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A captaincy is a historical administrative division of the former Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires. Each was governed by a captain general.


In the Portuguese Empire

In the Portuguese Empire, captaincies (capitanias, in Portuguese) were the administrative divisions and hereditary fiefs of the Portuguese state in some of its former colonies.

Before the discovery of Brazil (1500), there were captaincies under the possession of the Portuguese in the Atlantic Ocean (Madeira and the Azores Islands) as well as in other islands and settlements along the African coast.

The most important captaincies were to be found, however, in Terra de Santa Cruz, (Portuguese for Land of the Holy Cross). Each was given to a single captaincy general (capitão-mor, or capitão-donatário), whom was a Portuguese nobleman. They consisted of geometrically straight stripes parallel to the Equator on the coast to the Tordesilhas Line, created by King John III of Portugal in 1534.


Captaincies of Brazil

The captaincies in Brazil were initially fifteen in total, granted to twelve donatários:

Captaincy Donatário
Captaincy of Maranhão Fernão Aires and João de Barros
Captaincy of Ceará Antônio Cardoso de Barros
Captaincy of Rio Grande João de Barros / Aires da Cunha
Captaincy of Itamaracá Pero Lopes de Sousa
Captaincy of Pernambuco Duarte Coelho Pereira
Captaincy of Bahia Francisco Pereira Coutinho
Captaincy of Ilhéus Jorge de Figueiredo Correia
Captaincy of Porto Seguro Pero Campos de Tourinho
Captaincy of Espírito Santo Vasco Fernandes Coutinho
Captaincy of São Tomé Pero de Góis da Silveira
Captaincy of São Vicente - 1st section (from Parati to Cabo Frio) Martim Afonso de Sousa
Captaincy of Santo Amaro (from Bertioga to Parati) Pero Lopes de Sousa
Captaincy of São Vicente - 2nd section (from Cananéia to Bertioga) Martim Afonso de Sousa
Captaincy of Santana (from Cananéia to Laguna) Pero Lopes de Sousa

All but two failed according to initial expectations. The Captaincy of Pernambuco thrived thanks to the sugarcane harvest, and thus formed the basis for the Viceroyalty of Grão-Pará. The Captaincy of São Vicente obtained success through exploration of the hinterland known as bandeiras, and was the main foundation of the Viceroyalty of Brazil (which would later become the province of São Paulo).

In the Spanish Empire

Captaincies (capitanías, in Spanish) were military and administrative divisions in colonial Spanish America and the Spanish Philippines, established in areas under risk of foreign invasion or Indian attack. They could consist of just one province, or group several together. These captaincies general should be distinguished from the ones given to almost all of the conquistadores, which was based on an older tradition. During the Reconquista, the term "captain general" and similar ones had been used for the official in charge of all the troops in a given district. This office was transferred to America during the conquest and was usually granted along with the hereditary governorship to the adelantado in the patent issued by the Crown. This established a precedent that was recognized by the New Laws of 1542, but ultimately the crown eliminated all hereditary governorships in its overseas possessions.

With the establishment of appointed governors, who served only a for a few years, captaincies were created in the areas where the crown deemed them necessary. The new captaincies general were governed by what was also called a captain general, and it is this title alone that is usually used by historians. However, in practice this was a person who held two distinct offices: one military, which granted him command of the regional forces (the "captaincy general" proper), and another civilian, which included the presidency of the audiencia, if there was one in the provincial capital, (the governorship). The specific powers of any governor-captain general varied by time and place and were specified in the decrees establishing the captaincy general. The institution of the captaincy general predated the viceroyalty, but was incorporated into the latter when the viceroyalties were established in the mid-16th century.

Some captaincies general, such as Guatemala, Chile and Venezuela were eventually split off from their viceroyalties for better-administration purposes. Although under the nominal jurisdiction of their viceroys, governors-captains general were virtually independent, because the law granted them special military functions and given the considerable distance of their districts from the viceregal capital, they were authorized to deal directly with the King and the Council of the Indies, in Madrid. The institution was later revived as part of the Bourbon Reforms. Captaincies general were first introduced into Spain beginning in 1713 during the War of the Spanish Succession. After the losses of the Seven Years' War, the Bourbon kings established new ones in many American regions, which had not had them before. Along with the new governors-captains general, the Bourbons introduced the Intendant, to handle civilian and military expenses.

Spanish Captaincies

See also


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