Villegaignon, Nicolas Durand de (1510–1572)

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Villegaignon, Nicolas Durand de (1510–1572)

Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon (b. 1510; d. 29 January 1572), French colonizer in Brazil. Born in Provins, Villegaignon was a knight of Malta and nephew of the Grand Master. He served under Emperor Charles V at Algiers and fought the Turks in Hungary and at Tripoli. An experienced seaman, Villegaignon defied the English fleet by escorting Mary Stuart (later called Mary Queen of Scots) to France to marry the dauphin. Villegaignon, a warrior and humanist, anguished over spiritual matters and at one point embraced Calvinism.

As vice-admiral of Brittany, he interested Admiral Gaspard de Coligny in using Brazil, a land already visited by Normans and Bretons, as a sanctuary for Protestant refugees. In November 1555, with three boats manned by Catholics and Protestants, Villegaignon arrived at Guanabara Bay. He fortified a small island as a base for further exploration, naming the colony La France Antarctique. Encouraged by the reformer John Calvin, three hundred Protestants arrived in March 1557. Villegaignon, noted for his generous treatment of the native peoples, was less forgiving to the Protestants, whom he punished harshly for even slight transgressions. He returned to France in 1559, leaving his nephew in charge.

The newly arrived French colonists encountered resistance from the established Portuguese settlers in Brazil. Deemed heretics by the Portuguese, they supported the indigenous peoples against their colonial overlords. With only seventy-four men, the French held out for twenty days until the Portuguese (led by Mem de Sá) took the island and razed the fort. Survivors fled to the mainland to live among the native people. Villegaignon finally conceded the colonial rights to Portugal, and he remained in France until his death.

See alsoFrench Colonization in Brazil .


Charles André Julien, Les français en Amérique (1946).

Charles André Julien, Les débuts de l'expansion et de la colonisation françaises (1947).

Brasil, Servico De Documentação Geral Da Mariuha, Historia naval brasileira, vol. 1 (1975).

Philippe Bonnichon, Los navegantes franceses y el descubrimiento de America (1992).

Frank Lestringant, Le Huguenot el le sauvage (1990).

Michel Mollat and Jacques Habert, Giovanni et Girolamo Verrazano, navigateurs de François 1er (1982).

Samuel Eliot Morison, The European Discovery of America, vol. 2 (1974).

Additional Bibliography

Elmalan, Serge. Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon ou l'utopie tropicale. Lausanne, Switzerland: Favre, 2002.

Mariz, Vasco, and Lucien Provençal. Villegagnon e a França Antártica: Uma reavaliação. Rio de Janeiro: Biblioteca do Exército Editora: Editora Nova Fronteira, 2000.

                                    Philippe Bonnichon

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Villegaignon, Nicolas Durand de (1510–1572)

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Villegaignon, Nicolas Durand de (1510–1572)