The Spanish Empire
The Spanish Main at the time. Note the withdrawal of the Aztecs from the far west of their dominions and the expansion of the metalworking Tarascans
The exodus of the Spanish to the New World following the seemingly eminent conquest of their homeland by Muslim armies presents itself as one of the most interesting aspects of early European colonialism. Far before the cities of British and French America had shed their frontier character and established themselves as self-sufficient centers of trade, the influx of skilled craftsmen and trained administrators to the Spanish Main had done much to elevate the wayward Spaniards' newfound home to the standards of Europe. The need for an efficient administration - whereas the British and the French were more than happy to maintain their colonies' ruling structures morose as long as colonial goods came through - prompted the founding of permanent institutes of learning to educate the children of the ruling classes, while most other European settlements in the continent were often only endowed with such organizations after their independence. All in all, the early success of Spanish settling in the Americas came due, not to any overwhelmingly positive traits characteristic of the settlers, but rather to the colony's self-contained nature: the presence of a royal court and its myriad servants, courtiers, ministers and entertainers provided a small, but persistent consumer base around which a Spanish manufacturing industry developed; the lack of a home port in Europe, the long journey across the Atlantic and the then popular mercantile policies favored by the great colonial powers - France and Britain, who also controlled all of the (Christian) Atlantic coast - hindered commerce with Europe or with other American colonies. Thus, Spain's economy would be centered on its own demands - and eventually those of the nearby Amerindian urban civilizations - and while this provided a rather small market of buyers, it allowed it to avoid for a century and a half the destructive effects of a colonialist, extractory economy, wherein the colony's products are mostly raw materials (usually agricultural), which require great effort to obtain and generate little profit for the seller; this system was evident in other American colonies - to the great advantage of their European metropoleis.
This curious economic situation was to continue until the mid-to-late 18th century, when the so-called Physiocratic boom occurred. Unrest in the French colony of Brazil drove sugar, tobacco and cotton prices up; the huge amounts of underused, fertile land, the then popular Physiocratic economic theory and the growing market in Europe for colonial goods dictated the massive increase in agrarian production and land use. This was accompanied by the importation of slaves to perform the back-breaking tasks charecteristic of plantation life and the loss of much of the colonial manufacturies, given the Spanish Empire's newly found exposition to European goods.
Spanish missionaries had an overwhelming role in the evangelization of the American natives.
New Spain's unique position as a rather isolated outpost of Europe - though one with imperial pretenses - favored a greater absorption of native culture than might be found in other former European colonies. While religious syncretism (especially in areas of Mesoamerica affected by the more organized native religious institutions) was frowned upon, it occurred nonetheless; blended with the many pre-Reformation Catholic traditions that were brought over in force during the Habanerian Flight, created yet another distinct brand of Catholicism, united with the Church in Rome but with its own idiosyncrasies that set it apart from its Italian, Indian, Japanese and a myriad other sibling traditions.
While most appointed governors were of aristocratic origins, the
conquistadores, soldiers and explorers who pushed deeper and deeper into the American interior, were commoners, soldiers who rose through the ranks and managed to gather an expedition or be appointed as the leader of one. Many of these were often granted estates in newlyfound lands and married native women, in a process that not only created ties between native groups and the spanish, but also provided a number of able-bodied men to defend a given area.
Spanish society during this period was (relatively) more egalitarian than its predecessor in Iberia, although it retained most of its fiercely aristocratic leanings, mostly due to. The uprooting of the nobility from its centuries-old estates in rural Castile made them far more dependent on the King as an endower of land and as the protector of their privileges. The need for capable administrative staff prompted the sale of aristocratic offices, both as a means of revenue and of rewarding good service. The consequently diluted nobility was far more at ease to serve as an instrument to their lord, reliant on him as it was, and this eased the affirmation of royal power as paramount in New Spain, in contrast to the lengthy struggles between the royal families of France, England and old Iberia and their respective nobilities. Even then, an old noble name served as an important means of accession to positions of power, and the monarchy intermittently supported either the low aristocracy - most of it unlanded and formerly plebeian - for its loyalty or the higher cadres - those of pure Spanish blood who could trace their lineages back to Reconquista era Visigothic and Frankish knights - for their clout and large fortunes.
The complicated system of racial categorization, as depicted in the "Pintura de Castas".
Below this new nobility were the commoner Spaniards, who usually served as soldiers, traders, craftsmen or sailors. These 'Petit Blancs' - to use the term often found in discussion regarding French Brazil and Saint-Domingue and with whose society some comparisons can be made - were mostly urban-dwelling, and manned the workshops that drove domestic production. They operated shops and conducted overland and small distance maritime trade, and served in the developing public administration. Under them were the mestizos, children of Spaniards and local natives. While discriminated against, their growing numbers - given the relatively small amount of ethnic Spaniards and the absence of immigration from a home country - and their role as the anchors of the new Spanish state - often valuing the society of their fathers more than the tribal affiliation of their mothers - meant their complete, though de iure emancipation from 1630 onwards.
Finally, at the bottom rung of society, were the slaves. Often indigenous peoples taken as captives from petty wars against the local caciques (chiefs), their low populations and the need for good relations with the local tribal groups dictated the their substitution through the importation of African slaves. These were acquired indirectly through purchase from French, Dutch and British traders, usually in lower quantity than in French Brazil or the Dutch Antilles. Until the 18th century intensification of agricultural production, these slaves enjoyed relaxed working conditions - compared to other colonies - and there was a small, but persistent, natural net growth in the African population, something unseen in French tropical colonies, were the slave population had to be renewed constantly through importation due to the brutality of plantation life. Thus society is mostly structured on a racial, rather than aristocratic regime, with the purer whites up top and the population becoming progressively mixed and non-European as one moves lower and lower in social strata, culminating in pure-blooded black slaves at the very base.
A plantation crewed by African slaves.
The position of Indians in the social ladder is rather more difficult to explain without approaching other, namely political, aspects of the Spanish state. Initially, the small number of dependable, educated Spaniards after the Habanerian Flight, as well as the large, sparsely populated territory of New Spain and its poor transportation network (lack of quality roads and port facilities) obliged the King to delegate his powers immensely, though not, as it could be understood, to the point of feudalism. The aforementioned subservience of the nobility to the monarchy's wishes and the relatively safe position of the would-be Empire precluded the formulation of a Feudal Contract of any kind, as authority was strictly derived from the King despite the substantial leeway provincial governors were given. The situation is more comparable to that of military commanders in the Byzantine Empire rather than the feudal lords in Latin Europe: the far-flung nature of Spanish settling and the need for good relations with the locals spurred the nominally temporary appointment of generals and bureaucrats as delegates of the monarchy in a given area; many of these, in turn, when not prosecuted for unlawful behavior, accumulated a fortune in their dealings, one which they could use to either buy an extension of their terms or to effectively retain power despite the loss of their official authority. Here lies the origin of many of the dynasties that held power in the many cities throughout the Spanish Americas, with the caveat that, due to much tighter central control, they were liable to be prosecuted and replaced should they incur Havana's wrath.
A battle between Caribs and Spaniards.
This delegated system of power in turn made it so that the authority of tribal chiefs was far more valued, both by the King - as a form of maintaining the security of his lands - and by his representatives - as a way of cementing their position. Unlike the ostracized natives in the other European colonies, the native chiefdoms were usually integrated, formally or not, into the power structure. Their value in securing a region from other tribal groups - the most ferocious of which, such as the Caribs, conducted raids and slaughtered colonists at will - dictated their usefulness to the Spanish authority. The settlers' amiable relationship with several tribal groups and the latters' interest in continuing this relationship as well as acquiring Spanish goods spurred the conversion of entire tribes to Catholicism. Neophyte chiefs were often granted confirmation of their hereditary tribal titles as valid under Spanish law and several treaties even go so far as to proclaim a chief's tribespeople as under the Spanish King's protection as his subjects. This privilege was often extended to warlike tribes, who would henceforth be obliged to contribute to the Spanish military. Thus, Spain followed a policy that envisaged the division and assimilation of the non-Christian natives, shrewdly absorbing amiable natives while massacring those who persistently opposed its rule. Loyal caciques were integrated within Spanish society and their followers constituted yet another reliable asset for further Spanish expansion.
Unlike the European colonies, New Spain's unique position as a European nation thoroughly transplanted overseas provided incentive for the sponsoring of public works by local families as well as the rulers; with no surpluses (in the form of goods or funds) being transferred to a European mother country, under the usual system of metropolitan colonial exploitation, these were free to be invested into the land itself. The presence of the country's ultimate power center within the territory did more than just provide patronage for public works; in some ways, it precluded the acceptance of popular mandate and constitutional rule as the basis of government in the way it was envisioned by the American revolutionaries of the late 18th century, following Enlightenment traditions. Whereas in the North America the colonial gentry and bourgeoisie that had administered the colonies in the name of the (British or French) Crown set up more or less democratic republics after their independence, in New Spain there subsisted a monarchical tradition unseen in the Americas outside Mesoamerica and Peru, something which would bring the entire Spanish Main down a different path in social evolution than its northern neighbors.
A theological school annex to a church and monastery.
As an example of the aforementioned patronage, seldom seen elsewhere, King Enrique II ordered the paving of what was then the near entirety of Havana as well as the approval of a plan for construction of the sturdy palaces and public buildings that now make up the downtown area, which replaced the old, mostly wooden structures that housed the newly arrived émigrés, as well as a public bath, created for the comfort of the Spanish nobility unused to the torrid and humid climate. This urban renewal produced a basic plan for Spanish architecture, with colorful facades, evened floor heights, porticos and wide, gardened courtyards. The first permanent royal palace dates from this period, as well as the older mansions that housed the Empire's illustrious lineages. A university was established, as well as a seminar and the port of Havana was formally founded. Puerto Principe, then a slightly larger town than Havana, was also fitted with buildings of its own.
A plan of Havana of a later date (1853) shows clearly the fortifications constructed at the time as well as perpendicular streets
 In this sense ‘Spanish’ includes not only the Castilian speakers that would dominate in New Spain, but also most or all peoples of the Iberian Peninsula before the Istardad, including Portuguese, Basques, Aragonese and so on that chose to leave for the Americas. Do note that small, scattered communities of speakers of these languages remain in the overwhelmingly Arabic-speaking Al-Andalus, mostly in the north.
 A system of ideas, whose core principle is the assertion of agricultural and extractor work as the basis and motor of an economy, together with attempts at either modernizing or restoring the prominence of these sectors. While most proponents of these ideas in New Spain did not favor the degradation of the incipient industry, the lack of a processing and trade infrastructure to accommodate the huge increase in land use and hence agricultural (especially sugar) production meant a surplus of sugar; this was rapidly taken advantage of by foreign traders, who would for some time since dominate external trade and flood the market with cheaper and higher quality goods from Europe.
 Chief among these are the continued emphasis on Saints and their relics, as well as the ‘compadre’ system. While present in English as ‘godfather’, he who sponsors the baptism of a child, the role of the compadre (and his wife, the ‘comadre’) in New Spain is more akin to the medieval ‘fosterling-guardian’ tradition. The compadre would be tasked with a child’s education by his or her father and mother, which constitutes an interesting divergence from a usually strongly patriarchal society. Compadres weren’t usually related by blood to the parents of an infant (who they addressed as ‘compadres’ as well, as a testament to their shared education of the child), but rather by trade, with this institution serving both to reinforce the identity of various social groups and to facilitate the introduction of young adults to society via their guardians.
Not quite confortable with the font choice on that map. What do you think? I had a nice font with which I made a map regarding Christianity in Japan (one that will be shown a few updates from now); I lost it when my computer went bust.
Anyways, it's aliiiiiiiiiveeeeee! Because I must fight bananafishtoday's"Pine, Bamboo and Plum" for the status of rebooted AAR. And someone called me out on letting this one die.