Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640 by Patricia Seed
By Steven Knorr
As European powers expanded into the Americas, they used ceremony and ritual to cement their control over newly conquered lands. Perception of colonial ownership differed between the Portuguese, English, French and Spanish.
Ceremonies of Possession by Patricia Seed is a book that explains the rituals and ceremonies European colonizers performed when laying foundation for political authority over the New World between 1492 and 1640. Seed demonstrates that the Europeans did not behave as a monolith, but that each had their own customs and practices when establishing their overseas empires. According to Seed, the symbolic acts taken by the Europeans were based upon familiar gestures, actions, movements or speeches that they already understood. Throughout the book she demonstrates how European legal codes can differentiate how legal possession can be interpreted differently.
Seed begins this discussion with the Portuguese claiming dominion over places they discovered. To the Portuguese, simply discovering land meant they held dominion over it. To the English however, to hold dominion over a territory meant there had to be an intent to stay by establishing houses and boundaries. Queen Elizabeth of England believed that the Portuguese had no dominion over places they simply had found. The English established boundaries by putting up fences and hedges and building gardens. Full-time use of land was an important indicator of property to the English. For this reason, they were able to more easily disregard land usage by the Native Americans, as Native Americans only used theirs on a semi-permanent basis, according to the English laws.