THE CANARIAN.* " WE here propose to speak of the
enterprise undertaken by the Sieur de Bethencourt, Chevalier and Baron, born in the kingdom of France, in Normandy, who set out from his house of Grainville la Teinturiere en Caux, and came to La Rochelle, and there fell in with Gadifer de la Sale, a good and worthy knight, who was then starting on his adventures. In a conversation between them, Monseigneur de Bethencourt asked Gadifer what he thought of doing ; and when he replied that he was going to seek his fortune, Monseigneur de Bethencourt said he was very glad to have met with him, and describing to him his own intended enterprise, asked Gadifer if it would be agree- able to him to join him iu it. Gadifer was rejoiced to hear of the proposed expedition, and many courteous words passed be- tween the two which it would be tedious here to repeat." The adventures thus quaintly prefaced of Jean de Bethencourt and his good knight Gadifer de la Sale are taken from an illuminated manuscript of the early part of the fifteenth century, still in the possession of descendants of the De Bethencourts. An edition of this manuscript was published in Paris in 1630. The Hakluyt Society have now issued a corrected edition, together with a translation, in which Mr. Major has admirably reproduced the antique flavour of the original.
The Canarian ; or, Book of the Conquest and Conversion of the Canarians in the Tear 1402. By Messire Jean de Bethencourt. Translated and edited by Richard Major, F.S.A. Printed for the llakluyt Society.
Fathers Bontier and Le Veirier, monk and priest, attached to the train of the Sieur de Bethencourt, have given us, with all the animation and minute attention to detail of eye-witnesses and enthusiastic partisans, a curious account of one of those half- crusading, half -freebooting expeditions of which the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were so prolific. They believe profoundly in the religious character of their leader's motives, but to unpreju- diced eyes his ambition and greed are plainly shown in the course of the narrative, especially in hie shabby treatment of the " good knight " who joined his fortunes and served him loyally throughout.
The Canary Islands, though vaguely known in very early times, and in more recent ones explored by Juba II., who drew up an account of these "Islands of the Blest" for the edification of Augustus Caesar, still, in the fourteenth century, lay on the borderland of romance, and were the field of many imaginary conquests. Don Louis of Spain obtained them from Pope Clement VI. as a perpetual fief, but the title of Prince of Fortune was the sole result of the acquisition as far as he was concerned, while neither the Papal treasury nor the islands themselves were affected in any way by the transfer. Ships from Venice, Spain, and Portugal visited their coasts at intervals, carried off stray natives into slavery, and brought back exaggerated reports of the beauty and fertility of the land ; but it was not until Jean de Bethencourt fitted out his vessel in the port of Rochelle, and sailed thence with a company of "eighty people," that any effectual step was taken towards their conquest.
On landing at Lanzarote the natives showed themselves un- expectedly friendly, and suffered a fort to be built, promising the colonists protection and assistance. In this fort, " Rubicon," M. de Bethencourt left a part of his company, under the charge of one Berthin de Berneval, while he and Gadifer passed on to the other islands. After a few ineffectual attempts at subjugating them he returned to Spain for further aid, leaving Gadifer de la Sale behind as his representative.
We are now introduced to the traitor and villain of the piece, whom the writers of the manuscript do not hesitate to compare with Judas Iscariot. " Gadder de la Sale, in nowise suspecting that Berthin de Berneval, who was of noble lineage, would be guilty of any baseness, had passed to the island of Lobos to pro- cure some sealskins to make shoes." In his absence Berthin raised a party, entered into alliance with the master of a chance- come ship, captured by treachery many of the friendly and con- fiding natives, and loading the ship with his master's property (wasting and destroying much that he could not take away), set sail for Spain. Before his departure, " some of Gadifer's men who
were at the castle of Rubicon thus spake Fair Sirs, you are well aware that Gadifer is gone yonder to the island of Lobos, on account of the need of shoes for the crew, and that he has with him neither bread, nor flour, nor fresh water ; nor can he receive any except by means of the boats ; pray, let us have it that we may send some victuals for himself and his people, or otherwise they will die of starvation ;' to which they replied, Spare your breath, for once for all ; we will do nothing of the sort, till Berthin and all his people are safe in the ship Tajamar.' "
It is satisfactory to learn that Berthin on landing in Spain was " put into chains and cast into the King's prison at Cadiz ;" also that his followers came by their deserts ; for Berthin, con- triving to give these the slip, saying, "Shift for yourselves as best you can, for you shall not come with me, " they fearing the just wrath of Gadifer, took boat to the mainland, were wrecked off the coast of Morocco, and either drowned or sold into slavery. Meanwhile, De Bethencourt having obtained the objects for which he had gone to Spain, and done homage for the islands to the King of Castile, wrote to Gadifer to announce his speedy return with reinforcements. "Gadifer was very pleased at the contents of the letter, except at the announcement of the homage to the King of Castile, for he ex- pected to share in the possession and profits of the islands, which was not the intention of M. de Bethencourt, as will be seen." Shortly the promise of the letter was fulfilled, and "M. de Bethencourt received such a welcome from Gadifer and his com- panions as would be difficult to describe," for the worthy knight, though "with a heavy heart," had worked steadily at repairing the mischief done by Berthin, and had conquered and baptised many natives, in spite of the contempt into which the Christian faith had fallen by the treachery of its professors ; insomuch as the natives, aggrieved at being captured and betrayed, "imagined that our faith and law could not be so good as we represented, since we betrayed one another, and were not consistent in our actions." For some time M. de Bethencourt and Gadifer, busy over the conversion of natives, and "in embracing each other and weeping for joy at having been the means of bringing so many souls to the way of salvation," worked harmoniously together ; but at length we come to a chapter headed, how " these two had words together." A correspondence took place between them, and in M. Gadifer's letters to Monsieur de Bethencourt there were only these words, " If you come here, if you come here, if you come here ;" and nothing more. To which M. de Bethen- court replied, "If you show yourself here,if you show yourself here, if you show yourself here ; " after which brief interchange of courtesies Gadifer de la Sale " decided," not unnaturally, " in his own mind that the longer he remained in that country the less he should gain," and set sail for Spain. De Bethencourt followed in another ship, and their cause was argued before the King of Castile. Gadifer's assertions being discredited, he returned to France, without much cause for congratulating himself on that meeting at La Rochelle which had once given him such unmixed satisfaction.
In 1406, M. de Bethencourt; having completed the subjection and partial conversion of the three islands, Lanzarote, Ferro, and Fuerteventura, travelled to Rome, where he was received with distinction, and obtained the appointment of a bishop for his new Christian territory, in which the baptised natives might number some 200 men, with women and children. He now appointed Ilia nephew, Maciot de Bethencourt, as governor of the islands, and returned home. " All the inhabitants," says our chronicler, " were to be seen weeping and lamenting ; the Cauarians more bitterly-than the Normans, but the grief and lamentations of both were distressing to witness." " Our leader and master," they cried, " why do you leave us ? We shall never see you again. Alas ! what will the country do, deserted by a sovereign so wise and so prudent, who put so many souls into the road of salvation ? We should like it much better were it otherwise, and if such had been his pleasure." " When M. de Bethencourt had spent a little time at Bethencourt, he went to his house of Grainville La Teinturiere en Cana, where he was received with the usual enthusiasm." Now the King of the Canaries settled himself down to an old age of honourable ease and enjoyment, but alas for the vanity of human expectations ! He was an old man, his wife young and beautiful. Her sister, who was married to M. de Betheneourt's only brother, came with her husband on a visit to Grainville, and great was the festivity and mirth ; but " Madame de Bethencourt, who was a young and merry lady," enjoying herself in the company of her husband and brother-in-law, thus spake unadvisedly with her tongue :—" It would have been a more correct and proper thing if I had had in marriage Messire Morelet, your brother, and that you should have had my sister, who is his wife ; for she is much older than I am, and your brother is much younger than you." "But this she said in nothing but simple merriment. M. de Bethencourt, however, did not take it in this light." " He had not given occasion for such words to be said to him, and he was quite astounded. But if he was so, how much more was Madame de Bethencourt ! It was a terrible thing for a man to put himself into so furious a passion for a word which was only said from lightheartedness. But he fell into such a state of jealousy of his own brother, by the same father and mother, that all the most beautiful robes that she possessed, of which there was a great variety, and very rich of silk brocade, he burned in the fire before her eyes. You may easilysuppose the distress she suffered, not so much for the robes, as for the conduct of M. de Bethen- court. He farther had her taken to Bethencourt, and placed her in a walled prison, and put her on rations of meat and drink." M. Morelet subsequently found means of appeasing his brother's unreasonable jealousy, and of getting the release of his sister-in- law ; but she died shortly after, and the conqueror of the Canaries lived on a few more brief and miserable years. On his death-bed " he asked several times for his brother, and when he found that he did not come, he declared to all present that the thing which lay most upon his conscience was the wrong and despite he had done to his brother" (he having in his jealous rage mortgaged and sold all the lands he could away from his brother as rightful heir, so that he succeeded to next to nothing by M. de Bethen- court's death), " which he knew he had not deserved ; not long after he said this he expired. His brother arrived as he was dying and could no longer articulate. There is no room to doubt that he had as good an end as one could speak of." Thus, with a stormy ending to a stormy life, died the first and last King of the Canaries. His nephew, Maciot, was displaced from his governorship for tyranny and exactions in 1414 ; but after ceding the three islands to the Spanish Governor sent by the Court to replace him, contrived to sell their sovereignty (which he never possessed) to a Portuguese prince, thus embroil- ing the two nations ; and it was not until the peace of Alcacovs, was signed, between Alfonso V. and Ferdinand and Isabella, that. Spain acquired the undisturbed ownership of this new territory, gained for her by the valour and energy of a French baron in one- of the very earliest attempts of his nation at conquest and colonisation.
If the spirit of De Bethencourt could revisit the "glimpses of the moon," it might console him for the failure of all his plans of family aggrandisement, and even for the oblivion into which his. name has sunk, to know that the inhabitants of the islands he- first brought into the light of civilisation are all bigotted Catholics..