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Reviewed by:
  • Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima
  • Kenneth J. Andrien
Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima. By Bianca Premo (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005. xii plus 350 pp. $24.95).

This path-breaking study provides a social history of childhood in colonial Lima from approximately 1650 until 1820. Relying largely on census data, notarial records, laws, and legal cases, Premo examines the lives of children in homes, schools, and institutions, arguing that patriarchal authority in the home was replicated in the role of the king (through the colonial courts) as the "father" of all his subjects. By the eighteenth century, the centralizing policies of the Bourbon dynasty led the "Father King" to expand his patriarchal authority over private families in order to impose a "new politics of the child" for all races and social classes in late-colonial Lima. This study demonstrates how the Enlightenment, changing legal patterns, and evolving social practices influenced the lives of free and slave children in the cosmopolitan viceregal capital of Lima. Apart from some concerns about the author's use of sampling techniques, I find this an imaginative and important study that will appeal to Latin Americanists, historians of women, gender, and sexuality, and students of childhood.

The book opens with a discussion of patriarchy and minority in Spanish law, explaining how the King established his paternal authority (through the courts) into the homes of families of different racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds in colonial Lima. Although a father exercised legal, economic, and social authority (called patria potestad) over his children, the King and his courts (and the appointed representative to advocate cases of legal minors, the Defensor de Menores) determined both the limits of patriarchal control and how to care for children whose fathers had died, committed crimes, or had abused their parental position. A sample of the Lima census (numeración) of 1700 indicates that patriarchal authority was further complicated by the high percentage of households (54%) that listed children but no adult males, indicating that women held dominant positions of authority over children. Moreover, the prevalence of multi-generational and multi-family households populated with slaves, servants, and apprentices led to a diversity of urban lifestyles. Premo's examination of 200 civil cases and a clustered sample of 213 guardianship contracts (from notary records) indicates that widow's, wet nurses of various social and racial groups, master artisans, and clergy often took the primary responsibility for raising Lima's youths between 1640 and 1750.

Crown law and social practice in Lima established the context for child rearing [End Page 447] and the control of minors modeled on the patriarchal family and the racial and class hierarchies of colonial society. The cityd major nunneries, for example, housed large numbers of children—orphans, relatives of the nuns, and the children of servants. The crown also gave the Jesuits license to open a special school for the children of indigenous elites, the Colegio del Principe in Lima, where members of the Society educated, acculturated, and raised the children to adulthood. The crown also established a foundling home, the Casa de Ni\~nos Expósitos, in 1605 to care for illegitimate children until a foster home could be located. Each of these institutions, however, reinforced the caste, gender, and class divisions of the larger colonial society—nuns relied on lower class servants, the Jesuits raised indigenous boys to know their place in society, and all institutions caring for children acted as surrogate parents in the name of the "Father King."

Even the courts recognized these class, racial, and ethnic distinctions in meting out justice. Premo examines 336 municipal court (cabildo) cases involving crimes committed between 1714 and 1813 and finds that 42% were minors (often arrested for petty crimes) and most were male, indigenous, or of mixed racial ancestry. Punishments ranged from the hangman's noose to being indentured to a craftsman, but in most cases these sentences took into account the child's place in society. Spaniards and indigenous children (who were viewed as minors of age and minors because of their race) received relatively lighter...


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pp. 447-449
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