Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata

The Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata (Spanish: Virreinato del Río de la Plata, also called Viceroyalty of the River Plate in some scholarly writings) was the last to be organized and also the shortest-lived of the Viceroyalties of the Spanish Empire in America.

The Viceroyalty was established in 1776 from several former Viceroyalty of Perú dependencies that mainly extended over the Río de la Plata Basin, roughly the present-day territories of Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay, extending inland from the Atlantic Coast.[1] The colony of Spanish Guinea (present day Equatorial Guinea) also depended administratively on the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata.[2] Buenos Aires, located on the western shore of the Río de la Plata estuary flowing into the Atlantic Ocean, opposite the Portuguese outpost of Colonia del Sacramento, was chosen as the capital. Usually considered one of the late Bourbon Reforms, the organization of this viceroyalty was motivated on both commercial grounds (Buenos Aires was by then a major spot for illegal trade), as well as on security concerns brought about by the growing interest of competing foreign powers in the area. The Spanish Crown wanted to protect its territory against Great Britain and the Kingdom of Portugal.

But these Enlightenment reforms proved counterproductive, or perhaps too late, to quell the colonies' demands. The entire history of this Viceroyalty was marked by growing domestic unrest and political instability. Between 1780 and 1782, the Rebellion of Túpac Amaru II inspired a violent Aymara-led revolt across the Upper Peru highlands, demonstrating the great resentment against colonial authorities by both the mestizo and indigenous populations. Twenty-five years later, the Criollos, native-born people of the colony, successfully defended against two successive British attempts to conquer Buenos Aires and Montevideo. This enhanced their sense of autonomy and power at a time when Spanish troops were unable to help.

In 1809, the Criollo elite revolted against colonial authorities at La Paz and Chuquisaca, establishing revolutionary governments, juntas. Although short-lived, these provided a theoretical basis for the legitimacy of the locally based governments, which proved decisive at the 1810 May Revolution events deposing Viceroy Cisneros at Buenos Aires.

The revolution spread across the Viceroyalty, except for Paraguay (which declared itself an independent nation in 1811) and Upper Peru (which remained controlled by royalist troops from Lima, and was eventually re-incorporated into the Viceroyalty of Peru). Meanwhile, the Governor of Montevideo Francisco Javier de Elío, appointed as a new Viceroy by the Cortes of Cádiz in 1811, declared the Buenos Aires Junta seditious. However, after being defeated at Las Piedras, he retained control only of Colonia del Sacramento and Montevideo. He departed by ship to Spain on 18 November and resigned as Viceroy in January 1812. By 1814, as the revolutionary patriots entered Montevideo, following a two-year-long siege, the Viceroyalty was finished as government of the region.

Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata

Virreinato del Río de la Plata
Flag of Río de la Plata
Motto: Plus Ultra
"Further Beyond"
Anthem: Marcha Real
"Royal March"
Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata and disputed de jure extension (light green)
Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata and disputed de jure extension (light green)
StatusViceroyalty of the Spanish Empire
CapitalBuenos Aires
Common languagesSpanish
Roman Catholicism
• Established
1 August 1776
1st – 2 January 1806
2nd – 3 February 1807
25 May 1810
14 May 1811
• Fall of Montevideo
20 June 1814
CurrencySpanish colonial real
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Viceroyalty of Peru
United Provinces of the Río de la Plata


Origin and creation

In 1680, Manuel Lobo, Portuguese governor of Rio de Janeiro, created the Department of Colonia and founded Colónia do Sacramento. The fort was located on the coast of present-day Uruguay and developed as the department's capital. Lobo's chief objective was to secure the Portuguese expansion of Brazil beyond the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, which had defined areas of influence in the Americas between the Iberian nations. From 1580 to 1640, Spain had controlled Portugal and thus all of its territories in America. In 1681 José de Garro quickly attacked and seized the new fort for Spain. On 7 May 1681, under the Provisional Treaty of Lisbon, it was ceded to Portugal.

The Viceroyalty of Peru was requiring all commerce to go through the port of Lima, on the Pacific Ocean. This policy failed to develop the potential of Buenos Aires as an Atlantic port, adding months to the transport of goods and commodities in each direction. It resulted in encouraging widespread contraband activities in the eastern region, especially in Asunción, Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

Under these conditions, Viceroy Manuel de Amat y Junyent issued a decree for the former Governor of the Río de la Plata Pedro Antonio de Cevallos to found the new viceroyalty in August 1776. The ruling was resisted by the elite of Lima, but it was enforced. The Cabildo of the Captaincy General of Chile requested the King be excluded from the new viceroyalty, which was accepted.[3] The Cuyo region, with its main city Mendoza, was split from the Captaincy General of Chile. Leaders in Santiago resented this action as the Cuyo region had been originally settled by Spanish colonists from Chile.

The Portuguese prime minister Marquis of Pombal encouraged the occupation of territory which had already been awarded to the Spanish in the Treaty of Paris (1763), following the British defeat of France in the Seven Years' War. King Charles III quickly reacted to the advantageous conditions: France was bound to be an ally as a guarantor of the treaty, and Great Britain, due to its own colonial problems with revolution in the Thirteen Colonies in North America, maintained neutrality on the issues between Portugal and Spain.

Pedro de Cevallos conquered Colonia del Sacramento and the Santa Catarina islands after a siege of three days, gaining the First Treaty of San Ildefonso. With it, the Portuguese retired from the Río de la Plata and left the Banda Oriental for Spain. In exchange Spain ceded them the area of Rio Grande do Sul, which they developed as Brazil. Cevallos ended his military actions at this point and started working with government, but he was soon replaced by Juan José Vertiz y Salcedo. The viceroyalty was tasked with promoting local production of linen and hemp as export commodity crops, to supply the Spanish cloth industries that the Bourbons sought to favor.[3]

The early viceroyalty

The conditions imposed by Spain on local commerce were high, but Charles III sought to lighten the burden. He allowed commerce through Buenos Aires on Spanish flag ships that were manned with Spanish naval officers. The ports of Buenos Aires and Montevideo were included in a list of Spanish ports allowed to trade with each other, certain Spanish American products were imported tax-free to Spain, and all the cities with ports were to be assigned Consulates or Tribunals of Commerce. This was not free trade, but a predecessor to what would develop.[4]

In the decade of 1778–1788, the commerce between Spain and Spanish America increased by nearly 700%.[4] Buenos Aires was given a customs office in 1778, and Montevideo in 1789. Spanish policy still was directed at restricting Argentina commerce; the Empire banned the export of silver from Buenos Aires and tried to direct exports out of Potosí.

The system of corregimientos to mark the subdivisions of the territory was ended in 1782, and replaced with Intendencias by Charles III. The new system was intended to re-enforce the royal authority and promote centralization. Buenos Aires had the main intendencia, and the other cities provincial ones. In 1778 Cevallos reinstated the Real Audiencia of Buenos Aires, by creating a new one; he maintained the Real Audiencia at Cochabamba. The Consulate of Commerce of Buenos Aires was authorized that year, but legal difficulties prevented its being established until 1794.

In 1766, Spain acquired the French colony on the Falkland Islands, called Port St. Louis; after assuming effective control in 1767, it placed the islands under a governor subordinate to the Buenos Aires colonial administration. The expulsion of the British settlement in 1770 brought the two countries to the brink of war but a peace treaty allowed the British to return from 1771 until 1776, with neither side relinquishing sovereignty.[5]


By the nineteenth century, Buenos Aires was becoming more self-sufficient, producing about 600,000 head of cattle annually (of which about one quarter was consumed locally). The area was rapidly developing. But wars with Great Britain meant a great setback for the region's economy, as maritime communications were practically paralyzed. The Alto Peru region started to show resistance to continued support of the administration and defense of the Río de la Plata estuary; it provided the main support but its silver production at Potosí was declining. In the first years of the viceroyalty, around 75% of the expenses were covered with revenues from the north. The Alto Plata (mostly present-day Paraguay) also had problems with the Buenos Aires administration, particularly because of its keeping a monopoly on exports.

The Napoleonic Wars on the Continent preoccupied the Spanish government and, after its defeat, Napoleon placed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne. By 1805, Spain had to help France because of their 1795 alliance, and lost its navy to the British in the Battle of Trafalgar. The Spanish prime minister had warned the viceroyalty of the likelihood of a British invasion, saying it could not provide support to the city of Buenos Aires.

On 27 June 1806, a small British force of around 1,500 men under Col. William Carr Beresford successfully invaded Buenos Aires. Viceroy Rafael de Sobremonte had escaped to Córdoba. The British forces were thrown back by the criollos on December 1806, a militia force from Montevideo under the leadership of Santiago de Liniers. In February 1807, British reinforcements of about 8,000 men under Gen. Sir Samuel Auchmuty captured Montevideo after a fierce fight. In May Lt. Gen. John Whitelock arrived to take overall command and attacked Buenos Aires on 5 July 1807. After losing more than half his force, who were killed or captured, Whitelock signed a cease-fire and departed for Great Britain.

The local criollos achievements in the face of lack of support from Spain and defeating the forces of a world power added to their confidence and fueled their movement toward independence. As of 1814, Argentina had been self-governed for about four years, and Paraguay had already declared its independence. The viceroyalty was effectively dissolved when the rebel troops entered Montevideo after a two-year-long siege.


Viceroyalty of the Río de La Plata administrative divisions

The Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata was created in 1776 by the Spanish king Charles III of Spain. Although it functioned as a Spanish colony, Río de la Plata was technically a personal possession of the King of Spain. This allowed both European Spain and its overseas territories to have their own laws and regulations.


List of viceroys

The King of Spain appointed viceroys to govern the Spanish viceroyalties in his name. In the beginning their terms had no fixed duration and could last for life. Later he established fixed terms of 3 to 5 years.[6] Because of the distances between Spain and South America, and with sailing as the chief means of transport, there were long delays between the designation of a viceroy and the viceroy's effectively taking power. In addition, regular communication between the Crown and the viceroyalty was equally delayed. The viceroyalties had to operate with considerable independence and self-reliance.

# Picture Name Term Designation Notes
1 Pedro de Cevallos Pedro Antonio de Cevallos 15 October 1777 – 26 June 1778 1 August 1776 Appointed by Charles III of Spain
2 Juan José de Vértiz y Salcedo Juan José de Vértiz y Salcedo 26 June 1778 – 7 March 1784 27 October 1777 Appointed by Charles III of Spain; resigned
3 Virrey Loreto Nicolás del Campo 7 March 1784 – 4 December 1789 13 August 1783 Appointed by Charles III of Spain
4 Nicolás Antonio de Arredondo Nicolás Antonio de Arredondo 4 December 1789 – 16 March 1795 21 March 1789 Appointed by Charles IV of Spain, resigned
5 Pedro Melo de Portugal Pedro Melo de Portugal 16 March 1795 – 15 April 1797 5 February 1794 Appointed by Charles IV of Spain, died in office
- Real Audiencia of Buenos Aires 15 April 1797 – 2 May 1797 Interim government until the arrival of a new viceroy
6 Antonio Olaguer Feliú Antonio Olaguer Feliú 2 May 1797 – 14 May 1799 During his mandate, he had to contend with the presence of British and Portuguese forces in the Río de la Plata region, as well as nascent revolutionary sentiment inspired by the recent French Revolution. He opened the port of Buenos Aires to foreign traffic in a bid to stimulate the commercial activities of the Viceroyalty.
7 Avilés1 Gabriel de Avilés,
2nd Marquis of Avilés
14 March 1799 – 20 May 1801 25 October 1797
8 Joaquin del Pino Joaquín del Pino y Rozas 20 May 1801 – 11 April 1804 14 July 1800 Appointed by Charles IV of Spain, died in office
9 Rafael de Sobremonte Rafael de Sobremonte 24 April 1804 – 10 February 1807 10 November 1804 During the British invasions of the Río de la Plata Buenos Aires and Montevideo fell under British authority for brief periods of time. Sobremonte was forced on 14 August 1806 by an open cabildo to move to Montevideo, delegating in Santiago de Liniers the military authority and in the Audience the other areas of government. He was removed completely as viceroy by a martial court, with Liniers elected as interim viceroy.[7]
10 Santiago de Liniers Santiago de Liniers 10 February 1807 – 30 June 1809 Interim viceroy, confirmed in office by Charles IV of Spain, replaced by the Junta of Seville.
11 Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros 15 July 1809 – 25 May 1810 11 February 1809 Appointed by the Junta of Seville, ousted from office by the May Revolution, replaced by the Primera Junta.
12 General Francisco Javier de Elío (Museo del Prado) Francisco Javier de Elío 19 January 1811 – January 1812 31 August 1810 Self-proclaimed viceroy after the May Revolution, confirmed as such by the Junta of Cadiz, which also declared Montevideo the new capital and Buenos Aires a rebel city.[7]

See also


  1. ^ "Map of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay, 1893". World Digital Library. 1893. Retrieved 2013-10-24.
  2. ^ History of Equatorial Guinea
  3. ^ a b Abad de Santillán, p. 195.
  4. ^ a b Abad de Santillán, p. 197.
  5. ^ Lewis, Jason and Alison Inglis. "A Brief History of the Falkland Islands: Part 2—Fort St. Louis and Port Egmont" Archived 2007-10-06 at the Wayback Machine, Falklands Islands Information. Accessed 2007-09-08.
  6. ^ El Virreinato del Río de la Plata
  7. ^ a b Virreyes del Río de la Plata (in Spanish)


  • Abad de Santillán, Diego. Historia Argentina (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: TEA (Tipográfica Editora Argentina).
  • Lynch, John. Spanish Colonial Administration, 1782–1810: The Intendant System in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. London, University of London, Athlone Press, 1958.

External links

Coordinates: 34°40′00″S 58°24′00″W / 34.6667°S 58.4000°W

Argentine War of Independence

The Argentine War of Independence was fought from 1810 to 1818 by Argentine patriotic forces under Manuel Belgrano, Juan José Castelli and José de San Martín against royalist forces loyal to the Spanish crown. On July 9, 1816, an assembly met in San Miguel de Tucumán, declared full independence with provisions for a national constitution.

Banda Oriental

Banda Oriental, or more fully Banda Oriental del Uruguay (Eastern Bank), was the name of the South American territories east of the Uruguay River and north of Río de la Plata that comprise the modern nation of Uruguay; the modern state of Brazil Rio Grande do Sul; and some of Santa Catarina, Brazil. It was the easternmost territory of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.

After decades of disputes over the territories, the 1777 First Treaty of San Ildefonso settled the division between the Spanish Empire and the Portuguese Empire: the southern part was to be held by the Spanish Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata and the northern territories by the Portuguese Capitania de São Pedro do Rio Grande do Sul (English: Captaincy of Saint Peter of the Southern Río Grande).

The Banda Oriental was not a separate administrative unit until the de facto creation of the Provincia Oriental (English: Eastern Province) by José Gervasio Artigas in 1813 and the subsequent decree of the Supreme Director of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata of 7 March 1814, which formally established the Gobernación Intendencia Oriental del Río de la Plata (English: Governorship-Intendency East of the Río de la Plata), making it a constituent part of the United Provinces of South America.

British invasions of the River Plate

The British invasions of the River Plate were a series of unsuccessful British attempts to seize control of areas in the Spanish colonial Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata that were located around the Río de la Plata in South America — in present-day Argentina and Uruguay. The invasions took place between 1806 and 1807, as part of the Napoleonic Wars, when Spain was an ally of Napoleonic France.

Buenos Aires Cabildo

The Buenos Aires Cabildo (Spanish: Cabildo de Buenos Aires) is the public building in Buenos Aires that was used as seat of the town council during the colonial era and the government house of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. Today the building is used as a museum.


Carlotism was a political movement that took place in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata between 1808 and 1812; it intended to make Carlota Joaquina, Infanta of Spain and Queen Consort of Portugal, its monarch.

After Napoleon's invasion of Spain, Fernando VII, Carlota's younger brother, was forced to abdicate and give the throne to Joseph Bonaparte. Most Spanish did not consider him a legitimate king and Carlota, an ambitious woman, seemed like a possible option to keep the royal line safe.

Carlota was living in Brazil by then, after the nobility of Portugal moved from Portugal to the Americas because of Napoleón's invasion of Portugal.

Carlotism found strong resistance from many parties involved: the viceroys, other Spanish authorities in the Americas, part of the Criollos, and the British. The plans were never applied, and supporters of it would later turn to independence.

Commerce Consulate of Buenos Aires

The Commerce Consulate of Buenos Aires was one of the most important institutions of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, along with the viceroy, the Cabildo and the religious ones.

The Consulate was built in 1794 at the request of local merchants. It was a collegial body which functioned as a commercial court (called the Court) and as a society of economic development (called Governing Board). The Consulate was directly under command of the Spanish Crown, and it was directly governed by the rules dictated by the House of Trade in Seville.

It was largely a guild of merchants with powers delegated by the King in trade matters. It could settle lawsuits and claims brought by merchants and was financed by levying taxes. With the passing of the years it would increase the power of control over customs.

It was required from the Secretary of the Consulate to annually propose, through the reading of a Consular Report, ways to promote agriculture, encourage industry and protect the commerce of the region. Manuel Belgrano, Secretary of the Embassy since its inception, set for himself the goal to transform a poor and virgin region into a rich and prosperous one.

Dissolution of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata

The dissolution of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata was the independence and breaking up of the Spanish colony in South America. Most of the viceroyalty is now part of Argentina, and other regions belong to Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Governorate of Paraguay

The Governorate of Paraguay (Spanish: Gobernación del Paraguay), originally called the Governorate of Guayrá, was a governorate of the Spanish Empire and part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. Its seat was the city of Asunción; its territory roughly encompassed the modern day country of Paraguay. The Governorate was created in December 16, 1617 by the royal decree of King Philip III as a split of the Governorate of the Río de la Plata and of Paraguay into its respective halves. The Governorate lasted until 1782, after which the massive Viceroyalty of Peru was split, and Paraguay became an intendency (intendencia) of the new Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.

La Paz revolution

The city of La Paz (modern Bolivia, then part of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata) experienced a revolution in 1809 that deposed Spanish authorities and declared independence. It is considered one of the early steps of the Spanish American wars of independence, and an antecedent of the independence of Bolivia. However, such revolution was defeated shortly afterwards, and the city returned to Spanish rule.

Liniers Counter-revolution

The Liniers Counter-Revolution took place in the Spanish Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata after the May Revolution in 1810. The former viceroy, Santiago de Liniers, led an ill-fated counter-revolutionary attempt from the city of Córdoba (in Argentina), and it was quickly thwarted by the patriotic forces of the newly formed Army of the North. Francisco Ortiz de Ocampo, the leader of the Army of the North, captured the leaders and dispatched them to Buenos Aires as prisoners, but, on the orders of the Primera Junta, they were intercepted and executed before arrival.

List of Governors in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata

Governors in the various Provinces of the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata.

In addition to governors, the following list (under construction) intends to give an overview of colonial units of that echelon. It also includes some offices of similar rank, especially the intendant. Intendente is both a Spanish and Portuguese word, derived from the French Intendant. It was introduced to the Spanish Monarchy by the Bourbon Dynasty, which Spain shared with France after the early 18th century.

Mutiny of Álzaga

The Mutiny of Álzaga (Spanish: Asonada de Álzaga) was an ill-fated attempt to remove Santiago de Liniers as viceroy of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. It took place on January 1, 1809, and it was led by the merchant Martín de Álzaga. The troops of Cornelio Saavedra, head of the Regiment of Patricians, defeated it and kept Liniers in power.

Real Audiencia of Buenos Aires

The Real Audiencia de Buenos Aires, were two audiencias, or highest courts, of the Spanish crown, which resided in Buenos Aires. The authority of the first extended to the territory of the Governorate of the Río de la Plata and operated from 1661 to 1671. The second began to function in 1783 and had as its territory the areas of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata not covered by the Audiencia de Charcas, that is to say the intendancies of Buenos Aires, Córdoba del Tucumán, Salta del Tucumán and Paraguay. In 1810, after the May Revolution, it was suspended, and in 1813 the Assembly of the Year XIII permanently disbanded it. The Audiencias resided in the city's cabildo building.

Real Audiencia of Charcas

The Real Audiencia of Charcas (Spanish: Audiencia y Cancillería Real de La Plata de los Charcas) was a Spanish audiencia with its seat in what is today Bolivia. It was established in 1559 in Ciudad de la Plata de Nuevo Toledo (later Charcas, today Sucre) and had jurisdiction over Charcas, Paraguay and the Governorate of the Río de la Plata, today Uruguay and northern Argentina. This court oversaw the incredible silver output of the mines at Potosí. It was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru until 1776, when it was transferred to the newly created Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata and began to be referred to as Upper Peru.

San Lorenzo, Paraguay

San Lorenzo (Spanish pronunciation: [san loˈɾenso]) is a city located in the Central Department in Paraguay. It is a suburb of Asunción, and the third most populous city in Paraguay. The National University of Asunción campus is located in San Lorenzo. The city is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Lorenzo.

Spanish colonial real

The silver real (Spanish: real de plata) was the currency of the Spanish colonies in America and the Philippines. In the seventeenth century the silver real was established at two billon reals (reales de vellón) or sixty-eight maravedís. Gold escudos (worth 16 reales) were also issued. The coins circulated throughout Spain's colonies and beyond, with the eight-real piece, known in English as the Spanish dollar, becoming an international standard and spawning, among other currencies, the United States dollar. A reform in 1737 set the silver real at two and half billon reals (reales de vellón) or eighty-five maravedís. This coin, called the real de plata fuerte, became the new standard, issued as coins until the early 19th century. The gold escudo was worth 16 reales de plata fuerte.

Telégrafo Mercantil

The "Telégrafo Mercantil, Rural, Político, Económico e Historiográfico del Río de la Plata" (in Spanish, "Merchant, rural, political, economic and historiographic telegraph of the Río de la Plata") was the first newspaper edited in Buenos Aires. It was founded on 1 April 1801 by Francisco Cabello y Mesa and Manuel Belgrano, and approved by viceroy Avilés.

The Representation of the Landowners

The Representation of the Landowners (Spanish: La Representación de los Hacendados) is an 1809 economic report written by Mariano Moreno that described the economy of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. It was written by Moreno on behalf of the hacendados (owners of haciendas), to request then viceroy Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros to reconsider the annulment of free trade he had decided on a short time earlier. It is considered the most complete economic overview from the times of the colony.

Upper Peru

Upper Peru (Spanish: Alto Perú, Portuguese: Alto Peru) is a name for the land that was governed by the Real Audiencia of Charcas. The name originated in Buenos Aires towards the end of the 18th century after the Audiencia of Charcas was transferred from the Viceroyalty of Peru to the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776. It comprised the governorships of Potosí, La Paz, Cochabamba, Chiquitos, Moxos and Charcas (since renamed Sucre).

Following the Bolivian War of Independence, the region became an independent country and was renamed Bolivia in honor of Simón Bolívar.

Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata
Political ideas
Military conflicts
Autonomist rebellions
Americas and East Indies

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