Most French Canadians are Descended from 800 Women Known as the Filles du Roi

If you have French-Canadian ancestry, you probably have one, two, or perhaps a dozen filles du roi in your family tree. Several of them even have proven lines of descent from Charlemagne and a number of other royal families from throughout Europe. If you are descended from one of the Charlemagne descendants, that obviously makes you a descendant of Charlemagne and other royal families as well.

Who were these young French women known as les filles du roi? They traveled from France to what was then called New France, now known as Québec, between 1663 and 1673 as part of a program designed to boost the population by encouraging female immigrants to settle, marry, and raise families.

In the early days, Québec was settled almost entirely by men. The early population consisted mostly of fur trappers, other adventurers, priests, and soldiers. As the years went by, farmers joined the immigrants as well. A few women did pay their own passage, but few single women wanted to leave their familiar places to move and settle in the harsh climate and conditions of New France. The lack of suitable female companionship encouraged the men of Québec to seek wives amongst the native population. The natives were mostly non-Christian, a source of concern to the many Jesuit priests who also were in Québec at the time.

As if the farmers and fur trappers didn’t have enough competition finding wives, King Louis XIV sent almost 1,200 soldiers of the Carignan-Salières regiment to Québec in 1665 to fight the Iroquois Indians, who were aggressive and killed many settlers. The soldiers were deployed at strategic points of the territory to defend the colony and its residents. The regiment was successful, and a peace treaty with the Iroquois was signed on July 10, 1667. The Regiment then returned to France but left behind 400 soldiers and officers, aged between 19 and 30, who all agreed to remain in the country as settlers. The addition of 400 young men to the colony worsened the marriage problems. This became evident when Jean Talon, intendant of New France, carried out the colony’s first census. He recorded that the population was a bit more than 3,000, with 719 unmarried males and only 45 unmarried females living in the colony. This did not bode well for the future of the settlement.

The growth of population in the competing English colonies to the south, including married couples, also created concern among some French officials about their ability to maintain their claim in the New World.

At the same time, social practices in the homeland create a potential solution to this problem. In the custom of the day, the oldest daughter of a family in France received as large a dowry as possible from her parents to improve her chances of marriage. Dowries often included furniture, household articles, silver, land, or other inherited goods. Younger daughters of the same family typically received smaller dowries. Daughters of impoverished families often received no dowry at all, which reduced their chances of finding a suitable mate. These younger daughters were prime candidates for an opportunity in the New World.

As Intendant of New France, Jean Talon proposed that King Louis XIV sponsor passage of at least 500 women to New France. The king agreed to pay for transportation to New France of any eligible young woman. He also offered a dowry for each, to be awarded upon her marriage to a young Frenchman. Each woman’s dowry typically consisted of 1 chest, 1 taffeta kerchief, 1 ribbon for shoes, 100 needles, 1 comb, 1 spool of white thread, 1 pair of stockings, 1 pair of gloves, 1 pair of scissors, 2 knives, about 1,000 pins, 1 bonnet, 4 laces, and 2 silver livres (French coins). Many also received chickens, pigs, and other livestock. Because the King of France paid the dowries instead of the parents, these women were referred to as the “Daughters of the King,” or “Filles du roi.”

Eventually nearly twice the proposed number of women were recruited. They were predominantly between the ages of 12 and 25, and they had to supply a letter of reference from their parish priest before they would be chosen for emigration to New France. Research by the historical demographer Yves Landry determines that there were in total about 770 to 850 filles du roi who settled in New France between 1663 and 1673.

About 80% of the filles du roi were from the Paris, Normandy, and western regions of France. Others came from rural areas, and a few were from other countries. According to the records of Marie de l’Incarnation, who knew many of these women personally, there were among them one Moor (a black woman of African descent), one Portuguese, one German, and one Dutch woman.

All were women of fine moral character, as verified by the recommendation from a priest that each woman needed to obtain before being accepted for emigration.

These hardy immigrant women married, often within days after their arrival in New France. The ships carrying the filles du roi would travel up the St. Lawrence River, stopping first at Québec, then at Trois-Rivières, and lastly at Montréal. Most of the filles du roi raised families. In fact, many of them raised large families in the tradition of the day. Many of their sons and daughters went on to also have large families, and so on and so forth for generations. As a result, millions of living people are descended from this group of pioneer women. Descendants of the filles du roi today may be found throughout Canada, the United States, and many other countries.

An alphabetical listing of all the known Filles du Roi and their husbands is available at http://www.fillesduroi.org/src/Filles_list.htm.

You can find a lot more information about the Filles du Roi on the World Wide Web. Some of the better sites include the following:

In English:

“A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada” at http://www.whitepinepictures.com/seeds/i/12/sidebar.html

Museum of New France – Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation at http://www.civilization.ca/vmnf/popul/filles/s-fil-en.htm

La Société des Filles du roi et soldats du Carignan at http://www.fillesduroi.org/

Filles du Roi — “Daughters of the King” at http://www.lookbackward.com/perrault/filleroi/

“King’s Daughters” on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King%27s_Daughters

In French:

La Société d’histoire des Filles du Roy at http://lesfillesduroy-quebec.org/

“Les Filles du Roy – 1663 à 1673” at http://www.migrations.fr/700fillesroy.htm

“Filles du Roi” on Wikipedia: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filles_du_Roi

If you do not read or speak French, the above sites can be translated into English by using the machine-generated translation services available at Google. The results will often be grammatically incorrect and even humorous at times, but still quite readable.

There are many other Web sites devoted to the Filles du roi. Use your favorite search engine to find them, or click here for a search.

Not all of the filles du roi came from impoverished families. Several appear to have been the younger daughters of rather wealthy families, including some with royal ancestry. Perhaps the best-documented royal ancestry of a filles du roi is that of Catherine de Baillon, tracing her ancestry back to Charlemagne (and before) along with connections to many other royal families throughout Europe.

A rather good description of Catherine de Baillon’s ancestry back to Charlemagne may be found at: http://www.quebec.acadian-home.org/catherine-de-baillon.html and another at http://habitant.org/baillon/.

27 Comments

Fascinating. You reminded me about these women whom I’d read about a year or so ago.

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“the tradition of the day” lasted well into the 20th century = hence the “baby bonus cheques” started in the 1950s.

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We have identified six “Filles du Roi” in our French Canadian lines.

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In “Who do you think you are” episod with Tom Bergeron (my 4th cousin), you met Marguerite Ardion, a Fille du Roy who was a Protestant from La Rochelle, like another one in the same boat whose name was Marie Targer. Marguerite is my father’s ancestor, Marie, my mother’s ancestor. But of course, I have several others in my genealogical tree.

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Absolutely fascinating! I don’t think I had heard of them before. Unfortunately the only Canadian ancestry in my tree are from ancestors who emigrated there from England. Am still going to read more about them, though.
Thank you Dick for yet another great article and sorry to hear about your recent medical problems.

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Most of the rest of us French Canadians are from the Filles a Marier, “Marriageable Girls,” group of 262 women brought over from 1634 to 1662. Same concept, not supported by the King.
https://www.geni.com/projects/Marriageable-Girls/14207

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These are very brave women and need to be recognized the American-French Genealigical Society has an offer you’d might be interested in if you are a descendant of the Kings Daughter. Please visit AFGS.org then use the search box to go to “King’s Daughters”. If you give us your direct line back to one of the many daughters, we will send you a beautifully designed lapel pin and a certificate that contains your name and your name of the women you are a descendant of.

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What an interesting story. I have never heard of this before. I have no French Canadian ancestry but live in an area where there are many people who do. I’ll have to mention this and see if they know about it.

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    I remember learning this part of Canadian history back in the 1930s but your detail and style make it much more interesting. Good reading and brings attention to a vital part of Canadian history.
    You mention the mortar/cannonball found in Quebec City. Are you familiar with Louise Penney’s novel set in QC which includes this find: ‘Bury Your Dead’. It’s a book you will enjoy reading.

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    Love ALL of Louise Penny’s books. Settings in Quebec. Great stories. Learn some Canadian history, too.

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For more about borth the Filles du Roi and the soldiers of the Carignan Regiment, see this page of the French-Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan’s website. It includes my articles about two of my 62 Filles du Roi ancestors: Marie Grandin and Marie Claude Chamois, as well as shorter biographies. http://habitantheritage.org/filles_du_roi__carignan_regiment_lineage_charts

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I obviously slept through this portion of history class. Great story and fabulous comments from your readers.

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Janet Duval Fortunato July 27, 2017 at 1:29 pm

I have 8 Filles du Roi (so far). I never went back farther to see if any were Charlemagne’s descendents. I’ll have to keep looking.

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I’m familiar with our gateway Filles du Roi ancestor Catherine Baillon (and the research of John DuLong and Renee Jette), but I’ve been unable to find anything on other King’s Daughters that are gateway ancestors. Does anyone know of any other Filles du Roi who were gateway ancestors of a website that lists them.

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Hmmm, I cannot find a way to Reply to a Reply.

For Judy Thompson’s query of July 27, 2017 at 4:04 pm.

Yes, as mentioned in my earlier comment, there is a cross reference list of husbands in Peter J. Gagné’s two-volume set, “King’s Daughters and Founding Mothers: The Filles du Roi, 1663-1673.”

If you give me the name, I’ll look it up.

Al Poulin

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PRDH’s list of Filles du Roi is here on the free pages of this award-winning website:

http://www.genealogie.umontreal.ca/en/les-filles-du-roi

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Like many other people, I have French Canadian lines going back to France in the 1500s. But it’s a little difficult to care. I assume since I’m on the verge of proving a New Netherlands connection that I’ll also have a Mayflower connection back there somewhere. But I really only want to find my great-grandmother, who was alive in the US in the 1890s. Proven genealogies are so boring. It’s the missing men and women from more recent times that I search for endlessly.

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Good information. I am working on my application to the Society currently, and I am a descendant of Catherine Baillon. I’ve found not only a connection to Charlemagne but, of course, to his sons and grandsons, Kings of Italy and France. Wish all my lines were so well documented!

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Hi Dick.. thanks for the shout out re my web site. Greatly appreciated!
Lucie

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A very interesting article. At the moment, along with two friends, we are preparing an article for our Genealogy Society’s quarterly, “New Orleans Genesis,” that will document our connection to a number of these girls. Because of the emigration from Canada to south Louisiana in the 17th century there are very likely a large number of such connections along the Gulf Coast. I have traced family to at least three Filles du Roi — Marguerite Gaillard + Louis Saucier; Charlotte Jolivet + Léonard Girardin; and Marie Bouillon + Alexandre Tenchenay [later Chenet here], in all cases my 9th great grandparents. Jack Belsom

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Very interesting. I’m just learning of my Acadian roots and how we got here…. now to find the family left in France.

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Phillip Applebaum August 1, 2017 at 7:13 pm

Your statement, “… among them one Moor (a black woman of African descent) …” is not correct. At the time, “Moor” identified a Muslim native of North Africa, who would have been Berber or Arab.

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    Quite right. In an historical thriller I read by C J Sansom (whose research is always meticulous), there was a character who was describes as a Moor, and he was definitely not of African descent.

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As Dick said, the Daughters of the King were vetted as being of fine moral character, and not all came from impoverished families. Some were orphans. In Paris, there is a commemorative plaque at the courtyard of Sainte-Claire de la Salpêtrière which indicates that 240 young women came from this General Hospital with the King’s doweries. In 1860, the hospital had about 3,000 women and girls. A multipurpose institution, it housed and educated orphans in the care of nuns, served as an insane asylum, and indeed as a prison for prostitutes. Perhaps the notoriety of this place 100 years later gave credence to the slander of the women who had been individually vetted by authorities in the name of the King. The arrival of any shiploads of undesirable women in New France would have been met with fierce objection by local officials to the King and not permitted to remain.

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