Nicolas Durand Sieur de Villegaignon

Birth: 1510


Nicolas Durand, Sieur de Villegaignon, also Villegagnon (1510 – 9 January 1571) was a Commander of the Knights of Malta, 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 born in Provins, Seine et Marne, France, a nephew of Philippe Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Grand Master of the Order of Malta. He was ordained as a Knight of the Order in 1521. 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. A disagreement over Eucharistic theology soon caused Villegagnon and the Calvinists to quarrel. Villegagnon eventually expelled those who held to Calvin's view of the Eucharist from his fortified island.

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 Estacio de Sa, a nephew of the third Portuguese Governor-General of Brazil, Mem de Sa, on 15–16 March 1558.


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

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