document known as the Leyes de Burgos (Laws of
Burgos) was promulgated on December 27, 1512 in
the first codified set of laws governing the
behavior of Spanish foreigners in America,
particularly with regards to native Indians.
enumerated a number of laws for the government of the indigenous
peoples of the recently discovered New
. They forbade the maltreatment of natives, and endorsed
. The cause of its creation was the
legal problem that had arisen from the conquest and colonization of
, where the common law
of Spain was not applied. The laws
were never truly enforced, and little change came in New Spain
because of these laws.
of the laws was originally restricted to the island of Hispaniola, but was later extended to Puerto Rico and Jamaica.
These laws authorized and legalized the colonial practice of
, where Indians were
grouped together to work under colonial masters, limiting the size
of these establishments to a minimum of 40 and a maximum of 150
people. However, they also established a minutely regulated regime
of work, pay, provisioning, living quarters, hygiene, and care for
the Indians in a reasonably protective and humanitarian spirit.
Women more than four months pregnant were exempted from work.
The document finally prohibited the use of any form of punishment
by the encomenderos
, reserving it for officials
established in each town for the implementation of the laws. It
also ordered that the Indians be catechized
, outlawed bigamy
and required that the huts and cabins of the Indians be built
together with those of the Spanish. It respected, in some ways, the
traditional authorities, granting chiefs exemptions from ordinary
jobs and granting them various Indians as servants.
Too poor fulfillment of the laws in many cases lead to inummerable
protests and claims. In fact, the laws were so often poorly applied
that they were seen as simply a legalization of the previous poor
situation. This would create momentum for reform, carried out
through the Leyes Nuevas
) in 1542
cardinal archbishop of
Seville named Domingo de
Mendoza, heard reports of the abuse of the American Indians and
sent a group of Dominican
missionaries to Hispanola to try and stop the terrible
Though they couldn’t physically stop it, the
missionaries stirred up enough trouble that the settlers feared
they would lose their interests; Fray Antonio de
preached to the colonists that they were sinning and
didn’t possess the right to force the Indians to serve them,
claiming there could be better uses for them, like to convert them
to Christianity. The colonists disagreed and decided the best way
to protect their interests was to come together as a group and
choose a Franciscan
Friar named Alonso de Espinal
to present their case to
King Ferdinand of Spain
refute Montesinos’ accusations. Their plan backfired, though, and
King Ferdinand was outraged by the abuses against the Indians; he
pleaded ignorance, and to help remedy the situation commissioned a
group of theologians and academics to come up with solution. In the
city of Burgos on December 27th, 1512, thirty-five laws were put
into effect to secure the freedom of the American Indians, and also
to make sure they converted to Christianity.
Summary of Each Law
1: The Indians are to be removed from their land and placed into
. For every fifty Indians, four lodges shall be
built (thirty by fifteen feet). This land cannot be taken from them
since they were taken from their original land. Their original land
will be burned so that they cannot return to it. The Indians will
do the planting of all of the food. During the proper seasons, the
encomenderos (men looking over the Indians) will have the Indians
plant corn and raise the hens.
2: The Indians will leave their land voluntarily to come to the
so that they shall not suffer from being
removed by force.
3: The citizen to whom the Indians are given must erect a structure
to be used as a church
. In the
church must be a picture of Our Lady and a bell with which to call
the Indians to prayer time. The person who has them in the
must go with them to church every night and
make sure they cross themselves and sing several hymns. If an
Indian does not come to the church, he is not allowed to rest the
4: To make sure the Indians are learning Christianity properly,
they shall be tested every two weeks and taught what they do not
know by the Encomendero. He shall teach them the Ten Commandments
, the Seven Deadly Sins
, and the Articles of Faith
that does not do this properly will be fined
six gold pesos
5: A church will be built equidistant from all estates. On Sundays,
Mass shall be observed and a feast will be eaten. If the
does not bring his Indians, he will be charged
ten gold pesos.
6: If The church is too far away, another will be built.
7: The priests who collect tithes
estates must have priests continually in the churches of the
8: There shall be churches built at the mines so that the Indians
working the mines may hear mass on Sundays.
9: Whoever has fifty Indians must chose one boy who the
thinks is able, to be taught to read and
write, and also the importance of Catholicism. This boy will then
teach the other Indians because the Indians would more readily
accept what the boy says then what the Spaniards says. If the
encomendero has one hundred Indians, two boys shall be chosen. The
faith must be ingrained into their heads so the souls of the
Indians are saved.
10: If an Indian falls sick near where there is a priest, the
priest must go to him and recite the Credo
other profitable things of the Catholic faith. The Indian shall
make confession without being charged a fee. If the Indian is to
die, he shall be buried with a cross near the church. If he is not
buried, the encomendero
owes a fine of four gold
11: The Indians must not be used as carriers for transporting
things to the Indians at the mines.
12: All Spanish inhabitants who have Indians in an
must have the infants baptized within a week of
13: After the Indians have been brought to the estates, gold shall
be searched for as follows: Indians in an encomienda
search for gold for five months a year and at the end of the five
months are allowed to rest for forty days. During the forty days,
the Indians are not to be employed, unless they are a slave and
accept to plant the crops. During the forty days, the Indians will
be further instructed in faith since they have more time do
14: The Indians must be allowed to perform their sacred
15: All citizens who have Indians are required to feed them breads,
yams, peppers, and on Sundays feed them dishes of cooked meat. For
every offense, a fine of two gold pesos shall be paid.
16: According to Catholicism, the Indians are not allowed to have
more than one wife at a time and they are not allowed to abandon
17: Sons of the chiefs of the Islands who are under the age of
thirteen are to be given to the Friars so they can be taught how to
read, write, and other things about Catholicism. When the sons
reach the age of nineteen, they are to return to the encomienda and
teach the others.
18: Pregnant women are not to be sent to the mines or made to plant
the crops. They shall be kept on the estate and made to do
household duties such as cooking and weeding. After the child is
born, she can nurse it until it is three years old. After this
time, she can return to the mines and other duties.
19: The Indians should not sleep on the ground. Each
should provide his Indians with
20: The Indians are to be given one gold peso every year to pay for
21: Indians may not change their masters. One encomendero
cannot employ or house an Indian belonging to another
22: The Indian chiefs are allowed two Indians to perform personal
duties for every forty of their subjects. Also, visitors to the
estates must treat the Indians well and teach them what they know
23: Official inspectors must keep records of the activities and
also the treatment of the Indians in the encomiendas
must keep track of the population and how much gold is being
24: The Indians are not to be physically or verbally abused for any
25: The Indians are not to be used in private trade or for any
other economic interest.
that have their Indians working in
distant mines shall combine efforts with other estates to help
provide food for the Indians.
27 Indians from other lands must also be taught the things of the
Catholic faith. They are to be treated kindly, unless they are
28: If an encomendero
dies, his successor takes control of
29: Two inspectors should be appointed to each Estate.
30. The inspectors are to be chosen by the Admiral, judges, and
officers. These people should be compensated by being given Indians
31. Villages should be inspected two times a year, once in the
beginning of the year, and once in the summer.
32: If there is a runaway Indian, inspectors cannot apprehend them.
They must be given to a man of good conscience who will find the
33: All inspectors should hold a copy of the Laws of Burgos, signed
by the Governor.
34: Inspectors must be provided residencias.
35: One person may not have more than one hundred and fifty Indians
and no less than forty Indians in encomienda at one time.
Amendments were added to the Laws or Burgos on July 28th,
1: Indian women married to Indian men are not to be forced to serve
with their husbands at the mines or anywhere else unless it is by
their own free will or unless their husbands wish to take
2: Indian children do not have to do the work of adults until the
reach the age of fourteen. They are then made to do the tasks of
children, like weeding or working in their parents estates.
3: Unmarried Indian women who are under the authority of their
parents have to work with them on their lands. Those not under the
authority of their parents must be kept apart so they don’t become
4: After two years of service, the Indians are free to go. By this
time they will be civilized and proper Christians, able to govern
The Laws of Burgos did nothing to save the Natives of Hispaniola.
The American Indians were still heavily exploited. This arose the
conscience of Bartolomé de
, a former Encomendero who regretted his ways and
spent the rest of his life working to bring freedom back to the
Indians. He wrote, “What kind of Doctrine could be taught by
unlettered and worldly laymen, commonly for the most part ignorant
even of crossing themselves, to infidels of a language very
different from Castilian who never learned but these few words:
‘Give me water; give me bread; go to the mines; go to work,’ and
who had yet be taught the first principles of the Christian
He believed that the New World was granted to Spain and Portugal
solely for the conversion of the Heathen. The Indians, he believed,
should not be used for other purposes, especially not for profit.
The only solution was to remove the Spanish colonists from the
Indians, except for missionaries who brought the message of