Laws of Burgos

Laws of Burgos . Laws passed were the 27 of January of 1512 , as the result of a meeting held by a group of theologians and jurists in the Spanish city of the same name. They are created under the false pretext of the Hispanic Monarchy of wanting to regulate the process of colonization and conquest of America , in order to enforce the rights of the natives, Indians or indigenous people who inhabited those lands upon the arrival of the conquerors and who had suffered multiple mistreatments.

The original name of these laws was Royal Ordinances for the good regiment and treatment of the Indians . It consisted of 35 laws or articles that regulated their regime, their personal living and working conditions, their rights, the limits to their use as labor and what is more important: their status as a worker was recognized for the first time. free man and holder of basic human rights, such as freedom and property.


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  • 1 Meeting in Burgos
  • 2 Law enforcement
  • 3 Result
  • 4 Historical significance
  • 5 Sources

Meeting in Burgos

In a meeting called by the Spanish Crown of the time, a group of Spanish theologians and jurists met in the city of Burgos to analyze the political and legal problems that arose as a result of the affectation suffered by the natives of the so-called New World with the arrival of the Spanish settlers to their lands. This same group of intellectuals had formed, a year before, the famous Montesinos sermon where the following postulates were agreed:

  • The Indians are free and must be treated as such, as ordered by the Kings.
  • The Indians must be instructed in the faith, as the papal bulls command.
  • The Indians have an obligation to work, without this hampering their education in the faith, and in such a way as to be of benefit to them and to the republic.
  • The work that the Indians must carry out must be in accordance with their constitution, so that they can endure it, and must be accompanied by their hours of distraction and rest.
  • The Indians must have their own houses and farms, and must have time to dedicate them to their cultivation and maintenance.
  • The Indians must have contact and communication with the Christians.
  • Indians are to receive a fair wage for their work.

The then King of the Spanish crown, Fernando El Católico, commissioned the two most prominent representatives of the junta: Juan López Palacios Rubios (one of the most solid defenders of the theocratic argument that justified the papal concession) and Matías de Paz (professor of theology in Salamanca (Spain) who insisted on the need to inform the Indians of the rights of the King of Castile with a requirement before submitting them peacefully or making war on them), so that they include two more treaties.

In view of this, two juridical-theological criteria were confronted in the meeting of 1512: one that established the supremacy of the supernatural / spiritual right until managing to invalidate the natural right, putting at risk that the natives would lose their rights and another in a certain way more just , which defended the right of men to preserve their natural attributes, of political rights, of property and of cultural determination; based on the fact that original sin did not invalidate any man of such rights.

Various solutions jumped to the table for discussion, based primarily on the idea that justified that carrying out a war against the Indians was necessary for their own good, in order to improve their spiritual situation. It was not but through a commitment contained in the very writing of the Laws, that the conflict was resolved, thereby legalizing forced labor of the Indians, in a limited and humane way.

Law enforcement

The application of these laws began on the island of Hispaniola , to later be used in Puerto Rico and Jamaica . A regulation of the labor regime was established for the Indians, wages, food, housing, hygiene and care, as well as the teaching of catechesis was ordered, bigamy was condemned and they were forced to build their huts or cabins next to the houses of the Spanish settlers.

For their part, the authority of the caciques was respected, who were exempted from ordinary jobs and provided several Indians as servants.

The breach of the different laws caused numerous claims and protests among the Indians who were overwhelmed by the reigning cultural imperialism to which they were subjected. Despite the orders to guarantee the survival of the Indians in the American continent, they were decreasing as is known today, due to diseases and above all, the physical abuse to which they were subjected by their conquerors.


These Laws are recognized as the first steps that the Spanish crown took to regulate the legal status of the American Indians, which continued to deepen years later under the term of “controversy of the natives” or “just titles”, whose content was materialized by the Board of Valladolid through the opinion of the well-known New Laws of 1542 .

Historical importance

These laws constituted two very important facts in themselves:

  • They became the first general normative text on the treatment of Indians in the newly discovered America.
  • It was the embryo of a new philosophical, theological, legal and social theory that determined the birth of International Law and the recognition of Human Rights.


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