Gazing at the Spanish Viceroyalty from Afar
Plus Ultra, meaning Further Beyond in Latin, was the motto adopted by Spain during the 16th century as a magnification of their dominating power in the New World and all over the globe. The system of viceroyalties constitutes a prime example of that power. Established as an overseas extension of Spanish imperial administration, the system of viceroyalties was implemented in 1535 in colonial territories in the New World, starting with the first one known as New Spain in present day Mexico. The Viceroyalty of Perú was created in 1542 in what is now the capital city of Lima, to serve as the center of government for most of the South American continent. A viceroy (virrey) was the administrative figure appointed by the Spanish king to rule the colonial territory. From 1761 to 1799, the period of the Montemar letters, six viceroys were assigned or named to the post. Candidates for this position were typically members of Spanish noble families or descendants of conquistadors and colonial families in Perú.
Viceroys were expected to advance Spanish colonization through the foundation of cities, fortifications, and commercial exportation of agricultural goods and precious minerals. Likewise, the Catholic Church, through missionaries from different priesthood orders, oversaw development and establishment of churches, schools, and universities. The Spanish Empire grew in power and prestige in the sixteenth century, leading, alongside the Portuguese, to become one of the first true global empires by the eighteenth century. During this same period, other European powers (England and France) realized the range of the Spanish land extension and began a series of attacks in the Caribbean, taking possession of the Lesser Antilles, with islands such as Martinique and the British Virgin Islands. Whether for admiration, reconnaissance, business, science, or other reasons, people from other parts of Europe traveled to and wrote about the Viceroyalty of Perú, leaving behind a series of important snapshots of life in the viceroyalty for future generations.