Saint John New Brunswick

Nogent-le-Rotrou's old town
Nogent-le-Rotrou's old town, with the church of Notre Dame and the rue Gouverneur leading to the château whose ruined tower appear on the hilltop.

    A novel about her published in France in 1927, La Grande Aventure: Le Roman d'une Parisienne au Canada," depicts Françoise as an actress, an attractive idea which has not survived the investigations of historians. Neither has its frontispiece, a supposed portrait of the book's subject costumed as Bellona, goddess of war. Since its author also has his heroine long survive the fall of the fort, have an affair with d'Aulnay, and consort in Quebec with personages as yet unborn, its accuracy is, to say the least, thoroughly doubtful.
    As for her appearance, she was probably small - petite, like many Frenchwomen, especially in this era - and certainly attractive for La Tour to keep her in memory and send her a proposal when he decided to marry.
    The subsequent career of the real heroine of Fort La Tour is, however, well recorded. Soon after she married Charles, in the early summer of 1640, she was swept up into his conflict with Menou d'Aulnay. Both men had been appointed governors of Acadia, but their territories were badly mixed up because of the incompetence of French civil servants, thus causing quarrels over land and the valuable fur trade. In the summer of 1640 the La Tours were worsted in a sea action before d'Aulnay's headquarters at Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia). Using his powerful court connections (besides the Richelieu connection, his father was a King's Councillor), d'Aulnay got La Tour's governorship revoked, and his forts at Cape Sable and the River St. John forfeited - though La Tour managed to hang on to the latter.

Charles de Menou, Sieur d'Aulnay Armand Jean du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu
Charles de Menou, Sieur d'Aulnay. (New Brunswick Museum) D'Auinay's powerful cousin, Armand Jean du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu, soon after he had become cardinal. Cardinal Richelieu was France's chief minister. (Bibliothèque nationale).

    By 1642 all trade with La Tour had been forbidden and orders given for his arrest. His wife, though, was not subject to these penalties, and she left for France to get help, just before d'Aulnay's ships blockaded Fort La Tour. Once in France, she went to see the country's vice admiral, the Duc de Fronsac, and got his permission to bring her husband supplies, arms and food. In May 1643 La Tour escaped to the relief ship, the St. Clement, and sailed down the coast to Boston where he and Françoise hired ships and men to drive off d'Aulnay. A further action at Port Royal only made La Tour's reputation in France worse, and he was charged with treason. When Françoise returned there she was forbidden to leave again on pain of death. Undaunted, she escaped to England, where she engaged a ship, the Gillyflower, to take her home; instead, the captain traded off the coast of New France for months, and Françoise had a narrow escape from d'Aulnay when he boarded and searched the Gillyflower while she and her maid hid below in the hold.
    Landing at last, but in Boston, not her home fort on the St. John, Françoise sued the captain for breach of charter-party, causing a great stir in the little New England city. She was awarded 2,000 pounds in damages, although in the end she only got the ship's cargo of trade goods, meal and peas; Françoise then hired three ships to escort her past d'Aulnay's patrols and got safely home to Fort La Tour in late December 1644. She had been away for 16 months and must have been delighted to see again her husband and the young son she had to leave behind.
    Munitions and supplies in the fort had run very low, and it was decided that Charles should return to Boston with the ships and get substantial help there. D'Aulnay's emissary was already in Boston, seeking trade with New Englanders and an end to their aid to La Tour. It was now the depth of winter, and according to the practices of the time there seemed little chance that Menou d'Aulnay would attack at this season. However, as soon as he heard that La Tour was away, that's exactly what he did.
    The end of the story we know. Fort La Tour's defenders numbered about 45, and these included some New Englanders who had taken service there. According to Menou d'Aulnay's deposition, now in the French archives, he had with him several hundred men, a warship, the Grand Cardinal, and several smaller vessels. This naval force blocked off the fort, and in early April of 1645 captured a small ship from Boston which carried La Tour's badly needed relief supplies of food and ammunition, a letter to Françoise from Boston authorities encouraging her interest in the Protestant religion, and letters from La Tour to his wife and to the principal officers of the garrison saying he would be there soon with a sizable force.
    All this convinced d'Aulnay he had better capture the fort soon.
    It is not entirely clear how long the battle lasted. Nicolas Denys said it went on for three days and nights, while d'Aulnay's men described a conflict continuing through a long day, from early in the morning until sunset.
    Ships' cannon in front and at the sides and the shore battery in the rear poured fire into the fort, whose guns replied valiantly. For hours the shores of the river basin echoed to the intermittent crack and roar of cannon. Iron missiles pounded the long palisade, howled overhead, crashed into rigging and buildings and struck down many men on both sides. Salvos of grapeshot rattled on tiled roofs and shattered windows, slashing bar-and-chain dealt vicious wounds, and the whistle of small-shot shrilled past ears half-deafened by the deep roar of the cannon nearby. Fires in the storehouse and living quarters were barely kept in check by buckets of water from the well.
    Most of the garrison would have had no armour to protect them. A few of the former professional soldiers (whose contracts with La Tour still exist) and La Tour's own officers no doubt possessed some pieces of half-armour - breast and back plates, a steel morion or burgeonet - but the rest would be fortunate to have had as much as a heavy leather jacket. Even so, the men in the fort seem to have given a sturdy account of themselves: Herier, the cannoneer; the former sergeant Beauregard; corporals Savrignac and Desmarais; Desloriers who "understood fortifications"; young Bellerose who signed up without so much as a pair of shoes for his feet; all the others.
    Musketry crackled from the crenellated parapets as, below, powder-stained cannoneers followed their slow ritual. They swabbed gunbarrels to take out the traces of slow-burning, black powder; weighed, loaded, tamped and wadded the next charge; sighted again; and finally set burning tow to fusing powder at the breech. Those who served the guns of Fort La Tour had to make every shot count, for while d'Aulnay's powder supply seemed inexhaustible, their own was very low.
    Throughout the long hours, the two surgeons and the pharmacist, with apothecary LeBlanc, carried the wounded under cover and did what they could for them. Although heavily outnumbered and outgunned, the defenders fought so valiantly that d'Aulnay delayed the final assault. The artillery pounding continued on toward sunset.
According to Denys, "La Commandante" led the defence of her home fort through the long battle. Like many another woman forced by circumstances into taking up her husband's cause to defend castles and lead armies - the medieval Countess de Montfort, the English Henry VI's Queen, innumerable others throughout the long history of Europe's wars - Françoise proved herself to be a brave, capable and determined warrior. She fought to protect her home, her son, her family's future, and in such circumstances even the mildest woman may find strength and courage to do what is necessary. If d'Aulnay seemed a lion about to devour his prey, Françoise defended like a lioness.
    D'Aulnay's adherents did not mention a betrayal in their reports; only that the fort was carried by assault and that although it was given up to pillage, no harm was done to Françoise, her waiting woman, or another woman, the only members of that sex found within the fort.
    The Capucin priests who were there reported that their patron d'Aulnay executed justice upon those rebels who had escaped the fury of his soldiers and gave grace to those he considered innocent. Only two men signed the report of "La Tour's servants" whom d'Aulnay spared: André Bernard, believed to have been the executioner, and Vandre. Although the words "and others" follow their signatures, there are no other names or marks on this deposition. The rest, including some seven or eight men from Boston who had taken service with La Tour, were executed to "serve as a memorial and example to posterity of so obstinate a rebellion."
    D'Aulnay undoubtedly considered himself well within his rights. The rules of warfare at the time allowed the besieged to make terms if they surrendered after a token or minimal resistance, but they forfeited such rights if the resistance was long or fierce and took a heavy toll of the attacking force, Further, the arrêt of 1644 delivered up to justice all who continued to serve La Tour and, as a governor and lieutenant-general, d'Aulnay had full power to execute the King's orders.

Back   Next