Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon

Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon
Nicolas de Villegagnon.

Nicolas Durand, sieur de Villegaignon, also Villegagnon (Villegaignon, Seine et Marne, France, 1510 – Beauvais, 9 January 1571) was a Commander of the Knights of Malta,[1] and later a French naval officer (vice-admiral of Brittany) who attempted to help the Huguenots in France escape persecution.

A notable public figure in his time, Villegaignon was a mixture of soldier, scientist, explorer, adventurer and entrepreneur. He fought pirates in the Mediterranean and participated in several wars.

Villegagnon was a nephew of Philippe Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Grand Master of the Order of Malta.[2] He was ordained as a Knight of the Order in 1521.


Ottoman campaigns in the Mediterranean

Nicolas de Villegagnon fought in numerous campaigns against the Ottoman Empire. Although the French usually refrained from participating in actions against the Ottomans, due to the Franco-Ottoman alliance, Villegagnon's first allegiance was with the Order of Malta, which generally supported the Habsburgs and fought the Ottomans. Villegagnon participated in the ill-fated expedition against Algiers in 1541,.[1] He also fought against the Ottomans in Hungary in 1542 following the Siege of Buda (1541) until 1546.

In 1548, he commanded the French naval fleet that took Mary, Queen of Scots, then five years old, to France, since she was promised to marry the Dauphin of France. This was a daring operation, covertly sailing galleys around Scotland, while the English fleet was expecting an attack from the other direction.

Villegagnon helped repel the Ottomans at Malta in 1551, before they went on to lead the Invasion of Gozo (1551).[1] He was then present at the Siege of Tripoli (1551) against the Ottoman Empire, and wrote an account about it in 1553.[3][4] Villegagnon illustrated himself by courageously defending Gaspard de Vallier, the vanquished Commander of Tripoli, who was being heavily criticized by the Grand Master D'Omedes who wished to assign all the blame for the defeat on him. Nicolas de Villegagnon staunchly defended him and exposed the duplicity of D'Omedes.[5]

France Antarctique

First mass celebrated at Fort Coligny. Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon is shown at right
Drawing of the Island of Villegaignon, in Rio de Janeiro

Villegaignon became an important historical figure in the attempt for king Henry II to build a "France Antarctique", by invading present-day Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1555 with a fleet of two ships and 600 soldiers and colonists, mainly French Huguenots and Swiss Calvinists who sought to escape Catholic persecution in Europe.

Villegagnon's initial plan was to help the Huguenots establish a colony in the New World. He wanted also to secure a permanent base in Brazil in order to explore brazil wood, then a very valuable source of red dye and hard wood for construction (which gave the name to what was to become Brazil), and to explore precious metals and stones, which the Europeans believed to exist in abundance in the land.

After a number of battles against the Portuguese, the French colonists were defeated by Estácio de Sá, a nephew of the third Portuguese Governor-General of Brazil, Mem de Sá, on 15–16 March 1558.

Return to France

Villegaignon had already returned to France, in 1559, disgusted with the infighting between Catholics and Protestants in the small colony. He had left the colony under the command of his nephew Bois-le-Comte, endeavouring to obtain more funds and ships for the colony.[6] The internal fight against the Calvinists however made colonial adventures less of a priority for the Crown. After the colony fell to the Portuguese, Villegagnon finally agreed to give up his claims to France Antarctique after receiving 30,000 écus from the Portuguese Crown.

Fight against the Protestants

In 1560, Villegagnon challenged Calvin to a theological debate on the eucharist, which the latter declined. He became actively involved against the Protestants, and participated in the repression of the Amboise conspiracy.[6]

Villegagnon participated in the repression of the Amboise conspiracy in 1560.

In 1561, Pierre Richier published a pamphlet against Villegagnon's actions in Brazil, entitled "Réfutation des folles resveries, excecrable blasphèmes, erreurs et mensonges de Nicolas Durand, qui se nomme Villagagnon".

New attempts were made to create a Huguenot colony in the New World, again at the instigation of Coligny, this time in Florida from 1562 to 1565, under Jean Ribault and René de Laudonnière.

From 1568, Villegagnon became the representative of the Order of Malta at the French Court. The next year, in 1569, he published in Paris a new controversy about the eucharist, entitled "De Consecratione, mystico sacrificio et duplici Christi oblatione".

Villegagnon became Commander of the Order of Malta Commandery in Beauvais, where he died on 9 January 1571.

The Catholic André Thévet, who had accompanied him on the first trip to Brazil, published in 1572 a description of the Brazil adventure and an attack on the Protestants, in his "Cosmographie Universelle". The Protestant Jean Léry would respond to it in 1578 with his "Histoire d'un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil".


In his book, Brazil, A Land of the Future, Austrian writer Stefan Zweig describes the colorful character of Villegaignon:

Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon, half pirate, half scientist, a dubious but attractive figure, is a typical product of the Renaissance (...) He has been brilliant in war and a dilettante in the arts. He has been praised by Ronsard and feared by the Court, because his character is incalculable. Hating any regular occupation, despising the most enviable positions and the highest honours, his volatile spirit prefers to be free to indulge unhampered its fantastic moods. The Huguenots believe he is a Catholic and the Catholics believe he's a Huguenot. Nobody knows which side he is serving, and he himself probably doesn't know much more than that he wants to do something big, something different from anyone else, something wild and daring, something romantic and extraordinary.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Pioneers of France in the New World by Francis Parkman p.27
  2. ^ Pioneer Laymen of North America, Volume 1 by Campbell Thomas Joseph p.51
  3. ^ The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe, N. W. Bawcutt p.6
  4. ^ History of a voyage to the land of Brazil, otherwise called America by Jean de Léry p.xix
  5. ^ Ancient and modern Malta by Pierre Marie Louis de Boisgelin de Kerdu p.47
  6. ^ a b "Returning to France to garner more funds and ships for the colony in Rio de Janeiro, Villegagnon found himself armed and fighting to protect the Crown at Amboise against the Huguenot conspirators." in Essays in French colonial history: proceedings of the 21st Annual Meeting of the French Colonial Society p.3-7 Michigan State University Press, 1997

Further reading

  • Heulhard, A., Villegagnon, Roi d'Amérique: un Homme de Mer au XVIe Siécle, (1897)

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  • Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon — Este artículo o sección necesita referencias que aparezcan en una publicación acreditada, como revistas especializadas, monografías, prensa diaria o páginas de Internet fidedignas. Puedes añadirlas así o avisar …   Wikipedia Español

  • Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon — Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon Naissance 1510 Provins Décès 9 janvier 1571 (à 60 ans) Beauvais en Gâtinais Origine …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Durand et Villegagnon. Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon Naissance …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Durand — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda El término Durand puede referirse a: Personajes Chris Durand, agente norteamericano de películas y televisión Daniel Durand, poeta argentino Elias Magloire Durand , farmacéutico , botánico y briólogo francés Gilbert… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Villegaignon — (spr. Wilganjong), Nicolas Durand de V., stammte aus der Bretagne, nahm frühzeitig Dienste auf der französischen Flotte, machte 1541 den Zug Karls V. nach Algier mit, nahm 1548 die Königin Marie von Schottland an Bord u. brachte sie nach… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Villegaignon — 22°54′50″S 43°09′35″O / 22.91389, 43.15972 Villegaignon est une île appartenant à la ville de R …   Wikipédia en Français

  • France Antarctique — was the name of the failed French colony south of the Equator, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which existed between 1555 and 1567, and had control over the coast from Rio de Janeiro to Cabo Frio.Brazil had been discovered in April 1500 by a fleet… …   Wikipedia

  • Fort Coligny — was a fortress founded by Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1555, in what constituted the so called France Antarctique historical episode.For protection against attacks by hostile Indians and the Portuguese, Villegaignon …   Wikipedia

  • Cunhambebe — Cunhambebe, as portrayed by André Thevet, French cosmographer who accompanied the expedition by Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon. Cunhambebe was an aboriginal Indian chieftain of the Tamoyo tribe, which dominated the region between present day Cabo …   Wikipedia

  • Villegagnon Island — (former Serigipe Island original Portuguese: Ilha de Villegagnon also known in English as: Villegaignon Island or Island of Villegagnon or Island of Villegaignon) is located near the mouth of the large Guanabara Bay, in the city of Rio de Janeiro …   Wikipedia

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