-844-8
  • Hawkins, Timothy. José de Bustamante
    José de Bustamante y Guerra
    José de Bustamante y Guerra , sometimes referred to simply as Bustamante, was a Spanish naval officer, explorer, and politician. He was a native of Corvera de Toranzo in Cantabria, Spain.-Early life:In 1770 Bustamante became a midshipman at the Academy of the Guardiamarinas in Cádiz...

    and Central American Independence: Colonial Administration in an Age of Imperial Crisis
    . (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004) ISBN 0-8173-1427-X
  • Wortman, Miles L. Government and Society in Central America, 1680–1840. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982) ISBN 0-231-05212-X