alcalde (ălkălˈdē, Span. älkälˈdā) [key] [Span., from Arab., = the judge], Spanish official title, in existence at least from the 11th cent. Since the late 19th cent. it has been used for the mayor of a town or village who also acts as justice of the peace. Originally, however, it designated a judge whose scope of jurisdiction varied and who had administrative functions as well. There were, for example, alcaldes de la hermandad (judges attached to the tribunals of the town federations formed to assure public order and safety; see hermandad) and alcaldes de corte (judges whose jurisdiction extended over the royal residence and the surrounding area). The alcaldes were distinguished from the regidores, whose functions were primarily administrative. In the 14th cent. the corregidores, royal appointees charged with assisting the regidores in their duties, encroached upon the judicial functions of the alcaldes, depriving them of all but minor civil and criminal jurisdiction. Moreover, alcaldes were increasingly chosen by the crown, with only a few towns keeping the right to choose their own alcaldes (these being known thereafter as alcaldes ordinarios ). Since the corregidores were often inadequately versed in law, each usually received advice from two trained lawyers, termed alcaldes mayores, who specialized in criminal and civil law, respectively. The office was also instituted in the Spanish colonies, but changed its character. There the alcalde mayor was the administrator of a provincial division usually smaller than that of a corregidor; he also presided over the town ayuntamiento (later known as the cabildo). The alcalde ordinario was an elected municipal officer who frequently exercised the powers of mayor and sheriff and was in some villages the sole representative of the law.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Spanish and Portuguese History