Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV

Author: Francis Parkman

Show Summary





At Versailles there is the portrait of a lady, beautiful and young. She is painted as Minerva, a plumed helmet on her head, and a shield on her arm. In a corner of the canvas is written Anne de La Grange-Trianon, Comtesse de Frontenac. This blooming goddess was the wife of the future governor of Canada.

Madame de Frontenac, at the age of about twenty, was a favorite companion of Mademoiselle de Montpensier, the grand-daughter of Henry IV. and daughter of the weak and dastardly Gaston, Duke of Orleans. Nothing in French annals has found more readers than the story of the exploit of this spirited princess at Orleans during the civil war of the Fronde. Her cousin Conde, chief of the revolt, had found favor in her eyes; and she had espoused his cause against her cousin, the king. The royal army threatened Orleans. The duke, her father, dared not leave Paris; but he consented that his daughter should go in his place to hold the city for Conde and the Fronde.

The princess entered her carriage and set out on her errand, attended by a small escort. With her were three young married ladies, the Marquise de Breaute, the Comtesse de Fiesque, and the Comtesse de Frontenac. In two days they reached Orleans. The civic authorities were afraid to declare against the king, and hesitated to open the gates to the daughter of their duke, who, standing in the moat with her three companions, tried persuasion and threats in vain. The prospect was not encouraging, when a crowd of boatmen came up from the river and offered the princess their services. “I accepted them gladly,” she writes, “and said a thousand fine things, such as one must say to that sort of people to make them do what one wishes.” She gave them money as well as fair words, and begged them to burst open one of the gates. They fell at once to the work; while the guards and officials looked down from the walls, neither aiding nor resisting them. “To animate the boatmen by my presence,” she continues, “I mounted a hillock near by. I did not look to see which way I went, but clambered up like a cat, clutching brambles and thorns, and jumping over hedges without hurting myself. Madame de Breaute, who is the most cowardly creature in the world, began to cry out against me and everybody who followed me; in fact, I do not know if she did not swear in her excitement, which amused me very much.” At length, a hole was knocked in the gate; and a gentleman of her train, who had directed the attack, beckoned her to come on. “As it was very muddy, a man took me and carried me forward, and thrust me in at this hole, where my head was no sooner through than the drums beat to salute me. I gave my hand to the captain of the guard. The shouts redoubled. Two men took me and put me in a wooden chair. I do not know whether I was seated in it or on their arms, for I was beside myself with joy. Everybody was kissing my hands, and I almost died with laughing to see myself in such an odd position.” There was no resisting the enthusiasm of the people and the soldiers. Orleans was won for the Fronde. [Footnote: Memoires de Mademoiselle de Montpensier, I. 358-363 (ed. 1859).]

The young Countesses of Frontenac and Fiesque had constantly followed her, and climbed after her through the hole in the gate. Her father wrote to compliment them on their prowess, and addressed his letter a Mesdames les Comtesses, Marechales de Camp dans l’armee de ma fille contre le Mazarin. Officers and soldiers took part in the pleasantry; and, as Madame de Frontenac passed on horseback before the troops, they saluted her with the honors paid to a brigadier.

When the king, or Cardinal Mazarin who controlled him, had triumphed over the revolting princes, Mademoiselle de Montpensier paid the penalty of her exploit by a temporary banishment from the court. She roamed from place to place, with a little court of her own, of which Madame de Frontenac was a conspicuous member. During the war, Count Frontenac had been dangerously ill of a fever in Paris; and his wife had been absent for a time, attending him. She soon rejoined the princess, who was at her chateau of St. Fargeau, three days’ journey from Paris, when an incident occurred which placed the married life of her fair companion in an unexpected light. “The Duchesse de Sully came to see me, and brought with her M. d’Herbault and M. de Frontenac. Frontenac had stopped here once before, but it was only for a week, when he still had the fever, and took great care of himself like a man who had been at the door of death. This time he was in high health. His arrival had not been expected, and his wife was so much surprised that everybody observed it, especially as the surprise seemed to be not at all a pleasant one. Instead of going to talk with her husband, she went off and hid herself, crying and screaming because he had said that he would like to have her company that evening. I was very much astonished, especially as I had never before perceived her aversion to him. The elder Comtesse de Fiesque remonstrated with her; but she only cried the more. Madame de Fiesque then brought books to show her her duty as a wife; but it did no good, and at last she got into such a state that we sent for the cure with holy water to exorcise her.” [Footnote: Memoires de Mademoiselle de Montpensier, II. 265. The cure’s holy water, or his exhortations, were at last successful.]

Count Frontenac came of an ancient and noble race, said to have been of Basque origin. His father held a high post in the household of Louis XIII., who became the child’s god-father, and gave him his own name. At the age of fifteen, the young Louis showed an incontrollable passion for the life of a soldier. He was sent to the seat of war in Holland, to serve under the Prince of Orange. At the age of nineteen, he was a volunteer at the siege of Hesdin; in the next year, he was at Arras, where he distinguished himself during a sortie of the garrison; in the next, he took part in the siege of Aire; and, in the next, in those of Callioure and Perpignan. At the age of twenty-three, he was made colonel of the regiment of Normandy, which he commanded in repeated battles and sieges of the Italian campaign. He was several times wounded, and in 1646 he had an arm broken at the siege of Orbitello. In the same year, when twenty-six years old, he was raised to the rank of marechal de camp., equivalent to that of brigadier-general. A year or two later, we find him at Paris, at the house of his father, on the Quai des Celestins. [Footnote: Pinard, Chronologie Historique-militaire, VI; Table de la Gazette de France; Jul, Dictionnaire Critique, Biographique, et d’Histoire, art. “Frontenac;” Goyer, Oraison Funebre du Comte de Frontenac.]

In the same neighborhood lived La Grange-Trianon, Sieur de Neuville, a widower of fifty, with one child, a daughter of sixteen, whom he had placed in the charge of his relative, Madame de Bouthillier. Frontenac fell in love with her. Madame de Bouthillier opposed the match, and told La Grange that he might do better for his daughter than to marry her to a man who, say what he might, had but twenty thousand francs a year. La Grange was weak and vacillating: sometimes he listened to his prudent kinswoman, and sometimes to the eager suitor; treated him as a son-in-law, carried love messages from him to his daughter, and ended by refusing him her hand, and ordering her to renounce him on pain of being immured in a convent. Neither Frontenac nor his mistress was of a pliant temper. In the neighborhood was the little church of St. Pierre aux Boeufs, which had the privilege of uniting couples without the consent of their parents; and here, on a Wednesday in October, 1648, the lovers were married in presence of a number of Frontenac’s relatives. La Grange was furious at the discovery; but his anger soon cooled, and complete reconciliation followed. [Footnote: Historiettes de Tallemant des Reaux, IX. 214 (ed. Monmerque); Jal, Dictionnaire Critique, etc.]

The happiness of the newly wedded pair was short. Love soon changed to aversion, at least on the part of the bride. She was not of a tender nature; her temper was imperious, and she had a restless craving for excitement. Frontenac, on his part, was the most wayward and headstrong of men. She bore him a son; but maternal cares were not to her liking. The infant, Francois Louis, was placed in the keeping of a nurse at the village of Clion; and his young mother left her husband, to follow the fortunes of Mademoiselle de Montpensier, who for a time pronounced her charming, praised her wit and beauty, and made her one of her ladies of honor. Very curious and amusing are some of the incidents recounted by the princess, in which Madame de Frontenac bore part; but what is more to our purpose are the sketches traced here and there by the same sharp pen, in which one may discern the traits of the destined saviour of New France. Thus, in the following, we see him at St. Fargeau in the same attitude in which we shall often see him at Quebec.

The princess and the duke her father had a dispute touching her property. Frontenac had lately been at Blois, where the duke had possessed him with his own views of the questions at issue. Accordingly, on arriving at St. Fargeau, he seemed disposed to assume the character of mediator. “He wanted,” says the princess, “to discuss my affairs with me: I listened to his preaching, and he also spoke about these matters to Prefontaine (her man of business). I returned to the house after our promenade, and we went to dance in the great hall. While we were dancing, I saw Prefontaine walking at the farther end with Frontenac, who was talking and gesticulating. This continued for a long time. Madame de Sully noticed it also, and seemed disturbed by it, as I was myself. I said, ‘Have we not danced enough?’ Madame de Sully assented, and we went out. I called Prefontaine, and asked him, ‘What was Frontenac saying to you?’ He answered: ‘He was scolding me. I never saw such an impertinent man in my life.’ I went to my room, and Madame de Sully and Madame de Fiesque followed. Madame de Sully said to Prefontaine: ‘I was very much disturbed to see you talking with so much warmth to Monsieur de Frontenac; for he came here in such ill-humor that I was afraid he would quarrel with you. Yesterday, when we were in the carriage, he was ready to eat us.’ The Comtesse de Fiesque said, ‘This morning he came to see my mother-in-law, and scolded at her.’ Prefontaine answered: ‘He wanted to throttle me. I never saw a man so crazy and absurd.’ We all four began to pity poor Madame de Frontenac for having such a husband, and to think her right in not wanting to go with him.” [Footnote: Memoires de Mademoiselle de Montpensier, II. 267.] Frontenac owned the estate of Isle Savary, on the Indre, not far from Blois; and here, soon after the above scene, the princess made him a visit. “It is a pretty enough place,” she says, “for a man like him. The house is well furnished, and he gave me excellent entertainment. He showed me all the plans he had for improving it, and making gardens, fountains, and ponds. It would need the riches of a superintendent of finance to execute his schemes, and how anybody else should venture to think of them I cannot comprehend.”

“While Frontenac was at St. Fargeau,” she continues, “he kept open table, and many of my people went to dine with him; for he affected to hold court, and acted as if everybody owed duty to him. The conversation was always about my affair with his Royal Highness (her father), whose conduct towards me was always praised, while mine was blamed. Frontenac spoke ill of Prefontaine, and, in fine, said every thing he could to displease me and stir up my own people against me. He praised every thing that belonged to himself, and never came to sup or dine with me without speaking of some ragout or some new sweetmeat which had been served up on his table, ascribing it all to the excellence of the officers of his kitchen. The very meat that he ate, according to him, had a different taste on his board than on any other. As for his silver plate, it was always of good workmanship; and his dress was always of patterns invented by himself. When he had new clothes, he paraded them like a child. One day he brought me some to look at, and left them on my dressing-table. We were then at Chambord. His Royal Highness came into the room, and must have thought it odd to see breeches and doublets in such a place. Prefontaine and I laughed about it a great deal. Frontenac took everybody who came to St. Fargeau to see his stables; and all who wished to gain his good graces were obliged to admire his horses, which were very indifferent. In short, this is his way in every thing.” [Footnote: Memoires de Mademoiselle de Montpensier, II. 279; III. 10.]

Though not himself of the highest rank, his position at court was, from the courtier point of view, an enviable one. The princess, after her banishment had ended, more than once mentions incidentally that she had met him in the cabinet of the queen. Her dislike of him became intense, and her fondness for his wife changed at last to aversion. She charges the countess with ingratitude. She discovered, or thought that she discovered, that in her dispute with her father, and in certain dissensions in her own household, Madame de Frontenac had acted secretly in opposition to her interests and wishes. The imprudent lady of honor received permission to leave her service. It was a woeful scene. “She saw me get into my carriage,” writes the princess, “and her distress was greater than ever. Her tears flowed abundantly: as for me, my fortitude was perfect, and I looked on with composure while she cried. If any thing could disturb my tranquility, it was the recollection of the time when she laughed while I was crying.” Mademoiselle de Montpensier had been deeply offended, and apparently with reason. The countess and her husband received an order never again to appear in her presence; but soon after, when the princess was with the king and queen at a comedy in the garden of the Louvre, Frontenac, who had previously arrived, immediately changed his position, and with his usual audacity took a post so conspicuous that she could not help seeing him. “I confess,” she says, “I was so angry that I could find no pleasure in the play; but I said nothing to the king and queen, fearing that they would not take such a view of the matter as I wished.” [Footnote: Memoires de Mademoiselle de Montpensier, III. 270.]

With the close of her relations with “La Grande Mademoiselle,” Madame de Frontenac is lost to sight for a while. In 1669, a Venetian embassy came to France to beg for aid against the Turks, who for more than two years had attacked Candia in overwhelming force. The ambassadors offered to place their own troops under French command, and they asked Turenne to name a general officer equal to the task. Frontenac had the signal honor of being chosen by the first soldier of Europe for this most arduous and difficult position. He went accordingly. The result increased his reputation for ability and courage; but Candia was doomed, and its chief fortress fell into the hands of the infidels, after a protracted struggle, which is said to have cost them a hundred and eighty thousand men. [Footnote: Oraison funebre du Comte de Frontenac, par le Pere Olivier Goyer. A powerful French contingent, under another command, co-operated with the Venetians under Frontenac.]

Three years later, Frontenac received the appointment of Governor and Lieutenant-General for the king in all New France. “He was,” says Saint-Simon, “a man of excellent parts, living much in society, and completely ruined. He found it hard to bear the imperious temper of his wife; and he was given the government of Canada to deliver him from her, and afford him some means of living.” [Footnote: Memoires du Duc de Saint-Simon, II. 270; V. 336.] Certain scandalous songs of the day assign a different motive for his appointment. Louis XIV. was enamoured of Madame de Montespan. She had once smiled upon Frontenac; and it is said that the jealous king gladly embraced the opportunity of removing from his presence, and from hers, a lover who had forestalled him. [1]

Frontenac’s wife had no thought of following him across the sea. A more congenial life awaited her at home. She had long had a friend of humbler station than herself, Mademoiselle d’Outrelaise, daughter of an obscure gentleman of Poitou, an amiable and accomplished person, who became through life her constant companion. The extensive building called the Arsenal, formerly the residence of Sully, the minister of Henry IV., contained suites of apartments which were granted to persons who had influence enough to obtain them. The Duc de Lude, grand master of artillery, had them at his disposal, and gave one of them to Madame de Frontenac. Here she made her abode with her friend; and here at last she died, at the age of seventy-five. The annalist Saint-Simon, who knew the court and all belonging to it better than any other man of his time, says of her: “She had been beautiful and gay, and was always in the best society, where she was greatly in request. Like her husband, she had little property and abundant wit. She and Mademoiselle d’Outrelaise, whom she took to live with her, gave the tone to the best company of Paris and the court, though they never went thither. They were called Les Divines. In fact, they demanded incense like goddesses; and it was lavished upon them all their lives.”

Mademoiselle d’Outrelaise died long before the countess, who retained in old age the rare social gifts which to the last made her apartments a resort of the highest society of that brilliant epoch. It was in her power to be very useful to her absent husband, who often needed her support, and who seems to have often received it.

She was childless. Her son, Francois Louis, was killed, some say in battle, and others in a duel, at an early age. Her husband died nine years before her; and the old countess left what little she had to her friend Beringhen, the king’s master of the horse. [Footnote: On Frontenac and his family, see Appendix A.]

[1] Note of M. Brunet, in Correspondance de la Duchesse d’Orleans, I. 200 (ed. 1869). The following lines, among others, were passed about secretly among the courtiers:—

     “Je suis ravi que le roi, notre sire,      Aime la Montespan;      Moi, Frontenac, je me creve de rire,      Sachant ce qui lui pend;      Et je dirai, sans etre des plus bestes,      Tu n’as que mon reste,           Roi,      Tu n’as que mon reste.”

Mademoiselle de Montpensier had mentioned in her memoirs, some years before, that Frontenac, in taking out his handkerchief, dropped from his pocket a love-letter to Mademoiselle de Mortemart, afterwards Madame de Montespan, which was picked up by one of the attendants of the princess. The king, on the other hand, was at one time attracted by the charms of Madame de Frontenac, against whom, however, no aspersion is cast.

The Comte de Grignan, son-in-law of Madame de Sevigne, was an unsuccessful competitor with Frontenac for the government of Canada.


Related Resources

Francis Parkman

Download Options

Title: Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Francis Parkman, "CHAPTER I.," Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV Original Sources, accessed June 3, 2023,

MLA: Parkman, Francis. "CHAPTER I." Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV, Vol. 5, Original Sources. 3 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: Parkman, F 1877, 'CHAPTER I.' in Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV. Original Sources, retrieved 3 June 2023, from