They say, if you have any French-Canadian ancestry, that you descend from a Filles du Roi. I don’t and I’m supremely bummed about this fact. However, it doesn’t snuff my interest in these mothers of Canada.
So who were the Filles du Roi?
Filles du Roi translates to the “King’s Daughters,” though don’t be fooled by the moniker; these women were not literally daughters of the king.
Beginning in the 1530s, France owned land in North America, called New France, which consisted of 5 colonies that cut straight down from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The biggest colony was Canada which in 1663 was underpopulated, especially when it came to women. Most who lived there were single males. To encourage women to settle there and thus promote growth of the colony, King Louis XIV of France created a program called the Filles du Roi where he would financially sponsor young, single women to sail from France to Canada, marry, and begin families. Between 1663-1673, about 768 young women became Filles du Roi and made the journey to Canada. The King paid for their travel, new clothing, and a dowry upon marriage.
To be a King’s Daughter, one must be young, healthy, moral (some had to provide a letter of reference from their priest), hardy, and able to work. If you didn’t live up to the requirements upon arrival, you could be sent back. Some Filles du Roi were orphans. Many were poor with no prospects in France and nothing to lose.
Once they arrived, they were set up in dormitory-style housing with chaperones until they had found a husband.
Once the men arrived on the scene, something of a 1600s version of speed dating began. The ladies asked the men practical questions about their financial status, their land holdings, their occupation, and etc. Almost unheard of in any other situation, lower class country girls were often preferred as wives to upper class city girls because the former were expected to be able to handle the work required for building a colony better. When the man found a girl that he thought would make a suitable wife, he would make her an offer of marriage. This didn’t mean that the woman had to marry him. If he didn’t live up to her expectations, she could refuse him and wait for another offer. If she accepted him, they married soon after and began a family. Monetary incentives were given for reproducing. 10+ children were ideal. 12+ received even more money.
Those of you with French-Canadian ancestry can thank King Louis for his deep pockets. The venture worked and the population increased dramatically from the beginning to when the program ended in 1673.
So why do I love the Filles du Roi so much? For one thing, it’s actually a portion of history that’s centered around women. Too many times, the stories of ladies were lost to time while their male counterpart’s were recorded. Added to that the fact that they had a measure of control in determining their fate is pretty uplifting. Poor women, orphans, those who had bleak futures in France were given the opportunity to make a new life for themselves…and got paid to do it! How often did that ever happen? Today, being a descendant of a Filles du Roi is considered to be an important thing that comes with as much clout as being a descendant of a Mayflower passenger. Personally, I am in awe of these ladies who took a chance, crossed an ocean, and ultimately populated an entire country with the husbands of their choice.
Do you descend from a Filles du Roi? Which one? Please post in the comments and let me live vicariously through you!
For a list of Filles du Roi and their spouses, click here.
*For a fun way to learn more about the Filles du Roi, check out Dancing With the Stars and America’s Funniest Home Videos host Tom Bergeron’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (you can watch on Amazon) or listen to Stuff You Missed in History Class’s podcast episode Les Filles du Roi.
Perrault Delmar, Judith. “Filles Du Roi — ‘Daughters of the King.’” Perrault and Mosier . . . Climbing the Family Tree, www.lookbackward.com/perrault/filleroi/.
La Société Des Filles Du Roi Et Soldats Du Carignan, La Société Des Filles Du Roi Et Soldats Du Carignan, fillesduroi.org.
Therriault, André. THE KING’S DAUGHTERS, 8 Apr. 1995, web.archive.org/web/20100414020758/http://www.ziplink.net/~24601/roots/sources/KINGGIRL.htm.