This Week in History


Filles du Roi

For the week of Monday October 18, 1999

On October 20, 1671, Jean Talon signed an ordinance pressuring the bachelors of New France into marrying the filles du roi. This was one of his many measures to promote the development of the colony's population.

Filles du Roi arriving in New France

Filles du Roi arriving in New France
© LAC / C. W. Jefferys / C-10688

Arriving in Québec in 1665 Talon found a colony that after 57 years of settlement contained only 3,215 people. Britain's Thirteen Colonies, of the same age, possessed near 100,000 citizens. With a new king in power and France at last experiencing peace and stability, attention was finally given to strengthening New France. Talon was made the king's representative, Intendant of New France. His main objective was to increase the colony's population. Talon lured some settlers with offers of free land and supplies. However, his efforts were limited by the old French policy that the populating of New France would not be done at the expense of depopulating Old France.

Talon's greatest effort toward population was the filles du roi, or "king's daughters." With more than twice as many men as women in New France, Talon requested the filles du roi so that single male colonists and discharged soldiers would settle down, marry and have lots of children to increase the population. The filles du roi were so-named because they were young women, usually orphans, who would be given a dowry upon marriage, courtesy of the king, Louis XIV. The dowry generally consisted of provisions and 50 livres worth of household goods. The "girls of high birth" were given larger dowries, being meant to marry former French officers who wished to stay in New France.

Talon ordering a fur trader to marry.

Talon ordering a fur trader to marry.
© Illustrated by Arlette Philippe
From Gilles Proulx's Ma petite histoire de la Nouvelle-France
Courtesy of Les Publications Proteau

Talon brought about 1000 filles du roi to New France. However, not all bachelors in New France were eager to marry, so Talon forced the issue. His 1671 ordinance decreed that the bachelors of the colony must marry the filles du roi, else lose their fishing and hunting privileges, as well as the right to participate in the fur trade. In other words, any man who refused to marry would lose his means of earning a living.

Despite the obstacles and his at times unjust measures, the efforts of Jean Talon were successful. When he left New France in 1672, the population of the colony had more than doubled, reaching 7,605. Unfortunately, after Talon, the colony was once more neglected as France was again absorbed in war.

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has plaqued Jean Talon in Québec, Quebec.

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