The Spanish conquest has long been a source of polemic, ever since the early sixteenth century when Spanish jurists began theorizing the legal merits behind native dispossession in the Americas. But in The Business of Conquest: Empire, Love, and Law in the Atlantic World, Nicole D. Legnani demonstrates how the financing and partnerships behind early expeditions betray their own praxis of imperial power as a business, even as the laws of the Indies were being written. She interrogates how and why apologists of Spanish Christian empire, such as José de Acosta, found themselves justifying the Spanish conquest as little more than a joint venture between crown and church that relied on violent actors in pursuit of material profits but that nonetheless served to propagate Christianity in overseas territories. Focusing on cultural and economic factors at play, and examining not only the chroniclers of the era but also laws, contracts, theological treatises, histories, and chivalric fiction, Legnani traces the relationship between capital investment, monarchical power, and imperial scalability in the Conquest. In particular, she shows how the Christian virtue of caritas (love and charity of neighbor, and thus God) became confused with cupiditas (greed and lust), because love came to be understood as a form of wealth in the partnership between the crown and the church. In this partnership, the work of the conquistador became, ultimately, that of a traveling business agent for the Spanish empire whose excess from one venture capitalized the next. This business was thus the business of conquest and featured entrepreneurial violence as its norm—not exception.
The Business of Conquest offers an original examination of this period, including the perspectives of both the creators of the colonial world (monarchs, venture capitalists, conquerors, and officials), of religious figures (such as Las Casas), and finally of indigenous points of view to show how a venture capital model can be used to analyze the partnership between crown and church. It will appeal to students and scholars of the early modern period, Latin American colonial studies, capitalism, history, and indigenous studies.
Nicole D. Legnani is assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Princeton University. She is the translator of Titu Cusi: A 16th-Century Account of the Conquest.
"The Business of Conquest is a sustained and coherent study of what it meant to be a capitalist yet Christian empire with all the contradictions this implied." —Ivonne del Valle, author of Iberian Empires and the Roots of Globalization
"The Business of Conquest combines scholarly sagacity, historical knowledge, and innovative theoretical models to give us a revealing and pristine image of the Atlantic world through the looking glass of its economic and cultural foundations. The book is a joyful trip to the very core of the ideas, economic models, tropes, and systems of thought that were used to build, create, sustain, but also criticize and challenge the multiple discourses that converged in the Atlantic world." —Juan Vitulli, author of Instable Puente
“Nicole Legnani’s The Business of Conquest is an intriguing examination of the rhetorical constructions of law and empire in the Spanish Atlantic world." —Hispanic American Historical Review
"Legnani’s work offers us a new lens to comprehend the efforts of intellectuals such as Polo Ondegardo and Juan de Matienzo to reinforce the Spanish domination over Andean geographies." —Latin American Literary Review