Conquest of the Canary Islands

Conquest of the Canary Islands
Map of the Canary Islands
Location of the Canary Islands

The conquest of the Canary Islands by the Crown of Castille took place between 1402 and 1496. It can be divided into two periods: the Conquista señorial, carried out by Castilian nobility in exchange for a covenant of allegiance with the crown, and the Conquista realenga, carried out by the Spanish crown itself, during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs.


The ties between the Canaries and the Mediterranean world which had existed since antiquity were interrupted by the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire. Although these linkages were weakened, they were not totally severed, and the Canaries' isolation was not total. During the Middle Ages, the first reports on the Canaries come from Arabic sources, which refer to some Atlantic islands which may have been the Canaries. What does seem clear is that this knowledge of the islands did not signify the end of the cultural isolation of the native inhabitants.

Visits to the archipelago began to increase after the end of the 13th century for reasons including:

  • The economic expansion of some European states, such as the Republic of Genoa, the Kingdom of Aragon, the Kingdom of Castille, and the Kingdom of Portugal. Maritime trade along the Moroccan coast was a 'fait accompli' for all of these nations.
  • Development of new navigation techniques (compass, astrolabe, stern rudder, cog-caravel) and the development of cartography: a portulan map by Angelino Dulcert of Majorca, from 1339, is the first to show some of the Canary Islands, and this date might in fact coincide with the effective rediscovery of the islands by the Genoese seaman Lanzarotto Malocello. The first expedition to visit all the islands of the archipelago took place two years later, in 1341, under the command of fellow Genoese seaman and explorer Niccoloso da Recco, at the service and on behalf of Portuguese king Afonso IV.
  • Ideological and political motives: the monarchies of Southern Europe entered an expansive phase. In the case of the Iberian monarchies, their territorial expansion was spurred by the Reconquista Cristã against the Moors in present-day Spain and Portugal. For this reason, territorial expansion represented a reinforcement of royal power, imbued with crusader and missionary spirit.