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Admiral Coligny

Admiral Coligny


Admiral Cligny


Gaspard de Coligny, Admiral of France, was the greatest chief of the Huguenots. He was born at Chatillon-surLoing, February 16, 1517, and was the third son of Gaspard de Coligny, who was a Marshal of France, and died ill 1534. His molber was Louise de Montmorency, a sister of Constable Montmorency-a daughter of the greatest of French houses. She was a grave, religious lady, who carefully trained her sons for the high station they were to occupy.


At the age of twenty-two Gaspard went to Court and formed an intimate friendship with Francis, Duke of Guise. He served with distinction in the campaign of 1543. and was wounded at the sieges of Bains and Montmedy. In 1544 he served in the Italian campaign under the Prince of Conde, and was knighted on the field of C6risoles, April, 1544. Having been appointed colonel-general of infantry, he displayed great capacity as a military reformer. The rules he initiated be. came the basis of the French military code.


In 1552 Gaspard de Coligny was made Admiral of France, and as such was next in power to the Constable of France. In 1554 be contributed to the victory at Renty. Here a quarrel occurred between him and the Duke of Guise, which developed into an implacable enmity. Coligny was appointed governor of Picardy in 1557, and was intrusted with the defence of Saint Quentin, besieged by the Spaniards. Here he displayed great courage and resolution, but was defeated 1557 and taken prisoner. He was confined in prison several months, until his liberation was purchased by a ransom of 50,000 crowns. Coligny, who had always been serious in thought and grave in deportment, was converted to Calvinism about the age of forty, and he was more truly devout and faithful than other Huguenot leaders. In 1560 Coligny and his brother Andelot, who, as admiral and colonel-general of the infantry respectively, were at the head of the army, were invited to court by Catherine de Medici, who desired them to aid her with their advice. Coligny demanded toleration for the Protestants, among whom he was now the chief. He was a member of the Assembly of Notables which met in August, 1560, and there presented to the King the petition by which the Protestants asked for liberty of worship. He also made a courageous speech, in which he advocated the cause of the Protestants and opposed persecution. To this speech his mortal enemy, the Duke of Guise, made an intemperate reply. In 1561 Coligny presented to the States-General at Orleans a petition for the convocation of a free Universal Council and for liberty of worship. But the conflict of opinion and of belief was not thus to be decided.


When the civil war began in the spring of 1562, Coligny joined the Protestant army commanded by the Prince de Conde. The strict discipline for which this force became noted was due to Coligny. He was second in command at the battle of Dreux, in December, 1562, at which the Prince of Conde was taken prisoner. Coligny succeeded as commander-in- chief of the Huguenot army, and after the battle had lasted five hours he made a skillful retreat His ability and prudence rendered him fonnidable after defeat, and the Duke of Guise was unable to follow up his victory. In February, 1563, the Duke of Guise was assassinated by Poltrot, who accused Coligny of being the instigator of that act. This charge, however, is refuted by all the circumstances and is not credible. The death of Guise removed a great obstacle to the restoration of peace, for the Catholic party bad no general qualified to take his place. In March, 1563, the war was ended for a time by tbe pacification of Amboise, which was a half-way measure by which neither party was satisfied.


Admiral Coligny, thoroughly aware of the difficulties of the Huguenots in France, sent several expeditions to America to secure a place of refuge for his persecuted brethren. The first attempt was made in Brazil. After that attempt had failed he sent, in 1562, Jean Ribanit, a Protestant navigator, in command of a party to explore and colonize parts of North America. But this also was unsuccessful, though it pointed the way to later colonies.


In 1566 an assassin, who had been hired to murder Coligny, was detected and executed. When the renewal of the civil war became imminent, the Admiral opposed the resort to arms, and advised his friends to be patient. The Huguenots attempted to seize the person of the young King Charles, so as to remove him from the pernicious influence of the Cardinal de Lorraine; but they did not succeed. At the same time there was a general rising of the Huguenots in every quarter of the kingdom. In October, 1567, the Prince of Conde began to beleaguer Paris with a small army. The Parisians, deprived of part of their supplies of food, were impatient for a fight in November, Constable Montmorency, commander of the royal army, offered battle to Cond6 at St. Denis. Coligny took part in this battle, which was indecisive, but the loss of Constable Montmorency, who was killed in that action, was a severe blow to the Catholic cause. In March, 1568, hostilities were again suspended by a treaty of peace signed at Longjumeau. Coligny opposed this treaty, because the Court did not give sufficient guarantees for its faithful execution, nor did it protect the Protestants from being persecuted and killed by Catholic mobs.


In August, I565, the Court and the Guises formed a plot to seize Coligny and Conde, who were in Burgundy. With a baud of about 150 friends, they made a secret and rapid march of several hundred miles, and escaped to Rochell. They summoned the Protestants to rise for the defense of their lives and liberties, and prepared for the third civil war. In the winter following no important battles were fought; but both armies lost many men by disease. In March, 1569, the Duke of Aujou defeated the Huguenots at Jarnac, where Conde was killed. The number of men killed in this batte was surprisingly small, for the defeated army lost only about 400 men.


The chief command devolved on Coligny after the death of Conde. The Admiral was no longer hampered by the authority of Conde's counsels, which had often verged on foolhardiness. He soon exhibited his consummate abilities so clearly that even his enemies were forced to acknowledge that they bad never given him the credit he deserved. In July, 1569, be besieged the large city of Poitiers but having lost many men by disease, he raised the siege in September. The parliament now convicted him of treason, and offered a large reward to any one who should arrest or kill him. Young Henry of Navarre joined the Protestant army at this time. Coligny, who had about 18,000 men, was opposed by the Duke of Anjou, who led 27,000 on the 3d of October, 1569, the Duke of Anjou attacked the Huguenots at Moncoutour and gained a decisive victory. Coligny was wounded and lost nearly half of his army.


But in the following January Coligny had collected at Montauban an army of 21,000 men, with which he marched to Nimes, having planned an expedition of which the objective point was Paris. From Nimes he marched northward and executed bis plan with great success. In June he encountered at Arnay-le-Duc a royal army of 13,000 men. During the long march of 1,200 miles, Coligny's army had been reduced to 5,000 well-disciplined veterans. The royal army attacked the Huguenots, and after an obstinate fight of seven hours was repulsed. The battle, however, was not decisive. Coligny continued his great march to his castle of Chatillon-sur-Loing, and came so near to Paris that the Court olTered to treat for peace. A treaty of peace was concluded in August, 1570, by which toleration was again granted to the Protestants.


Having lost his first wife Coligny married, in 1571,Jacquelin d' Eutremont. About the same time Coligny's daughter, Louise de Chatillon, was married to Charles de Teligny. He received from the King and his mother an invitation to court, which he accepted. In September he arrived at court, which was then at Blois, and was received with warm expressions of favor. At the request of the King Coligny went to Paris early in 1572. In August several hundred Protestant nobles were gathered there also to witness the marriage of Henry of Navarre. Coligny was wounded by an assassin on the 22d of August, as he was walking in the street. Two days later occurred the massacre of St. Bartholomew, instigated by Queen Catherine, the Duke of Anjou and the Duke of Guise. Coligny was killed in his own house in the presence of the Duke of Guise. As a type of the best class among the Huguenot nobility," says Baird, "Coligny deserves everlasting remembrance.




Conde's death and the youth of Henry of Navarre made Admiral Coligny, for the first time, absolute master. It is chiefly in this, the last period of his military career, that we ever see his real genius. Crushed at Jarnac, he is ready a week later to take the field again. He wins the battle of Roche Abeille, he overruns Poitou, and the spirits of the Huguenots rise again.


Walter Raleigh fought bis first battle in the ranks of the Huguenot army, under the banners of Conde and Coligny. He was one of the defeated side at Jarnac. Six months later, on the third of October, Raleigh was again among the Huguenots at the village of Moncontour, where they again stood face to face with the enemy. The disastrous day began badly. On the very morning of the battle the men mutinied for pay: they went into action with half a heart. The Huguenot army would have been destroyed as well as routed but for the desperate courage of Louis of Nassau, who broke through the enemy's line at the bead of 1,000 horse. Two days after Moncontour, arrived Sir Henry Champernoun with 100 English gentlemen voJunteers-a welcome reinforcement.


Coligny, defeated but not cast down, was ready in a week with a new plan of action-if his men would only follow him-more audacious, more unexpected than any he had yet tried. But the men would not follow him. Worn out by so many defeats, overpowered by numbers always superior, they were only anxious for peace to be made-peace at any price, on any terms that could be obtained. Coligny was determined that there should be no peace until religious liberty was obtained. Once more be wrote to Jeanne d Albret for assistance. Once more that incomparable woman came to the camp, bringing with her the proceeds of all her jewels, which she had sold and pawned, and again harangued the soldiers. Her eloquence, coupled, no doubt, with the arrears of pay, revived the courage of the soldiers.


This was the blackest hour in Coligny's fortunes. Andelot, his brother and his dearest friend, dead; Odet a refugee in England a price set upon his bead, proclaimed a traitor by his King, blamed by his own friends for the defeats of Jarnac and Moncontour and the death of the Prince, Commander of a beaten and dejected army-there seemed no gleam of hope. Why not give up a useless struggle? Why not, as his soldiers wished, make such terms as a victorious enemy would grant, and then, with his children and nephews, with Jeanne d' Albret, Henry of Navarre, young Conde, and Louis of Nassau, embark on board one of his own ships and set sail for England? Had he done so, he would have found apologists. He had done enough for honor, we should have said he had sacrificed all-fortune, name, and ambition-to the cause. These were all gone. He left, the apologist would say, his country when he could give it nothing more. There is one thing more a mall always has to give; it is the last thing- it is his life. In the midst of these troubles, he heard that his splendid Castle at Chatillon had been pillaged, and all his treasures his art collections, his books, everything-had been destroyed or dispersed.


We must not," he writes to his boys after this intelligence, Count upon what is called property, but rather place our hope elsewhere than on earth, and acquire other means than those which we see with our eyes or touch with our hands. .Men have taken from us all they can. If such is always the will of God, we shall be happy. Persevere with courage in the practice of virtue." Behind his fortresses of Angouleme and St. Jean d' Angely, he re-formed the wreck. of his forces, and then started southwards by long and rupid marches, intent upon accomplishing one of the greatest military exploits on record. While the enemy believed him to be still lurking in the south, cowed by defeat, he would gather fresh troops as he went, and march from Languedoc due north, right across the country, to fall upon Paris itself. That was always in his mind. Paris his, the cause was Wall. Paris was the home of fanaticism j but Parisians are fickle. He had been their Governor, and knew them. He could silence the preachers, and, their voices stilled, the rest would be easy. Later events-when the Parisians shouted and gave thanks for the murder of Henry., and afterwards received with "Noels," Henry IV.showed that the Admiral knew his people.


The great march began. The soldiers, cheered with the prospects of more fighting, sang as they marched. Besides his Frenchmen, Coligny had with him on this great adventure 3,000 reiters and the little band of Englishmen, who started 100 strong, and of whom twelve only were left at the end of the campaign. In Navarre, Montgomery, with the" army of the Viscounts," had gained a signal advantage over the Catholics. The Admiral intended first to effect a junction with his forces. Strengthened by the accession of numerous arquebusiers in Gascony, Coligny passed the last month of the year at Montauban.


Quite early in the next year, while the mountain passes were yet dangerous with the winter snows, he set out, in pursuance of his plan, to meet Montgomery, and turned his face northwards. The Court, in profound ignorance of his movements, believed him to be in the south, quiet and inactive. They were deceived: from every hamlet, from every hill of Bearn, the Vivarais, the Cevenues, the Huguenots poured forth from their hiding-places to join the Admiral's army, as snow gathers on the rolling snowball. Fighting his way through a hostile country, crossing swollen rivers whose bridges were broken, camping in villages whose people had Bed, leaving, perforce, his wounded behind him, to be reckoned with the dead, he lost 6000 men between Nismes and St. Etienne i but the spirits of his men were high, as those should be whose all is risked upon a single chance. Among the men rode young Henry of Navarre, the boy general, whose strength and spirits never failed; with hint was the little Prince of Conde and with Coligny, at his right hand, was Louis of Nassau.


The first and only check was at st. Etienne, where Coligny fell in. For a week his life was despaired or, and already the chiefs had their eyes fixed on Louis of Nassau as a probable successor, when the Admiral recovered unexpectedly and suddenly, and sprang into the saddle again. Two messengers from Catherine, who was trying her usual Fabian policy, were waiting his recovery. They would treat with no one else. The Huguenot cause," said one of the chiefs, "docs not depend Oil the illness or death of the Admiral." "If he were dead," replied Goutant Biron, the ambassador, "we would not offer you a cup of water." It was true: there were others, gallant captains, soldiers as brave as Andelot, statesmen as wise as Odet, beaux sabreurs like Montgomery and LA Rochefoucauld but there was no leader of the Huguenots beside Coligny. One other there had been-Conde-hut he was dead, one other there might have been-Jeanne d' Albretbut she was a woman. It was Coligny who thought for all, worked for all, provided for all. It was Coligny who disciplined the unruly soldiery, trying to maintain among them, even in civil war, the virtues of the Christian life; only for Coligny would the jealous chiefs work in concert to the common sense of Coligny only would the fanatic ministers defer their zeal; he it was, and none other, whom his party trusted. And-which has been given to few men-it was Coligny alone whom the Catholics trusted. There call be on stronger tribute to his worth than the fact that even Catherine, the Queen of Lies, trusted implicitly the word as well as the strength of the Admiral. "Were the Admiral dead, she would not offer the Huguenots a cup of water."


He did not die; he recovered, and pushed on. Fresh messengers came to parley; the Court was panic-stricken. At Arnay-le-Duc, in Burgundy, he met Corse with 12,500 men, and beat him with 7,000; he pushed on to La Charite, and was within forty miles of Paris before the Catholics could realize the fact that be was not still hiding behind St. Jean d' Angely. Catherine gave way, as she always did, trusting once more, like her ally, Philip of Spain, to time. On the 8th of August, 1570, a treaty was signed at St Genuain-en-Laye, which gave the Reformed liberty of religion in every town they then held, complete civil equality, freedom from all disabilities in the universities, schools, and hospitals, and, as guarantees of good faith, the towns of La Rochelle, Cognac, Montauban, and La Charit. It was a peace that granted more than any previous oue, because it was the doing of Coligny alone. There were real guarantees this time, besides the perjured faith of Catherine; and Coligny's work, for the first time in his life, so far as the Huguenot cause, seemed accomplished.-W. BESANT.




Catherine finally resolved to destroy Coligny, and with him his party. Men sent warning letters to the Admiral, but he laughed at them, for his influence was greater than ever with the King. On the 7th of August he wrote to La Rochelle, thanking God that the King's mind was turned to the preservation of the peace. On the 11th William of Orange prayed him to hasten his departure for the seat of war. On the 18th, they celebrated in great amity the marriage of Henry of Navarre and Margaret at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The Admiral pointed to the Bags which had been captured at Jarnac and Moncoutour, promising soon to replace them by others more worthy of France. These others were never to be bung there, because the Admiral had now but a week to live. To his young wife he wrote, betraying a certain uneasiness, though all seemed well.


Meantime, one Maurevel, a hired assassin, the servant of the young Duke of Guise, a prince who inherited his father's courage and strength of will, without any of the chivalrous qualities which had commended him to young Gaspard de Coligny, was already taking his measures. On the morning of the 22d of August, the Admiral was invited by the Duke of Anjou to settle a difference between two of his gentlemen. The arbitration concluded, he left the Louvre to return to his own hotel. On the way he met the King going to play tennis with the Duke of Guise, and accompanied him as far as the tennis court, where he left him, and turned homewards, followed by ten or twelve gentlemen. At the corner of the Rue Betizy, a man offered the Admiral a petition, which he received and began to read, walking slowly along the road.


Suddenly there was a report from a corner house. The Admiral dropped the paper, one finger of his right hand being broken and his left arm grievously wounded. Maurevel's shot had wounded, but had not killed him. So far, for the Guises, it was a coup manque, a bungling attempt at murder. They carried the Admiral to his own house, which stood hard by. The King, hearing the news, threw down his racquet, crying, "Am I never to have any peace?" and sent his own physician, Ambrose Pare, to attend to the wounds. Pare, the most remarkable surgeon of the century, was an avowed Huguenot, and owed his life at the massacre to the personal intervention of the King.


Pare found the wound comparatively slight one finger of the right hand was broken, and there was a flesh wound in the left arm it was a wound which, with care, would heal up in a few days. There was, however, the danger that the bullets, which were of copper, might have poisoned the arm. My friends.," cried the Admiral to his friends who stood round him in lamentations and tears, why do you weep for me? I hold myself happy to have received these wounds for the cause of God. 


In the afternoon the King himself-accompanied by Catherine, the Duke of Anjou and all his Court-called upon the wounded man. The accounts of the interview are somewhat uncertain. It is, however, tolerably clear that the Admiral conversed with the King in a low tone upon the Low Countries and the Edict of Pacification. Presently Catherine requested to see the bullet. "You bear the pain," said Charles, for the moment, but I bear a perpetual pain: par la mort Dieu, I shall take such revenge that it shall never be forgotten." I have always been inclined to disbelieve that Charles, when he paid this visit, had actually resolved upon the massacre. Not only does the character of the King, his behavior immediately before the attempted assassination and immediately after it, refute that charge, but the balance of evidence -such evidence as exists-seems to me against it. On the other hand, there is everything to prove that the massacre of St Bartholomew bad been already resolved upon, and that Catherine, the Duke of Anjou, and Guise were the authors of the plot.


This attempted assassination took the Court and everybody, except Guise, entirely by surprise. After the King's visit to the Admiral, a council was hastily called together; the King, Catherine, Anjon, Guise were there. Tavennes, who was also present, has described what passed. They saw nothing before them but more civil war. Already the Huguenots were mustering in the streets, loudly demanding justice, and making demonstrations before the hotels of Guise and d' Aumale; already they named the real murderer as Guise himself. More civil war i the country exhausted the blood of thousands spilled; France longing for peace: how was that peace to be secured? To the mind of Catherine one course only presented itself-the course recommended years before by Alva: let them murder all the chiefs. Charles-what can be said in adequate pity and loathing ?-consented. Should they kill young Conde and Henry of Navarre? Tavennes dissuaded them. No doubt Catherille and Guise thought that he could be murdered afterwards. Sufficient for the day would be the murder of Coligny, La Rochefoucauld, and all the rest of the Protestant chiefs in Paris.


While this council was being held at the Louvre, another was held in the Admiral's hotel. Pare reassured the assembled chiefs as to the wound. Should they carry away the patient, and, all together, leave Paris? This course was debated and relinquished only on the persuasion of Teligny, who vouched for the King's good faith. They decided to remain they would trust once more in the word and honor of that Italian woman who had so often betrayed them; who for thirteen years had ruled and troubled France. They were to expiate the folly of that confidence with their lives.


It was Guise who arranged the details and reported, on Saturday evening, that all was ready. Every good Catholic was to be known by a strip of white linen round his amt and a white cross in his hat. The Captains of the Quarters and the Swiss were waiting the signal. On that Saturday night the King sat late in the Louvre. With him were his mother and his brother. He was pale, trembling and agitated. She, cold, calm and resolute, urged him to give the sigll3l. It was already half-past one on Sunday morning. At that moment the thought of his treachery mounted to his brain. He hesitated a cold sweat broke out upon his forehead. Then that woman, the tigress, maddened him. She knew how to madden men a!i well as to corrupt and destroy them. She called him coward. Charles sprang from his chair-" Begin, then," he cried.


Then they waited for the signal to be given. The sound of a pistol was heard  'Charles started and would have sent word to Guise to precipitate nothing. His mother told him it was too late. The great bell of St. Germain I' Auxerrois began to toll. It was after two o'clock in the morning. And then the streets of the sleeping city, quiet in the warm air of an August night, became suddenly filled with armed men crying, For God and the King.


The leader of them all was the Duke of Guise i followed by his uncle, the Duke d' Aumale, the Chevalier d' Angouleme and 3,000 soldiers, he rushed to the Admiral's hotel. They knocked at the outer gate, calling for admission in the King's name. It was opened. The man who stood to receive them was immediately murdered. The inner gate was forced open. The household was by this time aroused they barricaded the passages-a feeble defense, which served for the servants to reach the upper part of the house. Coligny was awake i his minister, Merlin, was praying with him. A valet rushed into the room Sir," he cried, the house is broken open and there are no means of resistance." " I have long been prepared to die," answered the Admiral. "Save your lives if you can you cannot save mine. I commend my soul to the mercy of God." Then for a brief space he was left alone, save for his German interpreter, who remained with him.


They found him-Guise's murderers-leaning against the wall, being weak and feeble after his wound, and unable to stand. The first who entered was one Besme, a servant of the Duke's. "Are you the Admiral " he asked. I am," replied Coligny. Then looking in the face of his assassin he said, calmly-" Young man, you ought to consider my age and my infinity but you will not make my life shorter"-meaning that he was already, by reason of his wounds, at the point of death. Besme plunged the sword into his breast, and gave him a second blow upon the head. The other soldiers, who bad crowded into the room, despatcbed him with daggers. Besme! Besme!" cried the Duke of Guise from below, is it do.


It is done, my lord," answered the servant. To satisfy his master he threw the dead body out of the window into the court-yard. The Duke of Guise, wiping the blood from the dead man's face with his handkerchief, looked upon the well known features of his enemy: I know him," he cried joyfully "it is he." He kicked the dead body with his foot and left it there, calling on his companions to go on with the good work in the name of the King. Sixteen years later the body of this same Henry, Duke of Guise, was lying before another murderer-Henry the Third who, as Guise had treated the dead body of Coligny, so treated the dead body of Guise. with a brutal kick.-W. BESANT.


Admiral Coligny

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