The King's Daughters (French: filles du roi; filles du roy) 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 Louis XIV. The program was designed to boost Canada's population both by encouraging male immigrants to settle there, and by promoting marriage, family formation and the birth of children. While women and girls certainly emigrated 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, where "wards" meant those under the guardianship of another.
In 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 their familiar places to move and settle in the harsh climate and conditions of New France. The growth of population in the English colonies awakened concern among some officials. To increase 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 predominately 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 emigration 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 at the king's expense and were given a dowry and women who came here of their own volition and 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 established themselves 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 these women were commoners of humble birth. As a fille du roi, a woman received the King’s support in several ways. The King started by paying one hundred livres to the East India Company for the woman’s crossing, as well as furnishing her with a trousseau. He also paid her dowry; this was originally supposed to be four hundred livres, but as the Treasury could not spare such an expense, many were actually paid in kind. As was the case for most immigrants who came from France to New France, 80% of the filles du roi were from the Paris, Normandy and Western regions. The Hôpital-Général de Paris and the St-Sulpice parish were big contributors of women for the new colony. As such, most of the filles du roi were from urban areas. A few women came from other European countries, including Germany, England, and Portugal. Those who were chosen to be among the filles du roi and allowed to emigrate to New France were held to scrupulous standards, which centred around their "moral calibre" and whether they were physically fit enough to survive the hard work demanded by life as a colonist. In fact, several of the filles du roi were sent back to France because they were judged not to satisfy the standards set out by the King and the intendant of New France.
Almost half of the filles du roi were from the Paris area, 16% from Normandy and 13% from western France. Many were orphans with very meager personal possessions, and their level of literacy was relatively low. Socially, the young women came from different social 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. Those women of higher birth were usually matched with officers or gentlemen living in the colony, sometimes in the hopes that they would marry nobles living in Canada and thereby encourage the nobles to stay in the colony rather than return to France.
Integration into New French society
The women disembarked in Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, and Montreal. When the women arrived in New France, the amount of time it took them 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. When it came to choosing a husband, and the actual 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 then celebrated by the priest, usually in the woman’s parish of residence. While the marriage banns usually had to be published three times before the wedding could take place, the colony’s need for women to marry quickly led to very few filles du roi actually 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. It seems that 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 stick with a fiancé they found themselves dissatisfied with.
An early problem in recruitment was the women's adjustment to the new agricultural life. As 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 more recruits who did not marry in New France. Some had changes of heart before embarking from the ports of Normandy, some died during the journey, some returned to France to marry, and a few never did marry.
Integration in Ville-Marie
The women who immigrated to Ville-Marie, otherwise known as Montreal, before the arrival of the King's Daughters had been recruited by the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal founded in 1641 in Paris. Amongst these women were Jeanne Mance and Marguerite Bourgeoys. When the first filles du roi arrived in Montreal, they were taken in by Marguerite Bourgeoys. Initially, there were no comfortable lodgings to receive them, but in 1668 Marguerite Bourgeoys procured a large farmhouse in which to house them: the Maison Saint-Gabriel.
End of recruitment, Growth of the settlement
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 no more girls would be sponsored afterwards. Out of the approximately 835 marriages of immigrants in the colony during this period, 774 involved a fille du roi. By 1672, the population of New France had risen to 6,700, from 3,200 in 1663.
Rumours and legends
The idea that the filles du roi were prostitutes has been an insidious rumour ever since the inception of the program in the 17th century. It seems to have arisen from a couple of misconceptions, both contemporary and modern, about immigration to French colonies in the New World. The first of these, which took root long before the first fille du roi emigrated, was that Canada was a penal colony. While there were two campaigns in the mid-16th century that involved the immigration of French criminals to Canada in exchange for their record being expunged, they were both short-lived, and resulted in little more than establishing a precedent for viewing Canada as a place where those "of questionable morality" could be sent for one reason or another.
The popularisation of the idea that the filles du roi in particular were prostitutes can be traced to an account by Baron La Hontan of his time in New France, although there were several sources predating La Hontan making the same contention, including Saint-Amant, Tallement des Réaux, and Paul LeJeune. In La Hontan's account, he refers to the filles du roi as being "of middling virtue", and that they had emigrated in the hopes of religious absolution. However, his description was rejected as early as 1738 by Claude Le Beau and 1744 by Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix in their respective accounts of their journeys to New France.
Out of nearly 800 filles du roi, only one, Catherine Guichelin, was charged with prostitution while living in Canada, abandoned by her husband. She appeared before the Sovereign Council of New France under the charge of carrying out "a scandalous life and prostitution" on 19 August 1675. Her two children were 'adopted' by friends, and she was banished from Quebec City. She was reported to have turned to prostitution after her husband, Nicholas Buteau, abandoned the family and returned to France. She later gave birth to many children out of wedlock. Guichelin had at least two marriage contracts cancelled. She also wed twice more after returning to Sorel, Quebec, then Montreal, Quebec.
- Saint André Bessette, descendant of fille du roi, Anne Le Seigneur.
- Hillary Clinton, descendant of fille du roi, Jeanne Ducorps dite Leduc.
- Angelina Jolie, descendant of fille du roi, Denise Colin.
- Madonna, descendent of fille du roi Anne Seigneur.
- Hall of Fame hockey player Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion was a direct descendant of Marie Priault, a King's daughter who married Pierre Joffrion, a farmer and former grenadier from the Carignan-Salières Regiment shortly after her arrival in 1669.
- One of the descendents of Catherine Guichelin became a founding father of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada's capital. Louis Coutlée descended from one of Catherine's illegitimate children (Marie Vacher). He was the first sheriff of Ottawa (after serving in the lower Canadian Militia during the Anglo-American War of 1812 with his father.)
- Coutlée's son, Dominique-Amable Coutlée, served as a member of Parliament in Canada.
- Lanctot 1952, pp. 9, 102.
- Landry 1992, p. 19.
- Landry 1992, p. 20.
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- Landry 1992, p. 44.
- Landry 1992, p. 33.
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- Landry 1992, p. 75.
- Landry 1992, p. 54.
- Landry 1992, pp. 57-58.
- Landry 1992, p. 108.
- Lanctot 1952, pp. 22, 103, 115, 117,126.
- Lanctot 1952, p. 212.
- Marshall, Bill (1 January 2005). France and the Americas: culture, politics, and history : a ..., 2. p. 439. ISBN 9781851094110.
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- Trudel, Marcel (1997). La seigneurie de la Compagnie des Indes occidentales, 1663-1674. ISBN 9782762118681.
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- Landry 1992, p. 140.
- Landry 1992, p. 149.
- Landry, Yves (1992). Orphelines en France pionnières au Canada: Les filles du roi au XVIIe siècle. Montreal: Leméac Éditeur Inc. [page needed].
- Landry 1992, p. 150.
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- Beaudoin & Sévigny 1996, p. 8.
- Beaudoin & Sévigny 1996, p. 12.
- Beaudoin & Sévigny 1996, p. 60.
- Beaudoin & Sévigny 1996, p. 61.
- "Le peuplement d'un pays". Musée de la civilisation. 1998.
- Lanctot 1952, pp. 20.
- "King's Daughters, Casket Girls, Prostitutes". Library of Congress Global Gateway. Retrieved 2 November 2007.
- Lanctot 1952, pp. 159.
- Lanctot 1952, pp. 25,33,192,195.
- Les Filles du Roy, Section 3[dead link]
- "Frère André - Alfred Bessette, 1845 - 1936".
- "Hillary Rodham Clinton’s French-Canadian Ancestry".
- "Ascendance d'Angelina Jolie".
- "Madonna and Lady Gaga".
- Geoffrion Family Genealogy
- Officers of the British Forces in Canada during the War of 1812-15
- Bytown or Bust
- Généalogie du Québec
- Beaudoin, Marie-Louise; Sévigny, Jeannine (1996). Les premières et les filles du roi à Ville-Marie. Montreal: Maison Saint-Gabriel.
- Lanctot, Gustave (1952). Filles de joie ou filles du roi. Montreal: Les Éditions Chantecler Ltée.
- Landry, Yves (1992). Orphelines en France pionnières au Canada: Les filles du roi au XVIIe siècle. Montreal: Leméac Éditeur Inc.
- King's Daughters and Founding Mothers: The Filles du Roi, 1663-1673, Peter J. Gagné, 2 volumes, Quintin, 2000
- Les Filles du roi au xvii'ème siècle, Yves Landry (Leméac, 1992)
- King's Daughters, The, Joy Reisinger and Elmer Courteau (Sparta, 1988)
- Alone in an Untamed Land: The Filles du Roi Diary of Hélène St.Onge, Maxine Trottier (fiction)
- Bride of New France, Suzanne Desrochers (fiction)
- La Société des Filles du roi et soldats du Carignan: Organization for the descendants of the Daughters
- "A list of the Daughters and their husbands, Andre Therriault". Archived from the original on 2010-04-14.
- The documentary, The Scattering of Seeds: the Creation of Canada
- The Kings Daughters by Thomas J. Laforest, first published in Heritage Quest, issue #22 May/June 1989.
- Les filles du Roi en Nouvelle-France, étude historique avec répertoire biographique