Villegagnon, entre légende noire et légende dorée

Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon (1510-1572) was the leader of the expedition that sought to create the ephemeral ‘French Antarctic’ (around present-day Rio de Janeiro), which would fall in 1560, only five years after its establishment. In France Villegagnon became the target of a torrent of defamatory pamphlets; in 1561 some 30 such pamphlets appeared, among them Pierre Richer’s famous Refutation des folles resveries, execrables blasphemes, erreurs et mensonges de Nicolas Durand, qui se nomme Villegaignon (« Refutation of the foolish reveries, atrocious blasphemies, errors, and lies of Nicolas Durand, also known as Villegaignon »). The satiric engraving Le Renversement de la grand marmite (« The great cauldron overturned ») even went so far as to depict him as a cannibal. Villegagnon responded with a half dozen treatises of his own, most of them in Latin, concentrated on the Eucharist in particular. At the end of the nineteenth century, the historiographers of French Brazil marked the polemics of the years 1561-1563 as the starting-point for their writing. Beginning with Arthur Heulhard, they produced rather a partisan account that may have sacrificed itself to anti-Protestantism, but, paradoxically, also shows itself to have depended on Huguenot satire in the way they simplified the affair and blew it out of proportions.