A viceroy is a royal official who governs a country or province in the name of and as representative of the monarch. The term derives from the Latin prefix vice-, meaning "in the place of" and the French word roi, meaning king. His province or larger territory is called a viceroyalty. The relative adjective is viceregal. A vicereine is a woman in a viceregal position (rare, as it usually includes military high command), or a Viceroy's wife.

The etymological allusion to the royal style makes it be perceived as higher than governor-general and lord lieutenant, even when in some cases it is a synonym for that administrative rank, and not necessarily above several "provincial" (lieutenant-) governors.

In some cases, the title (and the office, unless the title is not permanently attached to the job) is reserved for members of the ruling dynasty. It was not uncommon for potential heirs to the throne to obtain such a post (or an equivalent one, without the viceregal style) as a test — and learning stage, not unlike the even loftier "associations to the throne", such as the Roman consortium imperii or the Caesars in Emperor Diocletian's original Tetrarchy.

Spanish Empire

The title was originally used in the Aragonese Crown since 14th Century for Sardinia and Corsica. The absolutist Kings of Spain employed numerous Viceroys to rule over various parts of their vast empire "where the sun never set", both European and overseas.

In Europe, until the 18th century the Spanish crown appointed Viceroys of Aragon, Valencia, Catalonia, Navarre, Sardinia, Sicily, Naples and Portugal (1580 – 1640). With the ascension of the House of Bourbon to the Spanish throne, the historic Aragonese viceroyalties were replaced by new Captaincies General. At the end of War of the Spanish Succession, the Spanish Monarchy was shorn of its Italian possessions.


With the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the institution of viceroys was adapted to govern the highly populated and wealthy regions of New Spain (Mexico) and Peru. The viceroys of these two areas had oversight over the other provinces, with most of the North American, Central American, Caribbean and Philippine areas supervised by the viceroy in Mexico City and the South American ones by the viceroy in Lima, (with the exception of most of today's Venezuela, which was overseen by the Audiencia of Santo Domingo for most of the colonial period). These large administrative territories became known as Viceroyalties (Spanish term: virreinato). There were only two New World viceroyalties until 1717, when the new Bourbon Dynasty established two additional viceroyalties to promote economic growth and new settlements. New viceroyalties were created for New Granada in 1717 (capital, Bogotá) and the Río de la Plata in 1776 (capital, Buenos Aires).

The viceroyalties of Spanish America and the Philippines were subdivided into smaller, automous units, the Audiencias and the Captaincies General, which in most cases became the bases for the independent countries of modern Spanish America. These units gathered the local provinces which could be governed by a either a corregidor (sometimes alcalde mayor) or by a cabildo. Audiencias primarily functioned as superior judicial tribunals, but unlike their European counterparts, the New World audiencias were granted by law both administrative and legislative powers. Captaincies General were primarily military districts set up in areas with a risk of foreign or Indian attack, but the captains general were usually given political powers over the provinces under their command. Because the long distances to the viceregal capital would hamper effective communication, both audiencias and captains general were authorized to communicate directly with the crown through the Council of the Indies. The Bourbon Reforms introduced the new office of the intendant, which was appointed directly by the crown and had broad fiscal and administrative powers in political and military issues.

See also

British Empire and Commonwealth

From 1858 (when the British crown took over the role of the British East India Company, which had appointed governors-general since 20 October 1774, and maintained its last incumbent) to 1947, the height of the British Raj, the British colonial Governor of India was also known as the Viceroy of India (only the last incumbent was connected to royalty: 21 February15 August 1947 Louis Francis Mountbatten, Earl Mountbatten of Burma).

The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was also sometimes referred to as a British viceroy or in the Irish language Tánaiste-Ri, literally 'deputy king'.

The title itself and the derived adjective "vice-regal" are used in some Commonwealth realms (in general technically incorrect, as formerly in British India) to refer to the function of the governor general (and in Canada, provincial lieutenant governors, and in Australia, state governors) as representatives of the Crown. This usage may reflect the direct relationship between a governor general and the Crown and a governor general's exercise of all royal powers and functions under the Balfour Declaration of 1926.

Portuguese Empire

in Portuguese Vice-Rei:

  • Portuguese India, with its seat in Goa, started in 1505–1509 under Viceroy Francisco de Almeida (b.1450–d.1510). From 1505 on Viceroys, Governors(-general) and Governing Commissions were many times interleaved as the form of government until the last Viceroy Afonso Henriques, Duke of Oporto (b.1865-d.1920) in 1896. From 1896 until 1961 only Governors–general took place.
  • Brazil, 1714–1808. Since 1714 Governors-General of Brazil were titled "Viceroys". With the arrival of the Portuguese Royal Family in Brazil in 1808 due to the Napoleonic Wars, the office of Viceroy ceased to exist, due to the presence of the Queen and of the Prince Regent in the giant colony. Brazil remained the seat of the Portuguese Empire until 1821, but when the Portuguese Court returned to Portugal the colonial office of Viceroy was not re-established, given that Brazil had been elevated to the rank of a kingdom, and a new State, the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves had been proclaimed in 1815. Thus, when the Royal Family returned to Lisbon, Prince Dom Pedro was left behind to govern Brazil with the rank of Regent, as Viceroy was perceived as being a colonial title and Brazil was no longer a colony since the proclamation of the United Kingdom. Prince Regent Dom Pedro would proclaim Brazil's independence in 1822, becoming the first Emperor of the newly formed Brazilian Empire.

Other colonial viceroyalties

Other Domestic Viceroys, including personal unions

In fiction

Non-Western counterparts

As many princely and administrative titles, viceroy is often used, generally unofficially, to render somewhat equivalent titles and offices in non-western cultures.

Ottoman empire

  • The khedive of Egypt, especially with the dynasty initiated by Muhammad Ali Pasha (1805-1848). This officer established an almost autonomous regime in Egypt, which officially still was under Ottoman rule. Although Mehemet Ali/Muhammad Ali used different symbols to mark his independence from the Sublime Porte, he never openly declared himself independent. Adopting the title of viceroy was yet another way to walk the thin line between challenging the Sultan's power explicitly and respecting his jurisdiction. Muhammad Ali Pasha's son, Ismail Pasha, subsequently received the title of Khedive which was almost an equivalent to viceroy.


In imperial China, viceroy was the English translation of the title "general supervisor-protector" (Zǒngdū 總督), otherwise translated as the Governor General, who were heading large administrative divisions, directly under the imperial court. These divisions are usually two or three provinces. The regions included Zhili, Huguang, Liangjiang, Liangguang, Shangan, Minzhe, Yungui and Sichuan. Li Hongzhang was viceroy of Huguang from 1867 to 1870, and Yuan Shikai was once Viceroy of Zhili.

Sri Lankan and Southeast Asian tradition

  • Uparaja, variations and compounds such as Maha Uparaja

Sources and references

  • WorldStatesmen — click each present country
  • Elliott, J. H., Imperial Spain, 1469-1716. London: Edward Arnold, 1963.
  • Fisher, Lillian Estelle. Viceregal Administration in the Spanish American Colonies. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1926.
  • Harding, C. H., The Spanish Empire in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1947.

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