The return of Jean de Béthencourt—Gadifer's jealousy—Béthencourt visits his archipelago—Gadifer goes to conquer Gran Canaria—Disagreement of the two commanders—Their return to Spain—Gadifer blamed by the King—Return of Béthencourt—The natives of Fortaventura are baptized—Béthencourt revisits Caux—Returns to Lancerota—Lands on the African coast—Conquest of Gran Canaria, Ferro, and Palma Islands—Maciot appointed Governor of the archipelago—Béthencourt obtains the Pope's consent to the Canary Islands being made an Episcopal See—His return to his country and his death.

The envoy had not reached Cadiz when Béthencourt landed at the fort on Lancerota. Gadifer gave him a hearty welcome, and so did the Canary islanders who had been baptized. A few days afterwards, King Guardafia came and threw himself on their mercy. He was baptized on the 20th of February, 1404, with all his followers. Béthencourt's chaplains drew up a very simple form of instruction for their use, embracing the principal elements of Christianity, the creation, Adam and Eve's fall, the history of Noah, the lives of the patriarchs, the life of our Saviour and His crucifixion by the Jews, finishing with an exhortation to believe the ten commandments, the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, Easter, confession, and some other points.

Béthencourt was an ambitious man. Not content with having explored, and so to speak, gained possession of the Canary Islands, he desired to conquer the African countries bordering on the ocean. This was his secret wish in returning to Lancerota, and meanwhile, he had full occupation in establishing his authority in these islands, of which he was only the nominal sovereign. He gave himself wholly to the task, and first visited the islands which Gadifer had explored.

But before he set out, a conversation took place between Gadifer and himself, which we must not omit to notice. Gadifer began boasting of all he had done, and asked for the gift of Fortaventura, Teneriffe, and Gomera Islands, as a recompense.

"My friend," replied Béthencourt, "the islands that you ask me to give you are not yet conquered, but I do not intend you to be at any loss for your trouble, nor that you should be unrequited; but let us accomplish our project, and meanwhile remain the friends we have always been."

"That is all very well," replied Gadifer, "but there is one point on which I do not feel at all satisfied, and that is that you have done homage to the King of Castille for these islands, and so you call yourself absolute master over them."

"With regard to that," said Béthencourt, "I certainly have done homage for them, and so I am their rightful master, but if you will only patiently wait the end of our affair, I will give you what I feel sure will quite content you."

"I shall not remain here," replied Gadifer, "I am going back to France, and have no wish to be here any longer."

Upon this they separated, but Gadifer gradually cooled down and agreed to accompany Béthencourt in his exploration of the islands.

They set out for Fortaventura well armed and with plenty of provisions. They remained there three months, and began by seizing a number of the natives, and sending them to Lancerota. This was such a usual mode of proceeding at that time that we are less surprised at it than we should be at the present day. The whole island was explored and a fort named Richeroque built on the slope of a high mountain; traces of it may still be found in a hamlet there.

Just at this time, and when he had scarcely had time to forget his grievances and ill-humour, Gadifer accepted the command of a small band of men who were to conquer Gran Canaria.

He set out on the 25th July, 1404, but this expedition was not fated to meet with any good results, winds and waves were against it. At last they reached the port of Telde, but as it was nearly dark and a strong wind blowing they dared not land, and they went on to the little town of Aginmez, where they remained eleven days at anchor; the natives, encouraged by their king, laid an ambush for Gadifer and his followers; there was a skirmish, blood was shed, and the Castilians, feeling themselves outnumbered, went to Telde for two days, and thence to Lancerota.

Gadifer was much disappointed at his want of success, and began to be discontented with everything around him. Above all, his jealousy of Béthencourt increased daily, and he gave way to violent recriminations, saying openly that the chief had not done everything himself, and that things would not have been in so advanced a stage as they were if others had not aided him. This reached Béthencourt's ears; he was much incensed, and reproached Gadifer. High words followed, Gadifer insisted upon leaving the country, and as Béthencourt had just made arrangements for returning to Spain, he proposed to Gadifer to accompany him, that their cause of disagreement might be inquired into. This proposal being accepted, they set sail, but each in his own ship. When they reached Seville, Gadifer laid his complaints before the king, but as the king gave judgment against him, fully approving of Béthencourt's conduct, he left Spain, and returning to France, never revisited the Canary Islands which he had so fondly hoped to conquer for himself.

Béthencourt took leave of the king almost at the same time, for the new colony demanded his immediate presence there; but before he left, the inhabitants of Seville, with whom he was a great favourite, showed him much kindness; what he valued more highly than anything else was the supply of arms, gold, silver, and provisions that they gave him. He went to Fortaventura, where his companions were delighted to see him. Gadifer had left his son Hannibal in his place, but Béthencourt treated him with much cordiality.

The first days of the installation of Béthencourt were far from peaceful; skirmishes were of constant occurrence, the natives even destroying the fortress of Richeroque, after burning and pillaging a chapel. Béthencourt was determined to overcome them, and in the end succeeded. He sent for several of his men from Lancerota, and gave orders that the fortress should be rebuilt.

In spite of all this the combats began again, and many of the islanders fell, among others a giant of nine feet high, whom Béthencourt would have liked to have made prisoner. The governor could not trust Gadifer's son nor the men who followed him, for Hannibal seemed to have inherited his father's jealousy, but as Béthencourt needed his help, he concealed his distrust. Happily, Béthencourt's men outnumbered those who were faithful to Gadifer, but Hannibal's taunts became so unbearable that Jean de Courtois was sent to remind him of his oath of obedience and to advise him to keep it.

Courtois was very badly received, he having a crow to pick with Hannibal with regard to some native prisoners whom Gadifer's followers had kept and would not give up. Hannibal was obliged to obey the orders, but Courtois represented his conduct to Béthencourt on his return in the very worst light, and tried to excite his master's anger against him. "No, sir," answered the upright Béthencourt, "I do not wish him to be wronged, we must never carry our power to its utmost limits, we should always endeavour to control ourselves and preserve our honour rather than seek for profit."

In spite of these intestine discords, the war continued between the natives and the conquerors, but the latter being well-armed always came off victorious. The kings of Fortaventura sent a native to Béthencourt saying that they wished to make peace with him, and to become Christians. This news delighted the conqueror, and he sent word that they would be well received if they would come to him. Almost immediately on receiving this reply, King Maxorata, who governed the north-westerly part of the island, set out, and with his suite of twenty-two persons, was baptized on the 18th of January, 1405. Three days afterwards twenty-two other natives received the sacrament of baptism. On the 25th of January the king who governed the peninsula of Handia, the south-eastern part of the island, came with twenty-six of his subjects, and was baptized. In a short time all the inhabitants of Fortaventura had embraced the Christian religion.

The King of Maxorata arrived with his suite
The King of Maxorata arrived with his suite.

Béthencourt was so elated with these happy results, that he arranged to revisit his own country, leaving Courtois as governor during his absence. He set out on the last day of January amid the prayers and blessings of his people, taking with him three native men and one woman, to whom he wished to show something of France. He reached Harfleur in twenty-one days, and two days later was at his own house, where he only intended making a short stay, and then returning to the Canary Islands. He met with a very warm reception from everybody. One of his chief motives in returning to France was the hope of finding people of all classes ready to return with him, on the promise of grants of land in the island. He succeeded in finding a certain number of emigrants, amongst whom were twenty-eight soldiers, of whom twenty-three took their wives. Two vessels were prepared to transport the party, and the 6th of May was the day named for them to set out. On the 9th of May they set sail, and landed on Lancerota just four mouths and a half after Béthencourt had quitted it.

He was received with trumpets, clarionets, tambourines, harps, and other musical instruments. Thunder could scarcely have been heard above the sound of this music. The natives celebrated his return by dancing and singing, and crying out, "Here comes our king." Jean de Courtois hastened to welcome his master, who asked him how everything was going on; he replied, "Sir, all is going on as well as possible."

Béthencourt's companions stayed with him at the fort of Lancerota; they appeared much pleased with the country, enjoying the dates and other fruits on the island, "and nothing seemed to harm them." After they had been a short time at Lancerota, Béthencourt went with them to see Fortaventura, and here his reception was as warm as it had been at Lancerota, especially from the islanders and their two kings. The kings supped with them at the fortress of Richeroque, which Courtois had rebuilt.

Béthencourt announced his intention of conquering Gran Canaria Island, as he had done Lancerota and Fortaventura; his hope was that his nephew Maciot, whom he had brought with him from France, would succeed him in the government of these islands, so that the name of Béthencourt might be perpetuated there. He imparted his project to Courtois, who highly approved of it, and added, "Sir, when you return to France, I will go with you. I am a bad husband. It is five years since I saw my wife, and, by my troth, she did not much care about it."

The 6th of October, 1405, was the day fixed for starting for Gran Canaria, but contrary winds carried the ships towards the African coast, and they passed by Cape Bojador, where Béthencourt landed. He made an expedition twenty-four miles inland, and seized some natives and a great number of camels that he took to his vessels. They put as many of the camels as possible on board, wishing to acclimatize them in the Canary Islands, and the baron set sail again, leaving Cape Bojador, which he had the honour of seeing thirty years before the Portuguese navigators.

During this voyage from the coast of Africa to Gran Canaria, the three vessels were separated in stormy weather, one going to Palma, and another to Fortaventura, but finally they all reached Gran Canaria. This island is sixty miles long and thirty-six miles broad; at the northern end it is flat, but very hilly towards the south. Firs, dragon-trees, olive, fig, and date-trees form large forests, and sheep, goats, and wild dogs are found here in large numbers. The soil is very fertile, and produces two crops of corn every year, and that without any means of improving it. Its inhabitants form a large body of people, and consider themselves all on an equality.

When Béthencourt had landed he set to work at once to conquer the island. Unfortunately his Norman soldiers were so proud of their success on the coast of Africa, that they thought they could conquer this island with its ten thousand natives, with a mere handful of men. Béthencourt seeing that they were so confident of success, recommended them to be prudent, but they took no heed of this and bitterly they rued their confidence. After a skirmish, in which they seemed to have got the better of the islanders, they had left their ranks, when the natives surprised them, massacring twenty-two of them, including Jean de Courtois and Hannibal, Gadifer's son.

After this sad affair Béthencourt left Gran Canaria and went to try to subdue Palma. The natives of this island were very clever in slinging stones, rarely missing their aim, and in the encounters with these islanders many fell on both sides, but more natives than Normans, whose loss, however, amounted to one hundred.

After six weeks of skirmishing, Béthencourt left Palma, and went to Ferro for three months, a large island twenty-one miles long and fifteen broad. It is a flat table-land, and large woods of pine and laurel-trees shade it in many places. The mists, which are frequent, moisten the soil and make it especially favourable for the cultivation of corn and the vine. Game is abundant; pigs, goats, and sheep run wild about the country; there are also great lizards in shape like the iguana of America. The inhabitants both men and women are a very fine race, healthy, lively, agile and particularly well made, in fact Ferro is one of the pleasantest islands of the group.

Béthencourt returned to Fortaventura with his ships after conquering Ferro and Palma. This island is fifty-one miles in length by twenty-four in breadth, and has high mountains as well as large plains, but its surface is less undulating than that of the other islands. Large streams of fresh water run through the island; the euphorbia, a deadly poison, grows largely here, and date and olive-trees are abundant, as well as a plant that is invaluable for dyeing and whose cultivation would be most remunerative. The coast of Fortaventura has no good harbours for large vessels, but small ones can anchor there quite safely. It was in this island that Béthencourt began to make a partition of land to the colonists, and he succeeded in doing it so evenly that every one was satisfied with his portion. Those colonists whom he had brought with him were to be exempted from taxes for nine years.

The question of religion, and religious administration could not fail to be of the deepest interest to so pious a man as Béthencourt, so he resolved to go to Rome and try to obtain a bishop for this country, who "would order and adorn the Roman Catholic faith." Before setting out he appointed his nephew Maciot as lieutenant and governor of the islands. Under his orders two sergeants were to act, and enforce justice; he desired that twice a year news of the colony should be sent to him in Normandy, and the revenue from Lancerota and Fortaventura was to be devoted to building two churches. He said to his nephew Maciot, "I give you full authority in everything to do whatever you think best, and I believe you will do all for my honour and to my advantage. Follow as nearly as possible Norman and French customs, especially in the administration of justice. Above all things, try and keep peace and unity among yourselves, and care for each other as brothers, and specially try that there shall be no rivalry among the gentlemen; I have given to each one his share and the country is quite large enough for each to have his own sphere. I can tell you nothing further beyond again impressing the importance of your all living as good friends together, and then all will be well."

Béthencourt remained three months in Fortaventura and the other islands. He rode about among the people on his mule, and found many of the natives beginning to speak Norman-French. Maciot and the other gentlemen accompanied him, he pointing out what was best to be done and the most honest way of doing it. Then he gave notice that he would set out for Rome on the ensuing 15th of December. Returning to Lancerota, he remained there till his departure, and ordered all the gentlemen he had brought with him, the workmen, and the three kings to appear before him two days before his departure, to tell them what he wished done, and to commend himself and them to God's protection.

None failed to appear at this meeting; they were all received at the fort on Lancerota, and sumptuously entertained. When the repast was over, he spoke to them, especially impressing the duty of obedience to his nephew Maciot upon them, the retention of the fifth of everything for himself, and also the exercise of all Christian virtues and of fervent love to God. This done, he chose those who were to accompany him to Rome, and prepared to set out.

His vessel had scarcely set sail when cries and groans were heard on all sides, both Europeans and natives alike regretting this just master, who they feared would never return to them. A great number waded into the water, and tried to stop the vessel that carried him away from them, but the sails were set and Béthencourt was really gone. "May God keep him safe from all harm," was the utterance of many that day. In a week he was at Seville, from thence he went to Valladolid, where the king received him very graciously. He related the narrative of his conquests to the king, and requested from him letters recommending him to the Pope, that he might have a bishop appointed for the islands. The king gave him the letters, and loaded him with gifts, and then Béthencourt set out for Rome with a numerous retinue.

He remained three weeks in the eternal city, and was admitted to kiss Pope Innocent VII.'s foot, who complimented him on his having made so many proselytes to the Christian faith, and on his bravery in having ventured so far from his native country. When the bulls were prepared as Béthencourt had requested, and Albert des Maisons was appointed Bishop of the Canary Islands, the Norman took leave of the Pope after receiving his blessing.

The new prelate took leave of Béthencourt, and set out at once for his diocese. He went by way of Spain, taking with him some letters from Béthencourt to the king. Then he set sail for Fortaventura and arrived there without any obstacle. Maciot gave him a cordial reception, and the bishop at once began to organize his diocese, governing with gentleness and courtesy, preaching now in one island, now in another, and offering up public prayers for Béthencourt's safety. Maciot was universally beloved, but especially by the natives. This happy, peaceful time only lasted for five years, for later on, Maciot began to abuse his unlimited power, and levied such heavy exactions that he was obliged to fly the country to save his life.

Béthencourt after leaving Rome went to Florence and to Paris, and then to his own chateau, where a great number of people came to pay their respects to the king of the Canary Islands, and if on his return the first time he was much thought of, his reception this second time far exceeded it. Béthencourt established himself at Grainville; although he was an old man, his wife was still young. He had frequent accounts from Maciot of his beloved islands, and he hoped one day to return to his kingdom, but God willed otherwise. One day in the year 1425 he was seized with what proved to be fatal illness; he was aware that the end was near; and after making his will and receiving the last sacraments of the church he passed away. "May God keep him and pardon his sins," says the narrative of his life; "he is buried in the church of Grainville la Teinturière, in front of the high altar."

Jean de Béthencourt makes his will
Jean de Béthencourt makes his will.