This book examines the relationship between Spain and America in the seventeenth century through the life and thought of Juan de Palafox (1600-1659), a protege of the count-duke of Olivares who became bishop of Puebla and Visitor General of New Spain. A witness to the catastrophic consequences of Olivares' plan to abrogate the political heterogeneity of the Spanish monarchy, and more sensitive than his patron to the constitutional diversity of the empire,
Palafox developed an alternative programme for reform which involved delegating power to the American municipalities controlled by the creoles. His support for creole aspirations and attempt to carry out a radical plan for administrative decentralization threatened to overturn the established viceregal system
and met with strong opposition in government circles. Faced with domestic revolt and war in Europe, ministers in Madrid chose to stand by the status quo and preserve a model of overseas government which, although in many ways defective and prone to abuse, at least seemed to offer the crown the measure of authority required for satisfying its growing financial requirements. Reform in America was sacrificed to the preservation of Spain's reputation in Europe. Yet the fact that Palafox failed in
no way undermines the importance of his endeavour. By promoting a different political arrangement between Spain and the Indies, he thrust under the spotlight the main problem faced by Spanish statesmen of this period, that of ruling a composite monarchy at a time of mounting international pressure.
This book contributes, therefore, to our understanding of the way in which the transatlantic relationship worked and developed; it redresses the deficit of studies of the Spanish practice of empire and raises questions that are relevant to other composite political structures. It does so at the same time as it revises and throws new light on the figure of Palafox, whose achievements and failures have been analysed so far almost exclusively with reference to his famous dispute with the Jesuits.
By setting Palafox firmly in the context of his time, this study revises old commonplaces and assists current efforts to reconstruct the human fabric of the Spanish empire, a field of research which is only just beginning to receive the attention it deserves.