Spaniards in the Colonial Empire: Creoles vs. Peninsulars?

By Fryer, Darcy R. | Canadian Journal of History, Autumn 2013 | Go to article overview

Spaniards in the Colonial Empire: Creoles vs. Peninsulars?


Fryer, Darcy R., Canadian Journal of History


Spaniards in the Colonial Empire: Creoles vs. Peninsulars? by Mark A. Burkholder. Viewpoints/Puntos de Vista: Themes and Interpretations in Latin American History. Malden, Maine, Wiley-Blackwell Press, 2013. xviii, 198 pp. $19.95 US (paper).

The conflict and enmity between people of Spanish ancestry born in Spanish America (creoles) and Spaniards by birth who settled in Spanish America (peninsulars) is a staple of Latin American history textbooks. In this meticulous analysis of relations among people of Spanish descent in the Spanish Empire, Mark A. Burkholder shines a light on a history that has often been assumed. He argues persuasively that from the early sixteenth century to the mid-eighteenth century, creoles and peninsulars collaborated and commingled at least as much as they competed, and that the purported conflict between the two groups was a late development, belonging mainly to the era of Ferdinand VI, Charles III, and Charles IV. Because the rhetoric of Latin American independence movements emphasized creole-peninsular conflict, this theme was projected back onto earlier eras of Latin American history.

Burkholder begins by unpacking the meaning of the terms "creole" and "peninsular." "Creole," in use from the mid-sixteenth century, applied to any person of Spanish blood born in the Americas, while "native son" another widely used term, denoted a creole within the region of his birth. Most creoles were in fact native sons, but not all; the Spanish Crown sometimes appointed creoles to office in places other than their region of origin, and some creoles moved to other regions of the Americas in search of opportunity. Burkholder reminds the reader that by the eighteenth century, creole identity rested as much on language, lifestyle, and skin color as on the actual details or a person's descent, which could be hard to prove. The term "peninsular," which was not commonly used until the eve of the wars for independence, is problematic for two reasons: first, because most Spaniards identified more strongly with their regional homelands than with Spain as a whole; and second, because many immigrants from Spain became "radicados," rooted settlers who married locally and committed themselves permanently to life in America. The continual absorption of peninsulars into creole society muddied the tidy distinction between creole and peninsular.

Burkholder's analysis of creole-peninsular relations rests on three legs: political appointments, clerical appointments, and social relations. Burkholder shows that the Spanish Crown initially favoured descendants of conquistadors and first settlers in making political appointments; by the mid-seventeenth century, many offices could be purchased and even willed to the next occupant, which proved a boon for creoles. Although the Crown later tried to reclaim control of the Americas by appointing fewer native sons and more peninsulars to high office, creoles had few complaints before c.1750. Burkholder devotes considerable attention to creole-peninsular conflict in the Catholic Church, arguing that creole-peninsular competition was more evident in the male religious orders than in most other domains of Spanish American society. …

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