Daughter of the King in a personals ad

“Arrival of the Brides,” a painting of the Filles du Roi by English artist Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale.

When I started studying French last winter, I fell in love with a song from Quebec called Petite annonce amoureuse (“Personals ad”–for those of you who are too young to remember, personals ads were the precedents of Match.com; they were short advertisements that ran in newspapers, from people looking for love).  The song was originally recorded by Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and recently re-recorded by Chloé Sainte-Marie.  The song begins with these words:

Je cherche un homme qui a cinq pieds trois I’m looking for a man who is 5 foot three
Moi, je ne suis pas fille du roi Me, I’m not a daughter of the king

In French, trois (“three”) and roi (“king”) rhyme–no big deal.  Just a quirky line in a song, right?

Fast forward two years, and I’m now reading The story of French, a book about the history of the French language by the always-interesting Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlowe. The book tells the story of the population of French Canada. While the population of the English colonies was booming in the 1600s, the French Canadian population most definitely was not, with a ratio of six men to every female. The administration tried to address the situation by sending marriageable young women, mostly from orphanages, from France to the New World. These women were accompanied by dowries provided by the Crown, and were known as filles du roi (filles du roy, in the orthography of the time)–“daughters of the King.”  The King’s Daughters feature strongly in the creation myth of Canada, and various and sundry people of whom you would have heard are descended from filles du roi, including Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, and Madonna, according to Wikipedia.  Here are some words related to the filles du roi:

  • l’orphelin, l’orpheline: orphan
  • l’orphelinat (masc.): orphanage
  • le foyer de l’enfance: orphanage (more current term, according to the French Wikipedia entry)

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