Inquiry Question: To what extent did the Filles du Roi positively impact New France and its advancements?
Historical Significance: Outline the focus of your inquiry and provide background knowledge. Why is this an important and significant question to ask about the past? Provide evidence from primary and secondary sources.
The focus of my inquiry is to outline the impact the King’s Daughters, known in French as the Fille du Roi, had on the colonization and development of New France.
The Filles du Roi were an assortment of approximately 800 women sent to New France under the sponsorship of King Louis XIV, the ruler at that time. They were from different areas of Europe and of varying social classes, but they mainly consisted of orphaned or poor French women between the ages of 14 and 59. These women were promised a dowry by the King if they were to wed a New Frenchman, and more money depending on the number of children the marriage produced. This was an extremely effective approach as the population grew significantly between the years of 1663 and 1673, the years in which the program was heavily implemented.
Watercolour by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, 1871-1945. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, Acc. no 1996-371-1
New France needed these women. There’s a reason why Jean Talon proposed this idea, and that King Louis XIV decided to send these women to New France in response to British interest in the northern territories of the New World; to give the French in Canada the chance to grow their numbers and become an independent and self-sufficient settlement. As they were, the French had no chance against England’s formidable forces and sheer numbers.
My question is significant because these women were a turning point for New France. Had they not arrived, colonists would have returned to France due to the little appeal of the harsh and unfamiliar land that Canada once was. The arrival of the Filles du Roi spurned a massive spike in population and gave New France the labour force it needed to become a noteworthy colony in the New World.
The sources I used were all secondary. There was one primary source available, but it was a book that required me to purchase it to access the information. This primary source was the autobiography of Marguerite Bourgeoys, a French saint who was the founder of the Congregation of Notre Dame of Montreal in New France. She took in and housed the Filles du Roi, and was present for their interactions with the men of the colony. Had I been able to access it, I’m sure it would have been a very useful tool in my inquiry.
Continuity and Change: How are our lives and conditions similar to those found in your research? How have they changed?
The world as a whole is not in need of a solution to population crisis, but the positive influence the Filles du Roi had on New France can relate to a modern-day situation: the wage gap between men and women.
Currently, there is a 22% difference in the pay between full-time working women and full-time working men. It will take an estimated 217 years to close this gap, by which time myself and many other women who would like to see this movement happen will be long gone. It is also stated that it’ll take 100 years for women to get equal access to healthcare and education, as well as representation in politics. The world has come a long way since 1663, but it’s safe to say that there are still major changes that need to be made.
If we look at Canada as an example, a source stated that greater participation by Canadian women in the workforce has accounted for approximately one-third of Canada’s economic growth. If this initiative towards closing the gender gap can be implemented around the world, women could get the same opportunities and recognition that men do. This could shorten the 217 years it’s supposed to take the world to get equal pay and allow the world to see the same progress that Canada did.
My research question applies to this topic in the fact that we either need women to step forward and contribute more to the battle for equality or we need a powerful entity (like King Louis XIV was for the Filles du Roi) to take initiative. If there were more women in the workforce, I believe that we would see positive impacts being made just as they were made in New France all those years ago. One of the few differences between now and then is the power that women now have the ability to yield. If we take this matter into our own hands, we can make this simple premise a reality.
Ethical Judgement: Is what happened right and fair by the values and standards of the time? How about from our current values and standards? Explain.
The Filles du Roi and their situation was completely ethical by the standards of that time. Many of these women came from humble beginnings and were orphaned or even widowed. This dowry would’ve given them the chance for a better life, and was in fact very generous of the King. It benefitted both parties involved and was an effective strategy in closing the gender gap in New France and increasing the population.
With our current mindsets and values, this event would never be replicated. Paying women to leave their homes and families and travel to a foreign, underdeveloped place for the sole purpose of getting married, reproducing, and taking care of their new families and homes is unethical by today’s standards. Even knowing that the women would be voluntarily participating, paying someone to take part in a very personal and sacred bond implies questionable morals. Marriages nowadays usually have substance or emotional bond to them, something that the Filles du Roi may not have had with their partners. These women would also be prompted to participate in sexual relations with their spouses to produce the offspring for which they would be paid. The pressure and circumstances pushed on these women would be frowned upon in today’s society.
What conclusions can you reach about your question based on the research you conducted?
The Filles du Roi were responsible for the success of New France, however short-lived it may have been. Their arrival prompted men to stay in the New World and build their own homes and families rather than returning to France. The offspring of these women would go on to become the foundation of New France and further its growth. Two-thirds of all French Canadians and thousands of North Americans can trace their family trees back to these 800 women. The French language was normalized in the colony because of the Filles du Roi, showing their influence on the development of New France and surrounding territories. My research led me to the conclusion that the Filles du Roi were responsible for New France’s success and impacted the population, cultural development, and future evolution of French Canadians in Canada. They were an invaluable part of France’s past.
Filles du Roi — “Daughters of the King”