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Map of France Antarctique, 1555.
First mass celebrated at Fort Coligny. Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon is shown at right
The Island of Villegaignon under Portuguese attack (1560)

France Antarctique was the name of the failed French colony south of the Equator, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which existed between 1555 and 1567, and had control over the coast from Rio de Janeiro to Cabo Frio.


Colonization Attempt

Brazil had been discovered in April 1500 by a fleet commanded by Pedro Álvares Cabral on behalf of the Portuguese crown, which arrived in present-day Porto Seguro, Bahia, but except for Salvador (first Brazilian capital city) the rest of the new territory still remained largely unexplored half a century later.

On November 1, 1555, a Huguenot French vice-admiral named Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon (1510-1575), commanding a small fleet of two ships and 600 soldiers and Huguenot colonists, took possession of the small island of Serigipe in the Guanabara Bay, in front of present-day Rio de Janeiro, where they built a fort named Fort Coligny (in honor of Gaspard de Coligny, a Huguenot admiral who supported the expedition in order to protect his co-religionists). To the still largely undeveloped mainland village, Villegaignon gave the name of Henriville, in honour of Henri II, the King of France, who also knew of and approved the expedition, and had provided the fleet for the trip. However, the French crown failed to make good use of Villegaignon's exploits to expand the reach of the French kingdom into the New World, as was being done at the time with the claims of Jacques Cartier in the present-day province of Québec, Canada. All of these settlements were in violation of the Papal bull of 1493, which divided the New World between Spain and Portugal. This division was later defined more exactly by the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Unchallenged by the Portuguese, who initially took little notice of his landing, Villegaignon expanded the colony by bringing more colonists in 1556, this time largely made of Swiss Calvinists from Geneva, in three ships under the command of his nephew, Bois le Comte. Villegaignon secured his position by making an alliance with the Tamoio and Tupinambá Indians of the region, who were fighting the Portuguese. However, in 1560 Mem de Sá, the new Governor-General of Brazil, received from the Portuguese government the command to expel the French. With a fleet of 26 warships and 2,000 soldiers, he attacked and destroyed Fort Coligny within three days, but was unable to drive off their inhabitants and defenders, because they escaped to the mainland with the help of the Indians, where they continued to live and to work. Admiral Villegaignon had returned to France in 1558, disgusted with the religious tension that existed between French Protestants and Catholics, who had come also with the second group (see French Wars of Religion).

Urged by two influential Jesuit priests who had come to Brazil with Mem de Sá, named José de Anchieta and Manuel da Nóbrega, and who had played a big role in pacifying the Tamoios, Mem de Sá ordered his nephew, Estácio de Sá to assemble a new attack force. Estácio de Sá founded the city of Rio de Janeiro on March 1, 1565 and fought the Frenchmen for two more years. Helped by a military reinforcement sent by his uncle, in January 20, 1567, he imposed final defeat on the French forces and decisively expelled them from Brazil, but died a month later from wounds inflicted in the battle. Coligny's and Villegaignon's dream had lasted a mere 12 years.

Largely in response to the two attempts of France to conquer territory in Brazil (the other one was named France Équinoxiale and occupied present-day São Luís, state of Maranhão), between 1612 and 1615, the Portuguese crown decided to expand its colonization efforts in Brazil.

See also

History of Brazil
Coat of Arms of Brazil
This article is part of a series
Indigenous peoples
Colonial Brazil
United Kingdom with Portugal
Independence from Portugal
Empire of Brazil
Old Republic
Estado Novo
Second Republic
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Democratisation and recent history

Brazil Portal
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  • Pioneers of France in the New World. By Francis Parkman; University of Nebraska Press, 1996.

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