Pigneau de Behaine: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Did you know ...

More interesting facts on Pigneau de Behaine

Include this on your site/blog:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pigneau de Béhaine
Pigneau de Behaine portrait.jpg
Pigneau de Béhaine (1741–1799), painted by Maupérin in 1787.
Religion Roman Catholic
Born 1741
Origny-en-Thierache, France
Died 1799
Senior posting
Based in Vietnam
Title Bishop of Adran
Apostolic Vicar of Cochinchina

Pierre Joseph Georges Pigneau (2 November 1741 Origny-en-Thiérache – 9 October 1799, Qui Nhon), commonly known as Pigneau de Béhaine, also Pierre Pigneaux and Bá Đa Lộc, was a French Catholic priest best known for his role in assisting Nguyen Anh (later Emperor Gia Long) to establish the Nguyen dynasty in Vietnam after the Tay Son rebellion.


Early life

Pigneau was born in Origny-en-Thierache (later Aisne, France), where the family of his mother lived. His father's family owned a small estate named Béhaine, in the nearby commune of Marle. Despite the particule "de Béhaine" in his name, Pigneau was not of noble extraction, and it seems the particule first appeared only in the 1787 Treaty of Versailles.[1]

Pigneau de Behaine was trained as a missionary and sent abroad by the Paris Foreign Missions Society (Séminaire des Missions Étrangères). He left France from the harbour of Lorient in December 1765, to work in southern Vietnam. He landed in Pondicherry on 21 June 1766.[2]

Pigneau had arrived just prior to the Burmese capture of Ayutthaya in Siam. After waiting for a few months in the Portuguese colony of Macau, Pigneau travelled on a Chinese ship to reach the small coastal town Ha Tien in Cochinchina near the Cambodian border, set up by missionaries who had been displaced by the Burmese. He arrived there in March 1767.[3]

Superior of the College General (1767–1774)

In Ha Tien, Pigneau worked as head of the Seminary of the Holy Angels, the Seminary established in Asia by the Paris Foreign Missions Society, which had relocated from Ayutthaya in Siam following the 1765 Burmese invasion, with approximately forty students of Chinese, Siamese, and Vietnamese extraction.

A page of the 1773 Annamite-Latin manuscript dictionary created by Pigneau de Behaine.

In 1768, the missionaries were jailed for three months when Siamese authorities complained to the local ruler Mac Thien Tu that the school had afforded shelter to a fugitive Siamese prince. Pigneau was put into a cangue, a wooden and iron frame fastened around his limbs weighing eight pounds.[4] He ignored family requests to return to France, saying that his missionary work was more important than a comfortable life. In 1769, the school was attacked by Chinese and Cambodian pirates, who massacred some of the students and burnt down the establishment.[5] .[5]. Pigneau was forced to flee in December 1769 with the survivors to Pondicherry (now in Tamil Nadu, India), then a French territory, after a long sea journey through Malacca. The College was established a few miles from Pondicherry, in Virampatnam.

Pigneau de Behaine's dictionary was published in 1838 by Mgr Jean-Louis Taberd[6].

While in Pondicherry, Pigneau continued mastering Chinese and Vietnamese languages until he was fully conversant with both.[7] In 1773, he compiled a Vietnamese-Latin dictionary with the help of eight Cochinchineses,[7] following in the footsteps of Alexandre de Rhodes. His work, Dictionarium Anamitico-Latinum, would be published in 1838 by Mgr Jean-Louis Taberd.[8]

Pigneau de Behaine was made Bishop of Adran (of Adranos in Bithynia, modern Orhaneli in Turkey, in partibus infidelium), and Apostolic Vicar of Cochinchina on 24 February 1774 in São Tomé near Madras.[9][10] After his ordination in 1774, he went to Macau to gather more staff before returning to resume his work in Ha Tien. In Macau, he was able to publish and print a catechism in Cochinchinese (containing an introduction in Chinese, the body of the text in the Vietnamese alphabet, and a translation in Latin), and despatched a copy to Rome.[8] He left Macau on 1 March 1775, and reached Ha Tien later in the month, where he again re-established missionary operations.[11]

In 1775-76, Pigneau attempted to convert the Stieng people, but the missionaries he sent suffered greatly, and either fell ill or returned.[12]

Encounter with Nguyen Anh

Episcopal seal of Mgr Pigneau de Behaine.

In 1777, the Tay Son brothers attacked Saigon and eliminated almost the entire Nguyen dynasty, with the fifteen-year-old Nguyen Anh managing to escape into the far south. He took refuge at Pigneau’s seminary from September to October before both were forced to flee to the island of Pulo Panjang in the Gulf of Siam. The move was a political step taken by Pigneau to align himself with Nguyen Anh, allowing himself a foray into politics. He became less of a missionary and more of a politician thereafter.

On November 1777, Nguyen Anh was able to recapture Saigon, and in 1778 pursued the retreating Tay Son as far as Binh Thuan.[13]

In neighbouring Cambodia, a pro-Cochinchinese revolt erupted to topple the pro-Siam king Ang Non. In 1780, Cochinchinese troops intervened, and Pigneau helped them procure weapons from the Portuguese. The Bishop attracted accusations by the Portuguese of manufacturing weapons for the Cochinchinese, especially grenades, a new weapon for Southeast Asia.[13] Pigneau de Behaine also organized the supply of three Portuguese warships for Nguyen Anh.[14] In his activities, Pigneau was supported by a French adventurer, Manuel.[14]

Pigneau de Behaine and Nguyen Anh took refuge in the island of Phu Quoc.

In 1782, the Tay Son led a new offensive to the South. Manuel died in his command of a warship in the Saigon river against Tay Son troops.[14]. The defeat, with its battle plan deemed faulty, towers high in the list of setbacks suffered. Nguyen Anh was forced to retreat to the island of Phu Quoc. In October 1782, the tide turned again and Nguyen Anh and Pigneau returned to Saigon.[15]

In March 1783, the Nguyen were again defeated, and Nguyen Anh and Pigneau once more set sail for Phu Quoc. Sanctuary was at once both fleeting and illusory. They had to escape again when their hideout was discovered, being chased from island to island until they reached Siam. Pigneau de Behaine visited the Siamese court in Bangkok in late 1783.[16] Nguyen Anh also arrived there in February 1784, where he enlisted an army to accompany him back to Vietnam.[17] In January 1785 however the Siamese fleet met with disaster against the Tay Son in the Mekong river.[17]

Nguyen Anh again took refuge with the Siamese court, and again tried to seek help from the Siamese.[18]. Resolving to muster any support he could from Western powers.[19], Nguyen Anh asked Pigneau to appeal for French aid, and pledged to allow Pigneau to take his son Prince Canh with him. Pigneau in return attempted to obtain assistance from Manilla, but the party of Dominicans he sent was captured by the Tay Son.[19] From Pondicherry, he also sent a request for help to the Portuguese Senate in Macao, which would ultimately lead to the signature of a Treaty of Alliance between Nguyen Anh and the Portuguese on 18 December 1786 in Bangkok.[20]

Embassy to France

The party reached Pondicherry in February 1785.[21] The French administration in Pondicherry, led by the interim Governor Coutenceau des Algrains, successor of Bussy, seconded by Captain d'Entrecasteaux, was resolutely opposed to intervening in southern Vietnam, stating that it was not in the national interest. In July 1786, Pigneau was allowed to travel back to France to ask the royal court directly for assistance. News of his activities reached Rome where he was denounced by the Spanish Franciscans. Pigneau at that point offered Prince Canh and his political mandate to the Portuguese. They left Pondicherry for France in July 1786.[22] which they reached in February 1787.[23]

Portrait of crown prince Nguyen Phuc Canh in France, 1787.

Arriving in February 1787 with the child prince Canh at the court of Louis XVI in Versailles,[24] Pigneau had difficulty in gathering support for a French expedition to install Nguyen Anh on the throne. This was due to the poor financial state of the country prior to the French Revolution. Pigneau was helped by Pierre Poivre who had been involved previously in French interests in Vietnam.

Eventually, he was able to seduce military figures with precise instructions as to the conditions of warfare in Indochina and materiel for the proposed campaign. He explained how France would be able to "dominate the seas of China and of the archipelago." The party met with King Louis XVI, Minister of the Navy de Castries and Minister of Foreign Affairs Montmorin on May 5 or 6, 1787.[25] Prince Canh created a sensation at the court of Louis XVI, leading the famous hairdresser Léonard to create a hairstyle in his honour "au prince de Cochinchine".[26] His portrait was made in France by Maupérin, and is now on display at the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères in Paris. Prince Canh dazzled the Court and even played with the son of Louis XVI, Louis-Joseph, Dauphin of France, who was about the same age.[27][28]

Signatures of the 1787 Treaty of Versailles: Montmorin, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Navy, and Evèque d'Adran, i.e. Pigneau de Béhaine.[29]

By November, his constant pressure had proved effective. On 21 November 1787, the Treaty of Versailles was concluded between France and Cochinchina in Nguyen Anh’s name. Four frigates, 1650 fully equipped French soldiers and 250 Indian sepoys were promised in return for Pulo Condore and harbour access at Tourane (Da Nang). De Fresne was supposed to be the leader of the expedition.[30]

The French government, on the eave of the French Revolution, was in dreadful financial trouble,[31] and saw its position weakened even more with the outbreak of civil war in Holland.[32]. French enthusiasm for Pigneau's plan was severely dampened [33]. A few days after the treaty was signed, the foreign minister sent instructions on 2 December 1787 to the Governor of Pondicherry Thomas Conway, which left the execution of the treaty to his own appreciation of the situation in Asia, stating that he was "free not to accomplish the expedition, or to delay it, according to his own opinion"[34] Louis XVI himself told Pigneau that Conway was appointed Governor of Pondicherry simply to remove him from Europe.

Return to Vietnam

The Citadel of Saigon was built by Olivier de Puymanel according to the designs of Théodore Lebrun, following the principles of Vauban, in 1790.
Jean-Marie Dayot (left) took a leading role in the Navy of Nguyen Anh.

The party left France in December 1787 on board the Dryade,[35] commanded by M. de Kersaint and accompanied by the Pandour, commanded by M. de Préville. They would again disembark in Pondicherry from May 1788 to July 1789.[36] The Dryade was ordered by Conway to continue to Poulo Condor to meet with Nguyen Anh and deliver him 1,000 muskets bought in France and Father Paul Nghi, a Cochinchinese missionary devotee of Mgr Pigneau.

However, Pigneau found the governor of Pondicherry unwilling to further fulfill the agreement. Although the Royal Council had already decided in October 1788 to endorse Conway, Pigneau was not informed until April. Pigneau was forced to use funds raised in France and enlist French volunteers. Of this duplicity, he defiantly noted: "I shall make the revolution in Cochinchina alone." He rejected an offer from the English, and raised money from French merchants in the region. Conway finally provided two ships to Pigneau, the Méduse, commanded by François Étienne de Rosily-Mesros,[37] and another frigate.[38] Pigneau used the raised funds to equip two more ships with weapons and ammunition, which he named the Long ("Dragon"), commanded by Jean-Baptiste Chaigneau, and the Phụng ("Phoenix"), commanded by Philippe Vannier, and enticed volunteers and deserters to man the vessels.[37] Jean-Marie Dayot deserted the Pandour and was put in charge of supplies, transporting weapons and ammunitions on his ship the St. Esprit. Rosily, who had been commanding the Méduse deserted with 120 of his men, and was put in charge of recruitments.[37]

Jean-Baptiste Chaigneau in mixed Franco-Vietnamese uniform.

Pigneau's expedition left for Vietnam on June 19 1789 and arrived at Vung Tau on 24 July 1789.[37] The foreign contingent helped to consolidate southern Vietnam and modernized its army, navy and fortifications. Olivier de Puymanel, a former officer of the Dryade who has deserted in Poulo Condor, built in 1790 the Citadel of Saigon and in 1793 the Citadel of Dien Khanh according to the principles of Vauban. He also instructed Vietnamese troops in the modern use of artillery, and implemented European infantry methods in the Vietnamese army of Nguyen Phuc Anh.[39] In 1792, Olivier de Puymanel was commanding an army of 600 men who had been trained with European techniques.[40] Puymanel is said to have trained the 50,000 men of Nguyen's army.[41] French bombs were used at the siege of Qui Nhon in 1793.[42]

French Navy officers such as Jean-Marie Dayot and Jean-Baptiste Chaigneau were used to drill the navy. By 1792, a large naval fleet was formed, with two European warships and 15 frigates of composite design.[43] In 1792, Dayot attacked the strategically important port of Qui Nhon, opening the way to the Cochinchinese ships which then defeated the Tay Son fleet.[44] In 1793, Dayot led a raid in which 60 Tay Son galleys were destroyed.[44]

From 1794, Pigneau took part in all campaigns, accompanying Prince Canh. He organized the defense of Dien Khanh when it was besieged by a numerically vastly superior Tay Son army in 1794.[45]


Tomb of Pigneau de Behaine.

Heavy fighting raged in Qui Nhon for control of the fortress until it was captured in 1799. Pigneau died there of dysentery on 9 October in the same year, after serving his final years as an advisor and de facto foreign minister to Nguyen Anh. He was buried at Saigon with full military honours. Nguyen Anh's funeral oration described him as "the most illustrious foreigner ever to appear at the court of Cochinchina." He was buried on 16 December 1799 in the presence of the crown prince, all mandarins of the court, the royal bodyguard of 12,000 men and 40,000 mourners.

Pigneau de Behaine was the object of several funeral orations on behalf of emperor Gia Long and his son Prince Canh.[46] In a funeral oration dated 8 December 1799, Gia Long praised Pigneau de Behaine's involvement in the defense of the country, as well as their personal friendship:

Funeral oration of emperor Gia Long to Pigneau de Behaine (excerpt):

Funeral oration of emperor Gia Long to Pigneau de Behaine, 8 December 1799.
"(...) Pondering without end the memory of his virtues, I wish to honour him again with my kindness, his Highness Bishop Pierre, former special envoy of the kingdom of France mandated to obtain a sea-based and land-based military assistance sent by decree by warships, him, this emminent personnality of the Occident received as a guest of honour at the court of Nam-Viet (...) Although he went to his own country to address a plea for help and rally the opinion in order to obtain military assistance, he was met with adverse conditions midway through his endeavour. At that time, sharing my resentment, he decided to act like the men of old: we rather rallied together and outshone each other in the accomplishment of duty, looking for ways to take advantage of opportunities to launch operations (...) Everyday intervening constantly, many times he marvelously saved the situation with extraordinary plans. Although he was preoccupied with virtue, he did not lack humour. Our agreement was such that we always desired to be together (...) From the beginning to the end, we were but one heart (...)"

Funeral oration of emperor Gia Long to Pigneau de Behaine, 8 December 1799.[47]

Statue of Pigneau de Behaine, with Prince Canh and holding the Treaty of Versailles, in Saigon.

Only a few of Pigneau's men stayed for more than two or three year, disappointed in the lack of a quick fortune. Pigneau himself had wanted a Catholic as ruler of Vietnam. His ambition never materialised with the failure to convert Canh, who predeceased his father Nguyen Anh by twenty years in any case.

Pigneau often compromised his religious principles when they came into conflict with political and diplomatic imperatives. He had initially taught Canh to refuse to engage in ancestor worship, something that greatly shocked and angered Nguyen Anh. He later changed his mind on the papal ban and proposed to consider ancestor worship as a civil ceremony, a simple manifestation of respect for the dead. He cited the apostles as being tolerant of local customs as his justification.

Ashes of Pigneau de Behaine, at the Paris Foreign Missions Society.
The 1787 painting of Pigneau de Behaine by Maupérin is visible at the Paris Foreign Missions Society.
Pigneau's 1772 Dictionarium Anamitico-Latinum, at the Paris Foreign Missions Society.

In 1983, the tomb of Pigneau de Behaine was dismantled by the Vietnamese government, and the area was replaced by a park. His remains were incinerated and sent to France, where they are now housed in the Paris Foreign Missions Society.[48]

See also


  1. ^ Mantienne, p.204
  2. ^ Mantienne, p.37
  3. ^ Mantienne, p.40–48
  4. ^ Mantienne, pp.40–41
  5. ^ a b Mantienne, p.53
  6. ^ Manteigne, p.67
  7. ^ a b Mantiennne, p.67
  8. ^ a b Manteigne, p.67
  9. ^ Mantienne, p.57
  10. ^ Les Missions Etrangeres, p.104
  11. ^ Mantienne, p.73
  12. ^ Mantienne, pp.74–75
  13. ^ a b Mantienne, p.78
  14. ^ a b c Mantienne, p.81
  15. ^ Mantienne, p.82
  16. ^ Mantienne, p.83
  17. ^ a b Mantienne, p.84
  18. ^ Mantienne, pp.84–85
  19. ^ a b Mantienne, p.85
  20. ^ Mantienne, p.87
  21. ^ Mantienne, p.84, p.200
  22. ^ Mantienne, p.92
  23. ^ Mantienne, p.93
  24. ^ Dragon Ascending By Henry Kamm p.86-87 [1]
  25. ^ Mantienne, p.96
  26. ^ Viet Nam by Nhung Tuyet Tran, Anthony Reid, p.293 [2]
  27. ^ "He dazzled the Louis XVI court at Versailles with Nguyen Canh, ... dressed in red and gold brocade, to play with the Dauphin, the heir apparent." in The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, and Our Fantasies by Sheridan Prasso, p.40
  28. ^ "The Dauphin, about his age, played with him." French Policy and Developments in Indochina - Page 27 by Thomas Edson Ennis
  29. ^ Mantienne, p.97/204
  30. ^ Mantienne, p.97
  31. ^ Mantienne, p.106
  32. ^ Mantienne, p.104
  33. ^ Mantienne, p.103-108
  34. ^ Mantienne, p.98. Original French: "il était "maître de ne point entreprendre l'opération ou de la retarder, d'après son opinion personnelle""
  35. ^ Mantienne, p.109-110
  36. ^ Mantienne, p.110
  37. ^ a b c d A History of Vietnam By Oscar Chapuis p.178
  38. ^ "Conway finally provided the frigate Meduse and another vessel to repatriate the mission" in The Roots of French Imperialism in Eastern Asia - Page 14 by John Frank Cady 1967 [3]
  39. ^ The Vietnamese Response to French Intervention, 1862-1874 by Mark W. McLeod, p.11 [4]
  40. ^ Mantienne, p.153
  41. ^ Colonialism By Melvin Eugene Page, Penny M. Sonnenburg, p.723 [5]
  42. ^ Mantienne, p.132
  43. ^ Mantienne, p.129
  44. ^ a b Mantienne, p.130
  45. ^ Mantienne, p.135
  46. ^ Mantienne, p.219-228
  47. ^ In Mantienne, p.220. Original French (translated by M.Verdeille from the Vietnamese): "Méditant sans cesse le souvenir de ses vertus, je tiens à honorer à nouveau de mes bontés, sa grandeur l'évèque Pierre, ancien envoyé spécial du royaume de France mandaté pour disposer d'une assistance militaire de terre et de mer dépèchée par décret par navires de guerre, [lui] éminente personnalité d'Occident reçue en hôte d'honneur à la cour du Nam-Viet (...) Bien qu'il fut allé dans son propre pays élever une plainte et rallier l'opinion en vue spécialement de ramener des secours militaires, à mi-chemin de ses démarches survinrent des événements adverses à ses intentions. Alors, partageant mes ressentiments, il prit le parti de faire comme les anciens: plutôt nous retrouver et rivaliser dans l'accomplissement du devoir, en cherchant le moyen de profiter des occasions pour lancer des opérations (...) Intervenant constamment chaque jour, maintes fois il a merveilleusement sauvé la situation par des plans extraordinaires. Tout en étant préoccupe de vertu, il ne manquait pas de mots d'humour. Notre accord était tel que nous avions toujours hâte d'être ensemble (...) Du début a la fin, nous n'avons jamais fait qu'un seul coeur."
  48. ^ Mantienne, p.229


  • Cady, John F. (1964). South East Asia: Its historical development. McGraw Hill.  
  • Buttinger, Joseph (1958). The smaller dragon : a political history of Vietnam. Praeger.  
  • Daughton, James P. 2006). Recasting Pigneau de Behaine: Missionaries and the Politics of French Colonial History, 1894-1914, pp. 290-322 in Nhung Tuyet Tran and Reid, Anthony J.S. Viêt Nam Borderless Histories, The University of Wisonsin Press, 2006, ix + 386 pp.
  • Hall, D. G. E. (1981). A history of South-east Asia. Macmillan.  
  • Mantienne, Frédéric (1999). Monseigneur Pigneau de Béhaine. 128 Rue du Bac, Paris: Editions Eglises d'Asie. ISBN 2914402201.  
  • Les Missions Etrangères. Trois siecles et demi d'histoire et d'aventure en Asie Editions Perrin, 2008, ISBN 9782262025717


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address