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 to survive. 
 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 their survival. 
 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.  Website: www.cam.org.

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.  Website: www.mainewriter.com.

5.  Piat, Colette (1999).  Les Filles Du Roi.  Iuniverse Inc. 

6.  Rocheleau Rouleau, Corinne (1999).  French Women of North America.  Beauchemin 

View an online Power Point Presentation on Les Filles du Roi here
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