My strange connections with Robert Frost, Gaspard de Coligny, and John Calvin

It was 1995, I had just moved to Missouri, and was browsing that newly expanded thing they call the Internet. I ran across a picture of Robert Frost as a young man, and sat in shock …

… I had never seen anyone who looked so much like … me! No, we are certainly not twins, but when relatives have been shown this photo without being told who it was, they wondered if it was a photo of me.

There is something about his eyes, a little about his nose, and something definitely about his mouth that resembles me … at least when my beard is shaved! It also helps if you knew me when I was around the age of Robert Frost when this photo was taken.

Three other things we have in common:

  • We share the same first name.
  • I part my hair the same way (well, that proves everything! ;) )
  • I am an amateur poet, writing mostly for myself, my books, my family, and especially my wife. In 11th grade I wrote two poems over breakfast for a class. When I presented them I was accused by the teacher of plagiarism. True story.

For a small sample of my poetry, here is an excerpt from MERLIN’S BLADE, my first novel. A girl, Natalenya, is singing this while playing her harp.

The wind did take my love away
Over the seas and far away
He’s blown to south and blown to north
He’s blown so far from my own hearth

Come home my love, come home today
Over the seas and hills to stay
Ne’er blown to east nor blown to west
Ne’er blown to make my love a jest

In deepest winter I am numb
In spring I wait for him to come
The summer dove doth always wait
For autumn rains to come so late

The wind did take my love away
Over the seas and far away
He’s blown from me and blown so far
He’s gone an’ died in Gaulish war

And here’s one more, a short nursery rhyme from MERLIN’S SHADOW, sung and played by Merlin himself under very strange circumstances:

The land be green and the hills be brown
For the wind doth make the moon to frown
For this is the way the thunder chants
And over the world his dark feet dance

The sky be dark and the clouds be grey
For thunder-storms roll the sun away
For this is the way the thunder chants
And over the world his dark feet dance

The sea be green and the depths be black
For lightning falls and the earth doth crack
For this is the way the thunder chants
And over the world his dark feet dance

Here’s the really odd part of my connection to Robert Frost:

It turns out I’m actually related to Robert Frost.

A few years ago my sister Wendy found this out through Ancestry.com. And yes, as usual with relations like this, there is probably not even a single scrap of DNA in common between us.

Why? The genetic distance is too great. You have to go back to 1519 when our common ancestor was born in France … Gaspard de Coligny. I have to go up 13 generations through my mother’s side of the family to this man… my great x 11 grandfather… and down 11 to get to Robert Frost. (If any family member is interested in the exact genealogy, I can email it to you.)

But … if that is true … why do we look alike? Hmmmm….

And Gaspart de Coligny? He was famous in his own time. I quote from Wikipedia:

Gaspard de Coligny (16 February 1519…24 August 1572), Seigneur (Lord) de Chitillon, was a French nobleman and admiral, best remembered as a disciplined Huguenot leader in the French Wars of Religion.

His early life was very interesting, culminating in his conversion to French-Calvinism:

Born at Chitillon-sur-Loing in 1519, Gaspard came to court at the age of 22 and began a friendship with Francois of Guise. In the campaign of 1543 Coligny distinguished himself, and was wounded at the sieges of Montmody and Bains. In 1544 he served in the Italian campaign under the Count of Enghien, and was knighted on the Field of Ceresole. Returning to France, he took part in different military operations; and having been made colonel-general of the infantry (April 1547), exhibited great capacity and intelligence as a military reformer.

That year he married Charlotte de Laval (d. 1568). He was made admiral on the death of Claude d’Annebaut (1552). In 1557 he was entrusted with the defence of Saint-Quentin. In the siege he displayed great courage, resolution, and strength of character; but the place was taken, and he was imprisoned in the stronghold of L’Ecluse. On payment of a ransom of 50,000 crowns he recovered his liberty.

By this time he had become a Huguenot (Protestant), through the influence of his brother, d’Andelot. The first known letter which John Calvin addressed to him is dated 4 September 1558.

So…my very distant great-grandfather actually received a personal letter from John Calvin! As a follower of the reformed Christian faith, started in part by John Calvin, this is very amazing!

Gaspard was martyred for his leadership of the Protestants in France:

The Catholics now feared Huguenot retaliation for the attempt on Coligny’s life, and it was decided to pre-emptively assassinate their leadership, in what became known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. As one of the main targets, on the night of 24 August, Coligny was attacked in his lodgings by a group led by Guise. After several of his entourage had been killed, a servant of the new Duke of Guise, Charles Danowitz plunged a sword through Coligny’s breast and threw his body out of a window to his master’s feet. Coligny finally died when another of Guise’s associates chopped off his head.

Another tidbit, unknown, about myself is that as I was selecting a pen name, I strongly considered using “Robert Ice” in honor of Robert Frost. It also helps that the word “Ice” is embedded inside my given last name.

Still, I chose Treskillard, which is the name of the village in Cornwall that my mother’s ancestors emigrated from. It was also their “alias” and distinguished them from other branches of the family.

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2 thoughts on “My strange connections with Robert Frost, Gaspard de Coligny, and John Calvin

  • Very interesting about Robert Frost. He’s forever been my favorite poet. My small connection to him is my professor in college. He was taught by Stephen Dunn (I think it was Dunn), and Stephen Dunn was a direct student of Robert Frost.

  • Well, technically speaking, you have more of a direct connection than I do! I think he’s my 12th cousin twice removed or something impossibly bizarre like that, but I’ve never met him nor even met anyone who knew someone who knew him.

    The way we found out is by clicking the “find famous persons related to this person” feature that Ancestry.com has … its pretty neat.

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