Documentary about Les Filles du Roi- Daughters of the King

Two-thirds of French Canadians are descended from 800 women who arrived in New France in the 1660s. They are collectives known to history as Les Filles du Roi (Daughters of the King).  Gerard Dennison alerted me to the Canadian Broadcast (CBC) documentary about their important contributions to the population growth and social development of New France.

Lew Filles du Roi

Les Filles du Roi arrived in New France and were mentored by the Ursuline Nuns- a history by Jan Noel.

Moreover, the history of these women was the subject of a presentation I made a few years ago to the Pejepscot Genealogy Society, given at the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick. I appreciated the opportunity to speak to the genealogy enthusiasts, about this particularly heroic immigration story, because almost every French-Canadian or Franco-American who documents colonial era ancestry can trace their family tree to at least one of Les Filles du Roi.  Their immigration between the years 1663-1673, was a highly successful colonial era French population program. Their purpose was to marry and grow the population of New France, in Quebec.

In my presentation, I acknowledged some source material from Robert N. Biette, of Brunswick, who wrote about one Les Filles du Roi, who he recognized in his family, in the autobiography, “As it Was in the Thirties and Forties: With Ancestral History”.

It began with King Louis XIV of France and his Quebec “Indendent” (administrator), Jean Talon. They jointly supported the program, whereby young French ladies, mostly of humble social status, were recruited to move to New France. Their purpose in leaving their homes in France was to marry men, most of them soldiers from the Carignan-Salières Regiment, who had been encouraged to settle in Quebec. None of the ladies were forced to marry.  Rather, they were chaperoned and offered respite by the Ursuline Nuns who had convents in Quebec. Under the supervision of the nuns, led by the Canadian foundress of the Ursuline’s, Saint Marie of the Incarnation, the girls were offered social opportunities to meet the available bachelors and to choose their husbands.

Les Filles du Roi were recruited, mostly by outreach from the French clergy, based upon their upstanding character and willingness to respond to the patriotic call to help create a New France on the St. Lawrence River, in Canada.

Ursuline Nuns welcome Les Filles du Roi

Les Filles du Roi were welcomed to New France by the Ursuline Nuns in Quebec.

Although the young women were sent to New France under the patronage of the King of France, they were not members of the French nobility (i.e., “daughters of the king)  as a result of their willingness to become Les Filles du Roi. Rather, their adoption by the French King was a special status provided to support their credibility as women of good character.

Brunswick native Robert N. Biette wrote about “les filles du roi” Anne-Julienne Dumont in the opening of his autobiography about life in Pennellville:

“In the mid-1600’s, the King of France….wanted to establish civilization in the New World.  France and especially Paris was experiencing poverty…and the average Frenchman was poor and many immigrated (to New France) with the promise of new life, though, it turned out, one with very few women to marry. The King decided to give a dowry to as many females, mostly poor women of Paris and Normandy, to set sail in search of finding a husband. These women, known as the King’s daughters….could choose a husband or were free to return to France. It is estimated about 800 King’s daughters married and had children, whose descendants over time have numbered in the millions. Anne-Julienne Dumont was one of the King’s daughters and is an ancestor of the Biette family.”

Les Filles du Roi successfully helped build the population of New France. In so doing, the ladies also set a tone for the development of the culture and civilization of Quebec. Their faithfulness to their work and adherence to Roman Catholic traditions, supported by the clergy and the motivation of the Ursuline Nuns, has endured over more than 350 years, since their arrival.

In 2013, an anniversary of Les Filles du Roi was celebrated in Quebec. Subsequently, some genealogy societies launched recognition programs for people who document filles du roi among their ancestors.

Details about Les Filles du Roi are mostly from source documents written in French, by the clergy, Quebec notaries and the Ursuline Nuns.  Moreover, ship manifests are available from genealogical sources where the names of the girls are recorded and where they came from.

Why were Les Filles du Roi important?

  • They set a tone for the social development of New France consistent with the values atributed to the Christians/Protestants who settled in Massachusetts.
  • They created a New France exempt from the tyranny of the French Revolution
  • They proteced the French language and culture by supporting education and learning how to read, a tribute to the Ursuline Nuns surveillance.
  • They earned a matriarchal partnership with their husband when their nee names were retained in French-Canadian vital statistics

A link to the slides from my presentation to the genealogy society are available at the “Daughters of the King” reference, in the first paragraph. Information about the Canadian Broadcast documentary is at this link.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.