This collection of manuscripts is a valuable source for the study of the policies of the Crown of Castile in the discovery of the New World after 1492. It is composed of forty letters, ordinances, capitulations, and contracts, among other types of documents, and shows the process whereby the development of the discovery begun by Columbus was opened up to others.
The capitulations were issued by the Catholic Monarchs to various explorers, navigators, and entrepreneurs to allow them to sail across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World, developing a broad Spanish presence in America. Thus, this collection shows the role of Spain in the formation of the early modern globalized world.
Documents for a New Era in the Discovery of America
The forty documents were written on parchment and range in date from 1499 to 1536. They are located in three different archives: the Archivo de Protocolos in Seville, the General Archive of the Indies in the same city, and the General Archive of Simancas.
These letters and capitulations (among other kinds of documents) allowed different navigators and entrepreneurs to sail to the Americas as part of the process of conquest and colonization. Written in a secretary hand, they include very interesting and useful information, such as the capitulation with Cristóbal Guerra (document IX, dated 1503), which is the first of these documents that includes mention of the Casa de Contratación of Seville (created shortly before), and the capitulation with Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, dated 1504, according to which the Crown granted him the concession of Puerto Rico, with the aim of populating the island (document XII).
In these documents we can also see the active participation in the process of colonization of important navigators and cartographers like Juan de la Cosa (document X), who took part in the first seven navigations to America and whose nautical chart, created in 1500, is the earliest surviving map that represents the New World.
Thus, these manuscripts are very useful sources to study and understand the legal background of the early voyages to the New World in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
The Discovery of the New World Beyond Columbus
In 1499, the Spanish Crown decided to end Columbus’ monopoly over the navigations to the Indies and opened the business to other navigators and entrepreneurs. These new navigations were the beginning of a new period in the exploration and European settlement of the New World.
The voyages were possible thanks to the capitulations issued by the Crown. These documents were the legal contract between the Crown and the navigators, according to which the Crown gave the license of the voyage to the navigator, who, at the same time, promised to respect the terms of that license.