Spanish Requirement of 1513

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The 'Spanish Requirement of 1513 ("El Requerimiento") was a declaration by the Spanish monarchy of its divinely ordained right to take possession of the territories of the New World and to subjugate, exploit and, when necessary, to fight the native inhabitants. The Requirement was read in Spanish to Native Americans to inform them of Spain’s rights to conquest. Those who subsequently resisted conquest were considered to harbor evil intentions. The Spaniards thus considered those who resisted as defying God’s plan, and so used Catholic theology to justify their conquest.

Historical context[edit]

Throughout the sixteenth century the Europeans quickly subjugated native peoples, plundering their lands and their wealth. Europeans justified this with the view that natives were not Christian, and, particularly after witnessing the mass human sacrifices conducted by the Aztecs[citation needed], and lack of traditional (that is to say, European) civilization by other natives, savage, and not deserving to possess the New World.

In Spain itself in 1492, the Moorish population of Granada had been given the choice by the first Archbishop of Granada, Hernando de Talavera: become Christian, or leave the country. In a letter to his religious brothers, Cardinal Cisneros, Talavera's successor, would celebrate the “peaceful domination” of the Moors of the Albaicin, a neighborhood of Granada, praising converts, lauding killing and extolling plunder. This letter came, however, after centuries of struggle by Christians in Spain to recapture their homeland, which had been under Muslim domination for generations. Thus the war in Iberia, between Christians trying to regain their land and Muslims defending their conquered territories, naturally heightened religious tensions and fervor on both sides.

To the King and Queen of Spain (Ferdinand II of Aragon, 1479–1516 and Isabella I of Castile, 1451–1504) the conquest of indigenous peoples was justified by natural law, embodied in the medieval doctrine of “just wars”, which had historically been a rationale for wars against non-Christians, particularly the Moors, but which would now be applied to Native Americans. Coming shortly after the Reconquest, the realization of a centuries-long dream by Christians in Spain, the discovery and colonization of the New World was directly affected by religious and political conditions in a now-unified Iberian Peninsula.

Legal justification[edit]

Concerned that Spain ensure control of the natives in the newly conquered Americas, the “Reyes Católicos”, Ferdinand and Isabella, consulted theologians and jurists for religious and legal justification of Spain’s conquests. The treatment of the Native Americans was at first rationalized on the grounds that they were cannibals; any means of subjugation were acceptable. However, some of Christopher Columbus’s tactics with Native Americans had resulted in uprisings. In 1500, the king and queen again sought advice; the Native Americans were declared to be "free vassals". Despite their elevated status, the Native Americans remained subject to conquest in "just wars".

In 1511, Fra. Montesinos, spokesman for the Dominican Order in Spain, began preaching against the exploitation of the Native Americans as workers (“la mano de obra de los españoles”) while they were also subject to persecution. King Ferdinand offered a new justification. The enslavement of Native Americans was required because they were pagans, but this did not prevent their conversion to Christianity, nor however, in practice, did it mitigate their slaughter.

The Junta of Burgos of 1512 marked the first in a series of ordinances (“Ordenanzas sobre el buen tratamiento de los indios”) with the ostensible goal of protecting the Indians from excessive exploitation; natives could celebrate holidays, be paid for their labor and receive "good treatment". Similar legislation was adopted by the Junta of Valladolid in 1513 and the Junta of Madrid in 1516. However, none of the laws stopped the abuse; few were charged with illegal exploitation, and punishment was rare.

The Role of Religion[edit]

The colonization of the New World by European adventurers and the genocide of native populations to that end was "justified" at the time on spiritual and religious grounds. In the conquest of the Americas, the Christian duty to evangelize non-believers took form of (often forced) conversion of Indians and other pagans, at the hands of Roman Catholic priests. Christianity was also used to justify the state’s policy of enslavement of Indians, and the often violent pacification of native communities who resisted.

To the European mind, the lands of the New World belonged to no one, and could therefore be seized. The radical differences in thought and behavior of the Aztec and Mayan states, with their worship of entirely new, fierce gods, human sacrifice by the thousands, and complete unfamiliarity with European styles of diplomacy, created a sense that conquest was not a war between states but the conquering by a civilized society against a ferocious, barbarous enemy. Moreover, since the native population was non-Christian, Europeans’ Christian religion conferred upon them the right, indeed the obligation, to take possession of the lands and the peoples in the name of God and the throne.

More particularly, Catholic theology held that spiritual salvation took precedence over temporal and civil concerns. The conversion of pagan natives to Christianity was the rationale for and legitimized Spain’s conquests. The Pope, being the recipient of divine authority and having the obligation to propagate the faith, empowered Spain to conquer the New World and convert its peoples[citation needed]. Thus “informed” by the Spanish, the Indians had to accept the supremacy of the Catholic Church and the Spanish Crown. The state was authorized to enforce submission, by war where necessary.

The Spanish requirement of 1513[edit]

The European view of the inherent right to conquest and domination in the New World was captured in a declaration addressed to Indian populations known as “El Requerimiento” (The Requirement). The document was prepared by the Spanish jurist Juan López Palacios Rubio, a staunch advocate of the divine right of monarchs and territorial conquest. It was first used in 1513 by Pedrarias Dávila, a Spanish explorer who had fought the Moors in Granada and who was later to become Governor of Nicaragua.

The Spanish Requirement, issued in the names of King Ferdinand and Queen Juana, his daughter, was a mixture of religious and legal justifications for the confiscation of New World territories and the subjugation of their inhabitants. At the time, it was believed that Native Americans resisted conquest and conversion for one of two reasons: malice or ignorance. The Requirement was putatively meant to eliminate ignorance.

A member of the conquistador’s force would read El Requerimiento in Castilian before a group of Indians on the shore, who, with or without translation, remained uncomprehending. All the region’s inhabitants were thus considered to have been advised of Spain’s religious and legal rights to conquest and forewarned of the consequences of resisting. The true nature of the Spanish Requirement, however, was one of absolution; the symbolic act of reading the document relieved the crown and its agents from legal and moral responsibility for the conquest, enslavement and killing of Native Americans. Readings were often dispensed with prior to planned attacks.

As the Spanish Requirement matter-of-factly sets forth, so brazenly from five centuries’ retrospect, God created heaven and earth, and the first man and woman from whom all are descended. God directed St. Peter to establish the Roman Catholic Church. St. Peter’s descendant, the Pope, lives in Rome. The Pope has given the New World territories to the King of Castile and directed the conversion of the Indians. If they listen carefully, the Indians will understand and accept what is happening as just; if not, Spain will make war on them. Here what the document does is to create an ontology into which these new lands and their peoples fit; it is creating a place for them in the existing Spanish and European political structure and Christian belief structure.

Text of the document[edit]

External links[edit]

Calderón, Annie Badilla, Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, “La información y los textos jurídicos de la colonia (II). El poder político Latina”, Revista Latina de Comunicación Social 13 –enero de 1999. Recuperado el 2 de marzo de 2008 de:

Hernández, Jesús Contreras, Universidad Central de Barcelona, “La cara India, la cruz del 92”, Gaceta de Antropología No. 8, 1991 Recuperado el 3 de marzo de 2008 de:

“La Guerra justa y el requerimiento”, arteHistoria, 17 de febrero de 2008 Recuperado el 2 de marzo de 2008 de:

Pereira-Muro, Carmen, "La ‘conversión’ de los moriscos", en Culturas de España, 2003, p. 92.