Credit: Library and Archives Canada/Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale/No. 1996-371-1

Historical Insights The King’s Daughters

Today, millions of people, including Angelina Jolie, Madonna, and Hillary Clinton, are descendants of the filles du roi. About 1663, France. Credit: Library and Archives Canada/Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale/No. 1996-371-1

The King’s Daughters

Hoping to boost the French presence in New France (Canada), King Louis XIV sent hundreds of young women to the colony starting in 1663.

New France was a man’s world of fur trappers and priests until 1663 when King Louis XIV began sponsoring the passage and dowries of about 800 women to encourage permanent settlement. Between 1663 and 1673, hundreds of these filles du roi (king’s daughters), aged 13 to 28, braved the weeks-long treacherous Atlantic passage in hopes of finding a mate. Mostly orphaned commoners from Paris, Normandy, and western France, arrivals remained in the care of nuns until a marriageable match could be made. The women faced a challenging transition to rural life—many came from cities and didn’t know how to perform the manual labor required for life on the frontier. Shaky relations with neighboring Native Americans and harsh winters complicated the picture. Though some 300 remained unwed, those who tied the knot helped double to the colony’s population from 3,200 in 1663 to 6,700 less than a decade later, and today the majority of French Canadians can trace their lineage back to at least one of the “king’s daughters.”