Friday, May 25, 2012

Gaspard de Coligny’s Reforms of the French Military (Theonomy Applied)

Gaspard de Coligny introduced the modern military
discipline and turned companies of brigands into
loyal, disciplined soldiers.

Gaspard de Coligny (1519 – 1572) was a French nobleman and admiral. Later in life he became a great and influential Huguenot leader, but would be among the thousands of Huguenots murdered by Catholics during the Saint Bartholomew Day’s Massacre.

During his military career, Coligny turned an undisciplined French military around with his reforms. These reforms would have an enormous impact on military discipline. 
On this (as well as Coligny's contributions to military medical aid), Walter Besant writes that Coligny
introduced the modern military discipline. The first rough model, from which has been developed the present machinery of drill, of discipline, of enforced obedience, of routine which makes the soldier of to-day an intelligent machine, was constructed by Coligny. He is the inventor of discipline.
He intended, and would have carried out his project but for the disaster of St. Quentin, to supplement the establishment of military discipline by the formation of a surgical service, and the establishment of a military hospital provided with carts for the wounded, to follow the camp. He was, therefore, the inventor of the modern ambulance corps.[1] 
Coligny's reforms had a significant moral impact. According to Eugene Bersier, 
[Coligny] wrote out and enforced in his corps the famous military regulations which three years later were adopted throughout the kingdom. These formed a new military code which was intended to protect the peaceful inhabitants from the license of the soldiery.[2] 
And according to Brantome, 
It was Coligny who introduced decency and order into the whole French infantry by his wise regulations. They were the best and most politic ever made in France. And I believe that since they have been passed the lives of millions of persons have been saved, as well as their honour and goods; for before these regulations there was nothing but pillage, robbery, plunder, ransoming, murders, quarrels, and ravishing among the bands, so that they rather resembled companies of Arabs and brigands than noble soldiers.[3] 
Brantome also wrote that Coligny’s soldiers 
were neither his subjects nor his vassals, neither his hirelings nor his mercenaries; and yet when they were in his presence the slightest word of reproof was rarely needed, and in his absence his signet alone was enough to enforce obedience. So completely had he acquired the habit of ruling them, that it seemed as if he was born to command and they to obey. If any of his soldiers or other subordinates gravely offended he never spared to punish. Yet he was beloved and honoured by men of all ranks, and when any of his soldiers had a private interview with him they were as pleased as if they had had audience of the king.[4] 
One of Coligny’s regulations was the following prohibition of blasphemy:
The soldier who blasphemes the name of God shall be put in the stocks in some public place for three separate days, for three hours at a time, and at the end of the same shall, with uncovered head, ask pardon of God.[5]
Rape and pillage were punishable by death.[6] Besant tells us more about Coligny’s regulations: 
One can understand the astonishment and disgust caused by the promulgation of rules which forbade, in a camp where the soldiers were perpetually quarrelling, any quarrels at all—where the officers fought duels on the smallest provocation, any fighting of duels —which ordered, where nothing had hitherto been paid for, that not the smallest thing in future should be taken without payment—that the honor of women was to be respected—and that henceforward even the simple amusement and relief of swearing was to be abolished. And the penalties in case of infraction were such as could not be contemplated without misgiving. A soldier who insulted or attacked a woman was to be hanged or strangled; if a man indulged in what the Colonel-General called "enormous and execrable blasphemies "—the mere common garnish and decoration of conversation—he was to have, for a first offence, eight days in prison on bread and water; for a second, he was to make the amende honorable in shirt upon his knees; and for a third, to have his hand struck off. For almost all other military offences, he was to be passe par les picques.[7]
The following recounts the lengths Coligny would go to protect women:
At the siege of Arlon, an incident transpired which, if the account be true, brings out conspicuously Coligny's stern morality. The town was given up to pillage, and, according to the barbarous custom of the time, the inhabitants became the property of the conquerors. A remarkably beautiful girl was brought to Coligny. Distrusting himself, he offered to have her honourably escorted to some place of safety, or, if she preferred to remain in his house, he offered to leave it at once. He gave himself no rest till he knew that she was on her way to some neighbouring convent; but the escort he gave her was attacked by a party of soldiers, who violated her. Coligny demanded of the Duke of Orleans the punishment of the offenders. The Prince was surprised at such virtue, which was not common in the army, and attempted some remonstrance; but as the escort had been dispersed by violence, the infraction of discipline was flagrant; and two of the offenders were put to death.[8]
[2] Eugène Bersier, Coligny: The Earlier Life of the Great Huguenot, trans. Annie Harwood Holmden (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884), 32.
[3] M. de Chastillon, Les couronnels francais. Cited in Bersier, Coligny, 32.
[4] M. de Chastillon, Hommcs illustres et grands capitaines francais. Cited in Bersier, Coligny, 33, 34.
[5]  Bersier, Coligny, 33
[6] Ibid.
[7] Besant, Gaspard de Coligny, 52, 53.
[8] Bersier, Coligny, 347.

Note about the Theonomy Applied Series: In quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily endorse every aspect of that law as biblical, whether it be the prohibition, sanction, court procedure, etc. Rather, we are merely showing the more or less attempt to apply biblical law in history, whether or not that application was fully biblical. Moreover, in quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily consider those who passed and/or enforced such a law as being fully orthodox in their Christian theology. Professing Christian rulers in history have ranged in their theology from being orthodox (that is, Reformed Protestants) to heretical (for example, Roman Catholics). 


Durandal said...

Excellent ! It is doubtful that Coligny offered to cede his house (aka his command center) to the lady, but it is more plausible that he dispatched an escort to protect her.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

It would be interesting if there was anything more written about that matter. You just may be right.