Guillaume Le Testu was born at Le Havre in Normandy. Nationality being French
and was active between 1551-1572 in the Caribbean. His exact birthdate is
unknown, but is believed to be circa 1509. At Dieppe he studied navigation and
was pilot of a French ship during an exploration mission of Brazil in 1551.
Le Testu participated in an expedition which founded a colony near Rio de
Janeiro in 1555 and in 1556 he was appointed royal pilot and presented to King
Henry II a world atlas which consisted of 56 maps, which he drew. Le Testu's
atlas included a southern continent which didn't exist, stating: "not imaginary
even though no one has found it."
During the 1500's France was in turmoil over religion. France had been
catholic for centuries and in the 1520's Lutheranism entered the country. By
1534 Lutheranism threatened Catholicism and the crown adopted a policy of
rooting it out, by force if necessary. Calvin (also a Frenchman), an outspoken
man of protestant ideas whose ideas were expressed as Calvinism and by 1540 he
had gained quite a bit of support for his cause. In the 1550's many of the
Noblemen, being on the side of the Protesants fought against the the local
churches and established the church. By this time France had effectively been
split into two religious parties, the Catholics and the Calvinist (who were, by
this time called the Huguenots). The tensions between the parties escalated
until fighting broke out in the spring of 1562.
The war was temporarily ended in 1563 when the Edict of Amboise was issued.
It gave limited right of worship to the Huguenots. This was a deversion set up
by the crown while they tried to gain support from the people. This was only
temporary for the Catholics were about to enlist the aid of Spain in their
cause. In 1567 warfare broke out again due to the fear of an alliance with
Spain. It was during this time that Le Testu raided for the Huguenot side. He
raided throughout 1567 and 1568 until he was captured by the Catholics. He was
imprisoned for the next four years when King Charles IX, after being subjected
to many pleas, allowed his release. The religious wars would continue long after
Le Testu's death.
Le Testu became captain of an 80 ton warship with about 70 men in his crew.
Sir Francis Drake encountered Le Testu in April 1573 off Panama. Just why Le
Testu was cruising around Panama is anyones guess. Spanish reports of the time
stated that the French were planning a large expedition for 1572 but it is more
likely that he was cruising on his own. Whatever his reason, Le Testu joined
Drake in an attack on a mule train carrying treasure to Nombre de Dios. The
attack was a complete success and the pirates loaded themselves with as much
gold as they could carry, burying the rest. Le Testu's booty was around £
Le Testu was wounded in the assault and choose to remain behind to regain his
strength. Two of his men stayed with him. While resting, Spanish soldiers fell
upon them and Le Testu was killed. Le Testu was beheaded and his head was put on
prominent display in the marketplace at Nombre de Dios.