I have made several trips across the continent of the United States by bus and by train and remember how dirty I felt doing nothing more than sitting in a seat for 60 hours not to mention the muscle soreness and other discomforts associated with such travel. I can guarantee that when Marie De La Mare stepped foot on solid ground on July 3, 1668 after several months on the royal ship La Nouvelle France she must have been an absolute wreck, even under the best of accommodations.
One would think with all of the acclaim the “filles du roi” have received over the years that they must have been treated with great dignity and care. However, even the French Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert viewed the women as mere “breeding stock.” Their treatment on the ships was not always the best. “Les filles” were treated barely better than cargo having to spend much of their time below deck in cramped quarters where there was little fresh air especially in poor weather when the portholes had to be closed. The smells must have been overpowering resulting from “the on-board livestock, not to mention the odor of the latrine buckets, smoky lanterns and the after effects of seasickness.”
In addition to the horrible accommodations, some of the women were subjected to less than adequate care on their journey. There were reports of clothes being stolen and crews scrimping on provisions in an effort by the crew to minimize the costs of their passengers. Sometimes the consequences were dire. As many as 10% of all passengers between France and Canada died along the way. When she arrived, Marie was perhaps as grateful to have survived the journey as the Marquis de Tracy was in 1665 when he landed as I described in Personne: Guillaume Regnault: Part Two.
What is likely not in doubt, given the importance of her position as a “fille du roi”, she would have been promptly cared for upon her arrival where she would have received necessary medical attention, and in accordance with the directives of the Conseil Souverain, given clothing appropriate for the season and some provisions.
After the “filles” settled in they would have been housed at the “former home of Madame de La Peltrie” at the Ursuline Monastery in Québec that she had founded. There, they were taught housekeeping skills, sewing, knitting, cooking and washing to prepare them for the duties they would perform once married.
The guardians kept the girls under constant surveillance to determine their suitability as wives in Canada. There were a few occasions where women were sent back to France if they were deemed unsuitable for some reason. We do not know what Marie thought of her new life in Québec as she waited to be married nor do we know what her fellow “filles” or her chaperones thought of her. Being from Rouen, Marie was perhaps at a disadvantage as city girls had a less than stellar reputation. There was an obvious preference for peasant girls as they were more likely to have had some experience in working on farms whereas girls “‘from the cities…were inclined to be lightheaded, lazy, and sometimes sluttish, and the sturdy young habitants had no desire for wives of that type even though they might be prettier and trimmer than the broad-beamed candidates from the farms.’”
Marie de l’Incarnation writing to her son from Québec in October of 1668 indicated that “It has been decided that only country girls should be sent here. They can work like men and experience shows that those not brought up on the land do not fit in as they don’t know how to cope with poverty and hardship.”
The commentary of Baron La Hontan is even more colorful as he reported that “the plump girls were preferred ‘because it was thought that, being less active, they were more likely to keep at home, and that they could resist the winter cold better.’”
Despite the attempts to chaperone the girls, they could be as rambunctious as the soldiers were upon arrival. For example, in 1668 (the year of Marie’s arrival) “Sister Marie de Saint-André wrote to her correspondent in France, ‘You would not believe the damages that these good creatures cause there, without counting the fact that they have already almost burned the place down two or three times, which risked burning down our entire monastery due to the picket fence that joins this cabin to our building.’”
Whether to be rid of the responsibility, potential liability, or due to a desire to expeditiously fulfill the King’s wishes, the chaperones worked diligently to marry off their charges. Marie de l’Incarnation, writing to her son in October 1667, remarked that of the 92 girls that came from France that year, “the majority have already married soldiers or workmen who are given land and provisions for eight months so they can clear their land and be able to live on it.”
How were the marriages arranged? The descriptions of the courting process indicate the men had to be formally vetted in order to make a match. According to Gagné, Baron La Hontan reported “that before choosing a wife, each man had to apply to the directresses and declare how they made a living and how much property and possessions they owned.” The potential brides reportedly had the right to refuse any offer and had the opportunity to question their suitors “inquiring about their home, finances, land and profession, among other concerns.”
How did Marie and Guillaume end up together? Was it the 17th Century version of speed dating? It’s not clear that Guillaume had much going for him. It is probable that he did not have any land or home at this time as he was likely still working for Chartier de Lotbinière. It is not clear if Guillaume had been able to claim his stipend from the King for his military service and his decision to remain in Canada. It is certainly plausible that the match was made by others. Given the witnesses at their wedding were Guillaume’s employer, Louis Théandre Chartier de Lotbinière and his wife Elisabeth D’Amours, it is certainly quite possible that they were involved in the arrangements.
At some point, Guillaume and Marie agreed to the arrangement after which they appeared before the notary Gilles Rageot on August 27, 1668 less than two months after Marie’s arrival in Quebec on July 3 to draw up the marriage contract listing all of the possessions that each brought to the marriage.
Unfortunately, the marriage contract is not readily available if it even survives. Despite the extensive research by scholars on these marriages, I have yet to come across a published copy. While Gagné goes so far as to indicate that Marie “could not sign the marriage contract… her husband could”, he does not directly indicate that he viewed the contract neither does he report any of its details.
Two months after signing the marriage contract, Marie and Guillaume were married on November 27th.
Le vingt septiéme iour du mois de novembre de l'an mil six cent soixante huit, apres les fiançailles et la publication des trois bans de mariage d'entre Guillaume Regnault fils de Guillaume Regnault et de Susanne de la Haye ses pere et mere de la paroisse de St. Jovin Archevesché de Rouen d'une part; et Marie de la Mare fille de David de la Mare et d'Anne Busenestre ses pere et mere de la paroisse de St. Maclou de la ville de Rouen d'autre part; Et ne s’estant decouvert aucun empeschement Je soussigné prestre missionnaire du Seminaire de Quebec les ay mariés et leur ay donné la benediction nuptiale selon la forme prescrittepar la Sainte Eglise en presence des temoins connus Louys Chartier Sieur de Lobiniere, E. D’Amours Etc. f. fillon
On the twenty seventh day of the month of November in the year sixteen hundred sixty-eight after the engagement and the publication of the three marriage bans between Guillaume Regnault, son of Guillaume Regnault and of Susanne de la Haye his father and mother of the parish of St. Jovin, Archdiocese of Rouen on the one hand; and Marie de la Mare, daughter of David de la Mare and of Anne Busenestre her mother and father from the parish of St. Maclou in the city of Rouen on the other hand; And there having been discovered no obstacle I the undersigned, missionary priest from the seminary of Québec, have joined them in marriage and have given them the nuptial blessing according to the form prescribed by the Holy Church in the presence of known witnesses Louys Chartier, Lord of Lobiniere, E. D’Amours Etc..
It is easy to imagine that their relationship was quite awkward initially as it is probable that they were complete strangers when they met. One has to wonder what those early interactions between Guillaume and Marie entailed. Given that Marie could have refused Guillaume’s offer, she must have apparently thought enough of him to accept. Although we can know nothing of the nature of their marriage, it would be presumptuous to assume that they had a happy marriage and that Marie led a fulfilling life as these concepts would likely have befuddled Marie. Seventeenth Century French culture placed the emphasis not on the individual but rather on the family. While men could and did sometimes go off on their own such as many that became "coureur de bois" (independent fur traders), the lives of women were more bound to the family. Women had a limited number of roles as daughter, wife, mother or nun. Putting aside the religious option and other exceptional cases women were always associated with the family, either as “fille de” or “femme de”. Any woman outside these bounds was suspect. It is not clear that Marie would have placed much weight on her individual happiness.
In order to understand Marie’s life, one would have to rely on generalized studies of 17th Century Canadien women. Yet even these can be limited in their usefulness as historian Alan Greer makes the point that there is no one ‘position of women’ and that the situation could vary depending on divisions of rural vs urban, class and race.
It would be simple to dismiss the time as being one of oppressive patriarchy. This characterization has a lot of unsurprising truth to it. For example, Alan Greer discusses a prevailing view of the day from the political philosopher Jean Bodin in which he likened the role of the husband to that of the king with the wife owing her husband “subjection, reverence, and obedience…” According to Greer, “The bishop of Quebec took this same, basically patriarchal, model for granted when he issued advice to colonial wives. A woman owed her husband, not only ‘a sincere and cordial love,’ but also ‘respect, obedience and the sweetness and patience to bear with his faults and his bad moods.’ Like other collectivities, the family should operate on the basis of authority and, in this case, it was the paterfamilias who provided that authority, guiding and, if necessary, punishing wife, children, and servants alike.”
Though French society and marriage was patriarchal, it differed from the English conventions. Whereas the English husband completely subsumed his wife under law, French couples “formed a sort of two-person corporation, the ‘marital community’ (communauté de biens), and owned all assets equally.” In the event a husband died, a wife was entitled to one half of their wealth and could not be dispossessed of this right though she could reject her husband’s debts (‘renounce the community’). But as Greer notes, equal property rights did not grant women “equal managerial powers.”
In most circumstances, women appear in the surviving records in the roles deemed most important, as daughter, wife and mother. Having left her identity as a daughter behind in France, Marie certainly fulfilled her role as wife and mother, bringing 10 children into the world. Childbirth figured prominently in the lives of women and Marie. The average period of pregnancy was once every 2 years and in this regard Marie was typical having given birth to 10 children in 23 years beginning very soon after their marriage as their first-born son and my 7 times great grandfather, Louis Regnault, was born on 27 August 1669 and baptized the next day almost nine months to the day after they were married.
Louis was baptized in Québec and Peter Gagné reports that Marie and Guillaume settled in Québec City after their marriage though the specifics are not mentioned. It is quite possible, that Guillaume continued to work for Chartier de Lotbinière. The association between the two families continued with Elisabeth D’Amour serving as Louis’ godmother. Louis’ godfather, Romaine Becquet, as a notary, was also an important person in the colony. It would be interesting to understand how Becquet came to serve in this role. Were the godparents a reflection of actual family relationships or merely convenient volunteers out of a lack of an extended family or community?
Le vingt huitieme jour du mois d’Aoust de L’an mil six cens Soixante neuf par moy H de Bernieres prestre curé de L’Eglise paroissiale de N(ost)re Dame de Quebec a esté baptisé en la dite Eglise Louis, fils de Guillaume Renault et de Marie de la Mare sa femme, né le jour d’hyer. Le parrain a esté Romain Becques Notaire, la maraine Elisabeth D’amour Femme de Mr Chartier
Within less than 9 months, Marie was pregnant again with another son, Jean-Bernard (b. 8 January 1671). Things appear to have settled down a bit until well into 1673 when Marie-Anne was born on June 15, 1673. Marie-Anne also had some very significant godparents. The connection to the Chartier-D’Amours family continued with Guillaume’s former employer’s son, René-Louis Chartier serving as godfather for Marie-Anne. René-Louis may have known Guillaume from the Carignan-Regiment as well as working for his father as René-Louis was one of the locals who went on the ill-fated expedition led by Courcelles. The younger Lotbinière, who was about three years older than Guillaume, also accompanied the Regiment on the subsequent expedition led by Tracy. On this occasion, Lotbinière identified himself as a “lieutenant of a company of bourgeois Quebeck.” Marie-Anne’s godmother Anne de Tirman was also significant as she was the wife of the "Sieur du Derrat."
At some point following Marie-Anne’s birth, the family moved from Québec to the “Saint-Bernard section of Charlesbourg.” Charles Trudelle described Charlesbourg as one of the most beautiful parishes in the countryside. The parish was still fairly new at this time and was the second parish after Beauport to be established outside of Québec City. While the origins of the parish are not known, the journals of the Jesuits indicate that the village was established on 6 January 1660. At the time of Québec’s first census in 1666, there were 100 people in the Charlesbourg area.
What followed was series of children born roughly on a three-year cycle beginning with Louise who was baptized by the Abbé Charles de Glandelet on the 13th of December, 1676. In 1679, Guillaume and Marie would welcome another son, Pierre, who was baptized on the 12 October. On September 6, 1682, Marie gave birth to another daughter, Jeanne Elisabeth Renaud. Like clockwork, in another three-year span, the family added Marie-Marguerite who was baptized on 20 Jun 1685.
The three-year cycle was finally broken in 1687, when Marie gave birth to their son, Joseph. He was baptized on 9 November 1687. Guillaume was then serving as a church warden and the baptismal record identifies him as the “Marguillier en charge.” Curiously they are now identified as being from St. Antoine rather than St. Bernard’s. Unfortunately, Joseph would not live long and he was buried just 19 months later on 4 June 1689. Marie was about 4 months pregnant when Joseph died. On 27 November 1689, the union of Guillaume and Marie produced another daughter Marie-Therese. Again, they are listed as “habitant de St. Antoine.”
Despite their advancing ages their family continued to grow in 1692. Returning to their three-year routine, at the age of 47 Guillaume and Marie, now 42, gave birth to another son on 31 Oct. Just as Guillaume shared the name of a predeceased brother, the newly baptized Joseph also bore that distinction. Confusingly, the entry in the Drouin collection indicates a return to the St. Bernard area.
With no more children of their own, 1693 introduced a new stage in the lives of Marie and Guillaume. Over the next ten years, five of their children would get married.
1693 05 Oct Marie-Anne & Nicolas Ledoux
1694 22 Nov Louis & Madeline Bedard
1697 20 Jan Jean-Bernard & Jeanne Dery
25 Nov Louise & Joseph Verret
1702 27 Nov Jeanne-Elisabeth & Jacques Bedard
Marie and Guillaume became grandparents for the first time on November 19, 1695 with the birth of Louis’ first child “Marie Magdeliene Renauld”. Guillaume was named as the godfather while the godmother was Elizabeth Doucinet, the child’s maternal grandmother.
In the next eight years, Marie and Guillaume saw their family grow by nine more grandchildren, all by either Louie or their daughter Louise. Unfortunately, six of the children died. Louise bore the worst of the tragedy as all three of her children died within weeks of birth except her daughter Madeleine who lived slightly more than 2 years.
1695 19 Nov Birth of Marie Madeleine Renaud (Louis)
1696 17 Apr Birth of Charles Jacques Renaud (Louis)
1697 27 Feb Death of Charles Jacques Renaud (Louis)
1698 14 Jan Birth of Marie Marguerite Renaud (Louis)
1699 11 Jun Birth of Charles Renaud (Louis)
17 Aug Birth of Marie-Anne Verret (Louise)
30 Aug Death of Marie-Anne Verret (Louise)
1699 Possible death of Marie Marguerite (Louis)
1700 5 Sep Baptism of Madeleine Verret (Louise)
1701 6 Mar Birth of Pierre Renaud (Louis)
1702 3 Aug Birth of Francois Renaud (Louis)
21 Dec Birth of Louis Verret (Louise)
1703 12 Jan Death of Louis Verret (Louise)
23 Feb Death of Charles Renaud (Louis)
21 Mar Burial of Madeleine Verret (Louise)
It is worth pausing here to explain an intriguing comment by Peter Gagné that Marie was a midwife. There is no indication as to what he based this claim on. It is certainly plausible as Marie had plenty of direct experience. At this time, child birth was almost exclusively a female experience as “physicians were not normally involved in parturition unless a serious medical complication arose.”
If Marie did in fact practice midwifery it would signal as to how she was viewed by the community. Alan Greer’s description that midwives “were usually middle-aged matrons” would suggest that this is a role that Marie took on either near the end of her own child bearing experiences or afterwards which would have been the period beginning in the 1690s possibly up to her own death which was a period of nearly 20 years. She may have been involved in the birth of her grandchildren and she also would have had a hand in the birth of many more French subjects and countless descendants of other family lines.
According to Greer, an individual had to have “the right sort of reassuring personality” to earn “the confidence of their neighbors.” Because childbirth was fraught with dangers to both the mother and newborn, midwives could baptize newborns who were “in danger of dying.” This of course, gave the Church an opportunity to exercise some jurisdiction over the midwives and local “curés were supposed to involve themselves in the selections of a parish midwife of unimpeachable moral standing and require her to take a Church-administered oath of office.” It is not known if this ever occurred with Marie, it would not be surprising if the trust of local women was not a greater factor in determining who performed these functions.
Greer also casually mentions yet another fascinating nuance to the story that may or may not have directly affected Marie but would definitely have been part of the community experience. He notes that some urban women employed the use of wet nurses and cites the work of Danielle Gauvreau who estimated “that about 15 per cent of the babies born in Quebec City in the early eighteenth century were confided to habitant women, mostly in the nearby parish of Charlebourg, to be cared for until age two or three.”
As a midwife, Marie would have known the myriad of difficulties and challenges of childbirth. The death of children either in childbirth or by disease was not an unusual occurrence. When the French arrived in North America, so did a bevy of viruses and bacteria. From the late 1680s through 1713-14 there were multiple outbreaks of disease. Research indicates there was a spike in death rates at this time that would suggest an epidemic of some unidentified illness. There had been prior epidemics of Typhus (late 1680s), Influenza or Yellow Fever around 1700, smallpox in 1703 and measles in 1714-1715.
The family continued to grow through marriage and the birth of additional grandchildren over the next few years. Unfortunately, Louise lost yet another child. Another daughter, Marie-Jeanne also lost a child shortly after he was born. On a happier note, Louis continued to be productive and produced two more children and both Pierre and Marie-Marguerite were married during this period.
1704 9 Feb Birth of Marie-Charlotte Bedard (Jeanne-E.)
1705 24 Jan Baptism and Burial of Michel Verret (Louise)
4 Nov Birth of Jacques Bedard (Jeanne Elisabeth)
26 Nov Birth of Marie-Anne Renaud (Louis)
1706 17 Jul Birth of Joseph Michel Verret (Louise)
8 Nov Marriage Pierre & Thérèse Déry
1707 28 Feb Birth of Marie Josephe Renaud (Louis)
7 Nov Marriage Marie Marguerite & J. F. Savard
10 Dec Birth of Charles Bedard (Jeanne Elisabeth)
15 Dec Death of Charles Bedard (Jeanne Elisabeth)
1708 was a terrible year for the Regnault family as there were numerous deaths. On 15 December 1708, Louise Regnault, their second eldest daughter, died. Her husband, Joseph Verret had died just three days prior. Louise and Joseph were unlucky in childbirth as well as at least 4 of their children had died prior and the year would also claim their son Jean-Baptiste. It is likely Louise died in childbirth as Jean-Baptiste was baptized and buried on the same day, December 14, 1708.
Marie would barely outlast her daughter and grandson, as she died just a week later on the 21st of December. We do not know what caused her death at 57 however, any of these illnesses could be possible.
1708 18 Apr Birth of Charles Renaud (Louis)
14 Dec Bapt. & Burial Jean-Baptiste Verret (Louise)
29 Dec Birth M. J. Elisabeth Bedard (Marie-J.)
While this concludes the timeline for Marie de La Mare’s life it hardly does justice to her life. While much cannot be reconstructed, there are other avenues worth pursuing. A closer examination of the work of Charles Trudelle and Reine Malouin’s descriptions of Charlesbourg may add some useful details on life in the town where Marie and Guillaume played important roles. My French is not where it needs to be to fully exploit these works. There are additional entries in the notarial records suggesting there are archival records of land sales and other legal records regarding Guillaume, his sons and his neighbors. Unless more records are digitized, they will have to wait for the aspirational research visit to Canada. Of course, if any evidence documenting Marie's experiences as a midwife ever became known, it would no doubt help to add to our understanding of her life. There are likely additional printed journal articles, monographs and books available that would take more time to locate and digest.
The question remains regarding significance. Marie has largely been remembered in her role as a “fille du roi” and wife of a soldier who served with the Carignan-Regiment. However, this celebrity is a bit of an artifact of French Canadien historians seeking to create a sense of pride and identity in a world in which they felt challenged and threatened by the English conquest, political, linguistic and cultural isolation as well as the forces of industrialization on their largely agrarian and artisanal communities.
For us descendants whose lives would seem to have little connection to Marie’s, the reason to take to the time to consider and reflect on her life seems uncompelling beyond a transient curiosity. Yet, we should not be hasty in our dismissal simply because the connections are obscured by centuries of change or the immediacy of the moment for the present is unavoidably connected to the past.
To misappropriate a term from Chaos Theory, the apparent disorder or chaos in any given system is highly sensitive to the initial conditions that gave rise to the subsequent chaos. If one were to change the initial conditions in the slightest, the results would differ exponentially over time. In this respect, Guillaume and Marie are the initial conditions which have spawned the present. We are who we are because of who they were and how they lived. Our identities are embedded in the tapestry of the family Regnault, Renaud and Reno that they began. We would do well to embrace our place.
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