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Indias Orientales Españolas
Spanish East Indies
Spanish colony

Flag Coat of arms
Map of the Spanish East Indies (19th century)
Capital Cebu
Language(s) Spanish and native languages.
Religion Roman Catholicism
Political structure Colony
 - 1565-1598 Philip II
 - 1896-1898 Alfonso XIII
 - 1565-1572 Miguel López de Legazpi
 - 1898 Diego de los Ríos
Historical era Spanish colonization
 - Colonization April 27, 1565
 - Treaty of Paris December 10, 1899
 - 1877[1] 300,000 km2 (115,831 sq mi)
 - 1877[1] est. 5,567,685 
     Density 18.6 /km2  (48.1 /sq mi)
Currency Peso fuerte
Preceded by
Succeeded by
New Spain
Republic of Negros
Republic of Zamboanga
First Philippine Republic
United States
German New Guinea
History of Philippines
Philippine History Collage.jpg

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Spanish East Indies (Spanish: Indias Orientales Españolas) was a term used to describe Spanish territories in Asia-Pacific which lasted over three centuries (1565 to 1899). It encompassed the Philippine Islands, and its dependencies including the Mariana Islands and the Caroline Islands, and for a period of time, parts of Formosa (Taiwan), Sabah, and parts of the Moluccas. From 1565 to 1821 these territories were part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain based in Mexico City, and after Mexican independence they were ruled directly from Madrid. Following the Spanish-American War in 1898, most of the islands were occupied by the United States while the remaining territories were sold to Germany during the German-Spanish Treaty of 1899. The King of Spain traditionally styled himself "King of the East and West Indies" (Rey de las Indias orientales y occidentales).[2]



Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the East Indies in 1521.

Exploration and Settlement (1521–1643)

Spanish contact began on March 6, 1521, when the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan reached the Mariana Islands. He named Guam "Isla de Ladrones" (Island of Thieves) because some of his supplies in the galleon Trinidad were stolen. Magellan's crew eventually left the island and reached the island of Homonhon in the Philippines on March 16, with only 150 crewmen. There, they met the indigenous peoples and were able to communicate with them because the Malayan interpreter, Enrique of Malacca, could understand the natives' language.

The territories in Asia claimed by the Spanish crown was governed by the Viceroyalty of New Spain in Mexico City. Seeking to develop trade between the East Indies and the Americas across the Pacific Ocean, Antonio de Mendoza encouraged the exploration of Spain's new territories, as he commissioned the expedition of Ruy López de Villalobos to the Philippines in 1542-1543. Miguel López de Legazpi established the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines in 1565, which became the town of San Miguel. Andrés de Urdaneta discovered an efficient sailing route from the Philippines returning to Mexico. In 1570, the native city of Manila was conquered and trade links soon began in the Manila-Acapulco Galleons.

The Manila-Acapulco galleons shipped products gathered from both Asia-Pacific and the Americas, such as silk, spice, silver, gold and other Asian-Pacific islander products to Mexico. Products brought from Asia-Pacific were sent to Veracruz and shipped to Spain and, via trading, to the rest of Europe. While Spanish-Mexican colonist brought with them Spanish or indigenous Mexican customs, religion, languages, foods and cultural traditions to the Philippines, Guam and the Mariana Islands.

In 1606, the Spaniards established some form of trade links with the Maluku Islands and remained until 1663. Contacts with Japan were also established and Sebastián Vizcaíno was sent as ambassador in 1611, until Japan closed its trading post in 1630. On the north eastern coastal region near Taiwan, the Spaniards built Fort Santo Domingo near Keelung in 1626 and a mission in Tan-shui in 1628, which they occupied until 1642. Several Pacific islands were visited by Spanish ships in the 16th century, including New Guinea (Yñigo Ortiz de Retez in 1545), the Solomon Islands (Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa in 1568) and the Marquesas Islands (Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira in 1595), but they made no effort to trade with or colonize them.

The last Spanish Habsburgs (1643–1700)

In 1668, Diego Luis de San Vitores established the first mission in the Mariana Islands.

The Bourbon period (1700–1898)

Spanish rule in the Philippines was briefly interrupted in 1762, when British troops captured the capital city of Manila during the Seven Years' War. The British, however, were unable to establish control over other areas of the Philippine Islands. Through the efforts of the Spanish lieutenant governor, Simón de Anda y Salazar, the remainder of the islands remained loyal to Spain. The British promised support for an uprising led first by Diego Silang and later by his wife Gabriela, but the British force never materialized. The city remained in British hands for 18 months and was given back to Spain in April 1764.

The Seven Years' War prompted Charles III to initiate extensive governmental reforms throughout the overseas possessions. An Intendencia was established in Manila in 1784 to handle the government finances and to promote the economy. (The plan to introduce more Intendancias throughout the Philippines did not materialize.) In a similar vein, to promote innovation and education among the residents of the islands, Governor-General José Basco y Vargas established the Economic Society of the Friends of the Country.

Colonial government

For over 256 years, the Spanish East Indies were governed by a governor-captain general, and an audiencia. The government of the Philippines were part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, located in Mexico, which ruled those territories. Therefore the government correspondence, in addition to commerce that included the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade, went through Mexico, rather than directly to Spain (with the exception of a short period at the end of the XVIII century), until the New Spanish Viceroyalty collapsed in 1821, following the Mexican War of Independence, creating the First Mexican Empire. The Spanish East Indies continued to be governed from Madrid, Spain, until the United States took control of Spanish territories in the Asia-Pacific region after the Spanish American War of 1898.

The Audiencia and Captaincy General

The Real Audiencia of Manila was the highest tribunal of the Crown of Castile in the East Indies. The Governor-General of the Philippines was its ex officio president. These institutions were created by royal decree on May 5, 1583.

Law XI (Audiencia y Chancillería Real de Manila en las Filipinas) of Title XV (De las Audiencias y Chancillerias Reales de las Indias) of Book II of the Recopilación de Leyes de las Indias of 1680—which compiles the original decree and the one of May 25, 1596—describes the limits and functions of the Audiencia and its President.[3]

In the city of Manila on the Island of Luzon, Head of the Philippines, shall reside another Royal Audiencia and Chancellery of ours, with a president, who shall be governor and captain general; four judges of civil cases [oidores], who will also be judges of criminal cases [alcaldes del crimen]; a crown attorney [fiscal]; a bailiff [alguacil mayor]; a lieutenant of the Gran Chancellor; and the other necessary ministers and officials; and which shall have for district said Island of Luzon, and the rest of the Philippines, the Archipelago of China, and its Mainland, discovered and to be discovered. And we order that the governor and captain general of said Islands and Provinces, and president of their Royal Audiencia, have exclusively the superior government of the entire district of said Audiencia in war and peace, and shall make provisions and favors in our Royal Name, which in conformity to the laws of this Compilation and the rest of the Kingdoms of Castile and the instructions and powers that We shall grant, he should and can do; and in gubernatorial matters and cases that shall arise, that are of importance, said president-governor should consult on them with the judges of said Audiencia, so that they give their consultive opinions, and having heard them, he should provide the most convenient to the service of God and ours and the peace and tranquility of said Province and Republic.


The Spanish East Indies came to be defined as:

The Spanish used several names that are not currently used. Gran Moluccas (Great Molluccas) for the island of Mindanao and Nueva Castilla (New Castile) for Luzon.

Spanish control over this area expanded slowly throughout the centuries. The Batanes Islands were conquered in the eighteenth century. The highlands of Luzon remained outside of Spanish control until the early nineteenth century, and the southernmost tip of Palawan, not until the late 1890s. The rest of Mindanao—aside from outposts in Northern Mindanao, Zamboanga, Cotabato, and the islands of Basilan and Jolo, the rest was only nominally under Spanish control, remaining fairly independent from direct Spanish administration under both the Sulu, and the Maguindanao sultanates, as well as a number of other Lumad tribes not affiliated with either. Similarly, Palau and the vast majority of the Caroline Islands were not governed by Spanish missions until the early nineteenth century.

Spanish cultural influence


Spain's influence on its former colonies in Asia-Pacific is significant and to this day, the majority of the people of the Philippines, Guam and the Mariana Islands belong to the Roman Catholic faith. Many populations in these countries also adopted Spanish names and surnames. Also, many Spanish loanwords have crept into these countries native languages, and their national cuisines have some Spanish or Mexican influences. These nations also have a small minority of descendants of Spanish and Latin American settlers, known as mestizos.


A sizeable proportion of the current population of the Northern Marianas Islands (45-55%) and Guam (30-45%), as well as that of Palau (15-25%) is of Filipino descent. Some of the local peoples in the previously stated territories also use Filipino names and surnames (one example is the surname Pangelinan, which comes from the Filipino surname Pangilinan). The current Chamorro population is believed to be partly of Filipino descent, both through historic links before and during the Spanish rule, and in the present through transmigration.


  1. ^ Population of the Philippines Census Years 1799 to 2007. National Statistical Coordination Board.
  2. ^ The traditional formula is: "His/Her Majesty, Don/Doña [name of reigning monarch] by the grace of God King/Queen of Spain, King/Queen of Castile, of León, of Aragón, of the Two Sicilies, of Jerusalem, of Navarre, of Granada, of Seville, of Toledo, of Valencia, of Galicia, of Sardinia, of Córdoba, of Corsica, of Murcia, of Jaén, of the Algarves, of Algeciras, of Gibraltar, of the Canary Islands, of the East and West Indies, of the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea; Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, of Brabant, of Milan, of Athens and Neopatria; Count of Habsburg, of Flanders, of Tyrol, of Roussillon, and of Barcelona; Lord of Vizcaya and of Molina; Captain-General and Supreme Head of the Royal Armed Forces; Sovereign Grand-Master of the Order of the Golden Fleece and of the orders awarded by the Spanish state." These titles, of course, are not used by the current king, but are often given as honorary "historical" ones. The current Constitution leaves the issue open and simply describes the King as the "King of Spain": "His title is King of Spain, and he may use the other titles appertaining to the Crown" (Su título es el de Rey de España y podrá utilizar los demás que correspondan a la Corona). Velde, François, "Royal Styles," and the Royal Household of His Majesty the King, "The Crown." Consulted on 2008-08-15.
  3. ^ Spain (1680). Recopilación de las Leyes de Indias. Titulo Quince. De las Audiencias y Chancillerias Reales de las Indias. Spanish-language facsimile of the original. 


  • Cunningham, Charles Henry. The Audiencia in the Spanish Colonies as Illustrated by the Audiencia of Manila (1583–1800). Berkeley, University of California Press, 1919.
  • Phelan, John Leddy. The Hispanization of the Philippines: Spanish Aims and Filipino Responses, 1565-1700. Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1959.

External links


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