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Pontus de la Gardie was a French nobleman who ended up fighting in Swedish service against the Russians, being given the Livonian governorate as a reward, who died in 1585 (the most common though looking into publications I've seen 1580 and 1583 also listed) by drowning. What's not clear is how this drowning took place.

An unsourced story I heard was that his boat was hit by a salute given in honour of a recent Swedish victory, after which he fell into the waters and drowned due to his armour. This is supported by the Russian Wikipedia, which notes this as one of many options for his death (I had to Google Translate this but the quality was very poor so I didn't want to copy it here). Also, I don't understand why the Russians cover this in more detail than the Swedes given Pontus was a Swedish landlord, governor, and favourite of the King.

Another source, Solovev's 'History of Russia' describes de la Gardie as having drowned while crossing the Narva River during some negotiations.

Is there any certainty as to how Pontus de la Gardie drowned? Which primary sources describe this event?

There are two answers at present with three different narratives, but none of these reference primary sources which would have covered this event.

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Find a Grave lists De la Gardie's death as Nov. 5, 1585, with his grave in the churchyard of Talinn Cathedral, Estonia.

M. Francois Combes' Histoire Generale de la Diplomatique Europeenne (1856) devotes a chapter to De la Gardie's death (pp 409). My french is limited, but here goes:

Effrayes, tous les passagers s'etant portes aussitot du cote oppose, le batiment chavira non loin de la rive, ou des canots se trouvaient pour recevoir l'ambassadeur suedois et sa suite. Peu se sauverent. Ceux qui ne savaient pas nager se saisissaient aux nnageurs, s'y cramponnaient avec toute la vive etreinte du desespoir et de la peur, etles attiraient au fond. D'autres, entraines dans des gouffres rapides, tantot sous les eaux, tantot a la surface, et faiisaut mille efforts pour en sortir, succomberent epuises par cette lutte inutile. Ceux qui, s'accrochant a quelques planches, purent etre pris par les canots accourus a leur secours, ne furent retires de l'eau qu'a demi morts. Quant a Ponce de La Gardie, on le chercha d'abord en vain.

and courtesy of Google Translate:

Frightened, all the passengers having immediately gone on the opposite side, the [barge/boat] capsized not far from the shore, where boats were found to receive the Swedish ambassador and his suite. Few escaped. Those who did not know how to swim grabbed the swimmers, clung to them with all the vivid streak of despair and fear, and drew them deep down. Those who, clinging to a few planks, could be taken by the canoes running to their rescue, were only pulled out of the water half dead. As for Ponce de La Gardie, we first looked for him in vain.

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As @PieterGeerkens posted one of the stories involving his death, I wanted to add two more with fairly good detail:

В 1585 году во время очередных переговоров на Плюссе погибает любимец Юхана Понтус Делагарди. По одной из версий, подходя на шлюпке к Нарвской крепости, он приказал ответить выстрелом из пушки на салют крепостных орудий. Не выдержав сотрясения от выстрела лодка развалилась, и обряженный в тяжелые доспехи Делагарди утонул. По другой, его лодка налетела на некоторое препятствие и от удара развалилась—«…принесло судно ветром на пень да вынесло доску, а Немцы почали метатца в воду, и судно потонуло, и на завтра в субботу выволокли из воды Пунцу »
—Шкваров, 'Россия–Швеция. История военных конфликтов. 1142-1809'

Google Translate (incl. modifications from comments thanks to @Budenn):

In 1585, during regular negotiations at Plyussa, Johan's favorite Pontus De La Gardie was killed. According to one version, approaching the Narva Fortress on a boat, he ordered a salvo from the cannon to respond to the salute of the fortress' guns. Unable to withstand the concussion from the shot, the boat fell apart, and De La Gardie, dressed in heavy armor, drowned. In the other story, his boat ran into some obstacle and collapsed from the blow—“... the ship brought the wind to the stump and brought out the board, and the foreigners began throwing themselves into the water, and the ship sank, and Pontus was dragged out of the water on the next day, a Saturday”.

Шкваров does list quite a few sources but they are in a bibliography, rather than as specific references.

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  • "Punts" are a type of small boat: "A punt is a flat-bottomed boat with a square-cut bow, designed for use in small rivers or other shallow water." – Pieter Geerkens Jul 9 at 22:07
  • In this sentence, Пунцу is a sort-of-transcription of the name Pontus (in the accusative case). The phrase "Немцы почали метатца в воду" can be more accurately translated as "the foreigners began throwing themselves into the water". – Budenn Jul 10 at 19:32

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