Friday, March 9, 2012

March 09, 2012

Admiral Gaspard de Coligny: A Life in Brief

In the 16th century, the Protestant Huguenots were in desperate need of a representative with enough connection to the royal family to provide some measure of security. Luckily, they were represented from the 1550s onward by a lion of a man named Gaspard de Coligny. Not only was he an advisor to King Charles the Ninth at one point , but he was also an unabashed Huguenot, standing firmly for Protestant principles and attempting to find better lives for his co-religionists in a day when showing such pride was both difficult and dangerous.

Coligny was born 1519 at Chatillon-sur-Loing, France. He soon proved himself an able soldier and eventually took Charlotte de Laval as a wife. In 1552 he proudly received the title of Admiral. Sometime in the 1550s he was converted to Protestantism and became a champion for the cause. He fought proudly in the Wars of Religion for the Huguenot side. It was under his influence that a Huguenot colony in Rio de Janeiro was attempted and later destroyed. He also commissioned Jean Ribault and Rene de Goulaine de Laudonniere to travel to “la Nouveau Monde,” the New World. They founded Charlesfort in 1562 and Fort Caroline in 1564.

It must have saddened Admiral Coligny immensely to see that these places, meant as a religious haven for his beleaguered Huguenots, came to such sorry ends. Charlesfort was abandoned at the founding of La Caroline. La Caroline, in turn, was ravaged by the Spanish, and most of the men met a horrible end during the siege and immediately afterwards. Those who had started out aboard ship were shipwrecked and subsequently massacred by Spanish soldiers.

Admiral Gaspard de Coligny with a
tellingly pensive expression, circa 1568

Gaspard de Coligny was known for his integrity, courage, discretion, and forethought, a man greatly admired by his supporters. He was well-liked on the battlefield. Yet he had his fair share of enemies. He did what few others had the authority to do . . . he stepped up to the plate and lobbied for religious equality in a time when Protestant lives meant very little. He was unafraid to stand up for his fellow Huguenots’ rights. 

He married his second wife, Jacqueline de Montbel, in 1571. It was around this time that he rose in the ranks to become a mentor to King Charles. He urged Charles to consider more freedoms for French Protestants, a fact which Catherine de’Medici, Charles’ manipulative mother and former regent, found disturbing. Gaspard de Coligny valiantly pushed forward in his demands. He longed for a land of tolerance. It was not to be. His subsequent death was tragic in so many ways and illustrated the rampant violence of the times.

The travesty began on the 22nd of August, 1572. There were many Huguenots in Paris who had come to witness the marriage of Princess “Margot” de Valois to the King of Navarre, Henri. Coligny was the victim of a botched assassination attempt soon after. Judging by the fact that King Charles showed a great amount of concern over Coligny’s condition, it is unlikely he personally demanded the attempt. On the 24th of August a great slaughter known as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre --- a memory which still haunts Protestant hearts and souls --- took place.

Coligny was in his nightclothes. He met his attackers at the door with the quiet martyr spirit of a man who was unafraid to die for his faith and had indeed expected it for quite some time. Perhaps at the moment of his death, he thought of the Huguenot martyrs of the New World and wondered at the irony of showing such solidarity with them. He refused to plead for his life. He retained the same dignified spirit he had always championed, and he was killed for his efforts. Coligny’s body underwent horrific desecration. Thus ended the mortal existence of a man who had dared to reach for religious freedom for his people, who had dared to be openly Protestant in a world quite hostile to his faith.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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