Bourbons and Brandy is another contribution to Bourbon reform studies that builds on a rich and often distinguished legacy of previous work. The pedigree of Brown’s study includes John Lynch’s book on the intendency system, Lyle McAlister’s work on the fuero militar, and Nancy Farriss’s study on the relations between the crown and the church, among others. Each of these considers one aspect of the reforms in the context of a viceroyalty. Brown’s work shifts the focus somewhat. He writes about the Bourbon reforms as a whole, and narrows his geographical focus to a microregion, the Arequipa area in southern Peru.
Brown’s primary aim is to study the economy in order to assess the consequences of the reform program. To accomplish this, he effectively uses quantitative methods. He codifies and illustrates his data in 39 tables and various graphs. He also makes innovative use of statistical measures. Although some readers will be frustrated by his largely unexplained use of Yule’s Q, others will applaud his attempt to devise an index of socioeconomic status to define an elite. The idea is worthy of praise, even if, on close scrutiny, the index is found to discriminate against women and the clergy. Because these two groups could neither hold public office nor acquire military titles, they could not score as high as others. They, therefore, were less likely to be classified as “elite” and subjected to further analysis. The author does not acknowledge the bias, although his data show that members of both groups had “elite” attributes. Some women owned large vineyards, and produced proportionately more wine than did men. Thus, they paid higher tax assessments than did their male counterparts. Likewise, the clergy owned plantations, vineyards, farmlands, and mines; engaged in commerce and money lending; and were among the wealthiest inhabitants of the region. Despite this, the data manipulation nicely exposes certain nuances that add to our understanding of local socioeconomic change. For example, Brown’s prosopographical analysis, although limited, clearly shows the economic basis for the divergence of interests between creoles and peninsulares, and also documents the shift in power between the two groups after 1750.
One weakness of the book is the organization of the material, which detracts from the logical presentation of the author’s argument. Half of the book is a general background discussion of different sectors of the socioeconomic structure during the eighteenth century. Sections of these chapters overlap with the discussion in the second half of the text which deals with the reforms themselves. Points made in the first half are refined and supported in the second, but the repetition is tiresome.
A more serious problem, perhaps, is the myopic view of the socioeconomic impact of the reforms. Brown labels their success “dubious” (p. 23), but shows that, overall, the reforms benefited Spain and immigrant Spaniards. He documents local resistance to the reforms before 1800, but does not relate the reforms and the increasing split in the local elite to the independence movement. He cannot legitimately be faulted for this, given the explicit temporal boundaries of his study, but the somewhat artificial end of the discussion at the beginning of the nineteenth century may have skewed his conclusions. In the short run, the reforms achieved the results the Bourbons had hoped for—greater bullion remittances and a greater degree of defensibility. However, the reforms disrupted the modus operandi of the Hapsburgs, where “obedezco pero no cumplo” provided the flexibility to accommodate local interests. Did the reforms, then, add to a rising fifth column of discontent? If so, did not the reforms precipitate sentiment in favor of independence? In sum, were the reforms short-term successes, but long-term failures?