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Lanzarote History - Conquest of the Canary Islands



The Conquest of Lanzarote


Prior to the Spanish conquest of the Canary Islands in the 1400’s, very little was known about the islands and their people.

Often the explorers found themselves in the Canaries quite by accident, en rout to exploring the “Seven Seas,” losing their way off the coast of western Africa.

Many historians believe the name of Lanzarote to have originated from a Genoese sailor, Lancelotto, who landed on the island in 1312. Another story attributes the name to the Norman knight, Juan Bethencourt who, upon arriving in Lanzarote broke his lance and declared “lanza rota”. The most credible origin is attributed to Lancelot, a French nobleman who came to the island on one of Bethencourt´s expeditions.

The Guanche inhabitants greeted the Portuguese, Italian and Spanish explorers graciously. One of the islands inhabitants named Guadarfia, wearing a primitive crown of goat skin and shells, appeared to be the king on Lanzarote.

lanzaroteUnfortunately, expeditions would lead to piratical raids by the Spanish and Portuguese bucaneers in search of riches and fame. The Cueva de Los Verdes, a huge underground volcanic cave in Lanzarote served as a hiding place for the island people during these raids.

Eager for fame and fortune, Juan Bethancourt resolved to conquer the Canary Islands.

Bethencourt was pleased with the peaceful reception of the islanders and one of his first jobs in aiding was in building the fourtress of Rubicon in the south of Lanzarote between Playa Blanca and Papagayo.

However, while Bethencourt had been in Spain, a power struggle between his officers broke out on the island. Guanche leaders were pulled into the conflict and many Spaniards and islanders died in the bloodbath during Bethencourt’s absence.

To subdue any further uprising, Bethencourt captured the king of Lanzarote and 10 of his followers.


In 1404 the people of Lanzarote surrendered.

Lanzarote, the first of the Canary Islands were now under direct control of Spain. It would be almost a century before the rest of the islands surrendered to Spain.


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