A Captaincy (Spanish: capitanía [kapitaˈni.a], Portuguese: capitania [kɐpitɐˈni.ɐ], Croatian: kapetanija) is a historical administrative division of the former Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires. It was instituted as a method of organization, directly associated with the home-rule administrations of medieval feudal governments in which the monarch delimited territories for colonization that were administered by men of confidence.
The Captaincies of the Portuguese Empire were developed successively, based on the original donatário system established by King John I of Portugal in Madeira, and expanded with each successive new colony discovered. Prince Henry the Navigator instituted the Captaincy system to promote development of Portuguese discoveries, but it was in the Azores, where this system effectively functioned. The prince and his successors (the Donatários) remained on the mainland, unable to leave the Cortes, owing to numerous responsibilities related to the Royal Household during the epic period of trans-Atlantic exploration. When the King constituted and bestowed the Donatary system, he never specifically thought of sending his donatários to the archipelagos. Consequently, the expansion of Portuguese overseas maritime authority resulted in the expansion of this system to their other dominions, including Madeira, the Azores and eventually Brazil.