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The Hidden Side Of The French Invasion in the Guanabara Bay

Renato Pereira Brandão ∗

Translation of the article O Cavaleiro nos Trópicos: o lado oculta da invasão francesa.
Nossa História, São Paulo, Vera Cruz, 3(31): 22-26.

More than to guarantee the presence of France in the New World, the objective of
Villegaignon in the Guanabara seriates to favor the commercial interests of the Order of
Malta, damaged by the naval Portuguese expansion

In November of 1555, a French squad entered in the bay of Guanabara. On the
contrary of previous raids, this one was not coming to be supplied of natural products,
principally of redwood, and then to return to his country of origin. It had a bigger objective:
the constant occupation of this passage of the Brazilian coast.
The books of history usually repeat the same version like reason for this invasion.
Uncompelled because of seeing France freed of the share of the New World, but
preoccupied in avoiding a situation of belligerence with Portugal, Henry II, who reigned in
France from 1547 to 1559, would have sponsored indirectly this undertaking through his
Minister Coligny (1519-1572). This, converted to the Protestant creed, wanted to establish
a new colony in America where there was preserved the freedom of the worship, Antarctic
France. The king and the Minister woke that the command of this conquest was delegated
to a knight of Malta Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon. Made famous because of having
carried out, in 1548, the exploit of swindling the naval English siege to Scotland and of
there rescuing the real heiress Maria Stuart, taken in security for France, his choice would
reveal the importance given for this conquest.


Titular Professor of Modern History of the International Relations Course, Estácio de Sá
University, Rio de Janeiro - Brazil
Nevertheless, some doubts hover still not only over the true purposes of this
undertaking, but principally over the interests, and even, for someone, including the
character of his commander.
The French participation is described, especially, in two works. The first one to be
published is of authorship of a catholic monk, the Franciscan friar André Thevet, which in
Guanabara Bay arrived accompanied by Villegaignon, to whom it has in great count.
Nevertheless, a great deal of the narrative of his work Les Singularitez de la France
Antarctique (The peculiarities of Antarctic France), published in 1557, it was questioned in
the second work, of authorship of Jean de Lery, a Calvinist monk. Arriving subsequently,
in 1557, Lery accuses – in his book Histoire d'un voyage fait in terre du Bresil, dite
Amerique (History of a travel done to the land of Brazil, when America was said), when
the commander of Antarctic France was published initially in 1578 – of having betrayed
Coligny while pursuing implacably the Calvinists, who were obliged returning for France.
This contradictory aspect took some authors to think that Villegaignon would have,
under the influence of Coligny, when the Protestant cause was hugged, but then, repented,
returned to the Catholicism. Others already prefer to believe that Villegaignon would never
have hugged the Protestant cause. Moved by a personal project of conquest, while
establishing relation with the French Minister, it was waiting, through this, to get the
indirect support of the king of France. After to be installed in America, the Protestant
participation would be, then, for him excluded.
Nevertheless, an analysis more accurate of his knight’s title, associated to the in
formations contained in two letters, allows us to draw a quite differentiated profile not
alone for the commander, like for the purpose of this undertaking.

Established to give shelter to pilgrims, the Order of Malta became the naval police
officer of the Mediterranean

The title of Rhodes’s knights, or Malta, it to be usually identified how of an order of
aristocratic knights been based on France. In fact, this, which true name is an Order of Saint
John de Jerusalem, is an institution of the regular clergy of the Catholic Church, been based
on Palestine in the middle of the century XI, with the finality of giving shelter to the
pilgrims. During the Crusades, in 1130, it was turned into military order, like the Order of
the Templar Knights, established also on Palestine, into 1118. However, due to his
assistance origin, it remained known like Order of the Hospital, and his monks identified
how hospitalars. In a little time, these military orders if they did mighty and influential, not
only in the Holy Land but also in Europe. Nevertheless, the argument for fees and booties
[material goods captured in battles] did so that a deep rivalry was installed between
templars and hospitalars. In spite of the Frenchmen's predominance, the monastic body of
the Order of the Hospital it was constituted of individuals of several nationalities, like
Italians, Germans, Spaniards and Englishmen. Like monks, the vote of obedience was
placing them under the first authority of the master of the Order, and not of the monarchs
referring to his nationalities. With the end of the Christian occupation of Palestine in 1291,
the thirst of the Order was transferred to the island of Cyprus, then for the island of Rhodes
and finally, in 1530, for the island of Malta.
Substituting the horses for ships, the order started to police the Mediterranean routes
against the siege of the Saracen piracy. In spite of maintaining the riders' denomination, the
formation received by the clerics was, main nautical.
After to reach Brazil in 1555, Villegaignon remained in the Guanabara up to 1559,
when then it returned to France, for someone to be defended near the king of the
accusations that were blaming for him the brought back Calvinists.
Nevertheless, the correspondence directed by the priest French Jesuit Nicola Liétard
for a superior of the Company of Jesus, dated of March of 1560, asking for authorization
for the monks' sending for America shows that, in fact, Villegaignon was negotiating the
support of the Jesuits to his cause. However, in April of 1561, the superior Jesuit was
writing of Rome to a provincial of Portugal that “on that knight of Rhodes, and the
undertaking of America, do not exist any more than to negotiate”. When this negotiation
was frustrated, Villegaignon negotiates with the ambassador of Portugal in France, Pereira
Dantas, and the waiver of the command of Antarctic France, in exchange for a
compensation for 30 thousand ducats.
Clear it is that this undertaking, even that not explicitly, it was bringing the
institutional weight of the Order of Saint John de Jerusalem. Opposite case, an order of
rising importance as the Company of Jesus even would have opened negotiations with a
heretic or with adventurer, same which catholic, at the front of a personal project.
But, which would have woken interest of this naval Mediterranean order in
wrapping one of his most given prestige clerics in an action in the South Atlantic? The
answer is definite in another correspondence. Dated of August of 1556, in her the
ambassador of Carlos V in France warns to the lady Catarina, queen of Portugal and sister
of Carlos V, that Villegaignon having taken possession of a port in the passage for the
Indians it might impose difficulties on the navigators who for there were addressing.

On the contrary of what it is spread, the commerce with the Orient for the
Mediterranean was still active after the fall of Constantinople

Different from the usually spread one, the Mediterranean remained like the principal
road of the commerce with the Orient itself after the capture of Constantinople for the
Turkish sultan Mahomet II, in 1453. European merchants, principally Venetians, were
negotiating spices in the Syrian ports supplied by the route of the Persian Gulf and, mainly,
in that of Alexandria, supplied by the route of the Red Sea. The spices were transported
then for Europe in the galleys, typically Mediterranean vessels, driven mainly to oar, when
auxiliary propeller takes the sail as an element. Too little capacity of load of the galleys was
compensated by the small distances that separate the ports of Alexandria and of Syria of the
Italic Peninsula. In this way, the challenge to be won by those wrapped with the overseas
Portuguese expansionism was not only in “discovering the sea way for the Indians”, to
manage to place oneself them the oriental spices in the European market at a competitive
price, in spite of the long distance that separates the port of Lisbon of those situated ones in
the Indian Ocean, was seeing South Atlantic. The only possible solution was in the use of
vessels with great capacity of load that, in the only travel, was transporting the
correspondent to the load of, at least, a ten galleys.
Nevertheless, a vessel of this nature, generically called nau, not only had in the sails
the only element propeller, as well as the caravel, since it still needed to sail to favor and in
the bulge of the sea currents. So, this type of sailboat took his conditioned routes not only
as the regimes of winds but also for the currents.
As a result of the necessity of use of ships, the passing of the Good Hope Cable
demand to Indian was bringing a complex nautical problem one to the Portuguese
navigators. The Atlantic predominant currents in the north of Africa are those of the
Canaries and Guinea, which they go through this coast in the south-northern direction,
however only up to the equatorial region. From then, the dominant current is that of
Benguela, which runs in the reverse direction. This adversity might be won by the caravels,
able to sail in adverse conditions, however with limited capacity of load. The ships
necessary for the transport of the spices, were incompetent of winning the opposite strength
of the current of Benguela.
In this way, the ships that were going to the Indians initially were accompanying the
African coast up to the height of the archipelago of Cape Verde, when then, in the bulge of
the equatorial south current, were taking the direction of the northeast of Brazil in order to
board the current of Brazil, which they them would drive in the south direction. They were
sailing then near the Brazilian coast, from the Saint's Agostinho Cable to the Cabo Frio,
being removed then progressively for east. They remained driven by the current of Brazil
up to the height of the 38th parallel S, where they were reaching the current of the
Malvinas, in which bulge they were exceeding the Good Hope Cable, reaching so the
Indian Ocean.
There is understood the strategic importance of the bay of Guanabara. Because of
being able to shelter in security a great fleet and to be situated near to the Cabo Frio, the
loss of his power might represent the obstruction of the traffic of the Portuguese ships that
were going to the Indians, adapt rightly it watched the ambassador of Carlos V.
Obvious what in this undertaking were flowing together common interests so much of the
king of France as of the Order of the Hospital. Henry II had not any interest in beginning a
conflict confided in Portugal; therefore it would have stimulated secretly the project of
Villegaignon. But the Order of the Hospital was worrying about what appeared inevitable,
the negative impact on the interests of the order about the decadence of the mercantile
Mediterranean traffic. The obstruction of the South Atlantic would make possible the
oxygenation of the Mediterranean, which had been the lung of the western civilization up to
being suffocated by the Portuguese action in the Indian one. Nevertheless, the political
crisis that was incurring in the heart of the Church was preventing this from being also a
definite action.
The Order of the Templars had been already dissolved by the Church itself, in
1313, after process moved by the king of France, Felipe, the Handsome, through the pope
Clement V, also French. The inheritance of the templars was incorporated to that of the
Order of the Hospital, suspicions were lifted of what the dome of this would be, secretly,
wrapped in the conspiracy dreamed up against his rival. With king Felipe's death, and of
Clement V in 1314, John XXII, successor of Clement V, was believing in 1319 a new
military order, Christ's Order, incorporating to this one the monks and the material
inheritance of the Order of the Temple in Portugal.
So, a straight intervention of the Order of the Hospital in the patrimonial powers of
Christ's Order seriates to expose, more than a conflict, a wound of the Church still then not
of all scarred. The participation of the Calvinists made possible to put in the twilight the
biggest interests, so much of the king how much of the hospitalars.
Even with the waiver of Villegaignon of the command of Antarctic France, the
Frenchmen established in the Guanabara resolved to hold, now under the command of
Bois-le-Comte, nephew of Villegaignon. After a period of skirmishes with the Portuguese
troops, under the command of Estácio de Sá, the general-governor Mem de Sá was passed a
present in the Guanabara, at the front of an expeditionary strength. In 18 of January of
1567, Mem de Sá throws himself to the attack to the French positions, where Estácio de Sá
is reached by an arrow in the face, coming to die one month later. Little before, not by
chance, it had received the novice's habit of Christ's Order.
As for Villegaignon, in 1570 there is nominated ambassador of the Order of Saint
John de Jerusalem in the court of France, coming, however, dying in the next year. Was in
spite of disregarded by the French historiography, not being deserving of any tribute that
recalls it in his birth-place, his name perpetuated in the island of Malta, with the
denomination of a street in the city of Mdina, where the Order of the Hospital had been
hosted. Another only place where up to the present the name Villegaignon is made present
is in the bay of Guanabara, calling the small island where the Frenchmen were installed and
which today the Naval college shelters, expressing, so, the darkened bond between these
islands.

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