This is a vital history of fealty to monarchy and empire in Spanish America. Peter Blanchard’s book is a fascinating voyage through elite culture on the eve of revolution. Even under duress, opportunism, shared values, and common threats kept patrician classes in line. No one has excavated the reasons and roots for this loyalism as thoroughly and as compellingly as Blanchard. Along the way, he offers a complex portrait of three very different kinds of cities, cities which feuded with each other more than they did with Spain.
Following the creation of the viceroyalty of Río de la Plata in 1776, the elites of Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and Montevideo turned time and again to the Spanish crown for intercession, mediation, and support to maintain their privileged position during the tumultuous years before the May Revolution of 1810. Their loyalty was in part a result of the social status, political opportunities, and economic benefits that produced their privileged style of life. But of greater importance were the various internal and external factors that threatened their privileges, including inter-group rivalries, the presence of subversive ideas linked to the French Revolution, growing numbers of black slaves who engaged in various forms of resistance, indigenous groups who blocked the exploitation of the viceroyalty’s resources, Portuguese interlopers, and British imperial ambitions that culminated with the invasions of the viceroyalty in 1806 and 1807. To retain their privileges and their tenuous hold over the region, the viceroyalty’s urban elites looked to Spain for help, ensuring their continuing loyalty to the Spanish crown in increasingly troubling times.
Fearful Vassals presents a major re-interpretation of Spanish colonial rule, by a leading historian of that period. Based on deep archival research, and panoramic in its approach, the book explores subaltern groups of colonial society—urban laborers, enslaved Africans, indigenous people, and others—and shows how fears of possible social disruption from those groups helped keep local elites loyal to Spanish rule.