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Definition: Coligny, Gaspard de from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

French admiral and soldier, and prominent Huguenot. About 1557 he joined the Protestant party, helping to lead the Huguenot forces during the Wars of Religion. After the Treaty of St Germain of 1570, he became a favourite of the young king Charles IX, but was killed on the first night of the Massacre of St Bartholomew.

Summary Article: Coligny, Gaspard de (1519–1572)
from 500 Great Military Leaders

French admiral and Huguenot leader. Born in Châtillon-sur-Loing (Châtillon-Coligny), France, on February 16, 1519, Gaspard de Coligny attended court and in 1541 became friends with François de Lorraine, Duke of Guise. During the Fourth Habsburg-Valois War (1542–1544), Coligny distinguished himself in the Battle of Ceresole (April 14, 1544) and was knighted. In 1545 he commanded an infantry regiment in the Siege of Boulogne.

The death of King François I in 1547 and the return to favor of Coligny's uncle, Anne de Montmorency, brought Coligny's appointment as colonel general of the French infantry in 1547. He became lieutenant governor of Paris and the Île de France region in 1551. A year later he was advanced to the important post of admiral of France, a position not exclusively naval.

During the Fifth Habsburg-Valois War (1547–1559), Coligny fought the Battle of Renty (August 12, 1554). He was then governor of Picardy in 1555 and negotiated the Truce of Vaucelles (February–November 1556). On the resumption of fighting, Coligny directed the defense of Saint-Quentin but was forced to surrender it when the Spaniards stormed the town (August 27, 1557). During his subsequent imprisonment at Sluys awaiting a prisoner exchange, Coligny converted to Protestantism as a French Huguenot (Calvinist).

Upon his release, the moderate Coligny championed religious toleration. However, on the outbreak of the protracted French Wars of Religion in 1560, he reluctantly took a leading role on the Huguenot side, joining forces with Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Condé. Coligny fought in the indecisive Battle of Dreux (December 19, 1562), in which Condé was taken prisoner. Coligny then supervised the escape of the army to Normandy. He fought in the Battle of Saint-Denis (November 10, 1567) and was defeated in the Battle of Jarnac (March 13, 1569), where Condé was killed.

Coligny then assumed the leadership of the Huguenot forces. He was defeated by the Catholics led by Henri, Duke of Anjou (later King Henri III) at La Roche-l'Abeille (June 25, 1569) and failed in his Siege of Poitiers (July–September). Gaspard de Tavannes and a Catholic army crushed Coligny's army in the Battle of Moncontour (December 3, 1569). Wounded in the retreat, Coligny escaped south to Languedoc. Putting together a new army, he moved north to threaten Paris (June 1570). Defeating the Catholics at Arnay-le-Duc (June 25), he secured a favorable cease-fire at Saint-Germain (August 8), by which the Huguenots were granted religious toleration and political and military rights.

Coligny was returned to favor at court under King Charles IX in 1571. Coligny's proposal to invade Flanders that would have meant war with Spain was strongly opposed by Queen Catherine de Médici, who persuaded Charles to order the death of all Huguenot leaders in Paris. Coligny's assassination in Paris on August 24, 1572, began the infamous St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of Huguenots and led to renewal of the French religious wars.

Personally brave and rational but not a very successful field commander, Coligny possessed undoubted political skills and succeeded in keeping his military forces together under difficult circumstances, ensuring survival of the Huguenot cause.

Further Reading
  • Baumgartner, Frederic. Henry II: King of France. 1988. Reprint ed. Duke University Press Durham NC, 1996.
  • Holt, Mark P. The French Wars of Religion, 1562-1629. Cambridge University Press Cambridge, 1995.
  • Knecht, R. J. Catherine de Medici. Longman London, 1998.
  • Whitehead, Arthur W. Gaspard de Coligny: Admiral of France. Methuen London, 1904.
  • Spencer C. Tucker
    Copyright 2014 by Spencer C. Tucker

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