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Les Filles du Roi

Updated: Feb 4

We hear often about the many men that contributed to the early history of New France But what about the women? While there were many individuals that shaped the course of history in North America, there were about a thousand women in particular who changed New France forever: Les Filles du Roi. 

An Imbalance

New France had a relatively small European population compared to other colonies in the Americas, and in the 1660s, that population was shrinking faster than it grew.

Louis XIV

This was due largely to a gender imbalance in the colony. There were many soldiers and laborers and even some who filled governmental roles, but at the time, those jobs were open only to men. Still, men outnumbered women in New France. There were six times as many marriable men as women in the 1660s. And of those men, many workers planned to return to France when their contracts finished and soldiers wanted to leave once their regiments were disbanded.

King Louis XIV knew something needed to be done if New France was to have a sustainable population.

Les Filles du Roi

The King decided he would solve this problem by sponsoring the passage of eligible young women across the Atlantic. He paid not only for their passage, but also for their dowry. The young women were also fed and housed in New France until their marriages. 

They became known as les Filles du Roi (the King's Daughters). This title wasn't meant to imply a royal lineage for these ladies. Most came from modest backgrounds. Instead, calling these women les Filles du Roi showed the King's patronage. 

About 764 Young Women

The first of les filles came from the North-West of France. The vast majority were between 16 and 26 years old, all single, some widowed. They came from cities and towns, and most were quite poor. Their backgrounds in city life made them poorly suited to the vast, untamed wilderness of New France. However, these ladies were more than up to the task. All were painstakingly evaluated and selected for their outstanding moral character. 

The first group of 38 arrived in New France in September 1663. They adapted to their new lives and environments gracefully, despite the challenges in their new lifestyles. A few did return to France without marriages, deciding the tough colonial life didn't suit them. But the vast majority remained and came to thrive in their new environment. Their success inspired a continuation of the program, and in total, between 764 and 1,000 young women emigrated in this manner to New France. 

Flag of the Carignan-Salières regiment

Their contribution to the population growth of the settlers cannot be discounted. Not only did they start families and raise children, they also persuaded many men to stay in the colony, who may otherwise have returned to France. At that time, the Carignan-Salières regiment had recently disbanded, and many of the workers' contracts had finished. But the arrival of les filles inspired many of those men to remain and start families. 

Québec, and all of Canada, and perhaps the northernmost parts of New England as well would look very different today if not for the adventures of les filles. They shaped every generation of settlers that came after them. Many Men and women alike look back with pride at the adventurous spirit of their ancestors, les filles.

Written by Jasmine Grace, University Intern

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