Fearful Vassals: Urban Elite Loyalty in the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata, 1776-1810.

AuthorRothera, Evan C.

Blanchard, Peter. Fearful Vassals: Urban Elite Loyalty in the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata, 1776-1810. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020.

Fearful Vassals examines loyalty in the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata by focusing on elites in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Cordoba who "played a vital role in the viceroyalty's affairs, getting involved in local decision-making to ensure that their interests and their goals were protected" (4). Rather than mouthing sentiments about independence and revolution, elites demonstrated "a firm commitment to the Spanish king and to Spanish rule" (4). Elite loyalty to Spain and the king was rooted in their fears about perceived threats to their wealth and lifestyles. Over the course of nine chapters, Peter Blanchard, currently professor emeritus of history at the University of Toronto, develops his fascinating analysis. The creation of the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata offered elites "opportunities that helped develop a growing sense of commitment to the region" (15) and Spanish officials formed strategic alliances with elites. Far from undermining urban elite loyalty the Bourbon Reforms "created a distinct new homeland with opportunities for the urban elites who were determined to take advantage of them" (42). Elites strictly controlled entry into their ranks and frequently turned to Spain "in the belief that Spain would provide support for the standards they had set and that it would act to reaffirm their privileged position in the viceroyalty" (44). Indeed, the king became an essential mediator in disputes among members of the elite who, in turn, had a vested interest in retaining the king as the ultimate distant authority.

Perceived threats from the population of African descent and the local indigenous population also worried elites. These fears gave them additional reasons to support continued ties with Spain. Like other places in the Americas, many people saw slaves as a threat, but they did not want to end the slave trade or slavery itself. Loyalty to Spain thus seemed necessary to protect and expand slavery, especially because many considered slavery essential to the economic growth of the viceroyalty. Without Spain, "this essential aspect of colonial life and the associated economic returns would be seriously compromised" (132). Indigenous people also worried the elite. Again, unsurprisingly, they looked to Spain for military support. People of African descent and indigenous...

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