Council of the Indies

Their system, called polisinodial -a political organization of the Spanish Monarchy during the former regime until the 19th Century based on the Councils- was constituted by councils, which were collegiate bodies of the Spanish Central Administration with the purpose to advice the King regarding his competency. The Royal Higher Council of the Indies is created during the reign of Charles I of Spain in 1524.

The Council of the Indies took care of all governmental issues, administration, justice, war and religion, being always the first instance. In the justice area, The Council will act as Supreme Court on civil matters as well as on criminal matters. On the military, the regulation of weapons aimed to protect the fleet as well as to strengthen and defense of the Latin American coasts is of its competence.

The Council will not have any legal regulations until 1543, but due the arrival of Juan de Ovando in 1571, new regulations are issued. Most of these regulations will be later on included in the Recopilación de Leyes de los reinos de Indias (1680) (Collection of Acts from of the Indies Kingdoms). These were extended in the Código de Leyes de Indias (1792) (Act Code of the Indies).

The personnel of the Council will evolve along its history. At the beginning was integrated by a president, three counselors, a secretary, a prosecutor, an attorney, a reporter, an accountant and a doorman. During the 17th Century, the number of its members increases significantly coming to place new servants and loyal counselors.

The counselors will speak about the different documents of the New World, where its content will be debated in the board of the Council and the prosecutor will issue a report. The counselors take a decision that requires votes in order to transfer it to the Monarch in a document known as consulta (consult, enquire). The king makes the decision. All the decisions made by the Council are secret. Hence, there are no proceeding records of their debates, but there is an index with the spoken issues and what was established.

In the 18th Century, the Council loses power when the King Philippe V (Versailles, France, 1683-Madrid, 1746) creates the Secretarías de Estado y del Despacho, one of them dedicated to the Marina and Indies affairs in 1714. Its boundaries are set to be the only higher court for America. Since the mid century, loses its political, commercial and military competences until it disappears completely in 1834.