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The King of Madeira!

f you care to do a bit of digging around this island, it’s absolutely incredible what you can find! How about a story that links the King of Poland, Hungary & Croatia with an obscure little fishing village to the west of Funchal? Let’s jump straight in!


King of Poland, Władysław III, also known as Ladislaus of Varna

In the mid-1500s, united Poland was the largest state in Europe and perhaps the continent's most powerful nation. Władysław III also known as Ladislaus of Varna was the King of Poland, Supreme Duke of Lithuania, King of Hungary and crown head of Croatia. At the time, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) was on the rise and the combined courts of Christian Europe were doing their level best to curb the Muslim’s advances. In November 1444, the joint Christian armies of Hungary, Poland and Wallachia, a region of Romania, led by Ladislaus went to war against Sultan Murad II and were defeated at the ‘Crusade of Varna’. The Polish king, according to his Muslim adversaries, fell in battle! Oddly enough, no body or armour was ever found!


João Gonçalves Zarco looks over to my apartment at Praia Formosa

Meanwhile in the mid-Atlantic, at the very edge of the known world, the tiny islands of Madeira had just been discovered. In 1419, driven off course by a storm, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira landed on the island of Porto Santo and called it the Holy Harbour or Porto Santo. They came back the following year and took possession of the entire archipelago on behalf of the Portuguese crown. The colonisation of the two largest islands started immediately and on September 23, 1433, the name Ilha da Madeira first appears on a map.


11 years on from that date was the Battle of Varna and 11 years after that, in 1454, a mysterious knight appeared on the shores of Madeira bearing the name of Henrique Alemão. João Gonçalves Zarco by then the ‘Captain’ of the island and was so impressed by this enigmatic foreigner that he afforded him the full hospitality and honours the island could afford. The matter came to the ears of the Portuguese King Alfonso V, who was equally moved to welcome the knight, so much so that he bequeathed him significant land around the area now known as Magdalena do Mar,


The modern-day village of Madelena do Mar, located between Ponto do Sol and Jardim do Mar. It would have only been accessible by sea at that time.

Henrique took to his new habitat and established vineyards, vegetable gardens, and sugar plantations as well as building a small church. He became known locally as ‘Henry the German’. The pious pilgrim went on to marry Senhorinha Anes de Sá, the daughter of Infante D. Henrique, Duke of Viseu, a most prominent figure in the Portuguese court during the Age of Discoveries. The title ‘infante’ in Portugal is on a level with ‘prince’. And who do you think was the best man at the wedding? None other than Alfonso V, the King of Portugal!!! Just who was this Henrique guy?

The modern-day Church of Santa Maria in Madelena do Mar, coincidentally the name of Columbus’s ship


The Battle of Varna, 1444 by Polish painter, Jan Alojzy Matejko (1838-1893) known for depicting important events from Polish history.

Could it be that ‘Henry the German’ was in fact King Władysław of Poland, one of the most powerful kings of 15th-century Europe? Had he in fact survived the Battle of Varna and travelled in disguise to the Holy Land seeking penance for his deceit at the Battle of Varna when he violated a 10-year truce with the Ottoman Turks? Had he wandered as a lowly pilgrim, seeking forgiveness until he arrived in Jerusalem where he became a knight of Saint Catharine of Mount Sinai? And then, eventually, arrived on the tiny island of Madeira?


Or did he have a completely different card up his sleeve? We can understand that Ladislaus might have had enough of the pressures of Medieval Europe, the ongoing conflict with the Ottoman Empire and his general royal duties. He’d dropped out, retired and like so many of us chose Madeira to spend his days in peace and tranquillity, going along to Zona Velha for a Poncha on a Friday night, maybe popping into Moynihan’s for the occasional Guinness. Or could it be there was a far more politically cunning reason for his appearance on this little-known mid-Atlantic island?


Then as now, trade and profit were the primary motivators for most monarchs and their powerful courts. They would go to great lengths to protect their monetary interests, including war! The Ottomans had effectively cut off Europe’s fiscal ‘energy supply’ so to speak, in the form of spices, silks, grains etc. Doesn’t this sound familiar?


It is generally understood that the Portuguese and most likely the Spanish knew there was land somewhere across the wide Atlantic. Perhaps it was Japan or even China! If so, this could be the way to open up the trade routes again to the Far East, effectively circumnavigating the Ottoman’s stranglehold on Constantinople. So, again I ask why would such an important figure in European history end up in Madeira? I think our ‘Henry’ had bigger fish to fry - in the form of establishing a new trade route to the Orient. And he was completely in cahoots with the King of Portugal, his best man at the wedding and according to a letter, his dearest friend. I believe the two kings had put their heads together and hatched an intricate plan to foil the Spanish. The marriage between Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon united Spain and gave it the potential to become one of the first global powers. Portugal wanted in on the action. And who was given the responsibility to carry out the deed? Henrique’s son, Prince Segismundo aka Christopher Columbus. You can read more on our hero’s adventures here. In typical international espionage, Firstly they made out that Segismundo had been downed on a trip to Lisbon then the character, Christopher Columbus showed up in Seville


Wlad eventually lost his life sailing between Magdalena and Funchal when his barque was hit by a falling rock from Cape Girão, the second-highest sea cliff in the world! Z The couple had two children, Segismundo, who was lost at sea on the way to Lisbon , and Bárbara Henriques, who married Afonso Anes do Fraguedo , the first clerk of the Funchal Chamber , leaving a generation. He was crushed to death in a ravine that fell from Cabo Girão onto the boat on which he was going from Funchal to Madalena. Senhora Anes later married João Rodrigues da Madalena , [ note 3 ] with no surviving generation. According to another version of the legend, promoted by Manuel da Silva Rosa, Władysław (as Henrique Alemão) was the real father of Christopher Columbus.[11] Manuel da Silva Rosa (born 1961)[1] is a Portuguese American writer and independent researcher and lecturer on the life of Christopher Columbus. Rosa has published several controversial books and has been featured in Polish documentaries about Columbus and several other international media outlets.

Meeting of S. Joaquim and Santa Ana next to Porta Dourada , a painting that was on the altar of the primitive oratory built by Henrique Alemão, and which is supposed to represent himself with his wife, Senhora Anes, according to the usage of the time.

David J. Whyte


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