The King’s Daughters
Every once in a while someone with a passion for history and a love of good story telling comes across a historical figure, movement, or event that makes them sit up and think, “Wow, this would make a terrific novel.” I’ve always been surprised that more stories weren’t written based on the lives of the King’s Daughters, the Filles du Roi.
On September 22, 1663, thirty-six women disembarked in Quebec. They were the leading edge of a group that would ultimately number approximately 770-800 women recruited by the French government at the instigation of Louis XIV to settle in New France. They arrived between 1663 and 1673 under the financial support of the king to be brides for the farmers, trappers and traders of French colonies. The crown paid their passage and, at least in many cases, provided a dowry of 50 livres or more.
This fanciful depiction shows implausibly well dressed Filles du Roi being greeted by the governor and archbishop in Quebec. It gives no hint of their actual status or the primitive living conditions many would face.We know the names of these women, but their origins and motivation are often murkier. While there have implications that the program was used to ship criminals and undesirables out of France, that theory have been generally debunked. What is far more likely is that most of them were poor, many were orphans, and none of them had other options. It took enormous courage for a single woman to embark on an ocean voyage in the 17th century, and more to face finding a husband among men who had been living in primitive frontier conditions, but come they did.
The purpose of the policy is easy to explain. French explorers in North America had moved inland farther faster than their English rivals. They had been less successful at putting down roots. By 1663 New France had a population of approximately 2500, only 800 of which lived in Quebec. By contrast, the estimated population of the English colonies in 1660 was over 75,000. The role of the Kings Daughters was to stabilize the population by keeping the men in New France, encouraging others to come, and by producing colonial families.
All married, most very quickly; some more than once. Financial incentives were set up to encourage marriage and children through grants to young fathers and fathers of particularly large families. Huge families became common. These women up with appalling conditions but they gave the colony stability.
Almost all descendants of French Canadian families trace their lineage to one or more of these women. A quick scan through my own pedigree records found thirteen names and there may be more. Among them are:
*Elizabeth Godillon of Blois, who married soon after arrival, had ten children and lived past 65.
*Marguerite Navarre arrived on the ship Le Jean-Baptiste from La Rochelle, married within two months and lived out her life in Cap de Madeline
*Madeleine Rentier who came from Picardy and Marie Louise Cartonier who came from Paris
*Marie-Rose Petit, also from Paris, who outlived two husbands to marry a third and raise eleven children.
*Anne Bellesoeur and Francoise Tierce who also married three times.
*Marie Gradin, subject of a novel by Elise Dallemagne-Cookson
The lives of these women make up a treasure trove for storytellers. I have not yet written a story set in the period of the Daughters of the King. Other authors have taken advantage.
Along a River: The First French-Canadian Women by Jan Noel
Promised to the Crown by Aimie K. Runyan,
The King’s Daughter by Suzanne Martel
Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers
Alone in an Untamed Land by Maxine Trottier
Marie Gradin by Elise Dallemagne-Cookson
[Correction: Along the River is non-fiction study of the lives and status of women in New France. You can find a review here.]
For more information:
Population of the English Colonies
Arrivals of the Filles du Roi
Sheppard, Diane Wolford French-Canadian Exploration, Missionary Work, and Fur Trading in Hudson Bay, The Great Lakes, and Mississippi Valley During the 17th Century, “Timeline Part 4 July 1663-1668,” http://www.habitantheritage.org/french-canadian_resources/history_of_new_france, accessed on July 21, 2016
“Fille du Roi,” in A Scattering of Seeds: the Creation of Canada, http://www.whitepinepictures.com/seeds/i/12/sidebar.html, accessed on July 21, 2016
La Société des Filles du roi et soldats du Carignan, The King’s Daughters, http://www.fillesduroi.org/src/kings_daughters.htm, accessed on July 21, 2016
Specific Filles du Roi
Sheppard, Diane Wolford, ” Filles du Roi Parts 1-5,” Michigan Habitant Heritage (various issues), http://habitantheritage.org/filles_du_roi__carignan_regiment_lineage_charts, accessed July 21, 2016
On the same page see also links to articles about specific women by
Sommerville, Suzanne Boivin
Brundirks, Patricia A.
La Société des Filles du roi et soldats du Carignan, The King’s Daughters: complete list, http://www.fillesduroi.org/src/Filles_list.htm, accessed on July 21, 2016
Caroline Warfield’s newest release, The Renegade Wife opens in Upper Canada in 1832. Watch for it in October 2016. For more on her writing see: