1493 - Pope Alexander VI grants license of conqest to Spain

A 15th century depiction of the Council of Constance

        Pope Alexander VI saw in the Spanish petition for 'rights of conquest' an opportunity to preempt conflicts with Portugal by delivering not one, but three, papal bulls on the subject of discovered lands. 

        He rubber stamped Isabella's petition, and sought to resolve the inevitable legal problems that would arise if Columbus was successful (which he was).  From the pope's point of view the principle purpose behind exploration was the expansion of ecclesiastical dominion over previously unknown worlds.  In the context of the time, nothing could be more exciting than expanding Christ's flock of believers.  What needed to be settled, therefore, were the rights of Spain in relation to the 'savages' living on the discovered lands, and also, to draw a bright line between the rights of Spain and the rights of Portugal.

         In drawing that line, Alexander echoed the centuries old theme of universal papal guardianship first elaborated by Innocent IV. (For more, click here)

 He endorsed Spain's conquest and subjugation of savages inhabitants by granting the monarchs "full, free and integral power and authority and jurisdiction over their new titled lands, with the open path to carry out the papal mission of baptizing the children of nature of the new world."

         With the pope's blessing Spanish settlements in the new world were run on the encomienda system (the practice of enslaving native people for the purpose of converting them to Christianity), and the infamous requerimiento, the official declaration of conquest which gave savages the choice of accepting Spain's jurisdiction over their lands, or face slaughter at the hands of the conquistadores.  for more, click here

         It was much the same choice that had been given to Muslims during the crusades of Innocent III and Innocent IV.