"Without Him the Indians Would Leave and Nothing Would Get Done." The Changing Relationship Between the Caciques and the Audiencia of Charcas Following Francisco de Toledo’s Reforms


  • Jay David Thornton Universidad de Zaragoza




Acuerdos, Audiencia of Charcas, Caciques, Francisco de Toledo’s Reforms, Indigenous Identity in 16th Century Charcas, Juan de Matienzo, Oidores


Viceroy Francisco de Toledo’s 16th century population re–concentrations of the indigenous peoples of Charcas (modern day Bolivia) have been widely recognized as the most definitive attempt to transform indigenous Andean society along Iberian lines of settlement and government.  While the previously dispersed indigenous populations were resettled into a limited number of urban towns, native tribute obligations elevated, and Castilian forms of municipal government imposed, modern historiography is still debating the precise details of what Toledo’s reforms meant for the indigenous populations of this district. A review of decisions made by the Audiencia of Charcas and the contemporary correspondence of this court’s judges are examined to illustrate how the relationship between the high court and indigenous leaders ―caciques― changed through the period of Toledo’s reforms. This investigation reveals an explicit and previously underappreciated transformation in the political model from one where caciques frequently sought out and received legitimization from the Audiencia ―similar to the model used in the Inca system― to a situation where the caciques understood and utilized the Audiencia less as a partner in power and instead as a forum to be opportunistically used to obtain economic goods and privileges. Using the figure of the cacique as a proxy, this province–wide perspective on the changes engendered to native society by Toledo’s reforms is distinct from but complementary to the several more localized studies on the subject undertaken by other historians. The changes elucidated by these court records and official correspondence suggest the origins of the emergence of indigenous leaders whose skillful use of the colonial legal system would represent a hallmark of indigenous–Spanish relations for the rest of the colonial period.

Author Biography

Jay David Thornton, Universidad de Zaragoza

Research conducted as part of a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Zaragoza with the guidance of Professor Jesús Morales Arrizabalaga and Dr. Alejandro Abadía Irache.