The Bourbon Reforms
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0043
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0043
After the Spanish Bourbon King Philip V (b. 1700–1746) acceded to the throne, he and his successors, Ferdinand VI (r. 1746–1759), Charles III (r. 1759–1788), and Charles IV (r. 1788–1807), sponsored a century-long effort to reform and renovate the Spanish empire. These policy changes, known collectively as the Bourbon Reforms, attempted to curb contraband commerce, regain control over transatlantic trade, curtail the church’s power, modernize state finances to fill depleted royal coffers, and establish tighter political and administrative control within the empire. For decades historians of the reform era have debated the coherence and effectiveness of crown policies, focusing largely on the reign of Charles III. According to an important early synthesis, Caroline reformers framed policies that curtailed colonial political and economic freedoms, leading to a “second conquest” of America (see Lynch 1973, cited under General Overviews). Other scholars, however, have argued that Bourbon reform policies lacked such ideological coherence, emphasizing the diverse and often contradictory aims of Madrid policy makers, who struggled haltingly to balance the crown’s various fiscal, commercial, administrative, and military objectives. More recently, specialists on the 18th century have broadened and deepened discussions about reform by dealing with topics such as the intellectual origins of reform, the spread of scientific knowledge, efforts to curtail church power, Bourbon social engineering, and the Atlantic context for reform. Scholars are even questioning the traditional emphasis on the reign of Charles III by considering the efforts of reformers to reverse unequal trade treaties with Spain’s traditional rivals in the first half of the century. Historians are also examining the very different impact of reform in the diverse Spanish American empire, noting the profound consequences of colonial policy innovations in areas such as Mexico, while in other regions, such as Chile and New Granada, the reforms had a much more limited impact. As a result, despite all the innovative new research on the 18th-century colonial policy changes, historians still remain quite divided about the overall timing, impact, and effectiveness of the Bourbon Reforms.
Historians of the Bourbon Reforms have debated the coherence and effectiveness of crown policies, focusing particularly on the reign of Charles III. An important early synthesis proposed that Bourbon reformers framed policies aimed at curtailing colonial political and economic freedoms, arguing that the reforms represented nothing less than a “second conquest of America” (Lynch 1973). An influential overview of the reforms in the Cambridge History of Latin America even contended that such policies led to colonial opposition and “the permanent alienation of the creole elite” (Brading 1984, p. 438). Other scholars, however, have argued that Bourbon policies lacked such ideological coherence, emphasizing instead the diverse and often contradictory aims of Madrid policy makers (Fisher 1982, p. 217). Scholars also have examined the complexity of the reform process, demonstrating that Spanish reformers sometimes promoted markedly different kinds of policies for provinces in its diverse Atlantic empire (Kuethe 1991). Some writers have also studied how European conflicts forced Charles IV to go from one policy to another by the mid-1790s to meet the necessities of financing Spain’s wars (Barbier 1977). Recent contributions to scholarly discussions about the Bourbon Reforms examine a complex and tangled web of interest groups who struggled to shape crown policies over the course of the 18th and early 19th centuries (Stein and Stein 2000, Stein and Stein 2003, Stein and Stein 2009).
Barbier, Jacques. “The Culmination of the Bourbon Reforms, 1787–1792.” Hispanic American Historical Review 57 (February 1977): 51–68.
A revisionist article arguing that Charles IV attempted to follow the reformist traditions established by Charles III until Spain’s engagement in European conflicts forced the king and his ministers to vacillate among very different policies by the late 1790s in a desperate search for the fiscal resources needed to meet the exigencies of war.
Brading, David A. “Bourbon Spain and Its American Empire.” In The Cambridge History of Latin America. Vol. 1, Colonial Latin America. Edited by Leslie Bethell, 389–439. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
This chapter presents the Bourbon Reforms under Charles III as an attempt to subjugate of the empire to crown political, social, and economic authority, leading to the permanent alienation of the colonial creole elites.
Fisher, John. “Soldiers, Societies, and Politics in Spanish America.” Latin American Research Review 17.1 (1982): 217–222.
A review essay covering books published on military reform in the Bourbon period, but it asserts that the Bourbon Reforms have “bewitched” both contemporaries and later historians into seeing a master plan for imperial reform, when the reforms should be viewed as representing a halting, inconsistent, and even contradictory desire to modernize the empire.
Kuethe, Allan J. “La desregulación commercial y la reforma imperial en la época de Carlos III: Los casos de Nueva España y Cuba.” Historia Mexicana 41.2 (1991): 265–292.
This article argues that in reforming Cuba, the crown loosened trade regulations for Cuban tropical produce while keeping monopoly controls over Mexican trade, even redirecting large sums from the Mexican treasuries to support Cuba as a strategic military outpost following the Seven Years War.
Lynch, John. The Spanish American Revolutions, 1808–1826. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1973.
In the introduction (pp. 1–37) to this synthesis of the wars of independence in Spanish America, Lynch presents the Bourbon Reforms as a set of policies producing a “second conquest of America,” subjugating creole elites to the crown, which promoted discontent against the reforms, and set the stage for independence after the French invasion in 1807.
Stein, Stanley J., and Barbara H. Stein. Silver, Trade, and War: Spain, America, and the Making of Early Modern Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.
The first volume of a trilogy argues that Spain’s economic weaknesses allowed French, Dutch, and British merchants to gain access to American silver through contraband and supplying merchandise and capital to Spanish monopolists in Seville and later Cádiz. Spanish reformers tried to regain control over the American trade, but their efforts failed as corrupt officials, Spanish monopoly traders, and foreign merchants combined to thwart the reform process.
Stein, Stanley J., and Barbara H. Stein. Apogee of Empire: Spain and New Spain in the Age of Charles III, 1759–1789. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
The second volume argues that Charles III and his ministers imposed wide-ranging fiscal, administrative, and commercial reforms for Spain’s wealthiest colony, New Spain, after the loss of Havana in 1762. These innovators never intended any large-scale, structural reforms, only adjustments designed to shore up the “gothic edifice” of the empire.
Stein, Barbara H., and Stanley J. Stein. Edge of Crisis: War and Trade in the Spanish Atlantic, 1789–1808. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.
The third volume examines efforts of Spanish politicians to preserve commercial linkages between the metropolis and New Spain, as the empire became swept up in international conflicts resulting from the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon. The failure of this effort led to the loss of the empire, leaving Spain an underdeveloped nation, incapable of maintaining control over its colonies.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Agricultural Technologies
- Andean Contributions to Rethinking the State and the Natio...
- Antislavery Narratives
- Arab Diaspora in Latin America, The
- Argentina in the Era of Mass Immigration
- Argentina, Slavery in
- Argentine Literature
- Army of Chile in the 19th Century
- Asian Art and Its Impact in the Americas, 1565–1840
- Asian-Peruvian Literature
- Baroque and Neo-baroque Literary Tradition
- Bello, Andrés
- Black Experience in Colonial Latin America, The
- Black Experience in Modern Latin America, The
- Borderlands in Latin America, Conquest of
- Bourbon Reforms, The
- Brazilian Northeast, History of the
- Buenos Aires
- Caribbean Philosophical Association, The
- Caribbean, The Archaeology of the
- Cartagena de Indias
- Caste War of Yucatán, The
- Caudillos, 19th Century
- Cádiz Constitution and Liberalism, The
- Chaco War
- Children, History of
- Chile's Struggle for Independence
- Chronicle, The
- Church in Colonial Latin America, The
- Chávez, Hugo, and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela
- Cinema, Contemporary Brazilian
- Cinema, Latin American
- Colonial Central America
- Colonial Portuguese Amazon Region, from the 17th to 18th C...
- Contemporary Maya, The
- Costa Rica
- Cárdenas and Cardenismo
- Cuban Revolution, The
- Development of Architecture in New Spain, 1500-1810, The
- Development of Painting in Peru, 1520–1820, The
- Drug Trades in Latin America
- Early Colonial Forms of Native Expression in Mexico and Pe...
- Ecuador, La Generación del 30 in
- El Salvador
- Enlightenment and its Visual Manifestations in Spanish Ame...
- Environmental History
- Era of Porfirio Díaz, 1876–1911, The
- Family History
- Film, Science Fiction
- Gender in Colonial Brazil
- Gender in Postcolonial Latin America
- Guatemala and Yucatan, Conquest of
- Guatemala City
- Haitian Revolution, The
- Health and Disease in Modern Latin America, History of
- History, Cultural
- History, Food
- Honor in Latin America to 1900
- Horror in Literature and Film in Latin America
- Human Rights in Latin America
- Immigration in Latin America
- Indigenous Elites in the Colonial Andes
- Indigenous Population and Justice System in Central Mexico...
- Japanese Presence in Latin America
- Jewish Presence in Latin America, The
- Las Casas, Bartolomé de
- Latin American Independence
- Latin American Urbanism, 1850-1950
- Law and Society in Latin America since 1800
- Legal History of New Spain, 16th-17th Centuries
- Legal History of the State and Church in 18th Century New ...
- Literature, Argentinian
- Machado de Assis
- Maroon Societies in Latin America
- Martí, José, and Cuba
- Mestizaje and the Legacy of José María Arguedas
- Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940, The
- Mexican-US Relations
- Mexico, Conquest of
- Mexico, Education in
- Migration to the United States
- Military and Modern Latin America, The
- Military Government in Latin America, 1959–1990
- Military Institution in Colonial Latin America, The
- Modern Decorative Arts and Design, 1900–2000
- Modern Populism in Latin America
- Modernity and Decoloniality
- Musical Tradition in Latin America, The
- Native Presence in Postconquest Central Peru
- New Conquest History and the New Philology in Colonial Mes...
- New Left in Latin America, The
- Novel, Chronology of the Venezuelan
- Novel of the Mexican Revolution, The
- Novel, 19th Century Haitian
- Novel, The Colombian
- Oaxaca, Conquest and Colonial
- Painting in New Spain, 1521-1820
- Paraguayan War (War of the Triple Alliance)
- Perón and Peronism
- Peru, Colonial
- Peru, Conquest of
- Peru, Slavery in
- Philippines Under Spanish Rule, 1571-1898
- Photography in the History of Race and Nation
- Political Exile in Latin America
- Popular Culture and Globalization
- Popular Movements in Nineteenth-Century Latin America
- Post Conquest Aztecs
- Post-Conquest Demographic Collapse
- Poverty in Latin America
- Preconquest Incas
- Pre-Revolutionary Mexico, State and Nation Formation in
- Printing and the Book
- Prints and the Circulation of Colonial Images
- Protestantism in Latin America
- Revolution and Reaction in Central America
- Rosas, Juan Manuel de
- Sandinista Revolution and the FSLN, The
- Science and Empire in the Iberian Atlantic
- Sexualities in Latin America and the Caribbean
- São Paulo
- Spanish and Portuguese Trade, 1500–1750
- Spanish Caribbean In The Colonial Period, The
- Spanish Colonial Decorative Arts, 1500-1825
- Spanish Florida
- Textile Traditions of the Andes
- 16th-Century New Spain
- Transculturation and Literature
- Trujillo, Rafael
- Tupac Amaru Rebellion, The
- United States and Castro's Cuba in the Cold War, The
- United States and the Guatemalan Revolution, The
- United States Invasion of the Dominican Republic, 1961–196...
- Urban History
- Urbanization in the 20th Century, Latin America’s
- U.S.-Latin American Relations During the Cold War
- Vargas, Getúlio
- Women and Labor in 20th-Century Latin America
- Women in Colonial Latin American History
- Women in Modern Latin American History
- Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas