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The Captaincy General of Guatemala ( ), also known as the Kingdom of Guatemala (Spanish: Reino de Guatemala), was an administrative division in Spanish America which covered much of Central America, including what are now Costa Ricamarker, Nicaraguamarker, Hondurasmarker, El Salvadormarker, Guatemalamarker, and the Mexican state of Chiapasmarker. The governor-captain general was also president of the Audiencia of Guatemala.


The colonization of the area that became the future Captaincy General began in 1524. In the north, the brothers Gonzalo and Pedro de Alvarado, Hernán Cortés and others headed various expeditions into Guatemala and Honduras. In the south Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, acting under the auspices of Pedrarias Dávila in Panamamarker, moved into what is today Nicaragua.

The capital of Guatemala moved several times in the first decade of its existence. In 1540 of the city of Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemalamarker was founded after Tecpán Guatemalamarker was abandoned due to its vulnerability to attack. However, the second settlement was destroyed in 1542 by a flood, and the new capital of Antigua Guatemalamarker ( photos), was founded to replace the old capital. Although the city of Antigua Guatemala became one of the richest of the New World capitals in the subsequent centuries, this city was in turn ordered abandoned in 1776, after a series of earthquakes destroyed it. The third capital was the modern-day Guatemala Citymarker.

The Church played an important role in the administration of the overseas possessions of the Spanish crown. The first dioceses were established in León, Nicaragua and Guatemala in 1534. Another diocese was created in Chiapas in 1539. The dioceses of Guatemala and Chiapas were suffragan to the Archdiocese of Seville, until 1546 when they are placed under the Archdiocese of Mexico. The Diocese of León was made suffragan to Archdiocese of Lima in 1546. Another short-lived diocese was set up in Verapaz, Guatemalamarker in 1559. Along the Caribbean coast, there were several attempts to establish a diocese in Honduras, which finally succeeded in 1561 with the Diocese of Comayagua which was placed under the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo.

In 1543 the district was defined with the establishment of an audiencia, which took most of Central America as its jurisdiction. This audiencia, along with the one in Lima, took over the territory of the first Audiencia of Panama. It was the first institution to define Central America (with the exception of Panama) as a region within the Spanish Empire.


In 1609 the area became a captaincy general, when the governor and Audiencia president was also granted the title of captain general to deal with foreign threats to the area from the Caribbean, granting the area autonomy in administrative and military matters. Around the same time Habsburg Spain created other captaincies general in Puerto Rico (1580), Cuba (1607) and Yucatán (1617).

In the 17th century a process of uniting the church hierarchy of Central America also began. The dioceses of Comayagua and León were made suffragan to the Archdiocese of Mexico in 1620 and 1647, respectively. Finally in the 18th century Guatemala was raised to an Archdiocese in 1743 and the dioceses of León, Chiapas and Comayagua are made suffragan to it, giving the region unity and autonomy in religious matters.

As part of the Bourbon Reforms in 1786 the crown established a series of intendancies in the area, which replaced most of the older corregimientos. The intendants were granted broad fiscal powers and were charged with promoting the local economy. The new intendancies were San Salvador (El Salvador), Ciudad Real (Chiapas), Comayagua (Honduras), and León (Nicaragua). The governor-captain general-president of Guatemala became the superintendente general of the territory and functioned as de facto intendant of Guatemala proper. The agricultural, southern region of Costa Rica remained under a civil and military governor with fiscal oversight of only military expenses; the expenses of the civil government were handled by the intendant of León. These intendancies helped shape local political identity and provided the basis of the future nations of Central America.


With the removal of Ferdinand VII during the Peninsular War, independence movements broke out in the intendancies of San Salvador and León in 1811, which were quickly suppressed. In 1812 the Cádiz Cortes divided the region into two provinces: Guatemala (Guatemala, Chiapas, Honduras and El Salvador) and Nicaragua y Costa Rica. These provinces existed from 1812 to 1814 and once again from 1820 to 1821, the period during which the Spanish Constitution of 1812 was in effect. The two provinces elected seven deputies to the Cortes during the first period. The jefe político superior (governor) of Guatemala remained the Captain General of Central America and Chiapas. The Captaincy General ended in 1821, when the regional elite supported the Plan of Iguala, which lead to independence and the creation of the First Mexican Empire. With the exception of Chiapas, the region peacefully seceded from Mexico in July 1823, establishing the United Provinces of Central America. While the region remained politically cohesive for a short time, centrifugal forces soon pulled the individual provinces apart by 1840.


  1. Rieu-Millan, Marie Laure. Los diputados americanos en las Cortes de Cádiz: Igualdad o independencia. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1990. 43. ISBN 978-8400070915


  • Dym, Jordana and Christophe Belaubre, (editors). Politics, Economy, and Society in Bourbon Central America, 1759–1821. (Boulder: University press of Colorado, 2007) ISBN 978-0-87081-844-8
  • Hawkins, Timothy. José de Bustamante and Central American Independence: Colonial Administration in an Age of Imperial Crisis. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004) ISBN 0-8173-1427-X
  • Wortman, Miles L. Government and Society in Central America, 1680–1840. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982) ISBN 0-231-05212-X

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