Christopher Columbus in Castile [Spain]

One of the many missing pieces of information from Christopher Columbus’s history is what happened to his wife, Doña Felipa Columbus. She never joined her husband in Seville. Historians and her descendant family debate about her date of death. Some say she died shortly after Christopher left Pôrto Santo in the early 1480s. Some say she died in 1484. Some say she died in 1497, after her husband’s successful adventure.

Meanwhile, Christopher journeyed to Cordoba, maybe in January of 1487 with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s court. He might have gone there to meet some prospective sponsors for his adventure. What we know for certain is that in Cordoba, Columbus befriended a “woman of peasant stock” named Beatriz Enriquez de Arana, who became his mistress, and for whom he would provide in his will. Together they had a son, Fernando born on September 28, 1488.(1)

That same year, Columbus applied for the equivalent of a visa giving him permission to visit Portugal to take care of some business. Records indicate he was granted an audience with King João II, probably to make a second pitch for his expedition, but they there are no records that he did so. Possibly his business had something to do with his legitimate wife Doña Felipa, and his new illegitimate son Fernando.

If Doña Felipa was still alive, she must have returned to Lisbon within a couple years of that time. Carlos Fontes, a source quoted by Felipa and Christopher Colon’s descendants, wrote that on September 16, 1490, she re-entered the Convent of Todos Santos. Maybe she had a separation agreement with Christopher after Fernando’s birth. Maybe she was ill. Maybe Christopher left her destitute. She was probably still connected to the comendadoras, the women who ran the convent – sort of like abbesses.

By 1488, Columbus faced bankruptcy. According to Fernando’s biography of him, that year, or in 1489, Bartolomé traveled to England to appeal to King Henry VII to sponsor their westward sailing project, a “mission that would drag on for a long time.” The delays started when pirates attacked Bartolomé’s ship as it crossed the English Channel. Once on the island, he got sick and ran out of money. Eventually he received an audience with King Henry and presented “a world map.” Henry agreed to sponsor the brothers’ voyage of discovery, and Bartolomé left England with Henry’s commission in hand.

However, when Bartolomé stopped in France on his way home, he learned that Christopher had already left on his voyage under the Castilian and Aragonian flags. Bartolomé remained in France working as a cartographer for King Charles VIII, which is where he would be when he learned that his brother returned a hero.

Some accounts state that Henry VII was not interested in Bartolomé’s proposal. King Henry devoted his life to building his empire. He would have known that the Portuguese held a Pope-blessed monopoly of trade in the Atlantic. Henry and King João II were on good terms, usually allied against Castile. However, as we shall see, when John Cabot proposed a voyage in 1496, Henry did not hold back. He merely kept things as secret as possible.

A third version of Columbus’ story states that in early 1489, Bartolomé was still in Portugal preparing to join his brother in Seville. Before that departure, Bartolomé copied Portuguese maps in a convenient size on paper [cheaper, thinner, but less durable than parchment]. At the same time, he copied Toscanelli’s letter and the accompanying map. There is speculation that the Yale version of Martellus’s map was one of those copies. However, the Yale version was very large.

Bartolomé took the paper copies with him to Seville. After dropping the maps and letter off with Christopher, and maybe altering the Martellus map so that Africa extended to 45 degrees rather than 35 degrees south latitude, Bartolomé traveled to Genoa to apply to the Bank of St. George for funds and support. Only after that, did he travel to England and then France, where records show he was drawing maps at the time of Columbus’ return.


  1. Or August 15, 1488, or August 29, 1488.

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