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Gaspard de Coligny

Lord Gaspard de Coligny (16 February 1519 – 24 August 1572), Seigneur (Lord) de Châtillon, was a French nobleman and admiral, best remembered as an austerely disciplined Huguenot leader in the French Wars of Religion.





Coligny came of a noble family of Burgundy. His family traced their descent from the 11th century, and in the reign of Louis XI, were in the service of the King of France. His father, Gaspard I de Coligny, known as the Marshal of Châtillon, served in the Italian Wars from 1494 to 1516, married in 1514, and was created Marshal of France in 1516. By his wife, Louise de Montmorency, sister of the future constable, he had three sons, all of whom played an important part in the first period of the Wars of Religion: Odet, Cardinal de Châtillon; Gaspard; and François, Seigneur d'Andelot.

Early life

Born at Châtillon-sur-Loing in 1519. At the age of twenty two, Gaspard de Coligny came to court, there began a friendship with François of Guise.

In the campaign of 1543 Coligny distinguished himself, and was wounded at the sieges of Montmédy and Bains. In 1544 he served in the Italian campaign under the Count of Enghien, and was knighted on the Field of Ceresole. Returning to France, he took part in different military operations; and having been made colonel-general of the infantry (April 1547), exhibited great capacity and intelligence as a military reformer. That year he married Charlotte de Laval (d. 1568). He was made admiral on the death of Claude d'Annebaut (1552). In 1557 he was entrusted with the defence of Saint-Quentin. In the siege he displayed great courage, resolution, and strength of character; but the place was taken, and he was imprisoned in the stronghold of L'Ecluse. On payment of a ransom of 50,000 crowns he recovered his liberty.

Gaspard de Coligny, by the studio of Jan Antonisz van Ravesteyn

Protestant leader

By this time he had become a Huguenot, through the influence of his brother, d'Andelot. The first known letter which John Calvin addressed to him is dated 4 September 1558. He secretly focused on protecting his co-religionists, a colony of whom he sent to Brazil, under the leadership of his friend and navy colleague, Vice-Admiral Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon, who established the colony of France Antarctique in Rio de Janeiro, in 1555. They were afterwards expelled by the Portuguese, in 1567. Coligny also was the leading patron for the failed French colony of Fort Caroline in Spanish Florida led by Jean Ribault in 1562.[1] In 1566 and 1570, Francisque and Andre d'Albaigne submitted to Coligny projects for establishing relations with the Austral lands. Although he gave favourable consideration to these intitiatives, they came to nought when Coligny was killed in 1572 during the St. Bartholomew's Day massacres. (E.T. Hamy, "Francisque et Andre d'Albaigne: cosmographes lucquois au service de la France"; "Nouveau documents sur les frères d'Albaigne et sur le projet de voyage et de découvertes présenté à la cour de France"; and "Documents relatifs à un projet d’expéditions lointaines présentés à la cour de France en 1570", in Bulletin de Géographie Historique et Descriptive, Paris, 1894, pp.405-433; 1899, pp.101-110; and 1903, pp.266-273.)[1]

Following the death of Henry II he placed himself with Louis, Prince of Condé, at the forefront of the Huguenot party, and demanded religious toleration and certain other reforms. In 1560, at the Assembly of Notables at Fontainebleau, the hostility between Coligny and François of Guise broke forth violently. When the civil wars began in 1562, Coligny decided to take arms only after long hesitation, and remained always ready to negotiate. In none of these wars did he show superior genius, but he acted throughout with great prudence and extraordinary tenacity; he was "le héros de la mauvaise fortune" ("hero of misfortune")

In 1569 the defeat and death of the Prince of Condé at the Battle of Jarnac left Coligny the sole leader of the Protestant armies. Victorious at the Arnay-le-Duc, he obtained the Peace of Saint-Germain (1570). Marrying Jacqueline de Montbel, Countess d'Entremont, and returning to court in 1571, he grew rapidly in favour with Charles IX, becoming a close mentor to the weak, easily-manipulated King.

As a means of emancipating the king from the tutelage of his mother and the faction of the Guises, the admiral proposed to him a descent on Spanish Flanders, with an army drawn from both faiths and commanded by Charles in person. The king's regard for the admiral and the increasingly bold demands of the Huguenots alarmed Catherine de' Medici, the Queen Mother.

Admiral de Coligny impressing his murderers, by Joseph-Benoît Suvée

Assassination and massacre

On 22 August 1572 Coligny was shot in the street by a man called Maurevert from a house belonging to the Guise. However, the bullets only tore a finger from his right hand and shattered his left elbow. The would-be assassin escaped.

"Death of Admiral de Coligny" from an 1887 edition of Foxe's Book of Martyrs illustrated by Kronheim

Historians differ on who was the one who hired Maurevert to carry out the attempt but generally center on three possibilities: the Guise family, Catherine de Medici, or the duke of Alba on behalf of Philip II of Spain. The King sent his own physician to treat Coligny and even visited him, but the queen-mother prevented all private discourse between them.

There were many Hugenots in the city for the wedding of the Protestant Henry, King of Navarre, and Marguerite de Valois, the King's sister, and the Catholics feared retaliation for the attempt on Coligny's life.

Thus, on the night of the 24 August, Coligny was attacked in his house, and a servant of the new Duke of Guise, Charles Danowitz (Karel z Janovic), generally known as Besme or Bême, plunged a sword through Coligny's breast and threw his body out of a window at his master's feet. Coligny finally died when another of Guise's associates chopped off his head.

With Coligny dead, the Catholics then proceeded to carry out the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in which thousands of Protestant Hugenots were slaughtered.

Coligny's papers were seized and burned by the queen-mother; among them, according to Brantôme, was a history of the civil war, "very fair and well-written, and worthy of publication".

Marriages and issue

Monument to Gaspard de Coligny, by Gustave Crauck (1827-1905), at the Temple Protestant de l'Oratoire du Louvre, Paris.

By his first wife, Charlotte de Laval (1530-1568), Gaspard had several children:

By his second wife, Jacqueline de Montbel (1541-1588), the Countess d'Entremont and Launay-Gelin, Gaspard had one daughter, Beatrice, who became Beatrice de Coligny (b. 1572), Countess d'Entremont.


Several places are named after him:

Family tree

Coligny's murder (falling body, upper left), as depicted in a mural by Giorgio Vasari.
Guillaume de Montmorency
Anne Pot
Gaspard I
Louise de Montmorency
Anne de Montmorency
daughter of
René of Savoy
Gaspard II
François de
10 others
Gaspard III


  1. ^ E.T. Hamy, "Francisque et Andre d'Albaigne: cosmographes lucquois au service de la France"; "Nouveau documents sur les frères d'Albaigne et sur le projet de voyage et de découvertes présenté à la cour de France"; and "Documents relatifs à un projet d’expéditions lointaines présentés à la cour de France en 1570", in Bulletin de Géographie Historique et Descriptive, Paris, 1894, pp.405-433; 1899, pp.101-110; and 1903, pp.266-273.
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Jean du Bouchet, Preuves de l'histoire généalogique de l'illustre maison de Coligny (Paris, 1661)
  • François Hotman, Vita Colinii (1575), translated as La vie de messire Gaspar de Colligny Admiral de France, (1643; facsimile edition prepared by Émile-V. Telle (Geneva: Droz) 1987).
  • L. J. Delaborde, Gaspard de Coligny (1879–1882)
  • Erich Marcks, Gaspard von Coligny, sein Leben und das Frankreich seiner Zeit (Stuttgart, 1892)
  • H. Patry, "Coligny et la Papauté," in the Bulletin du protestantisme français (1902)
  • Arthur Whiston Whitehead, Gaspard de Coligny, Admiral of France (1904)
  • Charles Merki, L'Amiral de Coligny (1909).
  • J. Shimizu, Conflict of Loyalties: Politics and Religion in the Career of Gaspard de Coligny, Admiral of France, 1519-1572 (Geneva) 1970. Coligny's political motivations are stressed.
  • A Paris colloquy on Admiral de Coligny and his times in 1972 resulted in a volume of essays, Actes du colloque l'Amiral de Coligny et son temps (Paris) 1974.



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