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  • Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima
  • Cynthia E. Milton
Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima. By Bianca Premo. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005. Pp. xiii, 350. Illustrations. Tables. Appendices. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $59.95 cloth; $24.95 paper.

Until very recently, children have escaped historians' accounts of colonial Spanish America. In part, the lack of direct documentation makes the task of studying minors difficult: children appear at the edges of criminal and ecclesiastical records, laws, and inheritance accounts. Most often, these documents reflect adult opinions rather than the experiences of children themselves. In this regard, Children of the Father King is an exceptional contribution. Using documents at the heart of legal and social history, Premo gives us insight into not only colonial elites' and authorities' attitudes towards children, but also into children's lives, and into how children and their families used legislation and institutions for their own ends.

Covering almost two centuries, Premo makes an important parallel between Lima's changing relationship between children and authority, and that between colony and king. Stated succinctly, a father ruled over a child's person and property (patria potestad) just as the king exercised authority over his vassals. The colonial reality of guardianship practices and who qualified as a minor, however, complicated this seemingly straightforward equation. By tracing changes in child-adult relations over the late colonial era, Premo at the same time argues the demise of the king as father. Patriarchy is at the base of the colonial family and the right to rule. Chapter 1 considers the laws and legal practices on legal minority and adult authority. Chapter 2 reconstructs adult-child relations principally through a census in 1700 of Lima's households that brought different generations and social groups together under the same roof. Chapter 3 turns to Lima's convents, a school for Indian noble boys, and a foundling home to demonstrate that the family metaphor served even in the case where adults exercised authority over children not related by blood.

A significant contribution of this work is the consideration of age as a category of analysis along with race, class, and gender. Premo shows in Chapter 4 how these [End Page 653] categories worked together in the privileges and punishments that the criminal court meted out to minors. Since suspects' and victims' birth year was often unknown, defining age became a strategic game between court officials who might attempt to establish suspects as over the age of twenty-five and thus not entitled to minority's privilege of a court-appointed lawyer, and suspects who reduced their own ages in order to elicit more lenient sentencing. Even the age of female victims fell under scrutiny: the younger her age, the fewer questions posed of a girl's honor. Social race, compounded by the presence of weak patriarchal families, further influenced sentencing: for instance, a casta youth was more likely to appear before criminal courts and pressed into labor than his indigenous, slave, or español counterparts.

Enlightenment philosophies on education, economic productivity, and rightful adult authority mark a turning point in Chapter 5. However, the social impact of the Bourbon Reforms came to both strengthen and undermine the father at home and the "father king." Examples in Chapters 6 and 7 of lawyers and litigants abound whereby the "new politics of the child" meant that many adults, including mothers, wet nurses, and parents of slave children could use new notions about child rearing, in particular the labor and love entailed in raising a child, to claim "natural rights" over children. These far from ideal patriarchs thus circumscribed the established rights of fathers and even masters of slave children. In turn, the same enlightened philosophies brought the monarch's position as the ultimate patriarch into question, laying the groundwork for an independent Peru.

Premo's work complements studies elsewhere in Spanish America and in the Age of Revolution where political legitimacy shifted from paternal to fraternal right to rule. It would be of interest to see how these changing practices of authority and childhood played out with society's...


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