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  • Politics and Reform in Spain and Viceregal Mexico: The Life and Thought of Juan de Palafox, 1600–1659
  • Joan Meznar
Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo , Politics and Reform in Spain and Viceregal Mexico: The Life and Thought of Juan de Palafox, 1600–1659. Oxford Historical Monographs. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. xvii + 336 pp. index. illus. bibl. $98. ISBN: 0–19–927028–7.

The past two decades have witnessed the coming-of-age of Atlantic Studies. Focusing primarily on interactions among Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans, scholars have shown how intricate interconnections transformed both Europe and its new colonies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In her fine biography of Juan de Palafox, Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo demonstrates the wealth of insights to be gained from studying what she terms "transatlantic" European politics.

Revered by Indians and Creoles in New Spain yet vilified by European friars and aristocrats, Juan de Palafox exemplifies the tensions and contradictions that bedeviled the displaced administrators of Spain's far-flung empire. As a young man, participating in the Cortes of Aragon, Palafox caught the attention of the Count-Duke of Olivares, chief minister of King Philip IV. With Olivares's support, he gained a position on the Council of the Indies, and then became visitor-general for New Spain and Bishop of Puebla de los Angeles, that viceroyalty's richest diocese. His duties as visitor-general included reviewing the outgoing viceroy's administration and recommending reforms designed both to bolster the king's power in the New World and to ensure the remittances necessary to fund military campaigns in Europe.

The views of government advocated by Palafox while in the New World (1640-49) provide an important counterpoint to those espoused by Olivares. Spain's seemingly inexorable decline in the seventeenth century prompted the articulation of competing visions: not only of what actions to take to arrest the empire's disintegration, but also of the very mechanisms of effective governance. The count-duke favored a centralized authoritarian monarchy in which the crown compelled loyalty (and tax revenue) through demonstrations of irresistible military [End Page 169] force. Palafox, by contrast, believed that the monarchy could more effectively preserve its subjects' loyalty if it respected the integrity of the diverse regional governments under its sway: evenhanded justice, administered in ways tailored to specific regions within the empire, would encourage subjects to cooperate with their king. In New Spain he favored giving more opportunities to Creoles, thereby cementing bonds of trust and reciprocal interest. During the 1640s, when revolts in Catalonia, Portugal, Naples, and Sicily eroded the integrity of the Spanish Empire within Europe and required military action, ever more stringent demands were made upon the colonies. While Olivares and Spanish viceroys in New Spain tried to strengthen central authority, Palafox called instead for consensus that involved American participation in viceregal government.

Not surprisingly, Palafox's support for Creoles enraged Spaniards seeking advancement and enrichment in New Spain. While his attacks on the corruption and nepotism of the viceroys angered influential aristocrats, his attempts to increase the participation and power of Creole priests alienated members of religious orders (most of whom were missionaries from Europe). Thus, civil and religious authorities joined to block Palafox's reforms. Although at first he prevailed, in the long run his position could not endure. Crisis in Spain demanded pragmatic political and fiscal solutions, not visionary plans such as that proposed by Palafox — the capacity of which to strengthen Creoles' moral, and especially financial, support for their king remained a matter of speculation.

Equally valuable, but more surprising, is Alvarez de Toledo's discussion of Palafox's views on the role of Indians in New World society. Although heralded for centuries as a protector of the Indians, Palafox in fact viewed them as a "Christian peasantry" (91), and his proposals could do little to improve their miserable lives. If Creoles were to remain loyal subjects of the Spanish king, they must have access to Indian labor. Palafox urged that control of Indian parishes be transferred from the religious orders to Creole priests, sons of the local elite. The priests could then allocate their parishioners' labor to their own...


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pp. 169-170
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