Why was it considered necessary for the Spanish Crown to justify and legitimise the conquest of the Americas and what arguments and means did it employ for this purpose? Every colonial country needs an idea to base its conquest and Spain was no different. The ideology behind the Spanish conquest of the Americas was the spread of Catholicism. This belief in the conversion of the Indians is what drove the Spanish to conquer, settle and govern the New World. The Castilians modeled their Catholic empire on the Holy Roman Empire of old.
They viewed themselves as successors to the Romans. The Castilians regarded themselves as the superior race, who were on a divine mission to achieve a universal Catholic empire. The Castilians felt obligated to extend the faith and conveniently this proved to justify their colonisation of the Americas. They understood that by giving the natives the protection of the crown, they would lead a better life. This better life would also arise due to the absence of slavery and the spiritual guidance provided for those ignorant of Christianity.
If the spreading of the faith was the sole reason for the conquest of the Americas then we must understand how religion was spread. The devout Castilians wished Catholicism to dominate but seemingly they wanted a Spanish Catholic Empire more so. The conversions were mixed between preaching, reasoning, threats and force. This faade of converting the Americans subsequently allowed the Spanish an excuse for conquest and plunder. For them this was the perfect justification, almost as if God was instructing them to take control of these new lands and consequently strip them of their wealth.
The Spanish Crown had great ecclesiastical power in the newly conquered kingdom. This again indicates that it was becoming more of evident that they were on a mission of conquest, not, spiritual enlightenment. These actions give the idea that the divine mission was the Castilian mentality for the justification of their actions and that their own higher mission was far more devious and self-profiting. The mission was no longer religious and had become economically driven. Following several Papal Bulls , Ferdinand begun collecting tithes in the Americas on behalf of the church.
This form of taxation was justified by the need to finance the spread of Catholicism. Now the people were financing their own conversions under the guidance of both the Pope and the Spanish Crown. This money grabbing attitude proves the insincerity of the Spanish religious conquest. In my opinion the ideology of religious conversions as the basis of conquest is a sound idea considering the savagery of the natives religion. If this was without the force and mindless pillaging of the land, it would be a legitimate theory.
In practice, it was completely different as the Castilians were lured by the obvious financial windfalls of conquest. The necessity to legitimise the conquest resolves around the difference between Royal ideology and the methods practiced by the colonists. The Castilian conquest was ideological but also consisted of many socio-economic aims. The Spanish justified their colonisation by apparently saving the natives from the blood rituals to the Gods. These rituals produced the blood which was mixed with cocoa to form a drink. This was then drunk by the priests to enhance clairvoyance.
These actions were considered humane by the natives and the colonists were apparently saving them from such heinous acts of brutalism. Further justification arose from the Spanish substituting a diet of human flesh with that of beef, pork, chicken and mutton. In theory, the Castilians were creating a civilised race to compliment this they introduced European architecture and town planning to benefit the natives newfound civility. The Castilians also considered themselves to be providing security and protection through their fortification of the colonies.
Was this to protect Spanish or Amerindian interests? In truth it helped the natives but benefited the Spanish more as it provided stability which encouraged other colonists to travel to America. This policy of creating a civil society was further enhanced by the creation of Audencias and Cabildos who were answerable to the council of the Indies. This provided local governments for the Amerindians which enhanced their voyage towards a civil democratic society. This also gave the Castilians more control over their colony in a legitimate political sense.
In theory this sounds fantastic for the natives but underneath all of this lies the Castilians true reasons for conquest. Their main priority was to exploit the large mines of gold and silver, which was immediately transported back to Spain. They also took large quantities of maize, beans and peppers which were foreign to Spain. Unfortunately, the Spanish also gave the natives many European illnesses including the flu and smallpox for which the Amerindians had no immunisation. This is a contributing factor to the massive decline in population in America due to disease, colonial savagery and war
This socio-economic viewpoint enables us to see that the Castilians hid their true mission under the arguments of civil and social reform. The Spanish felt that an enhanced society for the Amerindians justified the conquest and subsequent ruling of the Americas. By what right did Castile lay claim to the sovereignty over the Americas. This idea was put forward by Francesco de Vitoria in his book De Indis. This threatened the justification of Spanish colonisation and forced the Spanish to provide legislature for their conquest.
This forced the rights of conquest in which the concept of a just war or a crusade of deliverance from unholy barbarism arose. The Royal Crown put forward The Requirement which was a legal obligation and had to be read before battle. Again the Castilians seem content that under this new legislature proclaiming their intentions that they had justified their cause. In truth this had no effect as it was written and read in Spanish which the unlearned natives could not understand. This made the whole exercise pointless in practice but perfect in the Castilians view of fairness.
This legislature clearly did not aid the natives against the ruthless warfare yet merely showed Spanish ignorance. On the outside it seemed fair and justified but on the inside it was totally the opposite. Did the Spanish Crown wish to use legislative foundations to their conquest to ensure protection against dissident conquistadors? This question is based around morals, loyalty and trust. It is important to understand the great power of the conquistadors in light of their distance from the supreme power of the King. The military conquests of Cortes and Pizarro were remarkable.
They were great leaders of men who controlled the masses in the New World. This power could have led the Spanish monarchy to become fearful of this power. Their suspicions caused them to enforce bureaucratic domination to control the adventurous conquistadors. This bureaucracy followed the many complaints of conquistador cruelty and corruption which would have caused great scandal amongst European powers. The Royal government considered it necessary to enforce tighter control and further justify their empire. They empowered Viceregal governments. These councils had strong judicial and executive authority.
The strength of the empire now became dependent on bureaucratic strength and efficiency. The influx of bureaucratic control gives the illusion that the Spanish were running a civil society and had tamed the barbaric Aztec and Inca races. They did this to put rest to the claims of mistreatment and cruelty to the natives. They put forward the idea that by ruling with paper and not the sword that their mission was once again justified. Usually when something needs to be justified it is considered wrong or the justifying party feels guilt due to their actions. Unfortunately, I feel this is the case for the Castilians.
They put forward many political and ideological solutions to their conquest but in truth it was greed and power which drove them to conquer a civilised yet slightly primitive society. The conquest was justified through humanitarian and religious grounds but was pursued due to the lust for power and wealth. The Spanish ideologies were legitimised but unfortunately their actions were inhumane and greedy. In conclusion, the Castilians did contribute significantly to the rise of Amerindian society and primarily their intentions were good but ultimately they reaped more than they sowed.