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Filles du Roi

Arrival of the Brides
Painting by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale.

Recently, my sister, Delores, unearthed a fascinating story that was a stark reminder of the nature of travel for so many throughout history, and for many still today — an act of simple desperation.

Anne LeRoy, a distant relative on the French Canadian side of my family, lived in Paris in 1671. Her parents, François and Anne, tragically died from undocumented causes. Anne, then a young woman but with presumably no means to support herself, was sent to live in a Paris orphanage called Pitié-Salpêtrière, which still stands today as a hospital. From there, she became one of “Les Filles du Roi”, translated as “The King’s Daughters”.

The term refers to the approximately 770 young French women who immigrated to New France (now Quebec, Canada) between 1663 and 1673 as part of a program sponsored by Louis XIV. Simply put, women were not immigrating to New France, and with no women, men were not settling there permanently. The king needed to produce families. So he began recruiting young women strictly for this purpose. These girls were dubbed “Les Filles du Roi”. Many of them, like Anne, had few options.

The king took charge of recruiting, clothing and covering the cost of the royal wards’ travel within France and across the Atlantic. He gave each an allowance of 100 pounds: 10 pounds in recruitment fees, 30 pounds to gather a modest trousseau and 60 pounds for each woman’s passage fee. The women — orphans with very little money — were recruited from the regions of La Rochelle, Rouen and Paris. Most were from urban areas. They were approximately 16 to 40 years old when they arrived, with an average age of 24. Between 1667 and 1672, many women (41%) were given a royal dowry of 50 livres tournois (pounds) in addition to their trousseau. Some received even higher amounts (100 or 200 pounds). In years of financial hardship, the dowry of 50 pounds was replaced with provisions from the king’s storehouses in the colony.

As in France, these women were expected to be able to feed and clothe their families. Each received a hope chest containing personal accessories: a comb; two coiffes (a type of hood), one made of taffeta and the other of gauze; a belt; a pair of hose; a pair of shoes; a pair of gloves; a bonnet; shoelaces; and four sets of laces. These items were difficult to find on the shores of the St. Lawrence. The chest also contained sewing supplies: about 100 needles, a case and thimble, white and grey thread, scissors, many pins, two knives, and cloth fine enough to make handkerchiefs, collars, wimples and pleated sleeves (http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca).

The girls were allowed to pick and choose whom to marry. Most married quickly, but for some, it took up to 2 years and a few never married. When a match was made, the newly married couple was given 50 livres to buy provisions, plus an ox and a cow, 2 pigs, a pair of chickens, 2 barrels of salted meat and 11 crowns in cash. To encourage large families, those with 10 children were granted a yearly pension of 300 livres — what would be $20,000 USD today.

Joseph & Emelie Perron

Joseph & Emelie Perron

Anne married Jean Rodrigue (originally from Portugal) in Quebec, Canada on October 28, 1671.

Jacques Rodrigue was the great, great grandson of Anne LeRoy. Emilie Rodrigue (shown here with husband Joseph Perron) was his great, great granddaughter. My sisters and I are the great granddaughters of Emilie Rodrigue.

Well-known people who are also descendants of Les Filles du Roi include Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, and Madonna.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Delores Hildebrandt #

    Nicely written, Laura. Interesting take on our ancestor’s story. Never thought of it in terms of travel – but you’re right – we travel for fun; they traveled to survive.

    May 31, 2015

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