Last modified: 2021-05-16 by ivan sache
Keywords: canary islands |
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Banner of Jean de Béthencourt - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 29 December 2020
Jean de Béthencourt, Baron of Saint-Martin-le-Gaillard, was born in 1362 in Grainville-la-Teinturière, Normandy, the son of Jean III Béthencourt and Marie de Bracquemont.
During his conflicts with the king of Navarre, King Charles V ordered demolished all fortresses of the region belonging to supporters of Navarre, or those whose owners were unable to ensure their defense. Béthencourt's father was killed in May 1364 at the Battle of Cocherel, serving under Bertrand du Guesclin; Grainville was demolished in 1365. In 1377, Béthencourt entered the service of Louis I, Duke of Anjou. Between 1387 and 1391 he held the honorary post of chancellor of Louis de Valois and Duke of Touraine (later Duke of Orléans). In 1387, King Charles VI of France gave permission to rebuild the castle in Grainville.
Béthencourt held Grainville as a vassal of the Count of Longueville, Olivier du Guesclin, son of Bertrand du Guesclin. He later held it under Henry V of England who had taken control as a result of his expeditions in France. Around this time, taking advantage of the instability of relations between England and France, it is likely that Béthencourt engaged in piracy against both sides.
In 1390 he accompanied the Duke of Touraine on the Barbary Crusade, an expedition organized by Genoese merchants to address North African piracy. Béthencourt probably heard stories regarding the Canary Islands from the Genoese, and of the presence of orchil, a lichen used to make a rare and expensive dye. Béthencourt comes from a country of dyers... He met up with Gadifer de la Salle, whom he had previously met during service under the Duke of Orléans, and who would accompany him to the Canaries.
At that time the Canary Islands were mainly frequented by Spanish merchants. To finance his expedition Béthencourt sold his house in Paris. According to encylopedist Louis Moréri, King Henry III of Castile entrusted the conquest of the Canaries to Robert de Bracquemont, French ambassador to Castile and uncle of Béthencourt, who gave the commission to his nephew.
Béthencourt set sail from La Rochelle on 1 May 1402 with 280 men, mostly Gascon and Norman adventurers, including two Franciscan priests, Pierre Bontier and Jean le Verrier who narrated the expedition in Le Canarien, two Guanches who had been captured in an earlier Castilian expedition and were already baptised, and Jean Arriete Prud'homme who would assist in the conquest as a key adviser and administrator.
Béthencourt arrived at Lanzarote, the northernmost inhabited island. He started the conquest in a rather friendly way by taking over the island with the help of the locals. Their present king Guadarfia was the grandson of Zonzamas, who was king when Lancelotto Malocello had visited the island earlier.
While Gadifer de la Salle explored the archipelago, Béthencourt left for Cádiz, where he acquired reinforcements at the Castilian court. At this time a power struggle had broken out on the island between Gadifer and Berthin de Berneval, another officer. Berthin spread dissention between the Béthencourt's Normans and Gadifer's Gascons. Local leaders were drawn into the conflict and scores died in the first months of Béthencourt's absence. However, Béthencourt managed to calm the situation when he returned, and the Guanche leader was baptized on 27 February 1404, thus surrendering to the Europeans. Subsequently, Jean de Béthencourt was proclaimed king of the Canaries by Pope Innocent VII, even though he recognized the Castilians as overlords. The remaining islands, La Gomera, Gran Canaria, Tenerife and La Palma, were gradually conquered over the course of a century or so.
Jean de Béthencourt after his death in 1422 was succeeded by his nephew Maciot de Béthencourt, who turned out to be a tyrant. He established Teguise as the new capital. The Portuguese had been competing with the Castilians for the islands. The Castilians suspected that Maciot would sell the islands to them, which he did in 1448. Neither the natives nor the Castilians approved, and this led to a revolt which lasted until 1459 when the Portuguese were forced to leave. Portugal formally recognised Castile as the ruler of the Canary Islands in 1479 as part of the Treaty of Alcáço;ovas.
Olivier Touzeau<, 29 December 2020
Le Canarien is the name given to the chronicle of the conquest of the Canary Islands by Jean de Béthencourt and Gadifer de La Salle. From the outset, it states that it has been written, as events unfolded, by two clergymen and chaplains, Pierre Bontier and Jean Le Verrier. This intention does not coincide with the text that we know and that is presented in two contradictory versions.
The oldest, called Gadifer de la Salle, has come down to us contained in the Egerton Codex 2,709 of the British Museum and is unfinished: it contains 70 chapters or rather paragraphs, and narrates what happened up to the autumn of 1404. The two chaplains, According to the prologue, they wrote only until April 19, 1404; the follower was Gadifer himself, who also reformed and retouched everything previously written. The manuscript thus retouched is from 1410-1420. It represents the point of view of Gadifer, who considers himself deceived by his partner, Jean de Béthencourt and denounces his incorrect behavior at every step.
The second version, called Jean V de Béthencourt, is contained in the Montruffet Codex of the Municipal Library of Rouen, and is based on the chronicle of Gadifer, in its first form; it is more complete (it has 88 chapters) and leads the narrative until the death of the conqueror.
[José Manuel Erbez. 2004. Las primeras banderas sobre Canarias: El testimonio de la crónica Le Canarien. Banderas 91]
Illustrations in the Montruffet Codex depict several times the heraldic banner of Jean de Béthencourt (image), "Argent a lion sable armed and langued gules".
Olivier Touzeau, 29 December 2020