BÉTHENCOURT, JEAN DE (c. 1360–1422), French explorer, belonged to a noble family of Normandy, and held important offices at the court of Charles VI., king of France. His spirit was fired by hearing of the deeds of explorers and adventurers, and having formed a plan to conquer the Canary Islands he raised some money by pledging his Norman estates, and sailed from La Rochelle on the 1st of May 1402 with two ships, commanded by himself and Gadifer de la Salle. He was delayed by a mutiny off the coast of Spain, but reached the island of Lanzarote in July. Unable to carry out his project of conquest, he left his men at the Canaries and went to seek help at the court of Castile. He obtained men and provisions from Henry III. king of Castile, through the good offices of his uncle, Robert de Braquemont, who had considerable influence with Henry; he also received the title of king, and did homage to Henry for his future conquests. Returning to the Canaries in 1404 he found that Gadifer de la Salle had conquered Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, and explored other islands. La Salle, unwilling to accept a position of inferiority, left the Canaries and appealed unsuccessfully for redress at the court of Castile. Béthencourt was unable to complete his work of conquest and exploration. In 1405 he visited Normandy, and returned with fresh colonists who occupied Hierro. In December 1406 he left the islands to the government of his nephew, Maciot de Béthencourt, reserving for himself the royal title and a share in any profits obtained. He returned to Normandy, where he appears to have spent the remainder of his days. He died in 1422, and was buried in the church of Grainville-la-Teinturière. Béthencourt wrote a very untrustworthy account of his “conquest of the Canary Islands,” Le Canarien, livre de la conquête et conversion ses Canaries. This has been published with introduction and notes by G. Gravier (Rouen, 1874), and an English translation was edited by R. H. Major for the Hakluyt Society (London, 1872).
See also Canary Islands, for the controversy as to the relations between Béthencourt and La Salle.