The House of Trade is a Spanish trading company.
La Casa de Contratación (The House of Trade) was a government agency under the Spanish Empire from the 16th to the 18th centuries, which attempted to control all Spanish exploration and colonization. Its official name was La Casa y Audiencia de Indias.
Unlike the East India Companies, chartered companies established by the Dutch, English, and others, the Casa collected all colonial taxes and duties, approved all voyages of exploration and trade, maintained secret information on trade routes and new discoveries, licensed captains, and administered commercial law. In theory, no Spaniard could sail anywhere without the approval of the Casa, but in reality corruption and smuggling were common.
The Casa was founded by Queen Isabella of Castile in 1503, just nine years after the discovery of the Americas in 1492. The Casa was the Spanish counterpart of the Portuguese organization, the Casa da Índia, or House of Índia of Lisbon (est. 1400s, destroyed 1755).
A 20% tax (the quinto) was levied by the Casa on all goods entering Spain, but other taxes could run as high as 40% in order to provide naval protection for the trading ships or as low as 10% during financial turmoil to encourage investment and economic growth in the colonies. Each ship was required to provide a clerk who kept detailed logs of all goods carried and transactions.
The Casa de Contratación produced and managed the Padrón Real, the official and secret Spanish map used as template for the maps present in all Spanish ships during the 1500s. It was constantly improved from its first version in 1508, and it was the counterpart of the Portuguese map, the Padrão Real.
The Casa de Contratación also ran a navigation school. New pilots, or navigators, were trained for ocean voyages at this school.
Spain employed a mercantilist model, governed (at least in theory) by the Casa in Seville. A free-trade policy, opening Spain's ports to all comers, would cause them to lose nearly all their trade to the more numerous and dynamic French, Dutch, and English traders and explorers; and the lack of a government-controlled monopoly would cause the monarchy to grow poor. Trade with the overseas possessions was handled by a merchants' guild based in Seville, the Consulado de mercaderes, which worked in conjunction with the Casa de Contratación.
By the late 17th century, the Casa de Contratación had fallen into bureaucratic gridlock, and the Empire as a whole was failing, due primarily to Spain's inability to finance both war on the Continent, and a global empire. More often than not, the riches transported from Manila and Acapulco to Spain were officially signed over to Spain's creditors before the galleon even made port. In later years the power that Seville and the Casa de Contratacion once had would be abolished by Charles III of the Bourbon line, who took over after the Spanish Habsburg line ended.
The Casa de Contratación was moved from Seville to Cádiz in 1717. The Casa de Contratación was abolished in 1790.
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