Élisabeth was married exactly 350 years ago today, on October 26, 1671. It was a Monday. Was it a cool and blustery day, as late-October days are wont to be in Québec? Or was it unseasonably warm? What did she wear? Was there a celebratory meal afterwards? But most importantly, how did she feel about the man she was marrying, a man she had known for just a matter of weeks? Unfortunately, we have more questions than answers about this important day in Élisabeth’s life.
We do know that she was married in the village chapel of the Seigneurie de Beauport, a short walk from the house where she would live with her new husband, Jean de Rainville. The ceremony was presided over by a priest from the Seminary of Québec and witnessed by a handful of local notables, including a prominent member of the Juchereau family, the family that would soon govern the growing community at Beauport. From the hill on which the chapel stood, attendees could look across Beauport Bay and see smoke from the chimneys of Québec City, five kilometers to the south. With the leaves coming off the trees in late October, the view must have been magnificent. For Élisabeth, the view probably reinforced the reality of her situation: A newly arrived immigrant from France in a strange and wild colony, about to marry a man she didn’t know and to start a life she could not possibly comprehend. Sent by the King of France as part of the 1671 contingent of ‘the King’s Daughters,’ Élisabeth was here to people the colony.
It must have been a frightening and disorienting experience to say the least, leaving the home she knew in France for an unknown life in the far-flung colony of Québec. Her disorientation would have been all the more acute given her place of birth. Élisabeth de Laguéripière was born in Paris, the largest city in Western Europe at the time. And she was from one of the most populous parishes in the city, St. Sulpice, on the Left Bank of the Seine. Growing up where she did, in the heart of the French capital in the middle of the 1600s, Élisabeth walked the same streets as Molière and the Marquise de Sévigné, Jean-Baptiste Lully and Louis XIV himself. Imagine the culture shock Élisabeth was experiencing as she walked to the chapel door in Beauport.
Of course, walking the same streets as the illuminati of seventeenth-century Paris did not put her in their unique and privileged world. Élisabeth was not well-educated; she could not sign her name to the marriage contract that decided her fate. She was not rich; the estimated value of her worldly belongings was above the average for the women who were recruited to come to New France, but she was able to contain all those belongings in a trunk that took the long ocean voyage with her. And, she appears to have been an orphan; historical records tell us that her father was dead and that her mother probably was as well.
Élisabeth was to live a long life in her new home near Québec City, and she certainly did her duty by the King. She gave birth to at least nine children, including twin boys in the spring of 1678. One of those boys would continue a line of Rainvilles whose name would evolve to become Renville, a name well known in the history of my home state of Minnesota. That line of Renvilles would also lead to the home of my dear friend in the suburbs of Minneapolis, a friend who is very proud of his Québec roots. Élisabeth could have had no idea on that day in late October of 1671 just how far her legacy would go.
Do you have a King’s Daughter in your family tree? Please tell us about her.