Daily Life in New France


The Cross of Saint Louis

Officer of the Compagnies franches de la Marine, circa 1750

Caption: Officer of the Compagnies franches de la Marine, circa 1750

The most coveted award was the Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis, created by Louis XIV in 1693 to recognize long years of good and loyal service. The title of Knight of the Order of Saint Louis (whose closest modern equivalent might be the British title of "Sir" awarded in Canada until the 1930s) honoured the entire family, although it was not hereditary. A royal edict of 1750 decreed that officers who were received into this Order would be automatically raised to the nobility, to create a military aristocracy. 121

Officers who were knighted received a gilt enamel cross hanging from a bright red ribbon, which they wore in a coat buttonhole, high on the chest. This was the only decoration that officers could win at the time and it was much respected by Canadians. In some parts of Quebec, people still say "he's no Cross of Saint Louis," meaning that the person has no exceptional abilities.

The first officers in Canada to receive the Cross of Saint Louis were the governors Callières in 1694 and Frontenac in 1697. In 1698, a few officers on the general staff received this honour, as did d'Iberville the following year. Some captains also received the cross after 1703. In all, more than 100 officers in Canada and about 40 in Acadia and on Île Royale were admitted to the Order for their services in New France. In general, the candidates for this honour had served at least ten years, often many more, and were highly recommended to the king by the governor general.