Captaincy General of Guatemala

The Captaincy General of Guatemala (Spanish: Capitanía General de Guatemala), also known as the Kingdom of Guatemala (Spanish: Reino de Guatemala), was an administrative division of the Spanish Empire, under the viceroyalty of New Spain in Central America, including the present-day nations of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and the Mexican state of Chiapas. The governor-captain general was also president of the Royal Audiencia of Guatemala, the superior court.

Captaincy General of Guatemala

Capitanía General de Guatemala
The Kingdom of Guatemala within the wider Spanish Americas, c.1600.
The Kingdom of Guatemala within the wider Spanish Americas, c.1600.
StatusSpanish colony
CapitalSantiago de Guatemala
Guatemala City
Common languagesSpanish (de facto); Mayan languages
Roman Catholic
• 1609–1621
Philip III
• 1621–1665
Philip IV
• 1808–1813
Joseph I Bonaparte (not recognized)
• 1810–1814
Cádiz Cortes
• 1814–1821
Ferdinand VII
Captaincy General 
LegislatureAudiencia of Guatemala
Historical eraSpanish Empire
• Established
• Disestablished
ISO 3166 codeGT
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Royal Audiencia of Guatemala
First Mexican Empire
Federal Republic of Central America


Colonization of the area that became the Captaincy General began in 1524. In the north, the brothers Gonzalo and Pedro de Alvarado, Hernán Cortés and others headed various expeditions into Guatemala and Honduras. In the south Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, acting under the auspices of Pedro Arias Dávila in Panama, moved into what is today Nicaragua.

Moving of the capital

Coat of Arms of Guatemala City (Colonial)
The colonial coat of arms of Antigua Guatemala and Guatemala City.

The capital of Guatemala has moved many times over the centuries. On 27 July 1524, Pedro de Alvarado declared the Kaqchikel city Iximche the first regional capital, styled Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala ("St. James of the Knights of Guatemala").[2] However, hostilities between the Spaniards and the Kaqchikel soon made the city uninhabitable.

In 1526 the Spanish founded a new capital at Tecpán Guatemala. Tecpán is the Nahuatl word for "palace".[3] Tecpán is sometimes called the "first" capital because it was the first permanent Spanish military center, but the Spaniards soon abandoned it due to Kaqchikel attacks that made defense of the city untenable.

In 1527, the capital was moved to the Almolonga Valley to the east, on the site of today's San Miguel Escobar district of Ciudad Vieja, near Antigua Guatemala.[4] This settlement was destroyed by a catastrophic lahar from Volcan de Agua in 1541, and the survivors abandoned the site.

In 1543, the capital was again refounded several kilometres away at Antigua Guatemala. Over the next two centuries, this city would become one of the richest of the New World capitals. However, it too was destroyed, this time by a devastating series of earthquakes, and the city was ordered abandoned in 1776.

The final and current capital is the modern-day Guatemala City.

Role of the church

The Church played an important role in the administration of the overseas possessions of the Spanish crown. The first dioceses were established in León, Nicaragua and Guatemala in 1534. Another diocese was created in Chiapas in 1539. The dioceses of Guatemala and Chiapas were suffragan to the Archdiocese of Seville, until 1546 when they were placed under the Archdiocese of Mexico. The Diocese of León was made suffragan to Archdiocese of Lima in 1546. Another short-lived diocese was set up in Verapaz, Guatemala in 1559. Along the Caribbean coast, there were several attempts to establish a diocese in Honduras—which finally succeeded in 1561 with the Diocese of Comayagua—which was placed under the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo.

In 1543 the territory of the kingdom was defined with the establishment of the Audiencia of Guatemala, which took most of Central America as its jurisdiction. This audiencia, along with the one in Lima, took over the territory of the first Audiencia of Panama. It was the first institution to define Central America (with the exception of Panama) as a region within the Spanish Empire.


The Fort of San Fernando Omoa. Built by the Spaniards to defend against pirates.

In 1609 the area became a captaincy general, when the governor and Audiencia president was also granted the title of captain general to deal with foreign threats to the area from the Caribbean, granting the area autonomy in administrative and military matters. Around the same time Habsburg Spain created other captaincies general in Puerto Rico (1580), Cuba (1607) and Yucatán (1617).

In the 17th century a process of uniting the church hierarchy of Central America also began. The dioceses of Comayagua and León became suffragan to the Archdiocese of Mexico in 1620 and 1647, respectively. Finally in the 18th century Guatemala was raised to an archdiocese in 1743 and the dioceses of León, Chiapas and Comayagua were made suffragan to it, giving the region unity and autonomy in religious matters.

As part of the Bourbon Reforms in 1786 the crown established a series of intendancies in the area, which replaced most of the older corregimientos. The intendants were granted broad fiscal powers and charged with promoting the local economy. The new intendancies were San Salvador (El Salvador), Ciudad Real (Chiapas), Comayagua (Honduras), and León (Nicaragua).

The governor-captain general-president of Guatemala became the superintendente general of the territory and functioned as the de facto intendant of Guatemala proper. The agricultural, southern region of Costa Rica remained under a civil and military governor with fiscal oversight only over military expenses; the expenses of the civil government were handled by the intendant of León. These intendancies helped shape local political identity and provided the basis of the future nations of Central America.


With the removal of Ferdinand VII during the Peninsular War, independence movements broke out in the intendancies of San Salvador and León in 1811, which were quickly suppressed. In 1812 the Cádiz Cortes divided the region into two provinces: Guatemala (consisting of Guatemala, Belize, Chiapas, Honduras and El Salvador) and Nicaragua y Costa Rica. These provinces existed from 1812 to 1814 and once again from 1820 to 1821, the period during which the Spanish Constitution of 1812 was in effect. The two provinces elected seven deputies to the Cortes during the first period.[5]

The jefe político superior (governor) of Guatemala remained the Captain General of Central America and Chiapas. The Captaincy General ended in 1821 with the signing of the Act of Independence of Central America, after which the regional elite supported the Plan of Iguala and joined the First Mexican Empire by annexation.[6] With the exception of Chiapas, the region peacefully seceded from Mexico in July 1823, establishing the United Provinces of Central America. While the region remained politically cohesive for a short time, centrifugal forces soon pulled the individual provinces apart by 1842.


  1. ^ a b "Guatemala" Archived 2009-10-31 at WebCite (Archived 2009-10-31). Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2008. 1997–2008, Microsoft Corporation.
  2. ^ Schele & Mathews 1999, p.297. Recinos 1998, p.101. Guillemín 1965, p.10.
  3. ^ Schele & Mathews 1999, p.299.
  4. ^ Lutz 1997, pp.10, 258. Ortiz Flores 2008.
  5. ^ Rieu-Millan, Marie Laure. Los diputados americanos en las Cortes de Cádiz: Igualdad o independencia (in Spanish). Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1990. 43. ISBN 978-84-00-07091-5
  6. ^ Rafael Heliodoro Valle (1924). La anexión de Centro América a México (in Spanish). 6th. Mexico: Archivo Histórico Diplomático Mexicano.

Further reading

  • Dym, Jordana and Christophe Belaubre, (editors). Politics, Economy, and Society in Bourbon Central America, 1759–1821. (Boulder: University press of Colorado, 2007) ISBN 978-0-87081-844-8
  • Hawkins, Timothy. José de Bustamante and Central American Independence: Colonial Administration in an Age of Imperial Crisis. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004) ISBN 0-8173-1427-X
  • Wortman, Miles L. Government and Society in Central America, 1680–1840. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982) ISBN 0-231-05212-X

External links

1811 Independence Movement

The 1811 Independence Movement known in El Salvador as the Primer grito de independencia (First Shout of Independence) was the first of a series of revolts in Central America in El Salvador against Spanish colonialism and dependency on the Captaincy General of Guatemala.

Act of Independence of Central America

The Act of Independence of Central America (Spanish: Acta de Independencia Centroamericana), also known as the Act of Independence of Guatemala, is the legal document by which the Provincial Council of the Province of Guatemala proclaimed the independence of Central America from the Spanish Empire and invited the other provinces of the Captaincy General of Guatemala to send envoys to a congress to decide the form of the region's independence. It was enacted on 15 September 1821.

Alonso Fernández de Heredia

Alonso Fernández de Heredia (died March 19, 1782) was a Spanish Captain General and administrator who governed Honduras (1747), Florida (1751–1758), Yucatan (in modern-day Mexico; 1758–?), the Captaincy General of Guatemala (1761–1771) and Nicaragua (1761–1771).

Battle of San Fernando de Omoa

The Battle of San Fernando de Omoa was a short siege and battle between British and Spanish forces fought not long after Spain entered the American Revolutionary War on the American side. On the 16 October 1779, following a brief attempt at siege, a force of 150 British soldiers and seamen assaulted and captured the fortifications at San Fernando de Omoa in the Captaincy General of Guatemala (now Honduras) on the Gulf of Honduras.

The British forces managed to overwhelm and capture the Spanish garrison, consisting of 365 men. The British only held the fort until November 1779. They then withdrew the garrison, which tropical diseases had reduced, and which was under threat of a Spanish counter-attack.

Capture of Cayo Cocina

The Capture of Cayo Cocina (also known as Saint George's Caye) was the result of a Spanish military operation on the 15 September 1779 against a British settlement on Saint George's Caye, just off the coast of present-day Belize, during the Anglo-Spanish War. The settlement was at the time the major British population center in the area, until Spanish forces from the Captaincy General of Guatemala attacked it.

The Spaniards removed the entire population (140 Baymen along with 250 of their slaves), forced them to march overland from Bacalar to Mérida, and then transported them by sea to Havana. Settlers who had been working on the mainland eventually made their way to other nearby British settlements at Roatán or Black River. In 1782 the Spaniards released the prisoners and sent them to Jamaica. The entire Belizean territory was abandoned until 1784, after British logging rights were confirmed in the 1783 Treaty of Paris.


Corregimiento (Spanish: [korexiˈmjento]; Catalan: Corregiment, IPA: [kurəʒiˈmen]) is a Spanish term used for country subdivisions for royal administrative purposes, ensuring districts were under crown control as opposed to local elites. A corregimiento was usually headed by a corregidor.

Diego Gutiérrez y Toledo

Diego Gutiérrez y Toledo (c. 1510 – December 1544) was the first governor of Nuevo Cartago y Costa Rica Province, established by the Crown of Castile within the Captaincy General of Guatemala in the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Named governor on 29 November 1540, he did not begin acting as such until late 1543 due to a series of difficulties. On 22 November 1543 he founded the village of Santiago in Costa Rica and on 4 October 1544 he founded the village of San Francisco, abdandoning Santiago. In San Francisco he hosted several local chiefs, who he later held for ransom. One of the chiefs escaped and another one admitted not having valuables to offer. Consequently, Gutiérrez y Toledo subjected him to servitude, which prompted other indigenous groups to destroy the Spanish colony in retaliation. Gutiérrez y Toledo and the rest of the colonists then marched into the jungle, where they were killed by the natives.Gutiérrez y Toledo was born in the village of Madrid, Crown of Castile, in 1510, to Alonso Gutiérrez de Madrid, royal treasurer, and María Rodríguez de Pisa, both judeoconversos. His brother Felipe Gutiérrez y Toledo (1500 – 1544) became the governor of Veragua.

El Castillo (village)

El Castillo is a village of about 1,500 people situated on the southern bank of the Río San Juan (San Juan River) in southern Nicaragua. It is one of 27 comarcas of the municipality of El Castillo, a subdivision of the Río San Juan Department. The village is situated approximately 6 kilometers from the border with Costa Rica, at the Raudal del Diablo rapids of the San Juan River. The site on which the village of El Castillo is built was initially established in 1673 as a Spanish fortification to defend against pirate attacks upon the city of Granada (which can be reached by navigating upstream from the Caribbean Sea along the San Juan River into Lake Nicaragua). The settlement of El Castillo and its fortress continued to be strategically important to the Captaincy General of Guatemala until the late 18th century.

Federal Republic of Central America

The Federal Republic of Central America (Spanish: República Federal de Centroamérica), also called the United Provinces of Central America (Provincias Unidas del Centro de América) in its first year of creation, was a sovereign state in Central America consisting of the territories of the former Captaincy General of Guatemala of New Spain. It existed from 1823 to 1841, and was a republican democracy.

The republic consisted of the present-day Central American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In the 1830s, a sixth state was added – Los Altos, with its capital in Quetzaltenango – occupying parts of what are now the western highlands of Guatemala and Chiapas state in southern Mexico.

Shortly after Central America declared independence from the Spanish Empire in 1821, some of its countries were annexed by the First Mexican Empire in 1822 and then Central America formed the Federal Republic in 1823. From 1838 to 1840, the federation descended into civil war, with conservatives fighting against liberals and separatists fighting to secede. These factions were unable to overcome their ideological differences and the federation was dissolved after a series of bloody conflicts.

Fernando Miyares y Gonzáles

Fernando Miyares y Gonzales (sometimes, Fernando Miyares Pérez y Bernal) was a Cuban Captain General, born in Santiago de Cuba, in 1749.

Unaware that Emparán had been deposed by the municipal council of Caracas, the Spanish Council of Regency appointed Miyares as his replacement as Capitan General of Venezuela on April 29, 1810 . At the time Miyares was serving as governor of Maracaibo, a post he had held since 1799. Upon receiving official notice of his new assignment, he began to organize efforts to defend Coro from military expeditions sent by the Junta of Caracas. In 1812 Frigate Captain Domingo de Monteverde arrived in Venezuela with a small force of marines. He was assigned to aid an anti-republican uprising in small towns near Coro, but managed to continue pushing deep into republican territory and enlarge his forces with locals dissatisfied with the Republic. After gaining military strength, Monteverde refused to recognize Miyares's authority and established himself as interim captain general of the reconquered areas, something which was ratified by the Cortes when it temporarily split Venezuela into two captaincies general. In 1814 Miyares was offered the Captaincy General of Guatemala, but it seems he ever assumed the post since José de Bustamante y Guerra was in office during these years. He died in his home town, Santiago de Cuba, in 1818.

Flag of Costa Rica

The national flag of Costa Rica is based on a design created in 1848. It is also used as the official ensign, and includes the coat of arms of Costa Rica. The civil ensign, commonly used as an unofficial national flag, omits the coat of arms.

The flag was officially adopted on 27 November 1906, including a slight modification to the placement and design of the entrenched coat of arms. The flag was updated to reflect concurrent modifications to the national coat of arms in 1964 and 1998.The flag of Thailand is similar to the Costa Rican flag, except there is no emblem, and the blue and red stripes are reversed. It is also similar to the historic flag of allied-occupied Germany, and North Korea, but the latter has thinner white stripes.

Guatemala–Spain relations

Guatemala–Spain refers to the current and historical relations between Guatemala and Spain. Both nations are members of the Organization of Ibero-American States.

History of Costa Rica

The first natives in Costa Rica were hunters, and gatherers, and Costa Rica served as an intermediate region between Mesoamerican and Andean native cultures.

In 1502, Christopher Columbus made landfall in Costa Rica. Soon after, his forces overcame the indigenous people. He incorporated the territory into the Captaincy General of Guatemala as a province of New Spain in 1524. For the next 300 years, Costa Rica was a colony of Spain.

As a result, Costa Rica's culture has been greatly influenced by the culture of Spain. During this period, Costa Rica remained sparsely developed and impoverished.

Following the Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821), Costa Rica became part of the independent Mexican Empire in 1821. Subsequently, Costa Rica was part of the Federal Republic of Central America in 1823, before gaining full independence in 1838. Its economy struggled due to lack of connections with European suppliers. In 1856, Costa Rica resisted United States settlers from mounting a take-over of the government.

After 1869, Costa Rica established a democratic government.After the Costa Rican Civil War in 1948, the government drafted a new constitution, guaranteeing universal suffrage and the dismantling of the military. Today, Costa Rica is a democracy that relies on technology and eco-tourism for its economy. Although poverty has declined since the turn of the 21st century, economic problems still exist. Costa Rica is facing problems of underemployment, foreign and internal debt, and a trade deficiency.

History of Honduras (to 1838)

Honduras has been inhabited by a number of indigenous peoples, the most powerful of which, until the ninth century CE, were the Maya. Later, the western-central part of Honduras was inhabited by the Lenca while other indigenous language groups settled in the northeast and coastal regions. These peoples had their conflicts but maintained commercial relationships with each other and with other populations as distant as Panama and Mexico.On July 30, 1502, Christopher Columbus first saw Honduran soil and he claimed the territory in the name of his sovereigns, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. He named the area "Honduras" (meaning "depths") for the deep water off the coast. In 1523 the first expeditionary forces arrived under the command of Gil Gonzales de Avila, who hoped to rule the new territory. In 1524, Cristobal de Olid arrived with the same intent on behalf of Hernán Cortés. Olid founded the colony Triunfo de la Cruz and tried to establish an independent government. When Cortes learned of this, he decided to reestablish his own authority by sending a new expedition, headed by Francisco de las Casas. Olid, who managed to capture his rivals, was betrayed by his men and assassinated. Cortes then traveled to Honduras to firmly establish his government in the city of Trujillo before returning to Mexico in 1526. Honduras formed part of the colonial era Captaincy General of Guatemala. The cities of Comayagua and Tegucigalpa developed as early mining centers.By October 1537, the Lenca leader Lempira had unified more than two hundred indigenous groups to resist penetration by the Spanish conquerors. After a long battle, Governor Montejo gained control of the Valley of Comayagua, established the city of Comayagua in another location, and defeated the indigenous forces in Tenampua, Guaxeregui, and Ojuera.Honduras gained independence from Spain in 1821. The country was then briefly annexed to the First Mexican Empire. In 1823, Honduras joined the newly formed United Provinces of Central America federation, which collapsed in 1838.

Juana de la Concepción

Sister Juana de la Concepción (born Juana de Maldonado y Paz in 1598 in Santiago de Guatemala; died 1666 in Santiago de Guatemala) was a Guatemalan nun, writer, and poet.

She is considered one of the most interesting and controversial figures in Santiago de Guatemala (then the capital of the Captaincy General of Guatemala) during the first half of the 17th century. She enjoyed fame as a poet at the beginning of the 17th century, according to friar and English traveler Thomas Gage (1597-1656).Sister Juana took her vows as a nun in 1619 and lived until her 1666 death in the Convent of the Conception in Santiago de Guatemala. She was reputed to be an excellent musician, poet, and writer. She is sometimes compared to the Mexican poet Juana Inés de la Cruz.

List of predecessors of sovereign states in North America

This is a list of all present sovereign states in North America and their predecessors. The division between North and South America is unclear, generally viewed as lying somewhere in the Isthmus of Panama, however, the Caribbean Islands, Central America including the whole of Panama is considered to be part of North America as its southernmost nation. The continent was colonized by the Europeans: Mainly by the Spaniards, the French, the English and the Dutch. United States of America gained its independence in American Revolutionary War; Most of nations in Central America gained independence in the early 19th century; Canada and many other island countries in the Caribbean Sea (most of them were British colonies) gained their independence in 20th century. Today, North America consists of twenty-two sovereign states with common government system being some form of presidential republic.

Martín de Mayorga

Martín de Mayorga Ferrer (September 12, 1721 in Barcelona, Spain – 1783 in Spain) was a Spanish military officer, governor of the Captaincy General of Guatemala (from June 1773 to 1779), and interim viceroy of New Spain (from August 23, 1779 to April 28, 1783).

Martín de Mayorga Ferrer was a field marshal in the royal army of Spain, and a knight of the military Order of Alcántara. He was governor, president of the Audiencia and captain general of Guatemala at the time of the devastating 1773 Guatemala earthquake on July 29, 1773.

He was still serving in those positions at the time of the death of New Spain Viceroy Antonio María de Bucareli y Ursúa in Mexico City. When the Audiencia of Mexico opened the sealed instructions in the event of the death of Bucareli, they found that the captain general of Guatemala was named as replacement. When the instructions had been written, this was expected to be Matías de Gálvez y Gallardo, brother of José de Gálvez, minister of the Indies. However, Gálvez, although appointed to the position, had not yet arrived to fill it. The Audiencia of Mexico, therefore, named Marshal Martín de Mayorga, who still held the position, viceroy of New Spain.

Mayorga arrived in Mexico City August 23, 1779, and took up his new position. Of immediate concern were preparations for defense in the war that France and Spain had recently declared on England. He greatly reinforced Havana, took extra precautions at Veracruz, and sent an expedition under Bernardo de Gálvez to Florida to aid the English colonists in their revolution against England. There was also fighting with the English in Belize.

In 1779 there was an epidemic of smallpox that spread to many cities of the colony and caused many deaths. Viceroy Mayorga spent considerable sums to aid the sick and dying. He offered his resignation (the first of several times), but it was not accepted.

In January 1780, the indigenous community of Izúcar, (Puebla), rose in rebellion because of mistreatment. Captains José Antonio de Urízar and Tomás Pontón were sent to suppress the rebellion. A large number of captured rebels were sent to Havana to serve as sailors in the fleet.

Mayorga did much to improve the capital, paving many streets with stones and cleaning the waterways and aqueducts in an effort to prevent another epidemic.

In 1780 he directed the governor of Puebla to assemble documents related to the history of New Spain, beginning with the Historia Antigua de la Nueva España of Father Mariano Veytia and papers collected by Lorenzo Boturini Bernaducci. This project probably saved numerous documents that would otherwise have been lost.

In 1783, the viceroy once again submitted his resignation. This time it was accepted. He turned over the government of the colony to his replacement, Matías de Gálvez, on April 28, 1783, and left for Spain. He died just before or just after reaching port at Cádiz. Some said he was poisoned by his successor. (The two were enemies and Gálvez had never forgiven him for occupying the viceroyalty in his stead.) However, this was never substantiated.

Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala

Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala ("St. James of the Knights of Guatemala") was the name given to the capital city of the Spanish colonial Captaincy General of Guatemala in Central America.

Verapaz, Guatemala

Verapaz or Vera Paz was a historical region in the Spanish colonial Captaincy General of Guatemala.


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