Filles du Roi (King's Daughters), New France

The King's Daughters - filles du roi

(Library and Archives Canada Image, MIKAN No. 2895910)

Louis XIV welcomes the the young women who became know as "the King's daughters" who will be sent to Canada. C.W. Jeffries.

The King's Daughters (French: filles du roi or filles du roy in the spelling of the era) is a term used to refer to the approximately 800 young French women who immigrated to New France between 1663 and 1673 as part of a program sponsored by King Louis XIV. The program was designed to boost New France's population both by encouraging male colonizers to settle there, and by promoting marriage, family formation and the birth of children. While women and girls certainly immigrated to New France both before and after this time period, they were not considered to be filles du roi, as the term refers to women and girls who were actively recruited by the government and whose travel to the colony was paid for by the king. They were also occasionally known as the King's Wards.

Jean Talon, Bishop François de Laval and several settlers welcome the King's Daughters upon their arrival. These women came to Quebec in 1667, in order to be married to the French Canadian farmers. Jean Talon, intendant of New France, and François de Montmorency-Laval, bishop of Quebec, are shown at the arrival of the women. Painting by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale.

New France, at its start, was mostly populated by men: soldiers, fur traders, and priests. The colony became more agricultural and by the mid-17th century, there was a severe imbalance between single men and women in New France. The small number of female immigrants had to pay their own passage, and few single women wanted to leave home to move and settle in the harsh climate and conditions of New France. The population growth of the competing English colonies awakened concern among some officials about France's ability to maintain its claim in the New World.

To increase the French population and the number of families, the Intendant of New France, Jean Talon, proposed that the king sponsor passage of at least 500 women. The king agreed, and eventually, nearly twice the number were recruited. They were predominantly between the ages of 12 and 25, and many had to supply a letter of reference from their parish priest before they would be chosen for immigration to New France.

Marguerite Bourgeoys was the first person to use the expression filles du roi in her writings. A distinction was made between King's Daughters, who were transported to New France and received a dowry at the king's expense, and women who emigrated voluntarily using their own money. Other historians used chronological frameworks to determine who could be called a fille du roi. Research by the historical demographer Yves Landry determines that there were in total about 770 to 850 filles du roi who settled in New France between 1663 and 1673.

The title "King's Daughters" was meant to imply state patronage, not royal or noble parentage; most of the women recruited were commoners of humble birth. As a fille du roi, a woman received the king's support in several ways. The king paid one hundred livres to the French East India Company for each woman's crossing, as well as furnishing her trousseau. The Crown also paid a dowry for each woman; this was originally set at four hundred livres, but as the Treasury could not spare such an expense, many were simply paid in kind.

Those chosen to be among the filles du roi and allowed to emigrate to New France were held to scrupulous standards, which were based on their "moral calibre" and whether they were physically fit enough to survive the hard work demanded by life as a colonist. The colonial officials sent several of the filles du roi back to France because they were deemed below the standards set out by the king and the Intendant of New France.As was the case for most emigrants who went from France to New France, 80 per cent of the filles du roi were from Paris, Normandy and the western regions. Almost half were from the Paris area, 16 per cent from Normandy and 13 per cent from western France. Most came from urban areas, with the Hôpital-Général de Paris and the Saint-Sulpice parish being big contributors.[14] Many were orphans with very meagre personal possessions, and with a relatively low level of literacy. Socially, the young women came from different backgrounds but were all very poor. They might have been from an elite family that had lost its fortune, or from a large family with children "to spare." Officials usually matched women of higher birth with officers or gentlemen living in the colony, sometimes in the hopes that the nobles would marry the young women and be encouraged to stay in Canada rather than return to France. A few women came from other European countries, including Germany, England, and Portugal.

The women disembarked in Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, and Montreal. After their arrival, their time to find husbands varied greatly. For some, it was as short as a few months, while others took two or three years before finding an appropriate husband. For the process of choosing a husband, and the marriage, most couples would officially get engaged in church, with their priest and witnesses present. Then, some couples went in front of the notary, to sign a marriage contract. Marriages were celebrated by the priest, usually in the woman's parish of residence. While the marriage banns customarily were to be published three times before a wedding could take place, the colony's need for women to marry quickly led to few filles du roi having marriage banns announced. It is known that 737 of these filles du roi were married in New France.

The marriage contracts represented a protection for the women, both in terms of financial security if anything were to happen to them or their husband, and in terms of having the liberty to annul the promise of marriage if the man they had chosen proved incompatible. A substantial number of the filles du roi who arrived in New France between 1669 and 1671 cancelled marriage contracts; perhaps the dowry they had received made them disinclined to retain a fiancé with whom they found themselves dissatisfied. An early problem in recruitment was the women's adjustment to the new agricultural life. As Saint Marie de L'Incarnation wrote, the filles du roi were mostly town girls, and only a few knew how to do manual farm work. This problem remained but, in later years, more rural girls were recruited.There were approximately 300 recruits who did not marry in New France. Some had a change of heart before embarking from the ports of Normandy and never left, while some died on the journey. Others returned to France to marry, and a few remained single.

The program was a resounding success. It was reported that in 1670, most of the girls who had arrived the previous year, 1669, were already pregnant and by 1671, a total of nearly 700 children were born to the filles du roi. The colony was expected to gain population self-sufficiency soon afterward.

By the end of 1671, Talon suggested that it would not be necessary to sponsor the passage of girls for the next year, and the king accepted his advice. The migration briefly resumed in 1673, when the king sent 60 more girls at the request of Buade de Frontenac, the new governor, but that was the last under the Crown's sponsorship. Of the approximately 835 marriages of immigrants in the colony during this period, 774 included a fille du roi. By 1672, the population of New France had risen to 6,700, from 3,200 in 1663. (Wikipedia)

The Arrival of the French Girls at Quebec, 1667. C.W. Jeffereys.

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