Alonso de Zorita: Royal Judge and Christian Humanist, 1512-1585. By
Ralph H. Vigil. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.
Pp. xiii+382. Preface, acknowledgments, map, illustrations, glos-
sary, notes, bibliography, index. $28.50.)
Alonso de Zorita was one of a fairly important band of Spanish colo-
nial administrators who sought to apply the principles of Christian hu-
manism in governing the provinces of the New World. This first full-
scale biography is based on a thorough study of the earliest manuscript
and printed sources as well as the most recent scholarly interpretations
of the society Zorita sought to remold.
Born at the beginning of the sixteenth century to a moderately afflu-
ent noble family of Cordoba, Alonso de Zorita studied law at the Uni-
versity of Salamanca and took the degree of hlcenczado around 1540.
There and elsewhere he learned the essentials of neo-Scholasticism;
read widely in Christian devotional literature; devoured the works of
Horace, Cicero, Pliny, Tacitus, and other classical writers; and read and
reread the works of such contemporary humanists as Thomas More
and Erasmus. After receiving the licentiate, Zorita served for a time as
abogado de pobres in Granada. There he met, wooed, and married Dofia
Catarina de Cardenas, a wife he loved and cherished, though they re-
Following a brief period of poorly paid legal service, the young lzcen-
ciado was appointed judge in the Royal Chancellery at Santo Domingo.
In this post he began to meet and deal with lawbreakers and corrupt
and venal officials and clergymen. Vigil describes these rascals and
their peccadillos in fine detail, showing us how Zorita earned a reputa-
tion as an effective and incorruptible public official.
As a result of his work in Santo Domingo, Zorita was sent in 1549
to New Granada to investigate the administration of the scoundrelly
Miguel Diez. His work proved so effective that in 1552 he was ap-
pointed judge in the Audiencia of Guatemala, where exploitation of
the Indians was probably worse than anywhere else in the New World.
Traveling to the most remote part of the audiencia, Zorita worked un-
flaggingly to improve treatment of the Indians. In the process he ac-
quired the enmity of corrupt civil and clerical officials.
When he received an appointment in 1556 as ozdor of the Audiencia
of Mexico, it was anybody's guess whether this was a reward for work
well done or an attempt to remove a troublesome functionary to a less
sensitive post. Whatever the reason, Zorita continued his work in New
Spain for the next decade, gaining friends among the Indians and ene-
mies among the corrupt factions of clergy and administrators.
Never very healthy and lacking the resources to support himself
properly, Zorita asked for permission to retire, and in 1566 he re-
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101213/. Accessed December 25, 2014.