Magazine Poland

Was Christopher Columbus Polish?

Was Christopher Columbus Polish? This is what believes Manuel Rosa, an amateur Portuguese historian, who claims that the man who sailed for the New World in 1492 was not of Genoese origin, as is commonly believed, but the son of 15th-century Polish King Władysław III.

The exact origin of Christopher Columbus has been a source of speculation since the 19th century, with many different theories suggesting that Columbus did not come from Genoa, but that he was in fact Catalan, Jewish, Portuguese or even Scottish.

In his controversial book “COLON. La Historia Nunca Contada” (COLUMBUS. The Untold Story), published in 2009, Manuel Rosa, an employee at Duke University who spent twenty years investigating the matter, argues that Columbus was in fact a royal prince, son of a Portuguese noble lady and of exiled Polish King Władysław III.

Son of the great Polish king Władysław Jagiełło, who defeated the Teutonic Order in the famous battle of Grunwald and ruled over a mighty empire that ranged from the Baltic to the Black Sea, Władysław III is widely believed to have died in 1444 at the hands of the Ottomans at the Battle of Varna.

But according to a Portuguese legend, Władysław III survived the Battle of Varna and journeyed in secrecy to the Holy Land where he became a knight of Saint Catharine of Mount Sinai, before settling on the Portuguese island of Madeira. King Afonso V of Portugal would have even granted him lands on the island, where he lived incognito as Henrique Alemão – Henry the German – and married a Portuguese noble lady.

After studying countless accounts and documents about Columbus, Manuel Rosa not only maintains that Władysław III survived the Battle of Varna and settled on Madeira, but also that he had a son there, the great Genoese navigator himself, who whould thus be of royal Polish descent.

“The courts of Europe knew who he was and kept his secret for their own reasons,” Rosa explains in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. “Our whole understanding of Christopher Columbus has for 500 years been based on misinformation. We couldn’t solve the mystery because we were looking for the wrong man, following lies that were spread intentionally to hide his true identity.”

The death of king Wladyslaw III at Varna, 1865-1875. Artist: Stanislav Khlebovsky

Although seemingly far-fetched, Rosa’s dubious-sounding claim has some pretty substantial backing with several historians based at the University of Lisbon agreeing with his findings.

Manuel Rosa notably found that the original coat of arms of Christopher Columbus and of Segismundo Henriques, the son of Henrique Alemão, who did actually live in Madeira, both had had gold anchors on a blue background, which resembles the golden double cross on a blue background used by rulers of the House of Jagiełło, Władysław III among them.

Rosa also points to the fact that the 16th century descendants of Henrique Alemão were officially acknowledged as being descended from royal Polish lineage by the Spanish royal court, which coincides with a 1472 letter sent by a Franciscan monk from Portugal to the grand master of the Teutonic Order, in which the author writes that he’s seen Władysław III on Madeira.

Rosa’s theory also helps explain the fact that Columbus was married to a high noble Portuguese lady long before he became famous, and that he had direct access to four European courts, which is hardly the life of a Genoese peasant. 

Rosa is now hoping that Polish authorities will open the tomb of King Władysław II in Kraków, so he could obtain a DNA sample of the monarch to compare that with research on people with the surname Columbus…

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