This painting depicts the women who moved to New France to marry eligible colonists in exchange for free passage and a small dowry.
Marrying into the New World
Arrival of the Brides
Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, Arrival of the Brides, before 1927. Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No 1996-371-1.
The rugged lifestyle in New France did not attract many French women. By the 1660s, unmarried French men outnumbered unmarried French women in the colony twelve to one. This was a major problem for the colonial government—without women, the colony’s population could not grow, making the territory vulnerable to invasion by the English and Spanish.
To address this problem, King Louis XIV proclaimed that any woman who agreed to move to New France and marry a colonist would receive free passage across the Atlantic and a small dowry. Between 1662 and 1673, about 800 women took his offer. They were nicknamed the Filles du Roi (“Daughters of the King”).
Most of the Filles du Roi were women born to wealthy families that had fallen on hard times. Without a substantial dowry, they could not hope to make a good marriage in France, and without a good marriage, their future was uncertain. The opportunity to start over with a dowry and guaranteed husband was appealing. If their new husbands were successful, they might in time regain the wealth and status they had been born to.
When the Filles du Roi arrived in New France, they were immediately introduced to the eligible bachelors of the colony. The bachelors could then propose to any woman they wanted. The women had the right to refuse proposals from men they did not like, but they had to make a final selection within a few weeks of their arrival.
About the Image
In this painting, the newly arrived Filles du Roi are presented to the two most powerful men in New France: Jean Talon, the intendant of New France, and François de Montmorency-Laval, the bishop of Quebec. The women’s clothing indicates their high status in French society, and the ceremonial welcome speaks to their importance to the colony.
dowry: Property a woman brought with her to a marriage.
Filles du Roi (“Daughters of the King”): Women who agreed to move to New France and marry colonists in exchange for passage across the Atlantic and a dowry.
intendent: Highest-ranking government official in New France.
bishop: High-ranking member of the Catholic Church.
Filles du Roi: Fee dew ROY
What ceremony is being shown in this image? What does this ceremony reveal about the attitude toward the Filles du Roi in New France?
What does the clothing of the Filles du Roi reveal about their status and their role in the colony?
How does this story complicate our understanding of the reasons for immigrating to the New World?
Conduct a close reading of this painting for clues about life in New France. Particular attention should be paid to the power dynamics and class signifiers the artist has chosen to include. Who is in power in this image? Who is subordinate? How has the artist telegraphed these dynamics? Are there any further clues about life in New France in this painting?
Ask students to write a short play about the events depicted in this painting. The play should include a section where each major subject (the intendant, the bishop, a Fille du Roi) explains how he or she feels about the event.