The filles du roi, or King's girls, were women who were recruited by the French Crown to populate New France. In the 16th century, the French colonies were populated almost exclusively by men.
From its beginnings to the mid-17th century, New France had been regarded as an outpost for the enrichment of France, rather than as a colony. Early planning for French colonization was left in the hands of companies, who promised to settle and develop French land in return for rights to resources, but as one might expect, economic interests took priority.
The population was mostly men: traders, storekeepers, workmen, indentured servants, dockhands, soldiers, seamen and clerics. There was a severe imbalance between single men and women: companies had little interest in bringing women to New France, and most women had little interest in the freezing climate and harsh conditions of frontier life. While the English colony grew, the French Colony floundered.
King Louis XIV, initiated new policies to try to increase the population of the colony. One of his strategies was an attempt to rectify the numerical inequality between males and females in New France by sending Frenchwomen, the "King's Daughters," or "les lilies du roi" to the colony. The majority were orphans, beggars, and working class girls; they had their passage and a small dowry paid, and were strongly encouraged to many quickly and start families. Estimates are that between 700 and 900 young women arrived between the years 1663 and 1673.
Further financial incentives were awarded for having large families.The policies worked as planned: in 1663 there had been one woman to every 6 men, ten years later the ratio was about equal, and there had been 700 births, and the population of New France climbed to over 9,000.
Today, lists of the names of the young women and the men they married are excellent genealogical references. For more information, we suggest: Les fines du roi au XVIIe siecle, by Yves Landry, Montreal, Lemeac, 1992.
- ^ Swyrich, Archive materials