Published by EH.Net (November 2017)

Iván Escamilla González, Matilde Souto Mantecón, and Guadalupe Pinzón Rios, editors. Resonancias Imperiales: América y el Tratado de Utrecht de 1713. México City: Instituto de Investigaciones Dr. José María Luis Mo: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, 2015. 333 pp. $33 (paperback), ISBN: 978-607-02-7529-6.

Reviewed for EH.Net by James Almeida, Department of History, Harvard University.

The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht ended the War of Spanish Succession and confirmed the installation of the Bourbon monarchy on the Spanish throne. Historians have long acknowledged the war and the treaty as important turning points in Atlantic History, but the focus of such studies has generally been European territorial concessions and the transfer of the Spanish slave trading monopoly known as the asiento from France to Great Britain. The first decades of the eighteenth century and early Bourbon rule of Spain have been the subject of fewer studies than other periods of imperial history, and have frequently been characterized as a time of continuity with the late Hapsburg administrations, lasting until the Bourbon Reforms of the second half of the century. The authors in this volume challenge this characterization by shifting the gaze away from Europe and the asiento to understand how Iberoamerica helped shape the treaty and exercised significant influence in the development of the post-Utrecht system of international diplomacy.

Resonancias Imperiales grew out of the international colloquium “América y el Tratado de Utrecht, 1713-2013” held in Mexico City in 2013. The volume’s thesis is that the overseas kingdoms of the Iberian empires took an active and decisive role in imperial affairs, and that it is impossible to understand the functioning of an empire without analyzing it as a system in which all parts are interconnected and mutually dependent. While these relationships were hierarchical, the authors contend that acknowledging the American territories as kingdoms, not colonies, best reflects their status in imperial affairs. The essays devote particular attention to the Pacific Ocean navigation and commerce that has seldom been studied for this period.

The book is structured in three parts. The first four chapters consider the repercussions of instability in Madrid for the internal politics of the Spanish American kingdoms. The next three essays focus on Spain’s defensive weaknesses, the implications for its unfavorable negotiating position at Utrecht, and subsequent unfavorable outcomes of the treaty. Finally, the last four chapters reexamine and complicate the narrative of continuity and stasis in early Bourbon administration of commerce. The organizational logic is clear and easy to follow, although it does separate some pieces that read well together, such as the essays on corruption.

The first section of the work contains essays that tackle major historiographical debates and themes. Iván Escamilla González argues that the American kingdoms played an active role in establishing the post-Utrecht system of international diplomacy. A well-connected viceroy in New Spain and new defensive concerns prompted a new strategy of appointing well-connected administrators to important American government positions instead of fortune-seeking second sons of aristocrats. The essay of Francisco A. Eissa-Barroso challenges the idea that the establishment, abolishment, and re-establishment of the viceroyalty of Nueva Granada were in response to local politics and corruption. Using new evidence beyond the one royal decree typically cited, Eissa-Barroso instead suggests that the rise and fall of the French and Italian courts under the early Bourbons affected the policy in New Granada, and that the situation illustrates the post-Utrecht militarization of key posts in the Indies by placing officers with Mediterranean combat experience. Christoph Rosenmüller challenges another historiographical consensus: that corruption in the Spanish Empire increased in the eighteenth century with a surge in the sale of offices (rather than appointments). In his study of the audit of the Audiencia of Mexico conducted between 1715 and 1727, he concludes that both high administrators and the auditor recognized corruption, but drew the line between gifts and bribes in different places. Frances L. Ramos concludes this section by studying sermon texts from New Spain to show that they efficiently disseminated Bourbon anti-English and anti-protestant propaganda and helped to create an imperial consciousness.

Beginning the section on defenses and the Pacific World, Carmen Yuste emphasizes the venality, negligence, and dishonesty of officials on the margins of the Spanish Empire in the Philippines. Judicial proceedings over British seizure of a Philippine galleon serve as a case study, demonstrating that officials were using galleons for illicit and personal commerce. Relying on just one example prevents Yuste from connecting this example to broader debates over corruption raised by Eissa-Barroso, Rosenmüller, and others. Yavana Celaya Nández’s essay shifts the focus back to the Caribbean and the New Spain-based Armada de Barlovento charged with patrolling the sea. She argues that the competition for scarce resources fostered tensions between the local authorities and Madrid, and that increasing centralization under the early Bourbons improved financial efficiency but failed to offset the enormous costs of patrolling the vast sea. Fabricio Prado shows how the post-Utrecht reestablishment of the Portuguese Colonia del Sacramento along the Rio de la Plata allowed the temporary development of a lusophone elite with ties to the rest of the empire.

Adrian Pearce’s essay begins the discussion of commerce by countering the assumption in the historiography that the Treaty of Utrecht froze in place the anachronistic Hapsburg monopoly system while greatly increasing commerce between Spanish America and Great Britain. He compiles quantitative trade data from a number of sources to argue instead that significant British trade had previously penetrated the monopoly system by moving through Cádiz (legally) and the Caribbean (illegally), and the change of allowing British trade in Spanish American ports was one of degree and not character. A major controversy in the newly expanded trade with the British was their penetration into the interior of the American kingdoms. Matilde Souto Mantécon suggests that the creation of trade fairs at Xalapa in New Spain was not, as previously believed, to promote commerce; rather, it was to avoid its disintegration in the face of old tensions between interior merchants and those of Mexico City (heightened by the introduction of the English and vague terms of the treaty). Careful examination of administrative correspondence and post-Utrecht negotiations provides her with the evidence to support this claim. Finally, Guadalupe Pinzón Ríos demonstrates that the threat of English military action in the Pacific prompted increased official and commercial navigation between New Spain and Guatemala, which in turn set a precedent for longer term changes during the Bourbon Reforms of the second half of the century.

This volume ultimately achieves a balance between local, imperial, and Atlantic perspectives on the Spanish American world of the early eighteenth century. Although some of the essays are quite specialized, the strongest contributions use specific contexts to tackle major historiographical issues with broad implications for understanding the empire. The essays by Escamilla González, Eissa-Barroso, Rosenmüller, and Pierce stand out in this category. Others essays like those of Souto Mantécon and Pinzón Rios effectively introduce new evidence to prompt research in areas that scholars have only begun to explore. Overall, the authors ably demonstrate that Iberoamerica did indeed play an active role in shaping the post-Utrecht international order. In addition to specialists on the early Bourbon era and international diplomacy, Resonancias Imperiales will be valuable for students of imperial governance and the Spanish Pacific.

James Almeida is a Doctoral Candidate in Latin American History at Harvard University.

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