|Les Filles Du Roi
By Sarah Gahagan
Les Filles Du Roi, or the King's Daughters, were young French
women who were sent across the Atlantic Ocean to become the bride of a
man in New France. In the decade of 1663 to 1673, as many as 850
girls were sent to the new colony as a way of balancing out the sex ratio
in New France. These young women faced terrible, crowded, and long
journeys only to arrive in an unknown land and start their lives anew.
Their travels and dowries were paid for by King Louis XIV, the man who
became their "father".
Beginning in the early 1600's up until 1663, New France was a
colony under control and management of merchants and commercial companies
from French cities across the Atlantic. Their primary duties in the
new colony was develop the land in New France in order to produce resources
to send back to the mother country. Unfortunately economic interests
took priority and the duties necessary for profit often did not allow the
accompaniment of wives and children. Time and money was to be devoted
to the advancement of resources for France and this could be taken away
from by extra mouths to feed and backs to clothe. This fact left
New France as a colony of men using only 1% of all of the available land.
The colony could not prosper with a sex ratio of 6 men to one woman and
no way of reproducing. Something had to be done.
King Louis XIV decided to implement and aggressive new immigration
policy for the colony of New France. This policy attended not only
to immigration, it also offered incentives to men in the colony to encourage
marriage and child bearing. Incentives in the form of money and other
material gains were offered to the men of New France. The King would
pay soldiers 50 livres and officers 100 livres if they were to marry. This
was an attempt to even out the sex ratio and push New France to conform
to the colonial life rather than simply the production of resources.
As for the immigration policy itself, the King paid for the travel
and moving expenses for the young women that were selected to be sent to
the colony. The women were given money before they left to purchase
a new outfit in which to greet their potential grooms in once they had
arrived in New France. They were also given 100 livres in which they
were to pay for the cost of passage across the Atlantic and any personal
moving expenses. The young women selected usually did not have much
in terms of material belongings to bring with them on the voyage, for this
reason the King gave them a hope chest which contained such items as handkerchiefs,
sewing needles, ribbons, combs, and other personal items.
The young women were selected from various areas of France, however
most came from the Northwestern provinces of the country. Places
such as Isles de France, Normandie, Aunis, and Champagne were some of the
top area in which several of the Kings Daughters originated from.
Agents of the King carefully selected these girls. Women who came
from good family backgrounds and had some level of education were especially
sought out. Most of the young women however, were peasant town and
farm girls. The farm girls were preferred because they were considered
to be more healthy and industrious; two traits that would have helped a
family to survive in an unforgiving new colony. The city girls were
often negatively characterized as lazy, finicky, and even "sluttish".
It was thought that these women would have no understanding of or ability
The issue of where the Les Filles Du Roi were selected from is
often debated. Many speculate that the King had his agents take prostitutes
and social delinquents and send them out of the country. This confusion
of the Les Filles Du Roi as prostitutes could have originated from the
fact the many merchants and seamen solicited prostitutes and transported
them towards the Islands of Antilles. People often assumed that any
human cargo emigrating from France were to be dubbed, even though incorrect,
"Les Filles Du Roi".
The trip across the Atlantic Ocean was long and treacherous.
It would usually take a total of three months as long as the weather would
cooperate. The ships were very crowded and sanitation was not top
priority. Disease was common among the women as bacteria and germs
spread quickly among the crowded and filthy conditions. Food was
a scarce commodity on the voyage as three months was too long to keep perishable
foods such as fruit, vegetables, and meat from spoiling. Physical
conditions on the voyage were terrible, but the girls on the ship also
felt a great psychological burden during their passage. These were
very young women who left their families, their country, and most of their
belongings behind in order to go to a completely new world. Fear
of the unknown left many of them uncertain about their future and even
Upon arrival in New France, the girls would be housed in convents
or with established families where they could be supervised until they
were ready for the presentation and selection for marriage. Women such
as Marguerite Bourgeoys established convents in which the girls were sometimes
housed. In their short time here, the girls were educated in how
to survive in their new homes. Domestic issues such as sewing and
cooking was the curriculum of the Les Filles Du Roi.
When the colony is prepared to make a presentation of the young
women to their suitors the girls were divided into three groups and sent
into different rooms. While the criteria for the division remains
unclear, we know that officials used the room distinction to direct different
suitors to areas where they felt they mat find a desired mate. The
women were not simply selected as a wife without any input. They
were allowed to speak and ask questions of their soon-to-be husbands.
Often times the questions would pertain to such domestic matters as house
size, belongings, livestock, and any habits that the man may have.
This interview seldom resulted in the denial of marriage, as it is extremely
detrimental to one's reputation to be labeled as a Les Filles Du Roi that
did not marry. It can lead to a lifetime of discrimination and ridicule,
as one would believe that the woman was not "chosen". The act of
not being selected for was also a very rare occurrence as men were denied
their monetary incentive or even punished if not married. The most
common punishment for the men in the colony was the prohibition of trading
furs if he had not found a bride within 15 days of the arrival of the ship
carrying the King's Daughters.
After the presentation and selection processes, marriage was
usually an immediate occurrence. There were often times a priest
and a notary public present at the selection of the brides in order to
perform ceremonies on site. After the marriage was legal, this included
consummation; the newlyweds were given livestock and food and sent on their
way to their new home. There was no such thing as a honeymoon for
Les Filles Du Roi, as marriage was seen more as an economic contract in
which love was something that developed later with time. The couple
was expected to begin a family immediately as extra hands for working the
land were a necessity for survival.
Unfortunately for many of the young women who came to New France
in search of a prosperous life, they were met with much difficulty.
Because many of the women were city and town girls, they were not used
to the great degree of work required for survival in a new colony.
Due to geographical spread, traveling to market was not an easy or regular
occurrence and these women were forced to be at the center of a self-sufficient
economic unit that uses one's land and livestock for survival. Another
major problem was the extremely harsh climate with which they were faced
with upon arrival. Not only were the young women not used to such
cold and tiring weather, they were also very ill equipped in terms of the
proper clothing for survival. Many of the girls came from poor backgrounds,
and although they were given some money for clothing and travel expenses,
it was seldom enough to protect them properly.
As a result of the search for economic prosperity, France found
itself in a major demographic dilemma. The uneven sex ratio of their
new colony was not allowing for the mass output of resources that had been
expected, and it's population was quickly dwindling. In response,
King Louis XIV, sent more than 800 young women from different areas and
different classes, across the Atlantic Ocean with the responsibility of
populating a new nation. Les Filles Du Roi did so. They faced
the fear of the unknown and accepted their fate with heads held high.
1. Geological Research Center of Quebec. Les Filles Du Roi.
2. Hebert, Louis (1998). A Legacy of Tenacity: Les Filles
Du Roi Website:
3. Lessard, Luc (1995). Les Filles Du Roi. Website: www.jov08.tripod.com.
4. L' Heureux, Juliana (1998). Les Filles Du Roi.
5. Piat, Colette (1999). Les Filles Du Roi. Iuniverse
6. Rocheleau Rouleau, Corinne (1999). French Women of North