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portrait of Françoise Jacquelin ('Madame La Tour') costumed as Bellona,
goddess of war, used as the fanciful frontispiece for a novel published in
France in 1927 whose historical accuracy is 'thoroughly doubtful.' (New
Her story of love, battle and death used to be
in all the school textbooks. But today few people know much about
Françoise Marie Jacquelin, the valiant woman who led the desperate
defence of Fort La Tour, and who lived and died more than three centuries ago,
at the place where the city of Saint John now stands.
These events would be enough to mark Françoise Jacquelin as a courageous
woman, but there was a lot more to her than that. During the five years of her
marriage to La Tour, she undertook vital and difficult journeys on his behalf,
then launched, and won, a court case in a foreign country. She acted, in fact,
very like a highly capable woman of today. All this, though, tells us little
about her personally. Where did she come from? What was her background? What
was she like? There were insinuations and rumors about her, to be sure, but it
was not until quite recently that anything factual about her origins came to
In May 1968, Madeleine Jurgens, curator of the
central registry of the Archives nationales in Paris, was sorting through
documents that had lain undisturbed for centuries, when she came upon a "book"
of six pages, yellowed by time. It was the contract for the marriage of Charles
de Saint Etienne, Sieur de La Tour, to the Demoiselle Françoise
Jacquelin. The contract was signed and dated on December 31, 1639, at rooms in
the rue St. Honoré in the heart of fashionable Paris, then a brilliant.
stinking, glamorous city of half a million people. This document names the
bride's father, Jacques Jacquelin, doctor of medicine in Nogent-le-Rotrou, a
town on the border of Normandy and the Loire, and her mother,
Hélène Lerminier, also of Nogent.
research in France in 1974, I was able to consult Nogent's faded and ragged
early parish registers, where both Jacquelin and Lerminier were common
surnames. Still today a town of charm and historical interest, Nogent is 145
kilometres west of Paris between Chartres and Le Mans, in the province of
Perche, a region notable as a bastion of the Protestant faith in the 17th
century. Parts of Nogent were ancient even in Françoise's day, for the
hilltop Chateau Saint Jean, home of the Counts of Perche, has an 11th-century
keep built on Roman foundations, as well as round towers rebuilt after the
Hundred Years War between England and France. The chateau is still there,
as is Notre Dame Church in the centre of town, which goes back to the l3th to
On a side street beside this ancient
church stands the pillared stone gateway of the Hostel Dieu - the
hospital of Dr. Jacquelin's era, where he would attend patients. (The modern
hospital is in a separate building, behind its predecessor.) Nogent's High
Town, where many officials lived, retains many of its old cobbled streets and
tile-roofed houses, such as the rue des Marches which winds up to the hilltop
This part of Nogent could well be the area where
Jacques Jacquelin and his family lived, convenient to the hospital and
prominent patients. It is likely that his social status was solid enough for a
governor of Acadia to consider an alliance with the family.
We do not know how they met. No personal records, letters or
documents have survived to tell us. Charles La Tour was in France for some
months in 1632, when the king awarded him l'Ordre du Roy, and may have
been there at other times. Family connections may have had something to do with
La Tour had no wife, no son to inherit his
lands in France or train as his successor in Acadia. He was 46 and did not
intend to waste any more time. Not free to go to France himself, he decided to
give his trusted associate Guillaume Desjardins, Sieur du Val, power of
attorney to go to France and arrange a marriage for him. Another close
associate Etienne De Mourron, who wrote a clear and elegant hand, transcribed
the document which opened vice-regally: "We, Charles de Sainct- Estienne,
chevalier of the King's Order, Seigneur of La Tour and Vuarce, Governor and
Lieutenant-General..," then declared that La Tour had complete confidence in
his intendant, Desjardins, who was empowered to "seek out and request for us in
marriage a person suitable to our condition," to negotiate a marriage contract
and conduct the lady and her suite to Acadia for the wedding, all by the end of
that year or the beginning of the next.
La Tour sealed
this procuration with his arms: a shield with three swans heads, supported by
crowned lions holding scallop shells, with a closed helm above, and the chain
and pendant of the Ordre du Roy encircling the whole.
Remarkably, this document did not name the bride. The
explanation I generally offered is that although La Tour had someone in mind,
she might not be available, being either married, dead or untraceable, in which
case Desjardins had the power to make another choice. It was a notable
expression of La Tour's trust and confidence in his agent, although they must
have talked over every aspect of the matter at the conference in La Tour's
windswept Cape Sable fort (in what is now Nova Scotia) as the brief Acadian
summer drew to a close.
As soon as Desjardins and de
Mourron sailed for France, La Tour began rebuilding his other fort at the mouth
of the St. John. He meant it to be a strong bastion against d'Aulnay, and a
suitable dwelling for a bride accustomed to the comforts of life in France.
On New Years' Eve, 1639, a group assembled in Paris to
endorse the generous provisions of a unique marriage contract. Françoise
Jacquelin and her father had taken rooms in the rue St. Honoré (her
mother would arrive a few weeks later), and here they all met. This was a
neighborhood of the city's most expensive hostelries, like the Hôtel de
Saint-Esprit. Richelieu's new palace (today the Palais Royal) was a few steps
down the street and the Louvre an easy stroll away.
contract of La Tour and Françoise Jacquelin. Françoise's father,
Jacques Jacquelin, followed his signature with a paraph, a flourish used by
professional men as a guard against forgery. Below his signature is
Françoise's: clear and quick flowing, it indicates a skilled writer with
a good education. (Archives nationales, Paris).
contract is a remarkable document and tells us a good deal about the woman La
Tour was about to marry.
First, her family. Her father
follows his signature with a paraph, a flourished design used by professional
men as a guard against forgery. Françoise signs next, then her sister
Gabrielle; both girls signatures are clear and quick-flowing, indicating
skilled writers and a good education. Mother Helene Lerminier signs, much less
fluently, later. Françoise's writing, in her signatures and when she
endorses changes in the contract, is consistently firm and clear, but also
plain and unpretentious. A practical woman of sense, with a good mind, one
The generosity of the marriage contract
between Françoise and La Tour is unusual, even though it was drawn up
according to the customary laws of Paris (coutume de Paris); this code of law
relates back to old Celtic customs which, unlike other regional codes of
France, gave women substantial property and inheritance rights that they would
lack 300 years later. She is to keep all her property and any inheritances that
may come to her, and have a half share of anything acquired during the
marriage. If widowed she will be entitled to half her husband's estate, with an
inheritance fund of at least 10,000 livres, and have the guardianship of any
children. Although she brings no dowry, La Tour gives her 2,000 livres to buy
jewelry or anything she wishes, before leaving for Acadia. On her marriage, to
take place on her arrival at La Tour's Cape Sable fort, Françoise would
become a full partner in her husband's life and concerns. He could not have had
a better ally.
She never took La Tour's name, for at
this period Frenchwomen did not change surnames when they married. La Tour's
wife signed documents
Jacquelin" to the end of her life. Françoise signs business agreements
later in Boston as Françoise, or Françoise Marie, Jacquelin. The
English called her Frances Mary Jacquelin, though Governor John Winthrop styles
her "La Tour, his lady" and "the lady of La Tour." She was never "Lady La Tour"
or "Marie La Tour."
It is clear that each paragraph of
the contract was thoroughly discussed that New Year's Eve, for several
provisions were altered, every alteration initialled by the parties concerned.
The stipulations that the Jacquelins were to give their daughter a trousseau
suitable to her social standing and that La Tour would provide her with two
maids and a manservant passed without debate.
the obligations of the bride were minimal and the generosity of the groom
unusual. Why? Did La Tour very much want this particular person and offer
anything in his power to see that she came? Or were such inducements thought
necessary to persuade a woman of some quality to leave an easier life in France
for the hardships of Acadia? Whatever the reason, Charles La Tour's generosity
would be returned many times over by the woman he was now pledged to marry.
In a little more than a month's time on March 26, 1640 - the
L'Amitye de la Rochelle sailed for Acadia with Françoise and her
attendants. Desjardins, owned a half-share in the ship, which carried eight
passengers and a crew of 20, with Jacques Jamin as master. Captain and crew had
contracted to serve La Tour for two months after their arrival in Acadia "in
all he is pleased to command them for," a customary clause, usually without
Ironically, the Amitye, whose
name suggests love and loyalty, just the thing for a bride's ship, also carried
heavy equipment for war. The human "perils of the sea" - corsairs, privateers
could be deadly, but did a merchantman of 250 tons need nine cannon, three
mortars, 16 muskets, two dozen pikes and quantities of ammunition just to
defend herself? Was La Tour upgrading the defences of his forts? Or did he
intend to use the Amitye as a warship for the stand-off with d'Aulnay that he
now believed was inevitable?
This most changeful decade
had opened for La Tour in uncertainty, with Acadia occupied by the Scots. Then,
at a stroke, he had been swept to the heights, gained his ambition, mingled
with the great in Paris, and briefly enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity.
Now the storm gathered fast.
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