Friday, July 01, 2016

New land, new community: Aimie K. Runyan's Promised to the Crown

In this debut novel presenting a slice of early French Canadian history, the three young women at its center are known as “filles du roi” (daughters of the king).

In the late 17th century, in his effort to compete with neighboring Britain in colonizing North American lands, France’s Louis XIV provided dowries for a selection of unmarried Frenchwomen. Their role was to wed the men of New France, bear their children, and raise families, thus establishing a permanent French settlement on the other side of the Atlantic. The women's lives exemplified a mix of traditional wifely duties and adventures in an unfamiliar land, which gave them a certain level of independence. Aspects of both are aptly reflected in Promised to the Crown.

Unlike another recent work of fiction about the filles du roi, Suzanne Desrochers’ gritty, unsentimental Bride of New France (2011), Aimie K. Runyan emphasizes the role of community and the enduring power of women’s friendships. Her three heroines are sympathetic and appealing.

The novel opens in 1667. Elisabeth Martin, a talented baker, sees Quebec as her best hope for a fresh beginning after her mother arranges an unpleasant marriage for her after her father’s death. She finds what seems an ideal match. Her storyline grows progressively more intriguing as her marriage endures some rough spots, and she gets caught up in legal entanglements surrounding her past.

The abuse that Rose Barré, a fellow Parisian in service at the Salpêtrière Hospital, had suffered in her uncle’s household makes her fear marriage, and modern readers should find her tentative journey toward recovery relatable. The third friend, Nicole Deschamps, a farmer’s daughter from Rouen, chooses a handsome officer from a remote homestead as her husband. While Luc does care for Nicole, her story exemplifies the risks her countrywomen took in tying themselves to men they barely knew.

As the three settle into their new lives, and their home in the Canadian wilderness grows into a full-fledged town, their connection remains solid. Injecting some conflict into their relationship would have shown even more character development, but the novel does a commendable job showing how women’s friendships were tied to their physical and emotional survival in their new home.

This is the first in a trilogy, and the latter portion of the book appears to head into saga territory, carrying the tale into the next generation (the King’s Daughters’ daughters). It also promises more First Nations content, which should add even more realistic atmosphere to this engagingly written, warmhearted historical fiction series.

Promised to the Crown was published by Kensington on April 26th ($15, 352pp).


  1. Hi Sarah:
    Living in a town and community that has roots to the French (we have a fort built by the Wendat Indians and the French Jesuits in the 1600's) we are familiar with the filles du roi and we were taught that they were prostitutes rounded up from the streets of Paris and sent to New France to colonize it with the men here and most of the women were not happy at all with this situation.

    1. Hi Donna, that's interesting to hear what you were taught. From what I've read, the idea that the women were prostitutes was a long-held belief, although recently historians have refuted it. They may have been poor and mostly from urban areas, but those of questionable moral character were sent back (the novel covers this to some degree). From a political standpoint, deliberately sending prostitutes to help populate a new colony doesn't make sense, either, since their status could have affected their reproductive health and the health of any children they had. This blog post from Eastman's Genealogy Newsletter proved interesting (likewise for the comments):

    2. Sarah is exactly right. It's pretty easy to prove that these women were unlikely to have been prostitutes. They birthed many, many healthy babies, which was generally not the case for prostitutes who were generally riddled with venereal diseases and sterile. Also, according to statute, Louis didn't begin rounding up prostitutes until 15 years after the FdR program had ended. I hope you decide to read the book, Donna!