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Reviewed by:
  • Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima
  • Javier Villa-Flores
Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima. By Bianca Premo (Chapel Hill, University of North Colina Press, 2005) 368 pp. $59.95 cloth $24.95 paper

Children of the Father King analyzes the complex history of child-rearing practices in colonial Lima as a crucial element for the social reproduction of racial, gender, and class hierarchies under Spanish domination. Premo's main subject is not children per se, however, but the relationship between minority as a legal status and the changing discourses and practices of adult authority from 1650 to the late eighteenth century. Like other recent legal studies on Latin America, Premo analyzes law and litigation as key elements in the formation and negotiation of the legal cultures and social identities of adults and children. She not only analyzes the normative and prescriptive discourse on minority at the time, but also explores the ways in which ordinary people understood and [End Page 321] made use of such discourse before the courts. Her book is an important contribution to the growing literature on the intersection between patriarchy, colonialism, and law in Latin America.

In medieval Spanish law, minority was a legal status applied to individuals under the age twenty-five, but the category was later expanded in the New World to include certain adults, such as slaves and Indians. Ruling as a father to all his colonial subjects, the king offered protection, guidance, and correction through his courts, the office of Defensor of Minors (created in 1543), and other institutions. The domestic power of male elders ideally mirrored that of the Father King. But, as Premo demonstrates, the Crown's interest in protecting and controling children increasingly undermined the authority of local patriarchs, especially in the late eighteenth century, when a new emphasis on economic productivity, utility, and secular control elevated the royal state to the position of supreme authority over family life and child education.

Premo explores the ensuing tensions between the patriarchal spheres of public, regal, and domestic authority through a careful analysis of colonial litigation between 1650 and 1750 involving minors in ecclesiastical, notarial, and criminal records. Her research reveals a world in which child-rearing practices constantly belied the ideal-typical models of household authority. She shows that patriarchy was expressed mainly in generational, not gender, terms; mothers, female slave masters, and priests could also claim authority over minors. Similarly, children were raised and trained by their fathers as well as a variety of other adults in Lima that included women and slaves. Nonetheless, litigants of this period rarely challenged the patriarchal ideals in court. Indeed, most of them were members of the elite, and, as Premo contends, their main concern was to secure access and control over their children's assets, not to assert political or natural rights over children.

During the Bourbon Reforms, however, ordinary inhabitants who took children in their care started to challenge elite men and masters in court. Late colonial litigation over custody rights shows that nonelite limeños battled fathers successfully over custody, using new arguments that revolved around the emotional bonds between adult and child, the quality of education provided, the treatment of children, and adequate child support. A close analysis of the arguments advanced by litigants shows that common people were also conversant with such enlightened ideas as buena crianza, which stressed making children useful rather than "well mannered" as education's main goal. With Charles IV's Instruction on Slavery (1789), even the treatment and care of slave children became a matter of royal concern. Parents and relatives of slave children now sued slaveholders over child support and brutal abuse. Unfortunately, the enlightened ideals did not make their way into criminal courts. A fascinating chapter on youth and crime shows that criminal judges paid scant attention to the new equalizing philosophies of child rearing when sentencing non-white minors, particularly fatherless members of the castas. Acting as harsh substitute fathers, judges distributed sentences according to the culprits' social standing. [End Page 322]

Premo effectively shows that child-rearing practices and child–adult relations...


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