Jean de Béthencourt

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A later depiction of Jean de Béthencourt.

Jean de Béthencourt (French pronunciation: ​[ʒɑ̃ də betɑ̃kuːʁ]) (1362–1425) was a French explorer who in 1402 led an expedition to the Canary Islands, landing first on the north side of Lanzarote. From there he conquered for Castile the islands of Fuerteventura (1405) and Hierro, ousting their local chieftains (majos and bimbaches, ancient peoples). Béthencourt received the title King of the Canary Islands but he recognized King Henry III of Castile, who had provided aid during the conquest, as his overlord.


Jean de Béthencourt was born in Grainville-la-Teinturière, province of Normandy. To finance his expedition he sold his house in Paris valued at 200 gold francs and some other small pieces of property in December 1401.[1] His uncle, Robert de Braquemont, loaned him 5,000 pounds (to which he later added another 2,000).[1]

One of the ships departing for the 1402 Norman expedition (from "Le Canarien").

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[1] who narrated the expedition in Le Canarien) and two Guanches who had been captured in an earlier Castilian expedition and were already baptised.

In 1402 Jean de Béthencourt conquered Lanzarote, the northernmost inhabited island. 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, another officer. Local leaders were drawn into the conflict and scores of Spaniards and islanders died in what was to become a bloodbath of the first months of Béthencourt's absence. During this crisis, Gadifer managed to conquer Fuerteventura and to explore other islands. It was only with the return of Béthencourt in 1404 that peace was restored to the troubled island. De la Salle and Béthencourt founded the city of Betancuria (as capital of the island of Fuerteventura) in 1404.

Years later Bethencourt was defeated by the aboriginals of the island of Gran Canaria (canarios) in the battle of Arguineguin at south of the island, getting the title of Great. He died in 1422, and was buried in the church of Grainville-la-Teinturiere.[2]

Some of his descendants had great power and fortune in the islands. Including Ginés de Cabrera Béthencourt, famous for building the Casa de Los Coroneles (House Of The Colonels) in the municipal area that would nowadays be known as La Oliva.

Béthencourt surname[edit]

To this day, Betancourt and other forms of his surname are quite frequent among Canary Islanders and people of Canary Islander descent, in spite of his death without issue, thanks to the practice of baptising the natives with his surname and to the offspring of his nephew Maciot de Béthencourt who succeeded him as lord of the islands.


  1. ^ a b c Descendants of Jean de Bethencourt
  2. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Béthencourt, Jean de". Encyclopædia Britannica 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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