Daily Life in New France

Soldiers

Permission to Marry

In France after 1681, soldiers were forbidden to marry without the permission of army authorities, which was not easily granted. Although no specific instructions were issued respecting colonial troops, administrators preferred to adhere to the practices used in the homeland if the garrison was too weak. Insufficient numbers of new recruits arrived from France to replace all those who wanted to marry. Therefore, even though a royal order dated May 1698 permitted soldiers who wanted to stay to be discharged at their first request, "one [could] state with certainty," according to one contemporary memoir, "that this order was never regularly observed by the governors general, and that if they had observed it, they would often have found their troops severely depleted." 103

In practice, soldiers were therefore allowed to marry "at the pleasure" of the governor until 1715, when the bishop decided to intervene. According to Monseigneur Duplessis de Mornay, marriage was primarily a religious matter, and he accordingly did not hesitate to marry several officers and "many soldiers" without receiving permission first. 104 Although reprimanded in 1718 by Governor General Vaudreuil, who accused him of disobeying royal commands, the bishop continued to go his own way and a few days later celebrated the marriage of another soldier. The dispute reached a head in 1720 when the bishop, still without permission, married the governor general's own nephew, Lieutenant de Lantagnac, to "a girl without property or birth, whose mother had been seen working for her father in a tavern." 105 Monseigneur Duplessis informed the furious governor general that public morality required that soldiers marry, and he warned against the disorder that would erupt if unmarried soldiers and their female companions showered the colony "with an infinity of illegitimate children." 106 The king finally resolved the issue, ruling that the permission of military authorities was needed for soldiers to marry.