Sunday, May 4, 2014

How the Pope divided the New World among Spain and the Rest of the World

The Cantino planisphere of 1502 shows the line of the Treaty of Tordesillas.
On May 4, 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued the papal bull 'Inter caetera' (Among other [works]), which granted to Spain all lands to the "west and south" of a pole-to-pole line 100 leagues west and south of any of the islands of the Azores or the Cape Verde islands.

In the late 15th century, Spain and Portugal had a quite difficult relationship due to their competing explorers and the wish to own as many colonial territories as possible along the African coast line. The the previous years, several papal bulls were issued and the Spanish government came to realize the authority of these bulls. They initiated diplomatic discussions over the rights to possess and govern the newly found lands. Even though the Spanish and Portuguese delegates debated and negotiated for several months concerning this topic, they could not find any agreement.

Spain then contacted Pope Alexander VI, who was known to be befriended with the Spanish King. They urged the pope to issue a new bull favorable to Spain. Alexander VI did so and issued four edicts in May 1493. The third superseded the first two, and the fourth, titled Inter caetera, superseded the third. A fifth edict, Dudum siquidem of 26 September 1493, supplemented the Inter caetera. The Inter Caetera was followed by the Treaty of Tordesillas and together they defined and delineated a zone of Spanish rights exclusive of Portugal. However, the agreement was illegal in relation to other states, even though Spain spent much time and effort to persuade further European leaders on the validity.

At first, it was unclear whether lands to the east of the line would belong to Portugal. At this point, Portugal had reched Africa, but not yet India. These lands were given to Portugal through the Aeterni regis, a bull from 1481. But, in the bull Dudum siquidem, the pope granted Spain the territory in the eastern waters as well. These events led to the Treaty of Tordesillas between Spain and Portugal, about one year after the bull was issued. The treaty moved the line further west to a meridian 370 leagues west of the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands, now explicitly giving Portugal all newly discovered lands east of the line. The treaty also allowed the two countries to pass each other toward the west or east, and still possess whatever lands they were first to discover. An important effect of the combination of this papal bull and the Treaty of Tordesillas was that nearly all the Pacific Ocean and the west coast of North America were given to Spain. In response to Portugal's discovery of the Spice Islands in 1512, the Spanish put forward the idea, in 1518, that Pope Alexander had divided the world into two halves. Further European states now claimed that the Pope had not the right to convey sovereignty of regions as vast as the New World.

On this day, numerous groups, representing indigenous people of the Americas have organized protests and raised petitions seeking the repeal of the papal bull Inter caetera. They claim, the bull led to the subjugation of their folks, and they want to remind Catholic leaders of the record of conquest, disease and slavery in the Americas.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture by Emily O'Brien, who talks about "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Reflections on the Renaissance Papacy".

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