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Hispanic American Historical Review 84.3 (2004) 447-474

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The King in Lima:

Simulacra, Ritual, and Rule in Seventeenth-Century Peru

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.

In 1622 , King Philip IV was in Lima. Leandro de la Reynaga Salazar, the most senior alcalde, was chosen to carry Him to a temporary throne set on the center stage of Lima's Plaza Mayor. But the King turned out to be rather heavier than expected. At the last minute, it was necessary to secure the help of three more men to carry His Majesty with the "appropriate decency required by the occasion."2

In 1622 , Philip IV was not in Lima. In his stead, a "lifelike copy of the King" (un trasunto vivo del Rey) measuring two yards tall by one and a half yards wide, with an additional half yard for its frame, was carried to the Plaza Mayor [End Page 447] for the King's proclamation ceremony.3 The portrait's black frame was decorated with gold trimmings, chains, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and royal topaz, and inscribed on it in golden letters were the words, "Long Live the Catholic King Philip IV for Many Happy Years." The painting itself depicted Philip's entire body, with a face like that of an "angel," where (according to the official chronicler Roman de Herrera) the King's half smile and expressive eyes "undoubtedly communicated a look of authority."4

When the four men and the King had reached the stage, the royal magistrates and all seated in the surrounding bleachers and galleries stood and removed their hats. The King was then "seated" on the "throne" (described as an elaborate and luxuriously covered chair) under a silken and gold canopy. With the King comfortably seated, the royal magistrates took their seats and covered their heads.

The entourage that had accompanied the portrait exited the stage "bowing down—deeply—to the Theater of the King Our Lord." As this was happening, Herrera tells us, luxuriously dressed squadrons began to enter the plaza, led by Diego de Carvajal, postmaster general of Peru and deputy of cavalry. Mounted companies of musketeers were followed by one hundred artillerymen, who paraded before the "theater," bowing to the King's portrait. Two hundred uniformed infantrymen followed, likewise bowing to the King's portrait. When all companies had entered the square, they formed four blocks of 25 rows of men and saluted their King by firing their muskets into the air. Crowds gathered in the balconies, on the rooftops of surrounding buildings, and in the streets adjacent to the main square watched and cheered this event.5


It is well known that the Spanish kings never visited their American dominions. Nevertheless, in colonial America, the unseen king was widely seen as the legitimate head of the Spanish Empire's vast body. Viceregal Lima was something of a bastion of loyalism even as the wars of independence came knocking in the early nineteenth century. By what means was this colonial loyalty and royal legitimacy crafted in the American kingdoms of the Spanish Empire? While many cultural practices naturalized the exercise of colonial power, I am here [End Page 448] concerned with only those ceremonies directly related to the body of the Spanish king and their relationship to a geography of power.

Spanish historian Xavier Gil Pujol notes that the "presence" of the King— even of a physically absent one—was irreplaceable as head and member of the community he ruled.6 A fundamental issue for the composite Spanish monarchy, from Charles V on, was how to make the king "present" in his many dominions, particularly those most distant. Beginning with the rule of Philip II, even in Spain itself the king had become increasingly absent, in part due to a new system of ritual life that sought to render the Spanish king invisible.7 Nonetheless, peninsular subjects could hope to see their king at...


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