For years (centuries actually) there has been confusion over whether the Filles du Roi were women to marry or “women to enjoy.” Erroneous information based on random comments and prejudices on the one side, and possible nationalistic pride that has embellished their challenges and legacy on the other have all contributed to the confusion. It seems that Yves Landry, one of the foremost authorities on the topic of the Filles du Roi, explained it best when he summarized the issue by declaring that there is probably an element of truth in both sides of the story. Filles du Roi were not all angels, despite efforts of some French Canadian historians and others to destroy the myth that these founding mothers were prostitutes. There is, indeed, evidence of adultery, even murder, and other crimes.
But at the same time, they were not fallen women. A review of the information on the 770 women reveals only a small number of illegitimate births both prior to their first marriage in Canada and even during their marriages! I agree with those historians who find it hard to believe that the King would have provided so much financial support for the emigration of women with sordid pasts and possible disease. After all, his goal was to colonize New France by marrying these women to soldiers, traders, farmers and even men of noble birth. And then there are all that insistence from Minister Colbert and Intendant Talon’s that the women be healthy and ready for hard farm work!
But legends live on. Is that because the truth is more complicated or less titillating? Or perhaps even some misogynist perspectives on these independent women who could marry in New France without needing their fathers’ approval? At a reenactment of the arrival of the second group of Filles du Roi that I attended in August, 2014 in Quebec City, I overheard a gentleman from Belgium make a joke about the shady reputation of these women. (Of course, I quickly corrected him!) But his remark reminded me of the allusion made by the archivist in Coutances in the fall of 2013 to the path of ill repute that Jeanne might have taken upon leaving Coutances and joining the Filles du Roi.