Conquest of the Canary Islands
The conquest of the Canary Islands by the Crown of Castille took place between 1402 and 1496, representing what some historians have labelled a genocide and described as the first instance of European settler colonialism in Africa. It can be divided into two periods: the Conquista señorial, carried out by Castilian nobility in exchange for a covenant of allegiance to the crown, and the Conquista realenga, carried out by the Spanish crown itself, during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs.
The ties between the Canaries and the Mediterranean world which had existed since antiquity were interrupted by the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire. Although these linkages were weakened, they were not totally severed, and the Canaries' isolation was not total. During the Middle Ages, the first reports on the Canaries come from Arabic sources, which refer to some Atlantic islands which may have been the Canaries. What does seem clear is that this knowledge of the islands did not signify the end of the cultural isolation of the native inhabitants.
Visits to the archipelago began to increase after the end of the 13th century for reasons including:
Main article: Canary Islands in pre-colonial times
In the 14th century, a variety of forces competed for control of the Canaries: Genoese, Majorcan, Portuguese and Castilian. In the following century, Castile and Portugal were the primary contenders.
The first visit by a European to the Canary Islands since antiquity was by Genoese captain Lanceloto Malocello traditionally dated 1312 (but probably a little later, between 1318–1325). Malocello's motives were unclear - it is believed he might have been searching for traces of the Vivaldi brothers who had disappeared off Morocco, around Cape Non back in 1291.[a] Malocello made landfall (possibly shipwrecked) on Lanzarote island, and remained there for nearly twenty years. Malocello may have attempted to erect himself as a ruler among the aboriginal peoples and been eventually expelled by them.
According to some sources, shortly after his return to Europe, in 1336, Malocello led a return expedition to the Canaries, sponsored by the Portuguese crown. However, the existence of this expedition has been dismissed by most modern historians, as being based on later forged documents.
Evidently drawing from the information provided by Malocello, in 1339 appeared the portolan map by Angelino Dulcert of Majorca showing the Canary island of Lanzarote (named Insula de Lanzarotus Marocelus and marked by a Genoese shield), as well as the island of Forte Vetura (Fuerteventura) and Vegi Mari (Lobos). Although earlier maps had shown fantastical depictions of the "Fortunate Islands" (on the basis of their mention in Pliny), this is the first European map where the actual Canary islands make a solid appearance (although Dulcert also includes some fantastic islands himself, notably Saint Brendan's Island, and three islands he names Primaria, Capraria and Canaria).
In 1341, a three-ship expedition sponsored by King Afonso IV of Portugal, set out from Lisbon, commanded by Florentine captain Angiolino del Tegghia de Corbizzi and Genoese captain Nicoloso da Recco, and employing a mixed crew of Italians, Portuguese and Castilians. Cruising the archipelago for five months, the expedition mapped thirteen islands (seven major, six minor) and surveyed the primeval aboriginal inhabitants, the 'Guanches', bringing back four natives to Lisbon.[b] (This expedition would become the basis of later Portuguese claims of priority on the islands.)
European interest in the Canaries picked up quickly after the 1341 mapping expedition. The descriptions of the primeval Guanches, in particular, drew the attention of European merchants, who immediately saw the prospect of new and easy slave-raiding grounds. In 1342, at least two Majorcan expeditions, one under Francesc Duvalers, another under Domenech Gual, assembled by private merchant consortia with a commission from Roger de Robenach (representative of James III of Majorca) set out for the Canary islands. Some speculate as many as four or five expeditions were commissioned in Majorca in 1342. The results of these expeditions are uncertain.
The Catholic Church was also drawn by the news. In 1344, the Castilian-French noble Luis de la Cerda (Count of Clermont and Admiral of France), then serving as a French ambassador to the papal court in Avignon, submitted a proposal to Pope Clement VI, offering the Church the more palatable vision of conquering the islands and converting the native Canarians to Christianity. In November 1344, Pope Clement VI issued the bull Tuae devotionis sinceritas granting the Canary islands in perpetuity to Luis de la Cerda and bestowing upon him the title of sovereign "Prince of Fortuna". The pope followed this up with another bull, in January 1345, giving the projected Cerda-led conquest and conversion of the islands the character of a crusade, granting indulgences to its participants, and papal letters were dispatched to the Iberian monarchs urging them to provide material assistance to Cerda's expedition. The Portuguese king Afonso IV immediately lodged a protest, claiming priority of discovery, but conceded to the authority of the pope. Alfonso XI of Castile also protested, claiming that, by the ancient Visigothic dioceses and prior reconquista treaties, the islands fell within the Castilian jurisdiction and 'sphere of conquest', but nonetheless recognized Cerda's title.
Preparations for the Cerda expedition were stalled by the opposition of the Iberian monarchs - despite their formal concessions to Cerda's title, they did not facilitate the organization of his expedition. As a result, no expedition to the Canary islands was mounted before Luis de la Cerda's death on July 5, 1348. By the terms of the 1344 contract, the lordship of Fortuna was set to expire after five years without an expedition (although Cerda's heirs, the Counts of Medinacelli would later revive their claim).
With Cerda out of the picture, former parties resumed their adventures. However, records over the next generation are few and far-between. We have notices of three further expeditions by Majorcans (now annexed by Aragon since 1344) to the area - the famed expedition of Jaume Ferrer in 1346 (aiming to reach the "River of Gold", i.e. Senegal, on the African coast, but may have touched the Canaries on the way), the expedition of Arnau Roger to Gran Canaria in 1352, and a royal-sponsored patrol expedition by Joan Mora in 1366. There were doubtless many unrecorded expeditions, not only by Majorcans, but also likely by merchants of Seville and Lisbon. These would have been almost wholly of commercial character, many with the purpose of capturing native islanders to sell as slaves in European markets. But there was also some peaceful trade with the locals, particularly for orchil and dragon's blood, which grew wildly on the islands and were much valued as dyes by the European cloth industry.
Despite the failure of the Cerda project, the pope did not give up on his hope of converting the natives. In 1351, Pope Clement VI endorsed an expedition by Majorcan captains Joan Doria and Jaume Segarra, with the object of bringing Franciscan missionaries, including twelve converted Canarian natives (apparently seized by previous Majorcan expeditions), to the islands.[c] Whether this expedition ever set out is uncertain, although it was most probably enveloped in Arnau Roger's expedition of 1352. Apocryphal legend relates the Majorcan missionaries succeeded established an evangelizing center at Telde (on Gran Canaria), until they were massacred by the natives in 1354.
To encourage the missionaries at Telde the pope had erected the 'Diocese of Fortuna' in 1351, but this seems to have remained a paper appointment. Papal interest in the Canaries waned following the death of Pope Clement VI in late 1352. For the next generation, there is practically no information about the Canary islands. It is probable Majorcan-Aragonese kept up their commercial interest, focused on Gran Canaria, but records are scant.
The next we hear of the Canary islands in 1366, when King Peter IV of Aragon commissioned the captain Joan Mora to patrol the Canary islands to assert Aragonese sovereignty and patrol for interlopers. Although there was still no project of conquest, interest in missionary establishments seemed to pick up again. The Avignon Pope Urban V issued a bull in July 1369 erecting the Diocese of Fortuna and appointing Fr. Bonnant Tari as bishop, and followed it up with bull of September 1369 instructing the bishops of Barcelona and Tortosa to dispatch 10 secular and 20 regular clergy to preach to the Canarians in their native languages.[d] But whether this actually set out or just remained a paper project is also uncertain. We have a more reliable record of a Majorcan expedition in 1386 carried out by 'Pauperes Heremite', sponsored by Peter IV Aragon and Pope Urban VI. Although their exact fate is unknown, there is a later report that thirteen "Christian friars" who had been preaching in the Canaries "for seven years" were massacred in an uprising during 1391.[e] At least five missionary expeditions would be sent (or at least planned) between 1352 and 1386.
Geographic knowledge of the Canary islands coalesced with these expeditions. Eight of the Canary islands, including La Gomera and El Hierro, are depicted in the 1367 portolan chart of the brothers Domenico and Francesco Pizzigano. A few years later, the Catalan Atlas of 1375 shows the Canaries almost completely and accurately mapped (only La Palma is missing). The eleven islands are named in the Catalan Atlas (from east to west) as Graciosa (La Graciosa), laregranza (Alegranza), rocho (Roque), Insula de lanzaroto maloxelo (Lanzarote), insula de li vegi marin (Lobos), forteventura (Fuerteventura), Insula de Canaria (Gran Canaria), Insula del infernio (Tenerife), insula de gomera (La Gomera), insula de lo fero (El Hierro). The name 'tenerefiz' is first given alongside 'Infierno' in the 1385 Libro del Conoscimiento.
During the 1370s, when Portugal and Castile were engaged in the dynastic Fernandine Wars that followed the assassination of Peter I of Castile. Portuguese and Castilian privateers were dispatched against each other, several of which made detours to the Canary islands for shelter or slave-raiding jaunts.
In the first indication of a conquest project since 1344, King Ferdinand I of Portugal granted in 1370 the islands of Lanzarote and La Gomera to the adventurer 'Lançarote da Franquia' (believed by some to be none other than the impossibly-aged Lanceloto Malocello).[f] Lançarote da Franquia made an attempt to seize the islands and is reported to have engaged in fighting with "Guanches and Castilians" there by 1376, but it seems the effort at establishing a Portuguese foothold faltered after Lançarote's death in 1385.[g]
Interest in the Canary islands seem to have been principally the province of the Majorcan-Aragonese in the 1340s-60s (focused on Gran Canaria), and the Portuguese in 1370s-80s (focused on Lanzarote). There are faint references to Castilian adventurers before, but it is only really after 1390 that interest picked up and Castile finally brought its weight to bear.
In 1390, Gonzalo Peraza Martel, Lord of Almonaster, a notable of Seville, requested permission from King Henry III of Castile to conquer the Canary Islands.[h] The Castilian grandee Juan Alonso de Guzmán, Count of Niebla, joined his name to the effort.
Five ships were prepared, crewed by Andalusians from Seville and Basque adventurers from Vizcaya and Guipuzcoa, and set off from Cadiz in 1393. The Almonaster expedition sailed through the Canary islands, examining the coasts of Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Hierro, Gomera and Tenerife, before finally deciding to land and raid Lanzarote. The Almonaster raid on Lanzarote took some 170 native inhabitants captive, including the local Guanche king and his queen, along with plenty of skins, wax and dyewood, which they sold in Seville for a small fortune. Upon their return to Castile, Almonaster and Niebla presented their captives and goods before Henry III, and reported that the Canary islands were easy to conquer and very profitable. This whet the appetites of other adventurers.[i]
There were several other reputed expeditions to the Canary Islands during the 14th Century, first reported by Fr. Juan de Abreu Galindo (1632), some of them in Viera y Clavigo (1772), drawing primarily from local Canarian legends, that have since been determined to be apocryphal or confounded with other expeditions.[j] Among those deemed purely legendary are:
Other legendary traditions include the apparition of the Virgin of Candelaria in 1392-93, encountered by two Guanche goatherds on the beaches of Tenerife.
The conquest took place between 1402 and 1496. It was not an easy task, militarily, given the resistance of the Guanche aboriginals in some islands. Nor was it easy politically, given the conflicting interests of the nobility (bent on fortifying their economic and political power) and the state, particularly Castile, with an interest in reinforcing its own power in competition with the nobles.
Historians identify two distinguishable periods in the conquest of the Canaries:
The first period of the conquest of the Canaries was carried out by the Norman nobles Jean de Bethencourt and Gadifer de la Salle. Their motives were basically economic: Bethencourt possessed textile factories and dye works and the Canaries offered a source of dyes such as the orchil lichen.
Bethencourt received important political support in the court of King Henry III of Castile. His uncle, Robert de Braquemont, gained the king's permission for the conquest of the Canary Islands on behalf of the Norman noble. In exchange for these rights Bethencourt became a vassal of the Castilian King. Robert de Braquemont invested a significant amount in the venture. The story of the Bethencourt Conquest was recorded in the chronicle known as the Canarien, compiled by two clerics Pierre Bontier and Jean Le Verrier. The original was adapted in two later versions, one by Gadifer de La Salle (which appears the more reliable of the two) and the other by the nephew of Bethencourt, Maciot de Bethencourt.
The Norman expedition set off from La Rochelle and stopped off in Galicia and Cádiz before arriving in Lanzarote in the summer of 1402. The island's aborigines and their chief Guadarfia were unable to resist the invading forces and surrendered. The Normans established themselves on the south of the island where they constructed a fortress and founded the Bishopric of Rubicon. From this location they attempted an assault on Fuerteventura.
This campaign lasted between 1402 and 1405. The extended duration was not due so much to the resistance of the islanders as to the difficulties and internal divisions between the two captains leading the invaders. Hunger and a lack of resources forced the expedition to retreat to Lanzarote. Jean de Bethencourt then travelled to Castila to drum up further support. There King Enrique III supplied the necessary measures and the confirmation of Bethencourt's exclusive rights to conquer the island, thereby marginalising Gadifer.
During Bethencourt's absence Gadifer had to confront a double rebellion, one by a section of his men led by Bertín de Berneval, who had restarted the capture of slaves and the other by the Lanzarote Guanches who resisted this practice. Pacifying the island took until 1404 and the conquest of Fuerteventura recommenced at the end of that year. However, the two commanders acted separately, each one fortifying his own domain (the castles of Rico Roque and Valtarajal). The conquest of the island was completed in 1405 with the surrender of the native kings of the island. On an unknown date Gadifer abandoned the island and returned to France to defend his rights, but he would never return to the islands.
After the victory Bethencourt, absolute owner of the islands, returned to Normandy in search of settlers and new resources in order to continue the conquest of the rest of the islands.
The conquest of El Hierro took place in 1405. There was no resistance offered by the scattered Guanche population who were largely sold as slaves. The island was then repopulated with Norman and Castilian settlers.
Bethencourt remained on the islands until 1412 when he returned permanently to his lands in Normandy, leaving Maciot de Bethencourt in charge of his possessions.
The Bethencourt era ended in 1418 when Maciot sold his holdings and the rights to subjugate the remaining islands to Enrique Pérez de Guzmán. From this point on the intervention of the King of Castile increased. Between 1418 and 1445 dominion over the islands changed hands on a number of occasions. Finally, control over the conquered islands and the right to further conquests fell to Hernán Peraza The Elder and his children Guillén Peraza and Inés Peraza. The death of Guillén Peraza in the attack on La Palma has been immortalized in a moving lament. After the death of her brother Inés and her husband Diego García de Herrera became the sole rulers of the islands until 1477 when they ceded La Gomera to their son Hernán Peraza The Younger and the rights to the conquest of La Palma, Gran Canaria and Tenerife to the King of Castile.
The island of La Gomera was not taken in battle but was incorporated into the Peraza-Herrera fiefdom through an agreement between Hernán Peraza The Elder and some of the insular aboriginal groups who accepted the rule of the Castilian. However, there were a number of uprisings by the Guanches due to outrages committed by the rulers on the native Gomeros. The last one, in 1488 caused the death of the islands ruler, Hernán Peraza The Younger, whose widow, Beatriz de Bobadilla y Ossorio, succeeded him in rule and sought the assistance of Pedro de Vera, conqueror of Gran Canaria, in order to snuff out the rebellion. The subsequent repression caused the death of two hundred rebels and many others were sold into slavery in the Spanish markets.
The second period of the Spanish conquest of the Canaries was different from the first in a number of ways:
There were three stages in the conquest of Gran Canaria:
a) Initial stage, June – December 1478. The first expeditionary force disembarked on La Isleta on 24 June 1478. The force was commanded by Juan Rejón and Dean Bermúdez, as representative of the Bishop of San Marcial del Rubicón, Juan de Frías, who was a co-financier of the expedition. They founded Real de La Palmas near to Barranco de Guiniguada on the site of the present day Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. A few days later the first battle of the campaign took place near to Real when the islanders were defeated. This initial victory gave the Castilians control of the north east corner of the island.
b) Guanche resistance and Castilian divisions from the close of 1478 until 1481. This period is defined by aboriginal resistance in the mountainous interior, the lack of men and materials and internal disputes between the invaders. During this stage Juan Rejón was dismissed on the orders of the Catholic Monarchs. His place was taken by Pedro Fernández de Algaba who was subsequently executed by order of the deposed Rejón. The naming of Pedro de Vera as the new governor of the island and the arrest of Juan Rejón put an end to the in-fighting that had continued until 1481.
c) Suppression of the Guanche resistance and conquest of the island, 1481–83. Pedro de Vera, now undisputed commander of the Castilian forces, resumed the conquest of the island's interior and the Guanche fiefdom of Gáldar. He was able to do this because a large contingent of reinforcements had been sent from Gomero by Diego García de Herrera. The Guanche leader Doramas was subsequently killed in the Battle of Arucas. The capture of Tenesor Semidán, king of Gáldar, by Alonso Fernández de Lugo was a decisive factor in the victory of the invaders. Tenesor Semidán was sent to Castile where he was baptized with the name Fernando Guanarteme and after signing the Calatayud Pact with Fernando the Catholic he became a loyal and valuable ally of the Castilians. His actions have been interpreted in a number of ways throughout history: some think he was a traitor to the aboriginal cause; while others feel he was an able negotiator who saved many lives. On 29 April 1483 Guayarmina Semidán, considered to be queen of Gran Canaria, surrendered at Ansite Fortress. On the same day Chief Bentejuí and his shaman-advisor Faycán committed suicide by jumping off a cliff while shouting Atis Tirma (for my land).
Alonso Fernández de Lugo, who played an important role in the conquest of Gran Canaria was granted the rights of conquest for La Palma and Tenerife by the Catholic Monarchs. The agreement with the Crown included a fifth of the captives and 700,000 maravedís if the conquest was completed within a year.
In order to finance the enterprise Alonso Fernández de Lugo entered into association with Juanoto Berardi and Francisco de Riberol. Each partner contributed a third of the costs and would receive the same proportion of the benefits.
The campaign was relatively easy, commencing on 29 September 1492 when the Castilians landed in Tazacorte. Alonso Fernández de Lugo made use of agreements and pacts with the Guanches which respected the rights of the chieftains giving full equality with the Castilians in order to attract them to his cause. Resistance was generally minimal, with the exception of an incident in Tigalate. However, there was more concerted resistance in the canton of Aceró (Caldera de Taburiente) where the chief, Tanausú, was easily able to hold out as the only two access points to the area were readily defendable against the advance of the invading forces.
Seeing that the year would soon be up and fearing that he would lose the bonus of 700,000 maravedíes Fernández de Lugo proposed a meeting with Tanausú which was to take place in Los Llanos de Aridane. The Castilians ambushed and captured Tanausú when he left the Caldera. He was then sent to Castile as a prisoner, however, he starved to death on the journey. The official date for the end of the conquest is given as 3 May 1493. Following this part of the population of Aceró and other cantons which had signed peace treaties were sold as slaves although the majority were integrated into the new society formed after the conquest.
Tenerife was the last island to be conquered and the one that took the longest time to submit to the Castilian troops. Although the traditional dates of conquest of Tenerife are established between 1494 (landing of Alonso Fernández de Lugo) and 1496 (conquest of the island), it must be taken into account that the attempts to annex the island of Tenerife to the Crown of Castile date back at least to 1464. For this reason, 32 years passed between the first attempt in 1464, until the island's final conquest in 1496.
In 1464, takes place in the barranco del Bufadero taking symbolic possession of the island by the Lord of the Canary Islas Diego Garcia de Herrera. This signing a peace treaty with menceyes, allowing shortly after mencey Anaga build a tower on their land, where Guanches and Europeans had treatment until it is demolished around 1472 by the same Guanches.
In 1492 the governor of Gran Canaria Francisco Maldonado organized a raid ending in disaster for Europe, as they are defeated by the Guanches of Anaga.
In December 1493 Alonso Fernández de Lugo obtained the Catholic Monarchs confirmation of his right of conquest over the island of Tenerife and in exchange for renouncing the bonus promised for the conquest of La Palma he claimed governorship of the island, although he would not receive revenue from the quinto real tax.
The finance for the conquest was achieved by the sale of his sugar plantations in the valley of Agaete, obtained after the conquest of Gran Canaria, and by forming an association with Italian merchants who had settled in Seville.
At the time of the conquest Tenerife was divided into nine Menceyatos or kingdoms which can be divided into two camps, one largely in favour of the Castilians and the other opposed to them. The former which became known in Spanish as ″el bando de paz″, comprised the peoples of the south and east of the island (from the ″menceyatos″ of Anaga, Güímar, Abone and Adeje) who had previous contact with Castilians through the activities of the missionary Candelaria. The opposing ″bando de guerra″ was based in the ″menceyatos″ of the north: Tegueste, Tacoronte, Taoro, Icoden and Daute and maintained a fierce resistance to the invasion.
The invading force set sail from Gran Canaria in April 1494 and landed on the coast of present-day Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The force comprised 2,000-foot soldiers and 200 cavalry made up of peninsular Castilians as well as soldiers from the other Canary Islands (mainly from Gomera and Gran Canary). After building a fortress they advanced towards the interior of the island. They tried to negotiate with Bencomo, the most important king in the ″bando de guerra″, and offered peace if he accepted Christianity and submitted to the authority of the Catholic Monarchs. Bencomo rejected the conditions attached to the offer making confrontation inevitable.
The first armed encounter between the two sides was the celebrated First Battle of Acentejo that took place in a ravine called the Barranco de Acentejo or Barranco de San Antonio in the present day municipality of La Matanza de Acentejo. A force of more than 2,000 men advanced towards the north of the island through the valley of Taoro. The objective was to defeat the Guanches in the centre of their heartland. The Guanches ambushed the invaders who suffered a grave defeat, losing eighty percent of their forces in the battle. Alonso Fernández de Lugo managed to escape to Gran Canaria where he organized a new force with better trained troops and greater financial resources supported by Genoese merchants and Castilian nobles. After the battle the Guanches destroyed the fortress built by the Castilians.
Alonso Fernández de Lugo requested and received extensive further aid and supplies from neighboring territorial lord Inés Peraza totalling 600,000 maravedí and returned to Tenerife with a better trained and armed force. After rebuilding the fortress at Añazo he advanced towards the plains of Aguere (San Cristóbal de La Laguna) where in November he defeated Bencomo in the Battle of Aguere as the gaunche leader committed the error of engaging the Castillian forces in battle in open ground. The use of cavalry and reinforcements provided by Fernando Guanarteme were the deciding factors in the Castillian victory. The Guanches lost 1,700 men including Bencomo and his brother (or possibly stepbrother) Tinguaro. It is claimed that an epidemic had infected the population before the battle, decimating the island's population and leaving the survivors weak or ill, this is known as the "gran modorra" or the great drowsiness. However, the exact size of the epidemic and its importance in the outcome of the battle remains disputed by some historians.
In December 1495, after a long period of guerrilla warfare, pillaging and war fatigue the Castilians again advanced on the interior in the direction of Taoro, this time from the north. A force of several thousand Guanches awaited them in a ravine near to the present day municipality of La Victoria de Acentejo, not far from the site of the First Battle of Acentejo. The Castilian victory in the Second Battle of Acentejo brought about the collapse of aboriginal resistance and access to the Taoro Valley remained open. The battle marked the conquest of the island of Tenerife and the end of the conquest of the Canary Islands.
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