The First Royal Audience of America (and the Fourth of Spain)

Status

The royal audience was a judicial insititution created in 1371 by the Kingdom of Castille. The first royal audience was the Royal Audience of Valladolid based in the city of the same name. This was the highest judicial authority in Castille and later in all the domains of the King of Spain.

Composition of the Royal Audience

A royal audience had various hierarchical categories that facilitated its functions.

  • President (in effect it was the viceroy)
  • Judges
  • District Attorney
  • Bailiff
  • Clerk
  • Notary
  • Regent (this position was created in the XVIII century)

Functions of the Royal Audience

The royal audience had various juridical functions.

  • Application of the laws.
  • Protection of the citizenry (in Spanish America this included the good treatment of the native americans and the slaves).
  • Application of sanctions (in Spanish America this included the trials and punishment of masters that mistreated their slaves).

The royal audiences of America had the additional category of Royal Chancery. This implied that they had the right to use the royal stamp, as such they represented the Spanish King in his territories.

Herarchy of the Royal Audience

There were various types of royal audiences with distinct abilities and privileges.

  • Viceroyalty Audience
    They were headed by the vicroy and were based in the viceroyalty capital city.
  • Pretorial Audience
    While presided by a president-governor, these audiences were not subordinated to the viceroy. They had the legal right to contact directly the King of Spain and the Indies Council.
  • Subordinated Audience
    Presided by a literate president, they depended on the viceroy in matter of civil governance, eclesiastic governance, military, and the public estate.

The First Royal Audience of America

In 1511 is founded The Royal Audience of La Española (also known as The Royal Audience of Santo Domingo), based in the city of Santo Domingo. It immediately became the first Royal Audience of America and the fourth of Spain. The royal audiences that were founded before Santo Domingo´s was The Royal Audience of Valladolid (1371), The Royal Audience of Galicia (1480), and The Royal Audience of Ciudad Real (1494). In addition, The Royal Audience of Santo Domingo was the first Eruopean court established outside of Europe. It had as one of its presidents Viceroy Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus.

In the XVI century The Royal Audience of La Española was elevated to viceroyalty audience. In later times, The Royal Audience of La Española was classified as a pretorial audience.

Suppressions and Reestablishments

The Royal Audience of La Española suffered various suppressions and reestablishments due to particular events. It is the only royal audience that has suffered so many suppressions and reestablishments due to its priviliged position with the Spanish authorities. The privilege was based on the fact that Santo Domingo was the first Spanish city in America and considered the mother of Spanish America.

  • First Suppression
    Diego Columbus had many dissagreements with King Ferdinand V of Castille regarding the priviliges and duties that Diego Columbus desired. A short time after its creation, The Royal Audience of La Española was suppressed, becoming the first royal audience that is suppressed in the history of Spain.
  • First Reestablishment
    The Royal Audience of La Española was reestablished in 1526.
  • Second Suppression
    In 1795, after the Treaty of Basil was signed, The Royal Audience of La Española is suppressed for a second time and was moved to Camagüey, Cuba.
  • Second Reestablisment
    The Constitution of Cadiz of 1812 (considered Spain’s first constitution) reestablishes The Royal Audiencia of La Española and based it in the city of Santo Domingo. The main reason this was done was to prevent the subjugation of the first Spanish city of America to another royal audience. Its condition of first Spanish city of America mad eit posible for Santo Domingo to have once more its own royal audience.
  • Third Suppression
    The Royal Audience of La Española was suppressed for a third time due to the ephemeral independence of 1821.
  • Third Reestablishment
    The anexation of the Dominican Republic to Spain in 1861 created the conditions for the Spanish Monarchy reestablishing in that same year The Royal Audience of La Española. Had it not been for its condition of first Spanish city of America, the reincorporated Spanish province of Santo Domingo would had been subjugated to The Royal Audience of Puerto Rico.
  • Fourth Suppression
    With the end of the War of Restoration of the Dominican Republic in 1863, The Royal Audience of La Española was suppressed for the fourth and last time. However, The Royal Audience of La Española is substituted within the Dominican Republic with the creation of the Supreme Court of Justice.

Jurisdiction of The Royal Audience of La Española

The Royal Audience of La Española originally had jurisdiction on all The Indies. In other words, all American territories discovered by the Spaniards and declared part of the domains of the King of Spain. In 1539 Central America is excluded from the jurisdiction of The Royal Audiencie of La Española. In 1777 the provinces of Maracaibo and Guyana (in modern Venezuela) were added as part of its jurisdiction. After the second reestablishment the jurisdiction of The Royal Audience of La Española is limited to the Spanish part of the island of Santo Domingo. The same applies when its reestablished in 1861.

Map of the Royal Audiences of America

The Royal Audience of La Española was founded in 1511 and based in Santo Domingo. Originally its jurisdiction encompassed the entire Antilles, northeastern South America, and the Florida peninsula. Other royal audiences were founded in America and all appear in the map with the year they were created and the city where they were based.

Jurisdiction of The Royal Audience of La Española

The Royal Audience of La Española, also known as La Real Audiencia de Santo Domingo (The Royal Audience of Santo Domingo), had jurisdiction that went beyond the island of Santo Domingo. The modern US state of Florida marked the most northern edge of the jurisdiction of The Royal Audience of La Española. It also included all the islands of the Caribbean, minus the Lesser Antilles after they fell into the hands of other European powers. Also much of modern Venezuela was subjected to The Royal Audience of Santo Domingo.

Aerial View of the Old Headquarter of The Royal Audiencia of La Española

The Palace of the Governors was built in 1511 with the purpose of housing The Royal Audience of La Española. It still stands on Las Damas Street in the Colonial City of Santo Domingo. Today its home to the Royal Houses Museum (Museo de las Casas Reales). This beautiful aerial photo was taken by Anne Casale.

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