Filles du Roi (Daughters of the King): Our French Canadian Matriarchs

December 3, 2017

“Rester, c’est exister; mais voyager, cest vivre.”
“To stay is to exist; to travel is to live.”
-Gustave Nadaud

Between 1663 and 1673, some 770 young women arrived in the colony of New France with a mandate to marry and populate the land for France. These women, who came to be called the Filles du Roi (Daughters of the King), originated primarily from respectable poor families or orphanages. When offered the chance at a better life, they embraced the opportunity and became the mothers of a new nation.

claiming new France

Explorer, Jacques Cartier, (our great uncle) first sailed into the Gulf of St. Lawrence in May of 1534. Over the course of three voyages, Cartier would claim what is now French Canada for the King of France. During his first trip, Cartier planted a crest in Gaspé, bearing a fleur-de-lis and, above it, the inscription: ” VIVE LE ROY DE FRANCE ” (Long Live the King of France).

Jacques Cartier was the 13th great uncle of Marvin Gregoire. Click on the photo to see his profile in our Ancestry tree.

Throughout the 1400-1600’s European monarchs vied for control of North America. Calling dibs on the land was not enough. Retaining a stake in the new world required pioneers to establish ownership and fill militia rosters. Without loyal occupants, the land could be overtaken by a rival monarch or reclaimed by the native people. In 1641, New France enumerated a paltry 240 inhabitants, compared to 50,000 in the nearby New England colonies. The population had only increased to 2,500 by 1660.

In his 1664 book (pictured below), Pierre Boucher (another great uncle) explained the slow growth in the population of New France. Boucher described three of the primary “inconveniences” of life in the new world as 1.Our Iroquois enemies, 2.Mosquitoes in great abundance and 3.The length of winter. He also appears to take offense at the country being “vulgarly called Canada.” In light of his list of inconveniences, it is easy to imagine why the residents of New France were overwhelmingly male trappers and priests. In a desperate attempt to speed colonization, King Louis XIV (the Sun King), offered a dowry to young, single women who would be willing to sail to the new world, marry, and raise families. Recruiting took place primarily in Paris, Rouen and northwest France. 

“The True and Natural History of Manners and Productions of the Country of New France, Vulgarly Called Canada” written by Pierre Boucher, Marvin Gregoire’s 9th great-uncle
filles du roi (daughters of the king)

Twenty of our female ancestors answered King Louis’ call for “strong, intelligent and beautiful girls of robust health, habituated to farm work” and set sail for New France between 1663 and 1673. These “Daughters of the King” were not of royal blood, but under the King’s financial sponsorship, receiving a dowry of 50 livres and a hope chest containing clothing, sewing needles, knives and other household sundries. Each candidate had to be approved by her parish priest as being free to marry. It was also necessary that the girls be of childbearing age and that “they be healthy and strong for country work, or that they at least have some aptitude for household chores.” Most of the women selected were better educated than their would-be suitors in New France, but the offer was better than they could dream of achieving in their current situation. 

Upon arrival in New France, the women were housed in dormitories during their short courtship, an early version of speed dating. Most signed marriage contracts within the first few weeks. Because men vastly outnumbered the women, these girls could be very selective in choosing their spouse and they had the right to turn down an offer of marriage if it did not suit them. In order to make an informed decision, the girls asked questions about the suitor’s home, finances, land, and profession. The courtship meetings were closely monitored by government chaperones and a priest was at the ready when a match was agreed upon. After the marriage was consummated, the couple was given an ox, a cow, two pigs, a pair of chickens, two barrels of salted meat and eleven crowns. Life in the new world was not easy and many died of disease or Iroquois attacks, resulting in some of our Filles du Roi ancestors to remarry multiple times. King Louis’ strategy for populating the new world ended in success. By the termination of the program in 1673, the population of New France had risen to 6,700 people, an increase of 168% in the eleven years since it began. 

Soldiers of the Carignan-Salieres Regiment

To help ensure the safety of new families 1200 soldiers of the Carignan-Salieres regiment set sail for New France in 1665.  They established a series of forts along the Richelieu River, resulting in a measure of peace which helped the new colony to prosper. Nearly half of the troops settled permanently in New France after marrying Filles du Roi.

“Officer of the Carignan-Salières 1666” by Robert Rosewarne. Library and Archives Canada
a French Canadian legacy

Today, the Filles du Roi are a celebrated part of French Canadian heritage, much like the Mayflower pioneers in America. Anyone who can prove descendency from a Filles du Roi is eligible for membership in The Society of Filles du Roi. I have been able to confirm 20 Filles du Roi in the Gregoire family line (there are likely more to discover). 

Plaque at the Filles du Roi Monument Park in Quebec
Our filles du roi ancestors

Click on each name to view their profile in our Ancestry tree and see sources for each Filles du Roi.

Blaise, Marguerite, m. 1: Paquet, Jean, contract Oct. 23, 1669, m. 2: Harnois, Isaac, contract Jan. 18, 1670

Bouart, Marie, m. 1: Antrade, Jacques, Aug. 16, 1668, m. 2: Dessureaux, François, dit Le Bourguignon and Laplante, contract Mar. 3, 1672, m. 3: Boismené, Jean, Feb. 6, 1689

Burel, Jeanne, m. Poutré, André, dit Lavigne, Nov. 3, 1667

Damané, Denise, m. Houray, René, dit Grandmont, contract Oct. 26, 1665

Desenne, Catherine, m. Senécal, Jean, Oct. 15, 1672

Ducharme, Catherine, m. Roy, Pierre, dit St-Lambert, Jan. 12, 1672

Dusson, Marguerite, m. 1. Lavallée, Jean, dit Petit-Jean, 1670 or 1671, m. 2. Vanet, Charles, dit Le Parisien, abt 1694

Duval, Michelle, m. Bon, Pierre, dit Lacombe, bef. 1672

Éloy, Antoinette, m. Masta, Mathurin, Dec. 14, 1665

Faucon, Marie, m. 1. Chartier, Guillaume, Nov. 27, 1663, m. 2. Jocteau, François, Oct. 15, 1708

Guérard, Catherine, m. Dubord, Julien, dit Lafontaine, contract Feb. 12, 1670

Topsan, Catherine, m. Dumont, Julien, dit Lafleur, Nov. 2, 1667

Targer, Marie, m. 1. Royer, Jean, Nov. 22, 1663, m. 2. Tourneroche, Robert, Feb. 17, 1676

Lagou, Anne, m. 1. Vallière, Pierre, Sep. 8, 1670, m. 2. Dupil, Rémi, Jan. 8, 1682

Lapierre, Perrine, m. 1. Danis, Honoré, dit Tourangeau, Mar. 20, 1666, m. 2. Lucas, Yves, dit St-Venant, Mar. 19, 1705

Loret, Étiennette, m. Bau, Jean-Baptiste, dit Lalouette, 1671-1672

Paulo, Catherine, m. Campeau, Étienne, Nov. 26, 1663

Prévost, Élisabeth, m. Foucault, Jean-François, Nov. 14, 1671

Renaud, Anne-Michelle, m. Laspron, Jean, dit Lacharité, Oct. 7, 1669

Renaud, Élisabeth, m. Olivier, Jean, Sep. 20, 1673


Additional Sources

A Look Backward


Histoire du Francais au Quebec

Cover photo: “Arrival of the Brides/L’arrivée des Filles du Roi” by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, 1927


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