Gaspard II de Coligny, Admiral of France (1519-1572)

Gaspard II de Coligny, Admiral of France (1519-1572) was a successful French commander during the later stages of the Italian Wars who became a Huguenot leader in the French Wars of Religion and who was killed during the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre of August 1572.

Coligny was the son of Gaspard I de Coligny and Louise de Montmorency, the sister of Anne, duke of Montmorency, a senior French commander during the Italian Wars.

Coligny went to court at the age of 22 (c.1541), where he became close to François de Lorraine, Second Duke of Guise, the best French commander in the later stages of the war.

Coligny fought in the final Italian campaigns of the Fourth Hapsburg-Valois War (1542-44). He fought at the battle of Ceresole (14 April 1544) near Turin and was knighted after the battle. Soon after this the main theatre moved from Italy to eastern France, and Coligny played a part in the defence of Saint-Dizier (19 June-18 August 1544), which delayed the Imperial forces long enough for Francis to be able to recall his forces from Italy. In 1544 Boulogne fell to the English. The French besieged the town into 1545 without success, and Coligny commanded an infantry regiment during this stage of the siege.

He was appointed colonel general of the Infantry in 1547, governor of Paris in 1551, and in 1552 was made Admiral of France (not an entirely naval post at the time).

He was a prominent figure during the Fifth Hapsburg-Valois War. He fought at Renty (12 August 1554), a minor cavalry clash mainly significant as the Emperor Charles V's last battle. In 1555 he was appointed governor of the border area of Picardy. At the start of 1556 he was the main French negotiator of the Truce of Vaucelles (February-November 1556).

When the war resumed late in 1556 Coligny was still in the north-east of France. He captured Lens, but then had to fall back after Philip II of Spain led an invasion of north-western France. Coligny commanded the defence of St. Quentin, and was able to hold up Philip for much longer than expected He even managed to hold on after a relief army was defeated at the battle of St. Quentin (10 August 1557). The town was eventually stormed on 27 August, but by this point Philip II had lost any enthusiasm for the campaign and soon afterwards he withdrew to the Netherlands.

Coligny was imprisoned by the Spanish for two years after the fall of St. Quentin. It was during this time that he became a Protestant. He was released in 1559, and was planning an invasion of Spain when the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis (3 April 1559) ended the war.

Coligny came to prominence during the French Wars of Religion. In 1555 he had supported a plan to establish a Huguenot colony in Brazil. In 1560 he emerged as a Protestant, and the rest of his career was dominated by the religious civil wars that split France. At first his decision to announce his Protestantism seemed to have paid off. His uncle Montmorency was still powerful enough to protect him, and Coligny became the protector of the Huguenots.

The First War of Religion broke out in 1562. Coligny reluctantly joined the Huguenot armies.

The Second War of Religion (1567-68) began when Coligny and Condé attempted to seize control of the court and the young King Charles IX. The attack failed, as did a Huguenot attempt to take Paris, but the war was ended by the very short-lived Edict of Longjumeau (23 March 1568). Coligny performed well at the only major battle of the war, the drawn battle of Saint-Denis (10 November 1567).

The Third War of Religion (1568-70) began with an attempt to capture the Huguenot leaders, including Condé and Coligny.

In 1569 the main Huguenot leader, the Prince of Condé, was killed after surrendered at the battle of Jarnac (13 March 1569). Coligny became the Huguenot military leader (although Henry of Navarre, the future Henry IV was the official head of the army). Coligny was defeated at Moncontour (3 October 1569), but rallied, raised a new army in the south of France and threatened Paris. This triggered peace negotiations and the war was ended by the Peace of St.-Germain (8 August 1570).

After this victory Coligny was able to return to court, where he became a favourite of Charles IX. He proposed a combined Catholic and Huguenot invasion of the Spanish Netherlands. Charles supported this idea, in part because he was jealous of the successes won by his brother Henry of Anjou. This alarmed the king's mother Catherine de Medici and the Catholic leader Henry of Anjou. They made an attempt to assassinate Coligny on 22 August, but this failed. Charles promised to track down the culprits. Alarmed, the plotters decided to carry out a wider massacre (the St/ Bartholemew's Eve Massacre of 24 August 1572, led by Henry, duke of Guise). Coligny was one of the many victims of this massacre, which triggered the Fourth War of Religion (1572-73). His house was attacked at dawn, he was thrown out of a winder and beheaded in the street.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 October 2014), Gaspard II de Coligny, Admiral of France (1519-1572) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_coligny_gaspard_II.html

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