In the spring of 1668, the ship, La Nouvelle France, departed from the port of Dieppe bound for Québec carrying 81 unmarried women, some of them still in their teens. These young women comprised yet another select group of King Louis’ XIV Filles du Roi or “daughters of the king.” The French colony of Québec had struggled to build its population and had a difficult time recruiting and retaining its male population partly due to its extreme lack of marriageable women. According to Peter Gagné, “up until the early 1670’s, there were six to 14 times as many men of marriageable age as there were women.” As a result, most unmarried engagés returned to France. By comparison, the population of the British North American colonies far outnumbered the French and this disparity of population became a growing security concern for the French Crown. Thus in 1663 when King Louis XIV took over direct administration of the colony; he began a program to send suitable women and girls to the colony for the sole purpose of enticing men to remain in Canada by offering them women and even money as an incentive to create large families. Those that produced ten children or more received yearly pensions from the King. According to historian Peter Moogk, Louis “intended to remake the sickly dependency into a flourishing and militarily secure extension of France.”
The bulk of these Filles du Roi were chosen due to their personal misfortune and their perceived fertility. We do not know to what extent these women, many who were orphans or otherwise with limited prospects in France, had much choice in the matter. It is estimated that almost two thirds of the Filles had lost at least one parent and over ten percent had lost both parents. The degree to which they voluntarily went can only be surmised. However, they were carefully selected by a network of recruiters.
The recruitment process began in a rather decentralized manner with “merchants and ship outfitters – charged with this duty, for which they were given ten livres per girl.” Additionally, the women needed to meet the standards articulated by the French Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert in which he indicated “that they be ‘of an age suitable for reproduction,’ healthy, strong, and not ‘outwardly repulsive.’”
In 1665, the Crown formalized recruitment by granting responsibility to the Compagnie des Indes Occidentales. The merchants of Rouen played a significant role in the Compagnie’s effort to recruit potential candidates. This may well explain how a soon to be 18 year old girl from the parish of Saint-Maclou, Marie De La Mare, found herself aboard La Nouvelle France bound for Québec.
While we do not know for sure, we can surmise that Marie had lost one or both parents and that her remaining siblings and family could not provide for her or saw the King’s initiative as the best opportunity for her. No one could know at the time, how fortunate of a decision this was or that this probable orphan’s journey and arrival in Québec on July 3, 1668 would bring forth generations of offspring. Marie certainly fulfilled the King’s wishes and then some.
Marie was not the first of her family to travel to distant lands by ship if Norse legend and the scholarship of D.C. Douglas are to be believed. Douglas and others have claimed that the De La Mare’s can trace their ancestry back to Thorir “The Silent” Rognvaldsson, Earl of Møre and Romsdahl, who was a brother of Rollo the first “Duke of Normandy.” However, the parentage of Rollo and his alleged connection to Thorir is disputed with those like Douglas claiming Norwegian origins for Rollo and others who argue that Rollo was Danish. T. D. Kendrick in his 1930 publication A History of the Vikings agrees with the Norwegian origins of Rollo but declares that “there can be no doubt that the bulk of the army he commanded was composed of Danish Vikings.” However, what little I have read of the issue would seem to argue that more recent scholars argue against Douglas and a Norwegian origin for Rollo.
The questionable Norwegian ancestry is important in order to understand the supposed origins of the surname De La Mare. It has been claimed that the name De La Mare derives from la Mare Castle that was built on the edge of a lake in St. Opportune-la-Mare Normandy still known as Grand Mare. The De La Mares would have come into possession of this castle through Thorbard av Møre, whose mother was a Princess of Norway and whose alleged uncle was Rollo. Thorbard was reportedly a great sailor and one of the commanders at the time of Rollo’s incursion and settlement in Normandy. As a result, he received the fief of St. Opportune from Rollo after Rollo’s treaty with the French king who ceded Rollo a large swathe of area in the Seine Valley. In this scenario De La Mare is claimed to be a French derivation of the Norse name “av Møre” linking it to the village Møre located in Trondheim Norway. When Thorbard married into the French royal line, his name was changed to Herbert de la Mare.
Much less speculative are the exploits of the 11th century De La Mares. At the time of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, several de la Mare brothers, all sons of Norman Fitz Guillaume de la Mare, joined in the invasion. They were granted land in England and became English barons. Norman’s eldest son, Robert de la Mare, as heir to the family’s estate, remained in Normandy. It is said that most of the French lines of descent can be traced to Robert. Of course, this assumes a direct descent and that none of the subsequent De La Mares acquired the surname through means other than birth. Without adequate documentation, the lines of descent are less than clear.
According to Albert Dauzat, the name Delamare or Delamarre occurs frequently in the pays de Caux, an area which comprises most of the modern day département of Seine-Maritime in Normandy. He also suggests that the name derives from a hamlet or domaine characterized by a pond. This is certainly consistent with the reference to St. Opportune-la-Mare and the lake of Grand Mare.
The De La Mare’s family presence in Rouen can be documented at least as far back as the 15th Century. For example, the parish cartulaire de la Fabrique, a collection concerning the administration of the church, for Saint-Maclou indicates that the treasurer from 1436-37 was Guillaume de La Mare. Despite the presence of the surname in historical records, it is not until the 16th Century that a direct lineage to my 8th great grandmother Marie De La Mare can be identified. However, it is not Saint-Maclou but the parish registers of Saint-Jean (Rouen) that we must look to for the evidence.
The parish registers are a tremendous resource but they are limited in their usefulness for a number of reasons. The registers only date back as far as the 1540s when the parishes were first required to record baptisms. Furthermore, they have sustained a lot of damage for a variety of reasons most recently the bombings and associated fires in Rouen during WWII. Many registers have been lost or destroyed and the remaining registers are often in poor condition obscuring the already largely illegible handwriting making it challenging to follow the family lineage.
The presence of the De La Mares in Saint-Jean is evident throughout the 1580s and 1590s as noted by at least seven recorded baptisms in those two decades. Their presence in Rouen during this period places them right in the middle of the Wars of Religion between the Catholics and the Protestant Huguenots which flared up throughout the 16th Century. By the end of 1561, 15 to 20% of Rouen was Protestant and they believed their cause was on the ascendant.
The wars were some of the most violent European conflicts in terms of lives lost and the degree of violence demonstrated was extreme. The severity was evident by the frequent summary executions carried out by the Catholics. Protestants sometimes quickly banded together to rescue their co-religionists from death at the stake at the last minute. Sometimes this rescue was only temporary as the victim would be recaptured the next day and returned to the stake to be burned alive.
One of the preferred Protestant tactics was to publicly ridicule Catholic rituals. For example, during the Corpus Christi Day procession in 1560, Protestants in Rouen “showered the clergy and parishioners of St. Maclou with garbage as they marched solemnly down the rue Martinville.” For a 16th Century Catholic this was not just a threat to them personally but to the entire community as it placed it in danger of divine retribution. While Protestants saw their religion as a personal choice of the individual, for Catholics the Protestant heresy extended beyond the individual and required “community atonement.”
With such violence carried out in close quarters, it seems surprising that the two factions maintained a presence in the same city. There was a continual struggle for control of the city which changed hands at times. A full scale civil war broke out in Rouen in 1562-63 and the Huguenots seized control of Rouen for several months. Sensing the precariousness of their hold on the city, the Huguenots sought assistance from the Protestant Queen Elizabeth of England. According to the historian Philip Benedict, the “overtures finally resulted in the treaty of Hampton Court , signed on September 20, by which the Protestants handed Le Havre over to Elizabeth in return for a pledge of a 6,000-man relief force to aid Rouen and Dieppe.” Nevertheless the Catholics regained control of the city in October of 1562. The Catholics also received support from Spain throughout this period most notably in the form of the “Catholic League.”
Although the struggle would continue right up through the end of the 16th Century, perhaps the peak of violence came in 1572 set off by what has become known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. It is a bit of a mischaracterization to view this violent Catholic attack on Protestantism by a single day when in fact it was a wave of Catholic mob violence that rolled over a number of cities over an extended period of time including Rouen which boiled over for four days in September 1572.
The massacre, which included assassinations of prominent Huguenots, seems to have been a plot to take advantage of the large gathering of those Huguenots attending the marriage of the Protestant Henry III of Navarre to King Charles’ IX sister Margaret in Paris. At this time, King Charles sought to assert control over the conflict by trying to satisfy Protestant nobles without completely alienating Catholics. He hoped that the marriage would unite rather than divide the kingdom’s power elite. This was not to be the case and the assassination plot may have even been driven by the King’s mother Catherine de’ Medici.
Throughout the violence over the next few months Protestants were subjected to acts of terror such as forced baptisms in the Catholic faith as well as requiring them to make “donations” to the church to firm up their loyalty. For some Protestants this was too much and they left for England.
The conflict did settle down for extended durations. For example, the period after 1572 and throughout the 1580s were mostly peaceful or at least absent of major violence. Charles’ IX successor, his brother Henry III, also followed a path of granting Huguenots additional freedoms. While this policy may have mollified the Protestants, it only furthered the concerns of the Catholics. The religious struggle would come to a head with the assassination of Henry III by a Catholic in August 1589. Since Henry had no heir, his death created the “alarming prospect” of his Protestant brother-in-law, Henri III of Navarre, ascension to the throne. Yet, there is some suggestion that the Catholic King Henry III anointed Henry of Navarre as his heir.
Although the now King Henry IV of France converted to Catholicism this action failed to mollify the Catholic League who resisted Henry’s claim to the throne. Henry had to take up arms to claim the throne. From 1590-92, gaining control of Rouen, “the second city of the kingdom,” had become a focus for Henry and he placed the city under siege due to the armed resistance by the leaders of Rouen.
The De La Mare family found itself in the middle of this conflict. There is some intriguing evidence to suggest the De La Mare family was more than passive bystanders. The record for the burial of Marie’s grandfather, David De la Mare, indicates that he was a “marchand grossier” or wholesale merchant. As such he was possibly a member of the city’s ruling elite. He probably also had international connections. Rouen was cosmopolitan and its position as a center of trade drew foreigners especially Catholic Italians and Spaniards. According to Philip Benedict, only notable bourgeois and marchands “voted in Rouen’s municipal elections and participated in the so-called general assemblies of the city.” If the city leaders sought to resist Henry’s efforts to pacify Catholic resistance there’s a good chance the De La Mare’s took part in the resistance as part of the merchant class.
Although I could not locate a record of David’s baptism or marriage, he is generally thought to be the son of Jehan Delamarre and Jeanne Martin but David’s parentage seems speculative. I do not know how this has been derived though there is a record of an “Alexandre fils de Jehan deLamare” in 1568 but the mother’s name is given as “Marrie.” Among those identified in the documents is “Jehanne fille de David de Lamare” who is baptized on 8 June 1583. She is named by “Jehan de Lamare” so it is possible that Jehan was also David’s father but without a record of David’s baptism the parentage of David remains unproven.
David’s birthdate of 1560 is also speculative though it is plausible as there are several recorded baptisms of multiple “fille de David De La Mare” in Saint-Jean beginning from 1583 throughout the 1590s which would be the primary reproductive years for a male born around 1560. Although I could find no marriage record for David, his wife is generally shown as Marie L’Archevesque and there is evidence to support this in the parish registers, namely the entry for Marie’s burial.
The baptismal records of David’s children are not directly helpful in firming up the case for Marie L’Archevesque as the mother of David’s children. The records of Saint-Jean for this period usually follow the convention of naming only the father and the godparents who named the child. The mother is not usually named. Therefore, we must infer from the available evidence. In addition to the inhumation linking Marie L’Archesveque to the elder David De La Mare, there are multiple records that provide evidence of David De La Mare’s extended family with some linking him to the L’Archesveque family. For example, on 5 August 1584 we see an entry for Marguerite, fille de David De Lamare, who was named by Jehan de Lamare and also Marguerite de Lamare who was probably an aunt. In 1587 the registers indicate the baptism of “Marye fille de David delamare nommé par marye Larchesveque…et Jehan delamare.” In this instance ‘marye Larchevesque” is likely to be David’s mother in law. Ysabeau “fille de David delamare” was baptized on 2 October 1588 and named by Pierre L’archevesque who was likely her grandfather or uncle. In April 1591 Jehan “fils de David delamare” appears in the baptismal records. On 21 June 1597 there is a record for “Anne fille de David de La mare’ with a godparent with the surname of Larchevesque. Finally, on 2 January 1599, David’s son David is baptized. It is notable that one of David’s godparents is identified as an “honorable homme” which is a distinction to the social class of David’s father the “marchand grossier.”
Given the Edict of Nantes granting some semblance of religious tolerance to Protestants was issued by the now King Henry IV in April 1598, David, unlike his father, was born into a time of relative religious peace. Of course, that did not prevent the king from being assassinated. In fact, there were at least three attempts on the life of Henry IV. The final successful attempt by “a Catholic fanatic” occurred in 1610.
The younger David apparently disappears from the parish registers until 1636 after his parents’ deaths in 1634 and 1635 with the publication of his bans de marriage or marriage announcement. However, it is listed in the parish of Saint-Godard in Rouen rather than Saint-Jean, the reason for which remains undetermined. It could be that Saint-Godard was the home parish of the bride to be, Anne de Bussevestre but I could find no other mention of her in the parish records for Saint-Godard. Of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Perhaps another reason is the timing of the first child, David, which according to Fichier Origine was in the same year they got married, 1636. I could not verify the information as my search for a baptismal record for the child David in the registers of Saint-Jean, Saint-Godard and Saint-Maclou yielded no results. It is possible they had married in Saint-Godard parish in order to be discreet given the “shotgun” nature of the wedding. By at least 1638, they had changed parishes again and moved to Saint-Maclou as evidenced by the baptismal registers which document the baptisms of their subsequent 8 children excluding David. Marie De La Mare was the second youngest of the family.
We know nothing specific of Marie’s life in France and much like her future husband, Guillaume Regnault, she probably would have continued to live out an anonymous life had fate not intervened. It appears that her family’s position may have suffered somewhat economically and in social stature as Saint-Maclou was home to some of the poorest parishioners.
Additionally, the prospects of an unmarried 18 year old in the mid to late 17th Century were limited. She might possibly have been able to find work as a domestic but for most women it was marriage or the convent. With the likely death of at least one or both of her parents by 1668, she became caught up in King Louis’ XIV drive to secure the viability of his overseas colony of La Nouvelle France. It seems appropriate that a ship similarly named La Nouvelle France would carry her across the Atlantic and rescue her from anonymity.
For more information and a discussion of the sources used in this post please see the resources page at https://www.renaudfamilyhistory.com/resources/. All citations are provided there.