João Gonçalves Zarco

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João Gonçalves Zarco
A posthumous portrait attributed to Nicolau Ferreira, c. 1790
1st Donatary-Captain of Funchal
In office
MonarchsJohn I
Edward I
Afonso V
Succeeded byJoão Gonçalves da Câmara
Personal details
Bornc. 1390
Kingdom of Portugal
Died21 November 1471
OccupationExplorer, colonial administrator
Known forSettler of the Archipelago of Madeira

João Gonçalves Zarco (c. 1390 – 21 November 1471)[1] was a Portuguese explorer who established settlements and recognition of the Madeira Islands, and was appointed first captain of Funchal by Henry the Navigator.


A statue of Zarco stands on the Avenida Arriaga, one of the main streets in the Madeiran capital of Funchal.

Zarco was born in Portugal, and became a knight at the service of Prince Henry the Navigator's household. In his service at an early age, Zarco commanded the caravels guarding the coast of the Algarve from Muslim incursions, was at the conquest of Ceuta, and later led the caravels that recognized the island of Porto Santo in 1418 to 1419 and afterward, the island of Madeira 1419 to 1420. He founded the city of Câmara de Lobos. He was granted, as hereditary leader (Capitania), half the island of Madeira (the Capitania of Funchal, being its first Captain-major). Together with his fellow fleet commanders, Tristão Vaz Teixeira and Bartolomeu Perestrelo, he initiated the colonization of the islands in 1425. As a knight of the House of Avis, he participated in the siege of Tangier, in 1437, which ended in failure. He died at Funchal, Madeira.

Ancestry and descendency[edit]

He married Constança Rodrigues, daughter of Rodrigo Lopes de Sequeiros (?) and wife, and had the following issue:

  • João Gonçalves da Câmara (d. Funchal, Madeira, 26 March 1501), married to Dona Mécia de Noronha, daughter of Dom João Henriques de Noronha (bastard son of Alfonso, Count of Gijón and Noroña) and wife Beatriz, Lady de Mirabel and sister of Dom Garcia Henriques, and had issue, and also one son by an unknown mother
  • Rui Gonçalves da Câmara, 3rd Donatary Captain of São Miguel Island, married to Maria de Bettencourt, natural daughter of Maciot de Bettencourt by Teguise, without issue, he had a son by one Maria Rodrigues and three more children by an unknown mother
  • Garcia Rodrigues da Câmara, married to Violante de Freitas, and had issue
  • Beatriz Gonçalves da Câmara, married to Diogo Cabral, and had issue
  • Isabel Gonçalves da Câmara, married to Diogo Afonso de Aguiar, o Velho (the Old), and had issue
  • Helena Gonçalves da Câmara, married to Martim Mendes de Vasconcelos, and had issue
  • Catarina Gonçalves da Câmara, married to Garcia Homem de Sousa

Possible Jewish ancestry[edit]

There are discussions as to whether João Gonçalves Zarco could have been of Jewish Converso origin. Zarco was a prominent Jewish family from Santarém and Lisbon. Mossé Zarco was King João II's tailor. There was also a Portuguese doctor named Joseph Zarco, whom some authors claim to be Joseph Ibn Sharga, the great kabbalist, and a sixteenth-century poet named Yehuda Zarco.[2][3][4] Augusto Mascarenhas Barreto suggested that Christopher Columbus could have been of Jewish descent from Portugal and his real name was Salvador Fernandes Zarco.[5][6] Isabel Violante Pereira also attributes Jewish ancestry to João Gonçalves Zarco.[7]

In culture[edit]

The novel of Arkan Simaan, L'Écuyer d'Henri le Navigateur (Harmattan, Paris, 2007), deals with Zarco's life.


  1. ^ Tombo 1º do registo geral da Câmara Municipal do Funchal
  2. ^ "O Baú de Abravanel (ISBN 9788571641112)", Alberto Dines.
  3. ^ "Voices in Exile: a Study in Sephardic Intellectual History (ISBN 0-88125-370-7)", Marc Angel
  4. ^ "Sangre Judia", Pere Bonnin
  5. ^ "The Portuguese Christopher Columbus: Secret Agent of King John II", Augusto Mascarenhas Barreto, McMillan (UK):1992
  6. ^ "Portuguese village opens up new world of speculation as it lays claim". 9 October 2011.
  7. ^ "De Mendo da Guarda a D. Manuel I,", Isabel Violante Pereira, Lisbon: Livros Horizonte, 2001, p. 83.


  • António da Costa de Albuquerque de Sousa Lara, 2nd Count de Guedes, Vasco de Bettencourt de Faria Machado e Sampaio and Marcelo Olavo Correia de Azevedo, Ascendências Reais de Sua Alteza Real a Senhora Dona Isabel de Herédia Duquesa de Bragança, I, pelos Costados Herédia, Bettencourt e Meneses da Ilha da Madeira" (Universitária Editora, 1999)

External links[edit]