How Spain’s Encomienda System led to Great Horrors in the Colonial Americas

Hopefully, the world will never see a repeat

How Spain’s Encomienda System led to great horrors in the colonial Americas
Image by Public Domain

Spain’s conquests left behind a vast need

During the 1500s, Spain conquered regions of Central, North, and especially South America. They also conquered several islands in the Caribbean.

The Encomienda System

The term ‘encomienda’ comes from the Spanish word, ‘encomendar,’ which means ‘to entrust.’ The Encomienda System was previously used throughout feudal Spain during its reconquest. In the new world, the very first encomiendas were awarded in the Caribbean by none other than Christopher Columbus.

Encomienda System
Encomienda System
Image by Public Domain

A System of cruelty that served as a Band-Aid

The Spanish crown was initially reluctant in allowing for the granting of encomiendas in the Americas. But in their eyes, they had two problems to solve. They first needed to provide a swift reward to the conquistadors to ward off any rebellion against the crown. And secondly, they needed to install a system of governance within these newly conquered lands to ward off a potential uprising.

The demands of the Spanish lords

Spanish lords wasted no time in abusing their newfound power. They began making unreasonable demands of the native people living on their lands. They requested excessive tribute beyond what the people could ever provide.

A spark of reform?

As conquistadors were scraping every last grain of gold from their enslaved subjects, horrendous reports of corruption and abuse were piling up in Spain. The Spanish crown had been demanding 20% tax from the conquests, mining, and thievery in the new world. It became apparent to the average citizen that these taxes was actually fueling the expansion of the Spanish Empire.

The New Laws

The New Laws appeared to be manna from the heavens when they were passed. They comprised a series of royal ordinances that sought to end Encomienda System abuses, especially those taking place in Peru.

Ensuing rebellion

Needless to say, the colonial elite was outraged with these New Laws. The Spanish lords had spent years lobbying for encomiendas to become permanent and something that could be passed down from one generation to the next.

End of the Encomienda System

Thankfully, the disgusting Encomienda System was brought to an end. King Charles V of Spain deserves a great deal of credit for recognizing human cruelty and then taking action despite tremendous pressure from his country’s elite class.

Retired Scientist and Jogger. Experienced online publisher since 2006.

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