Philip II and Laws of the Indies

Ordinances 117 and 118 of the “Laws of the Indies”

King Philip II of Spain wrote the revolutionary Laws of the Indies in 1573, a series of proclamations providing specific – and at the very least meticulous – instructions on how to properly build a settlement in the New World. The particular set which Philip II published in 1573 contains 148 ordiances, specifying exactly where a settlement should be built, how many people are needed to start a settlement, how to respond to climatic issues, the proper social hierarchy of a settlement, how to create an adequate food supply, how to best interact with native and indigenous populations, and other orders concentrating on town-planning.

King Philip II of Spain (r. 1556-1598)

King Philip II of Spain (r. 1556-1598)

At this time, Colonial Havana was struggling to establish itself as a commercial port in the Caribbean. The scar of the corsair attacks never faded, and construction on the new fortress, La Real Fuerza, was proceeding at a lethargic rate. While the Laws of the Indies only impacted town-planning in Havana in some regards, notably in relation to the development of plazas and the placement of churches, the law encouraged considerable urban growth in Havana. Mass building projects followed the publication of the Laws of the Indies, with Philip II providing funding for two new fortresses defending the harbor – Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro and Castillo San Salvador de la Punta.

The following are several ordinances from the Laws of the Indies. (Click on image to enlarge)



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