The state of international relations in the sixteenth century is hardly conceivable at this day. The Puritans of England and the Huguenots of France regarded Spain as their natural enemy, and on the high seas and in the British Channel they joined hands with godless freebooters to rifle her ships, kill her sailors, or throw them alive into the sea. Spain on her side seized English Protestant sailors who ventured into her ports, and burned them as heretics, or consigned them to a living death in the dungeons of the Inquisition. Yet in the latter half of the century these mutual outrages went on for years while the nations professed to be at peace. There was complaint, protest, and occasional menace, but no redress, and no declaration of war.

Contemporary writers of good authority have said that, when the news of the massacres in Florida reached the court of France, Charles the Ninth and Catherine de Medicis submitted to the insult in silence; but documents lately brought to light show that a demand for redress was made, though not insisted on. A cry of horror and execration had risen from the Huguenots and many even of the Catholics had echoed it; yet the perpetrators of the crime, and not its victims, were the first to make complaint. Philip the Second resented the expeditions of Ribaut and Laudonniere as an invasion of the American domains of Spain, and ordered D'Alava, his ambassador at Paris, to denounce them to the French King. Charles, thus put on the defensive, replied, that the country in question belonged to France, having been discovered by Frenchmen a hundred years before, and named by them Terre des Bretons. This alludes to the tradition that the Bretons and Basques visited the northern coasts of America before the voyage of Columbus. In several maps of the sixteenth century the region of New England and the neighboring states and provinces is set down as Terre des Bretons, or Tierra de los Bretones, and this name was assumed by Charles to extend to the Gulf of Mexico, as the name of Florida was assumed by the Spaniards to extend to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and even beyond it. Philip spurned the claim, asserted the Spanish right to all Florida, and asked whether or not the followers of Ribaut and Laudonniere had gone thither by authority of their King. The Queen Mother, Catherine de Medicis, replied in her son's behalf, that certain Frenchmen had gone to a country called Terre aux Bretons, discovered by French subjects, and that in so doing they had been warned not to encroach on lands belonging to the King of Spain. And she added, with some spirit, that the Kings of France were not in the habit of permitting themselves to be threatened.

Philip persisted in his attitude of injured innocence; and Forquevaulx, French ambassador at Madrid, reported that, as a reward for murdering French subjects, Menendez was to receive the title of Marquis of Florida. A demand soon followed from Philip, that Admiral Coligny should be punished for planting a French colony on Spanish ground, and thus causing the disasters that ensued. It was at this time that the first full account of the massacres reached the French court, and the Queen Mother, greatly moved, complained to the Spanish ambassador, saying that she could not persuade herself that his master would refuse reparation. The ambassador replied by again throwing the blame on Coligny and the Huguenots; and Catherine de Medicis returned that, Huguenots or not, the King of Spain had no right to take upon himself the punishment of French subjects. Forquevaulx was instructed to demand redress at Madrid; but Philip only answered that he was very sorry for what had happened, and again insisted that Coligny should be punished as the true cause of it.

Forquevaulx, an old soldier, remonstrated with firmness, declared that no deeds so execrable had ever been committed within his memory, and demanded that Menendez and his followers should be chastised as they deserved. The King said that he was sorry that the sufferers chanced to be Frenchmen, but, as they were pirates also, they ought to be treated as such. The ambassador replied, that they were no pirates, since they bore the commission of the Admiral of France, who in naval affairs represented the King; and Philip closed the conversation by saying that he would speak on the subject with the Duke of Alva. This was equivalent to refusal, for the views of the Duke were well known; "and so, Madame," writes the ambassador to the Queen Mother, "there is no hope that any reparation will be made for the aforesaid massacre."

On this, Charles wrote to Forquevaulx "It is my will that you renew your complaint, and insist urgently that, for the sake of the union and friendship between the two crowns, reparation be made for the wrong done me and the cruelties committed on my subjects, to which I cannot submit without too great loss of reputation." And, jointly with his mother, he ordered the ambassador to demand once more that Menendez and his men should be punished, adding, that he trusts that Philip will grant justice to the King of France, his brother-in-law and friend, rather than pardon a gang of brigands. "On this demand," concludes Charles, "the Sieur de Forquevaulx will not fail to insist, be the answer what it may, in order that the King of Spain shall understand that his Majesty of France has no less spirit than his predecessors to repel an insult." The ambassador fulfilled his commission, and Philip replied by referring him to the Duke of Alva. "I have no hope," reports Forquevaulx, "that the Duke will give any satisfaction as to the massacre, for it was he who advised it from the first." A year passed, and then he reported that Menendez had returned from Florida, that the King had given him a warm welcome, and that his fame as a naval commander was such that he was regarded as a sort of Neptune.

In spite of their brave words, Charles and the Queen Mother tamely resigned themselves to the affront, for they would not quarrel with Spain. To have done so would have been to throw themselves into the arms of the Protestant party, adopt the principle of toleration, and save France from the disgrace and blight of her later years. France was not so fortunate. The enterprise of Florida was a national enterprise, undertaken at the national charge, with the royal commission, and under the royal standard; and it had been crushed in time of peace by a power professing the closest friendship. Yet Huguenot influence had prompted and Huguenot hands executed it. That influence had now ebbed low; Coligny's power had waned; Charles, after long vacillation, was leaning more and more towards the Guises and the Catholics, and fast subsiding into the deathly embrace of Spain, for whom, at last, on the bloody eve of St. Bartholomew, he was to become the assassin of his own best subjects.

In vain the relatives of the slain petitioned him for redress; and had the honor of the nation rested in the keeping of its King, the blood of hundreds of murdered Frenchmen would have cried from the ground in vain. But it was not to be so. Injured humanity found an avenger, and outraged France a champion. Her chivalrous annals may be searched in vain for a deed of more romantic daring than the vengeance of Dominique de Gourgues.