King Ferdinand II's conscience speaks: early laws against the brutality of colonial exploitation in the New World

Burgos Laws and Decrees

Burgos (Spain) — 1512

Burgos Laws and Decrees

Burgos Laws and Decrees

Burgos (Spain) — 1512

  1. This famous document from the year 1512 is a testimony to the early colonial history of the New World

  2. King Ferdinand II (1452-1516) was outraged by a sermon detailing the exploitation of the indigenous peoples

  3. The King appointed a commission to deal with the matter, resulting in the 35 laws at hand

Burgos Laws and Decrees

Alternative Titles:
  • Laws of Burgos
  • Leyes de Burgos
  • Gesetze und Verordnungen von Burgos
Burgos Laws and Decrees – Archivo General (Simancas, Spain)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

The famous Leyes de Burgos, the Burgos Laws and Decrees from the year 1512 are an impressively historical testimony of the early colonial history of the New World. Urgent appeals on behalf of clerical officials and the significant Advent sermon of 1511 in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo obliged the Spanish King to action. Humane relations with the indigenous peoples of the discovered and settled regions were demanded, especially by Pater Antonio de Montesino. King Ferdinand I appears to have been deeply impressed by the accounts of the exploitation of the indigenous Indios and as a result, sought to bind both the interests of the Conquistadors as well as Christian principles with one another. How and whether it succeeded can be traced convincingly in the original document – independent of the conflict over it which exists today.

Burgos Laws and Decrees

The famous Leyes de Burgos, the Burgos Laws and Decrees from the year 1512 are an impressively historical testimony of the early colonial history of the New World. Urgent appeals on behalf of clerical officials and the significant Advent sermon of 1511 in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo obliged the Spanish King to action. Humane relations with the indigenous peoples of the discovered and settled regions were demanded, especially by Pater Antonio de Montesino. King Ferdinand I appears to have been deeply impressed by the accounts of the exploitation of the indigenous Indios and as a result, sought to bind both the interests of the Conquistadors as well as Christian principles with one another. How and whether it succeeded can be traced convincingly in the original document – independent of the conflict over it which exists today.

A Memorable Sermon

On the 21st of September, the last Advent Sunday of 1511, a memorable event took place in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo. The monks Pedro de Córdoba and Antonio de Montesinos delivered a harsh indictment of the European conquerors of the New World in the form of a scathing and historical sermon before an audience that included some very powerful and influential personalities. The clerics bemoaned the handling of the indigenous peoples by the Spanish Conquistadores in the regions they possessed. They claimed that the poor and inhuman treatment of the Indios was a sin in the eyes of God!

The Exploitation of the New World

This memorable Advent sermon enjoyed a great amount of attention and let loose a powerful storm. Santo Domingo was the center of the New World, which was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 during his first voyage of discovery and was colonized soon thereafter. That was accompanied by the inhuman and deplorable oppression and exploitation of the Indios. The Conquistadores hunted, enslaved, and abused the indigenous inhabitants in the recently-settled regions of the New World. The clergy indicted this exploitation of the indigenous peoples and called for a humane treatment of the indigenous peoples of the New World.

An Appeal to the Spanish King

Anton Montesino, the preacher at Santo Domingo, travelled to Spain himself because of the uproar after his sermon in order to make a report to the King at his court. Ferdinand appeared to be deeply shocked by the monk’s horrible tales and appointed a commission to deal with the matter. From it arose the Leyes de Burgos, enacted in December of 1512. These consisted of a total of 35 laws with binding regulations concerning the civilization and missionizing of the New World. The laws allowed for the forced conversion of the Indios. Additionally, a prohibition of the mistreatment of workers and the monitoring of this precept by inspectors was established. At the same time, the forced labor of the Indian peoples in the mines was allowed.

An Event in Humanity’s Intellectual History

With such conflicting and contradictory regulations, the Burgos Laws and Decrees were only a small but hopeful step towards the humane treatment of the indigenous peoples of the New World. They were transfigured over the centuries as being utterly social, but nonetheless prioritized the economic interests of Spain. Nonetheless, this legal foundation for the colonization of the newly discovered regions of America is seen today as a “great event in the intellectual history of mankind” and offers a glimpse into the exciting and mercurial Age of Exploration and its consequences in the 16th century!

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Laws of Burgos
Leyes de Burgos
Gesetze und Verordnungen von Burgos
Size / Format
28 pages / 32.0 x 22.0 cm
Date
1512
Language

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Burgos Laws and Decrees“

Leyes de Burgos
Burgos Laws and Decrees – Archivo General (Simancas, Spain)
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Leyes de Burgos

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Testimonio Compañía Editorial – Madrid, 1995
Limited Edition
500
Binding
Case in gray velvet. Contains documents and supplementary volume.
Commentary
1 volume (104 pages) by Manuel Ballesteros and José Manuel Ruiz Asencio
Language: Spanish
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