Marguerite de La Rocque

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Marguerite de La Rocque de Roberval (fl 1536–1542) was a French noblewoman who spent some years marooned on the Île des Démons in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, off the coast of Quebec. She became well known after her subsequent rescue and return to France; her story was recounted in the Heptaméron by Queen Marguerite of Navarre, and in later histories by François de Belleforest and André Thévet.

Early life[edit]

Marguerite de La Rocque's place and date of birth are unknown, but records attest to her declaration of fealty and homage in 1536 for her lands in Périgord and Languedoc.[1] She was co-seigneuress of Pontpoint, with relative Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval, a nobleman privateer favoured by Francis I of France.[1] (The exact relationship remains unclear. André Thevet claimed Roberval was her uncle,[2] while François de Belleforest indicated they were brother and sister.[3] Historian Elizabeth Boyer suggests they were in fact cousins.[3])

Voyage and marooning[edit]

The Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The Isle of Demons is reputedly off the coast of the Labrador Peninsula

In 1541 Roberval was made Lieutenant General of New France, and the following year set out for the New World, accompanied by Marguerite, who was still young and unmarried. During the journey, she became the lover of a young man. Displeased with his young relative's actions, Roberval left Marguerite on the "Isle of Demons", near the Saint Paul River.[1] While possibly motivated by his strong Calvinist morals, it is likely he was also driven by financial greed, since his debts were high, and Marguerite's death would be to his benefit.[4] Also marooned were Marguerite's lover, and her maid-servant Damienne.[1] In the Heptaméron, the Queen of Navarre claims the lover was set down first, with Marguerite opting to join him; Thevet claims the young man swam to join Marguerite.

Marguerite's lover is intentionally unidentified in early histories; while presented in the Queen of Navarre's work as an unskilled labourer, this was, in part, to hide his identity, preserving the reputation of his aristocratic family.[5]

While it is unlikely she was pregnant when first abandoned, Marguerite gave birth to a child while on the island.[6] The baby died, as did the young man and the maid servant.[1] It is likely the baby died due to insufficient milk, Marguerite's diet being poor.[6] Marguerite survived by hunting wild animals, and was rescued by Basque fishermen some years later.[7]

The "Island of Demons" (or spirits) is part of a group later known as the Isles de la Demoiselle, presumably after her (French demoiselle means "young lady"); specifically, the island is believed to be the one now known as Hospital Island (or Harrington Island), where oral tradition is able to identify the cave Marguerite sheltered in.[8]

Later life[edit]

Returning to France after her rescue, Marguerite achieved some celebrity when her story was recorded by the Queen of Navarre in her work Heptaméron (published posthumously in 1558), in François de Belleforest's Histoires tragiques (5th Volume, 1570) and, later, André Thévet's Cosmographie. She became a schoolmistress, and settled in Nontron,[8] living in Chateau de La Mothe. There is no record of any action or charges brought by her against Roberval.[8] Her death date and place is unrecorded. (Roberval died in 1560.)

Literary representations[edit]

The Queen of Navarre's account of Marguerite's adventures was a romantic tale, based on information provided by "Captain Roberval"; Thevet, who claimed he was told the story by Marguerite herself, offered more precise details, describing the journey, the colonists on board the ships, and the location of the Île des Démons.[1] Text comparisons show that Thevet was, at least, familiar with the Queen's and de Belleforest's earlier accounts.[2]

In addition to her early chroniclers, Marguerite de la Rocque's story has provided inspiration for several modern writers. In 1960, George Woodcock composed the verse play for CBC Radio The Island of Demons.[9] In 1975, historian Elizabeth Boyer wrote the novel Marguerite de la Roque: A Story of Survival;[10] Charles Goulet's 2000 novel was entitled The Isle of Demons,[11] and Joan Elizabeth Goodman wrote a novel for young adults in 2002, entitled Paradise.[12] In 2003, Douglas Glover published Elle: A Novel,[13] which won 2003 Canadian Governor’s General book prize.[14] Canadian playwright Robert Chafe wrote a bilingual play Isle of Demons, first produced in 2004.[15] Canadian poet bpNichol depicted her in his poem "lament". 19th century Montreal poet George Martin published his poem about the incident – Marguerite, Or The Isle Of Demons in an 1887 book of the same name. The book was republished in 1995 and is still available. Sara Maitland discusses the story in A Book of Silence (2008) and in a short story, "The Tale of the Valiant Demoiselle," in Far North and Other Dark Tales (2008). Maitland also mentions a narrative poem by Isabel Ecclestone McKay (1916). In 2008, Annamarie Beckel wrote Silence of Stone (Breakwater Books) another novel based on the story of Marguerite de la Rocque and switches back and forth between Marguerite on the island to Marguerite as headmistress.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Robert la Roque de Roquebrune. "La Roque, Marguerite de". Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Retrieved 2008-08-27. 
  2. ^ a b Schlessinger & Stabler, p. xxiii
  3. ^ a b Leslie & Seagrave, p. 544
  4. ^ Leslie & Seagrave, p. 124
  5. ^ Leslie & Seagrave, pp. 123–124
  6. ^ a b Leslie & Seagrave, p. 545
  7. ^ James Marsh. "La Rocque, Marguerite de". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Association. Retrieved 2008-08-27. 
  8. ^ a b c Leslie & Seagrave, p. 132
  9. ^ Woodcock, George (1977). "The Island of Demons". in Two Plays. Talonbooks. Retrieved 2012-12-14. 
  10. ^ Boyer, Elizabeth (1977). Marguerite de la Roque: A Story of Survival. New York: Popular Library. ISBN 0-445-08551-7. 
  11. ^ Goulet, Charles (2000) The Isle of Demons, AuthorHouse, ISBN 978-0-595-09650-3
  12. ^ Goodman, Joan Elizabeth (2002) Paradise: Based on a True Story of Survival, HMCo Children's Books, ISBN 0-618-11450-5
  13. ^ Glover, Douglas (2003) Elle: A Novel, Goose Lane Editions, ISBN 0-86492-315-5
  14. ^ Henderson, Bob (Spring 2005). "Marooned: The Perils of Marguerite". Kanawa. Paddle Canada. Retrieved 2008-08-27. [dead link]
  15. ^ "Robert Chafe". Doollee Playwright's Database. Retrieved 2008-08-27. 


  • Leslie, Edward E.; Seagrave, Sterling; (1998) Desperate Journeys, Abandoned Souls: True Stories of Castaways and Other Survivors,Houghton Mifflin Books, ISBN 978-0-395-91150-1, excerpts available online
  • Schlesinger, Roger; Stabler, Arthur Phillips; Thevet, Andre; (1986) André Thevet's North America: a sixteenth-century view, McGill-Queen's Press, ISBN 978-0-7735-0587-2, excerpts available online

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Boyer, Elizabeth (1983). A Colony of One: The History of a Brave Woman. Novelty, Ohio: Veritie Press. ISBN 0-915964-05-8. 
  • Stabler, Arthur P. The Legend of Marguerite de Roberval