Admiral Coligni was one of the most conspicuous leaders of the Huguenots, as the French Protestants were called. All parties admired him for his valor and his virtues and his eminent deeds in the service of his country. He persuaded Catharine to attempt to reconcile, by a conference, the contending religious factions. Grieved because of their forlorn condition, Coligni resolved to procure an asylum for them in the milder regions of North America, far removed from civilized men, where they might enjoy perfect religious and civil freedom, unmolested by foreign powers or hostile factions.
Coligni sought an audience with Catharine. It was readily granted. That proud and unprincipled daughter of Lorenzo de Medici, was then a little more than forty years of age, stout and fair, and was wielding power with a prodigal hand. Coligni found her seated on a rich divan covered with blue damask satin. On her head was a coronet sparkling with a single large diamond. Around her plump neck glittered a circlet of gold and pearls, emeralds and rubies. She wore a skirt of gold embroidered white silk, and over this a rich robe of royal purple velvet, trimmed with a narrow band of ermine at the front and bottom, and with a close-fitting bodice edged at the top with rich lace. Her full puffed sleeves were of the finest linen and lace, with brilliant gems at the wrists. A gold chain fastened at her bosom with a diamond brooch extended to her feet and terminated in a golden cross studded with seed pearls. Near her, and playing with a fawn-colored Italian greyhound, was her royal son, who had lately ascended the throne of France as Charles the Ninth. The king's hair hung in ringlets about his shoulders, for he was a boy only ten or twelve years of age, and his fair complexion was heightened by his rich suit of royal purple velvet, with slashed sleeves, revealing white linen beneath. Only a single minister of state was present, and he and a young woman, a court favorite and cousin of the King of Navarre, who sat by a vine-trailed window embroidering, were the only companions of royalty when the Admiral entered the room.
Coligni was tall, elegant in figure and deportment, grave in aspect, with flowing hair and beard slightly streaked with gray, for he was about forty-five years of age. He was dressed in the uniform of his rank, and carried in his hand a rich green velvet cap, bearing a long ostrich plume. His doublet of crimson velvet with short skirt was sprinkled with golden lilies, and encircled with a belt from which depended a straight sword. The sleeves terminated at the elbows, and the rest of the arm to the wrist was covered with embroidered linen. His trunk-hose of velvet extended to the middle of the thighs, and was slashed and elegantly embroidered with gold thread. Up to this, tight-fitting stockings wrought of fine white wool, extended, and on his feet were buskins of polished russet leather, sparkling with diamond buttons that fastened silk rosettes to the insteps. From his shoulders hung an open short Spanish cloak of blue velvet, and around his neck was a modest ruff. A massive gold chain, bearing the Order of St. Louis, was seen upon his breast. Such was the group who appeared in the audience-chamber of the Regent of France, late in the year 1561, to confer upon the subject of discoveries, and the planting of a Protestant colony in America.
That conference was short. In few words Coligni set forth the happiness which the carrying out of his scheme would confer upon his suffering countrymen; and he dwelt specially upon the fact that it might redound to the glory of France. Catharine, who was a pauper in moral and religious convictions, and had espoused the cause of the Protestants only as a measure of state policy, was then the friend of Coligni. She readily granted all that he desired, in the name of the little king then playing with the greyhound; and the child's signature, hardly legible, was afterward placed to the charter given to the admiral, by which he was authorized to send an expedition to Florida and establish a colony there.
Coligni lost no time in making use of his privilege. He quickly fitted out two vessels of the character of Spanish caravels, chiefly for a voyage of discovery.
Return to Our Country, Vol. I