The undisputed leader of the Protestants
Although brought up a Catholic, Gaspard de Coligny was converted to the reformed faith during his Spanish captivity (1557-1558) after the battle of St. Quentin. It was during this captivity that he read and studied the Bible.
Much in favour at the court of Henri II, he was named Admiral of France by him in 1552.
In 1560 he made a request to the king, asking for churches to be built for the Protestants and to put an end to the penalties inflicted on them. With Catherine de Medici he prepared the Colloquy of Poissy (1561).
He played an important role during the first wars of religion and after the death of the prince of Condé in Jarnac, he became the undisputed leader of the Protestants. After the treaty of St. Germain (1570), which brought the third war of religion to an end, Coligny was summoned to the royal court, where he enjoyed the king’s favour. He encouraged Charles IX to support the rebels in the Low Countries who were struggling against King Philip II of Spain. Catherine de Medici, however, was most hostile to this idea and the Catholic faction, headed by the de Guise family, was likewise exasperated by it.
On 22nd August 1572, an attempt was made upon the life of Coligny. The instigator of the crime may have been Catherine de Medici ; but it most probably was the Guise family ; Spain may likewise have been involved in the plot.
This failed attempt provoked violent reactions on both sides. The situation became tense ; tempers rose and finally set off the massacre of St. Bartholomew on 24th August 1572, which began by the murder of admiral de Coligny. The admiral’s body was thrown out of the window of his house.
Coligny’s murder as related by Agrippa d’Aubigné in his « Histoire Universelle »: Besme entered the bedroom where he saw the Admiral dressed in his nightgown. He asked, « Are you the Admiral ? » The reply was « Young man, take thought for my advanced age ». Besme thrust his sword through the Admiral’s body then withdrew it and slashed his face in two. When the duke of Guise asked if the mission had been accomplished and Besme said it had, the latter was told to throw the body out of the window, which is what he did.
- BOURGEON Jean-Louis, L’assassinat de Coligny, Droz, Genève, 1992
- Collectif, L’Amiral de Coligny et son temps, actes du Colloque de Paris (octobre 1972), SHPF, Paris, 1974, p. 795
- CRÉTÉ Liliane, Coligny, Fayard, Paris, 1985
The Colloquium of Poissy (1561)
In order to avoid a civil war between Catholics and Protestants, Catherine de Medici brought together theologians from both factions. However, the attempt failed.
St. Bartholomew's Day (24th August 1572)
Charles IX had tried to reconcile the two religious parties, but when this failed, he was driven by the Guise family to authorize the Catholics to assassinate the Protestant leaders; the situation degenerated into a massive massacre.
The eight wars of religion (1562-1598)
In the 16th Century, France was to know a religious split : the great majority of the country remained faithful to Catholicism, whilst an important majority joined the Reformation. Coexistence of the two confessions throughout the Kingdom showed itself to be inapplicable. War could no longer be avoided and civil tolerance had failed.
Eight wars of religion were to succeed each other throughout 36 years, with periodic interruptions of fragile peace. The wars will cease with the Edict of Nantes (30th of April 1598), an edict that established a limited civil tolerance. The confessional duality established throughout France in 1598 was to wear away little by little until the revocation of the edict in 1685.
Henri, roi de Navarre
Henri, devenu roi de Navarre, sous le nom d’Henri III de Navarre après la mort de sa mère le 9 juin 1572, épouse Marguerite de Valois, sœur du roi Charles IX, le 18 juin 1572 à Paris.
The Châtillon-Coligny Museum
This museum is situated in the former local hospital and here you can find an exhibition on the Coligny family and the French Protestants in the XVIth century.
François d’Andelot (1521-1569)
François d’Andelot (1521-1569) was the youngest of the three Coligny brothers, but he was the first to convert to Calvinism. The publicity given by his spiritual commitment almost cost him his life and committed him to more discretion. He played a major role in the Huguenot military actions ed by his brother , Admiral de Coligny, and the Prince of Condé.
Odet de Coligny, Cardinal of Châtillon
Odet de Châtillon (1517-1571) was probably the most mysterious of the three Coligny brothers. He owed his wealth, authority, rank and prestige to the fact he was a Cardinal of the Catholic church, but never advocated traditional Catholicism. After a long intellectual process, he eventually committed himself to the Huguenot party.
Wars of religion on the death of Henri IV (1562-1610)
In the 16th century in France, a war between the Protestant minority and the Catholic majority could not be avoided. In 36 years, between 1562 and 1598 there were 8 wars interspersed with periods of fragile peace. In 1598, King Henri IV, a Protestant converted to Catholicism, issued the edict of Nantes which established religious coexistence between Catholics and Protestants. In 1610, Henri IV was assassinated.