The Requerimiento in the Old World: Making Demands and Keeping Records in the Legal Culture of Late Medieval Castile

Yanay Israeli*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The requerimiento (requirement) was among the most famous legal instruments of Spanish colonization in the Americas, a legal ritual of conquest designed to both assert and legitimate rule over others.1 Upon first contact with indigenous groups, invading parties would read a written statement asserting Spanish sovereignty over the 'islands and mainland of the ocean sea,' granted by the pope, by dint of his universal jurisdiction, to the kings of Spain. The statement, whose recitation had to be recorded by a notary, demanded that the addressees obey Spanish rule and allow preachers to indoctrinate them in the Catholic faith. If they did so, the text promised that they would be spared and offered protection as free vassals of the crown; if they did not, war would be waged upon them and they could legally be subjected to a variety of punishments, including enslavement and death.2 The instruction to perform the requerimiento was officially given following the Junta of Burgos, which had been convened by Fernando the Catholic in 1512 to address increasing criticism-most notably from the Dominicans of the Spaniards treatment of the indios, and to counter growing concerns over the legality of conquest.3 As Tamar Herzog describes it, the requerimiento 'sought to transform Indian resistance to the invasion of their lands into an act of legal disobedience that would validate the launching of just war. 4 Along similar lines, Paja Faudree has proposed considering the requerimiento as a performative speech act. Once recited, the statement imposed a new status on indigenous groups, who could now be regarded as usurpers of jurisdiction, while at the same time transforming the relationship between these groups and the Spaniards into one of just war.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)37-62
Number of pages26
JournalLaw and History Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2022

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