Coligni, Gaspard De
Coligni, Gaspard De, admiral of France, was born February 16, 1517, at his ancestral castle, Chatillon-sur-Loing. His father, Gaspard de Coligni, marshal of France, died early (1522), and bequeathed to his widow the task of educating three sons. In this she was assisted by two masters, one of whom instructed the boys in languages and philosophy, and the other in bodily exercises. Gaspard early distinguished himself for a firmness of character and purity of private life very rare in those days. His only friend was the young duke Francis of Guise, afterwards among his bitterest enemies. He entered upon the career of arms, and early won high celebrity in the wars against Italy and Spain. In 1547, at thirty, Coligni was made commander of the French infantry. The very severe discipline introduced by him changed the wild bands of lawless soldiery into an organized army. In 1547 the year in which his mother died, he was married to Charlotte de Laval. But the troubles of his times called him soon again and again to the front of battle; the happy issue of the campaign of 1552-55 is to be ascribed to him. He became governor of Champagne, later of Picardy and Isle de France. In 1552 he was made admiral of France. When King Henry II violated the truce, and the war with Spain broke out anew, Coligni was commissioned to defend St. Quentin against the Spaniards. In spite of a heroic defense, on the 27th of August St. Quentin fell. Coligni was taken prisoner and brought to the Netherlands, where he remained two years. Here he became a Protestant. At the peace of Chateau-Cambresis in 1559, he regained his liberty for a ransom of 50,000 florins. Through the sudden death of Henry II (1559), and the ascension of his throne by Francis II, the Guises became temporarily all powerful, and Coligni lost many of his honors. He left the court with a light heart. He had been suspected of "heresy," but had not yet publicly confessed himself a Protestant. Aware that this step might be fatal to his family, it was only after his wife had gladly confessed to the "Church of Christ" that he partook of the Lord's Supper in presence of the whole village. The news was received with rejoicing among all Protestants. While Coligni lived a peaceful, secluded life with his family, the public discontent at the usurpations of the Guises had reached a climax. The conspiracy of Amboise in 1560 amply shows the state of popular opinion in France. Coligni did not participate in, though he seems to have known of the plot. But at the Convention of the Notables he made brave but ineffectual attempts to gain more freedom of worship for the Protestants.
The death of Francis II, in 1560, however, changed the whole aspect of affairs. Coligni and his brother Andelot were reinstated in their honors, and now more than ever Protestantism found a powerful protector in him. He took part in the terrible religious wars which lasted for thirty years. At the head of the Roman Catholic party stood the Guises, while Conde and Coligni led the Protestants. But the latter suffered severe reverses, and only after the assassination of Francis of Guise, 1563, by Jean Poltrot, fortune began to be once more favorable to them. Coligni was not implicated in this murder, as has sometimes been asserted. After the peace of Amboise, concluded March 19, in which freedom of conscience and of worship was granted the Protestant nobility, the admiral again retired to his estates in Chatillon. Four years, later the war broke out anew, and was on both sides waged with the old spirit and bitterness. For a time the prospects of the Reformed party looked very dark. In 1569 Conde fell, and only a few weeks later Coligni's brother Andelot. The admiral's siege of Poitiers was a failure; and, while he withdrew his troops, the Parliament in Paris had condemned him to death, hung him in effigy, broke his escutcheon, and offered a price of 50,000 florins for his head. Coligni's life, indeed, was endangered by several attempts to assassinate him. But no reverses could break Coligni's spirit or daunt his energy In 1570, at Arnay le Due, the Protestants gained a complete victory; and shortly after all further movements were ended by a truce, which resulted in the peace of St. Germains.
Coligni's wife had died three years before, and in 1571 the admiral, although already at an advanced age, married Jaqueline, countess of Montlul and Entremont, a young, beautiful, intelligent, and pious lady of Savoy. Meanwhile the current of opinion at court seemed to be gradually settling in favor of the Protestants. — The union of the two parties was to be completed by the marriage of Henry of Navarre (later Henry IV) to Margaret of Valois. Charles IX needed a man who would be equally respected by all parties, and Coligni was summoned to court. He went full of confidence in the king's good-will; and, indeed, it does not appear that Charles and his mother, Catharine de Medicis, had at that time any hostile intentions towards him. The admiral wept tears of joy at his reception in Blois (Sept. 13, 1571). The king embraced him, and both Charles and his mother showed him every honor. Gradually Coligni gained a decided influence over the king, and made good use of it in favor of the Huguenots. Catharine became alarmed, and her jealousy of Coligni changed into hatred, although it appears that as yet Charles was not ill disposed towards the admiral. On the 18th of August, 1572, the marriage of Henry and Margaret took place. On the same day Coligni wrote to his wife that he hoped to see her soon, as he was weary of court life. These were the last Ilines she ever received from his hand. Four days I later, as he was walking in the street, a shot was fired at him from a house in the present Rue de Rivoli; a finger of his right hand was destroyed, and his left arm wounded. The assassination of the admiral was ascribed to the Guises, and filled all Paris with alarm and horror. The king visited Coligni, professed the greatest sympathy, and swore to the Protestants he would be revenged for the bloody deed. But Catharine de Medicis had resolved on Coligni's death. On the evening of the 23d, everything was prepared for the terrible massacre that was to take place on the following night. On the 23d, after midnight, a guard of only five men and a few servants remained with the admiral. In the morning, between one and two (Sunday, August 24), a murderous band approached the house. It had been resolved to kill the admiral first, and then give the signal for the general massacre. The young Duke of Guise had undertaken to destroy his great enemy. The doors were burst open and the guards killed. At the first noise Coligni requested to be lifted from his bed, and said to his minister, "Say a prayer, sir; I put my soul into the Savior's hand." A servant burst into the room, and on being questioned, replied, "God calls us." "I have long been ready to die," Coligni replied; "but you others save yourselves." The murderers entered the room, and found the admiral standing upright. One called to him, "Are you not the admiral?" "Yes," Coligni answered with dignity; "and you, young man, should respect my gray hairs, and not take my life." With an oath the soldier thrust his sword into Coligni's breast. His body, in which life was still not entirely extinct, was thrown out of the window. Guise, who had been waiting below, wiped the blood from the face of the corpse to recognize it, and kicked the body with his foot. An Italian, Petrucci, cut off the head and brought it to the Louvre. The body was mutilated, dragged through the streets of Paris, and at last hung upon the gallows by the feet. When Charles IX came to see it a few days later, he is said to have repeated the words of Vitellius, "The body of an enemy always smells well." In Parliament, on the 26th of August, he stated that the massacre of St. Bartholomew had been necessary to prevent the execution of a plot in which the king was to be assassinated, and accused Coligni of ingratitude and treason. The servile Parliament accepted these statements, declared Coligni a traitor, and decreed the forfeiture of all his rights and honors, which resolution was, however, afterwards completely revoked. — Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 19:331 sq.; Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generale, 11:137; Haag, La France Protestante, vol. 3.