This essay explains how the Spanish (or Castilian) crown during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries managed its worldwide empire. It emphasizes the contribution of, and the tension between, the crown’s two main strategies: political decentralization – or delegation – and imperial centralization. To begin, it contextualizes the issue by exploring the situation at the time and explains how the problems of distance and communication were closely linked. Secondly, drawing on the comments of both contemporary observers and modern historians, this paper examines the approaches used by the Spanish kings in ensuring the optimum reliability of their intelligence networks within Europe and with America. Thirdly, the issue of decentralization is approached. The essay (1) outlines the context for Spanish imperial delegation and how Charles V and Philip II differed in this regard and (2) gives several representative examples of the use of delegation in Europe and abroad. Using the American colonies as a case study, it (3) explores the centralized, peninsula-based forms of administrative delegation (i.e. councils and juntas) and (4) addresses the decentralized, colonial types of delegated government; specifically, viceroys and audiencias. Lastly, the paper explores the imperial strategy of centralization by which the kings of Spain unified their global empire. It argues that, ultimately, these monarchs used a combination of various means to ensure that they received a steady flow of reliable information. They also utilized centralized authority and decentralized administration to ensure that their provinces worldwide were governed efficiently.

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