fleets as was the crown itself. In 1520-21 the Fuggers had 33,000 ducats hazarded upon the remittances from the New World; and of the 800,000 ducats embargoed by the crown in 1535-37, over 100,000 went to this same German house.

Increasing production of gold and silver was the most important cause of the price revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As by far the greater part of this metallic wealth came from America, the function of Spain in the movement was a very significant one. She became the distributor of the precious metals to the rest of Europe. And since she "produced little and manufactured less," she performed this function with an efficiency which startled even the Spaniard. The balance of trade in Spain was always unfavorable. In time of greatest prosperity and in spite of all laws, money passed out of the country. But with the injury to agriculture which must have resulted from the revolt of the Comuneros, and with the naïve efforts of the Cortes to stem the rise of prices, the situation of Spain toward the middle of the sixteenth century was already becoming intolerable.1 Her manufactures, even her grain, came to her from France, England and the Netherlands, and thither went her gold and silver in exchange.

Spain, moreover, could not supply the goods demanded in increasing quantities by the Indies, when she did not have enough for her own population. Again strangers were resorted to, and to them the Spanish merchant lent his name to elude a law which made commerce with America a monopoly of the home-country. So in time the foreigner engrossed the greater part of the colonial trade as well, and much of the treasure from the New World was probably diverted immediately to

1 Bernays, Zur inneren Entwicklung Castiliens, pp. 404 ff.

כי ג


the north of Europe. Altho license was necessary from
the crown, this export of gold and silver was the more
preferred because the goodness of Spanish coins exalted
them above those prevailing in other countries, and
made them certain to yield a handsome profit abroad.
One other circumstance contributed to the export of
the precious metals: Hapsburg imperialism,
wide distances separating Charles' dominions, the
universality of his interests, the expense of his endless
wars. While troops in Italy or in the Netherlands were
starving or without pay, the Spanish Cortes was in-
veigled into doubling the servicio,1 or into an increase of
the alcabala; or the cargoes of the plate fleets were
requisitioned for the needs of the crown.
funds were used to maintain an alien empire.


On such occasions the help of the ubiquitous foreign merchant-princes was again indispensable. The arrival of a rich Indian fleet in the Guadalquivir did not in itself mean the instant satisfaction of the needs of the moment. Even if remittances were sufficient in quantity, they could not forthwith be transported as bullion to Italy or Flanders. They had first to be coined into escudos and reals. Charles moreover rarely possessed the marine necessary to convoy the treasure in safety to his distant provinces. The government, therefore, called in the aid of the great commercial houses with international connections. Through them it was possible to make payments abroad with certainty and dispatch, the bankers being recompensed with cash in Spain, or with assignments upon future revenues.2

Spain, in the first half of the sixteenth century, perhaps felt no immediate harm from this depletion of her

1 Bernays, op. cit., p. 391. In Ferdinand's later years the servicio was 50 millions annually. After 1539 it was 150 millions.

2 Ehrenberg, op. cit., pt. III, cap. 3.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

coinage. A non-industrial country could not well absorb all the produce of the American mines. Moreover her stock of precious metals was continually being replenished from an apparently inexhaustible source. On the other hand, this American wealth did serve "to feed an unpractical vanity and further unfit the nation for manufacturing and commercial life." Everything could be purchased with gold and silver, not only cloths and grain, but armies, heretics, and the hegemony of Europe. The opportunity for conquest was offered by the Hapsburg connection. And Spain, by the loss of her industry and the plundering of her fleets, paid the cost of Hapsburg imperialism.






Both Soetbeer and Lexis attempted to resolve the complex question of . monetary values in Spanish America in the first half-century of European occupation. Their information was gleaned from meagre references found in the "Coleccion de documentos ineditos," in the collection of Ternaux-Compans, and in the pages of sixteenth century historians of America such as Herrera and Garcilaso de la Vega. The American treasury records introduce further elements of confusion scarcely suspected before; but they also enable us to gain a juster idea of the standards of value employed in the American colonies.

In Hispaniola and other islands in the first two decades of the sixteenth century, bar gold was doubtless used by weight as a medium of exchange. The crown, however, also endeavored to put into circulation silver and copper coins sent over from Spain. In Seville is a copy of a cedula of April 15,1505, ordering the officers of the Casa de Contratacion to coin and ship a half-million of silver and a half-million of vellon, the silver real to circulate at a value of 44 maravedis (A. de I., 139, I, 4, lib. i, fol. 159). A letter of Ferdinand to Governor Ovando, in the following December, refers to "dos millones de cuentos de moneda " being sent to Hispaniola, money which Ovando was to divide among the inhabitants in exchange for gold (Colecc. de doc., 2d ser., vol. v, p. 114). Another cedula of February 28, 1510, to Diego Colon, announces the sending of the "cuento de plata de vellon" (sic), for which the governor had asked to meet the lack of small currency in the colony (ibidem, p. xcvi); and in the ledgers of the India House are noted remittances to cover the value of coin thus sent out.

By selling silver reals at 44 maravedis, when their legal value in Spain was only 34, the crown made an excellent profit on the risk and expense of these shipments. And the real continued to circulate at the higher rate till 1538, when as a consequence of the establishment of mints in the Indies, its value in Hispaniola was arbitrarily reduced to 34, in conformity with the rule elsewhere (ibidem, vol. x, p. 401; Recop., lib. iv, tit. 24, ley 4). Letters to the emperor from judges, merchants and other inhabitants in 1538-39 represented the evils which such an act would bring upon the colony. Prices and wages would rise, trade cease, and the island be depopulated. As no one would bring silver to the newlyestablished mint, it had been closed and was let out to rent. It seems that in response to these appeals, Charles V extended the old rate for

[ocr errors]

A. de

five years more, after which interval the legal price of the real was to be maintained. (Colecc. de doc., 1st ser., vol. i, pp. 546, 558, 564. I., patr. 2, 1, 2/21, no. 7; 53, 6, 8, no. 51; 139, 1, 10, lib. 22, fol. 314.) Apparently in the first flush of discovery of these new lands, the Catholic Kings had intended to set up mints immediately to receive the precious metals secured there. In the instruction to Columbus of April 23, 1497, we read:

"Asimismo nos paresce quel oro que hobiere en las dichas Indias se acuñe é faga dello moneda de excelentes de la Granada, segund Nos habemos ordenado que se faga en estos nuestros Reinos, porque con esto se evitará de facer fraudes é cautelas del dicho oro en las dichas Indias, é para labrar la dicha moneda, mandamos que lleveis las personas é cuños é aparejos que hobiéredes menester; etc." (Navarrete, Colecc. de viajes, etc., vol. ii, p. 184.)

Not till 1535, however, was a royal mint created in America. A cedula of May 11 of that year provided for a Casa de Moneda in the cities of Mexico and San Domingo. Only silver was to be coined, except in San Domingo where copper might be issued whenever the crown gave special license. The same rules were to be observed as in the mints in Spain (except that the master of the mint was to take three reals out of every marc of silver coined, instead of two), and pieces of eight, four, two, one and one-half reals were to be struck, to be current in the Peninsula as well as in the Indies. There is no evidence, however, that the third real was collected before the reign of Philip II. (Colecc. de doc., 2d ser., vol. x, pp. 264-271; A. de I., 139, 1, 1, lib. I, para. 7:Instruct. to Ant. de Mendoza, 1st viceroy of N. Spain, April 25, 1535; Recop., lib. iv, tit. 23, ley 4:-Ord. of November 18, 1537. The ordinance of 1535 provided for the coining of one, two, and three real pieces, "medios" and "cuartillos.")

Up to Acosta's time at least (he went to the Indies in 1571), no copper was used on the mainland, owing to the abundance of gold and silver," vellon being current only in the islands (Hist. de Ind., lib. iv, cap. 3). Apparently gold was not minted in Mexico City till 1675, when its coinage was ordered by a cedula of February 25, of that year, "igual en todo à la que se acuñaba en Espana" (Colecc. de. doc., 2d ser., vol. x, pp. lxxii ff.).

Before the establishment of mints, means of exchange on the continent of America were extremely crude and confused. In the ledgers of the royal treasurers of Mexico, we find references to many kinds of pesos "oro comun, 99 66 oro mejor que comun con tres quilates añadidos," "oro marcado,' oro de ley," ," "oro de ley perfecta," "oro de minas," oro de Tipuzque." To discover the relative values of these various forms of gold is essential to a proper understanding of the ledgers.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Three clues are provided us by the treasurers themselves. We learn that after August 1, 1523, three carats were added to every peso de oro "demas de la ley," and that these three carats were equivalent to sixty maravedis. Such pesos, "mejor que comun," had a value 20 per cent higher than oro comun," while "oro de ley perfecta" was 40-50 per cent higher. Two more suggestions come from two letters of the licentiate Salmeron, a judge of the Audiencia of Mexico, written to Spain

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »