Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Bishop Lavel
Chapter XI A Troubled Administration


A THOROUGH study of history and the analysis of the causes and effects of great historical events prove to us that frequently men endowed with the noblest qualities have rendered only slight services to their country, because, blinded by the consciousness of their own worth, and the certainty which they have of desiring to work only for the good of their country, they have disdained too much the advice of wise counsellors. With eyes fixed upon their established purpose, they trample under foot every obstacle; and every man who differs from their opinion is but a traitor or an imbecile: hence their lack of moderation, tact and prudence, and their excess of obstinacy and violence. To select one example among a thousand, what marvellous results would have been attained by an entente cordiale between two men like Du-pleix and La Bourdonnais.

Count de Frontenac was certainly a great man: he made Canada prosperous in peace, glorious in war, but he made also the great mistake of aiming at absolutism, and of allowing himself to be guided throughout his administration by unjustified prejudices against the Jesuits and the religious orders.

Only the Sovereign Council, the bishop and the royal commissioner could have opposed his omnipotence. Now the office of commissioner remained vacant for three years, the bishop stayed in France till 1675, and his grand vicar, who was to represent him in the highest assembly of the colony, was never invited to take his seat there. As to the council, the governor took care to constitute it of men who were entirely devoted to him, and he thus made himself the arbiter of justice. The council, of which Peuvret de Mesnu was secretary, was at this time composed of MM. Le Gardeur de Tilly, Damours, de la Tesserie, Dupont, de Mouchy, and a substitute for the attorney-general.

The first difficulty which Frontenac met was brought about by a cause rather insignificant in itself, but rendered so dangerous by the obstinacy of those who were concerned in it that it caused a deep commotion throughout the whole country. Thus a foreign body, sometimes a wretched little splinter buried in the flesh, may, if we allow the wound to be poisoned, produce the greatest disorders in the human system. We cannot read without admiration of the acts of bravery and daring frequently accomplished by the coureurs de bois. We experience a sentiment of pride when we glance through the accounts which depict for us the endurance and physical vigour with which these athletes became endowed by dint of continual struggles with man and beast and with the very elements in a climate that was as glacial in winter as it was torrid in summer. We are happy to think that these brave and strong men belong to our race. But in the time of Frontenac the ecclesiastical and civil authorities were averse to seeing the colony lose thus the most vigorous part of its population. While admitting that the coureurs de bois became stout fellows in consequence of their hard experience, just as the fishermen of the French shore now become robust sailors after a few seasons of fishing on the Newfoundland Banks, the parallel is not complete, because the latter remain throughout their lives a valuable reserve for the French fleets, while the former were in great part lost to the colony, at a period when safety lay in numbers. If they escaped the manifold dangers which they ran every day in dealing with the savages in the heart of the forest, if they disdained to link themselves by the bond of marriage to a squaw and to settle among the redskins, the coureurs de bois were none the less drones among their compatriots; they did not make up their minds to establish themselves in places where they might have become excellent farmers, until through age and infirmity they were rather a burden than a support to others.

To counteract this scourge the king published in 1673, a decree which, under penalty of death, forbade Frenchmen to remain more than twenty-four hours in the woods without permission from the governor. Some Montreal officers, engaged in trade, violated this prohibition; the Count de Frontenac at once sent M. Bizard, lieutenant of his guards, with an order to arrest them. The governor of Montreal, M. Perrot, who connived with them, publicly insulted the officer entrusted with the orders of the governor-general. Indignant at such insolence, M. de Frontenac had M. Perrot arrested at once, imprisoned in the Chateau St. Louis and judged by the Sovereign Council. Connected with M. Perrot by the bonds of friendship, the Abbd de Fdnelon profited by the occasion to allude, in the sermon which he delivered in the parochial church of Montreal on Easter Sunday, to the excessive labour which M. de Frontenac had exacted from the inhabitants of Ville-Marie for the erection of Fort Cataraqui. According to La Salle, who heard the sermon, the Abbd de Fdnelon said : " He who is invested with authority should not disturb the people who depend on him; on the contrary, it is his duty to consider them as his children and to treat them as would a father. . . . He must not disturb the commerce of the country by ill-treating those who do not give him a share of the profits they may make in it; he must content himself with gaining by honest means; he must not trample on the people, nor vex them by excessive demands which serve his interests alone. He must not have favourites who praise him on all occasions, or oppress, under far-fetched pretexts, persons who serve the same princes, when they oppose his enterprises. . . . He has respect for priests and ministers of the Church."

Count de Frontenac felt himself directly aimed at; he was the more inclined to anger, since, the year before, he had had reasons for complaint of the sermon of a Jesuit Father. Let us allow the governor himself to relate this incident: "I had need," he wrote to Colbert, "to remember your orders on the occasion of a sermon preached by a Jesuit Father this winter (1672) purposely and without need, at which he had a week before invited everybody to be present. He gave expression in this sermon to seditious proposals against the authority of the king, which scandalized many, by dilating upon the restrictions made by the bishop of the traffic in brandy. ... I was several times tempted to leave the church and to interrupt the sermon; but I eventually contented myself, after it was over, with seeking out the grand vicar and the superior of the Jesuits and telling them that I was much surprised at what I had just heard, and that I asked justice of them. . . . They greatly blamed the preacher, whose words they disavowed, attributing them, according to their custom, to an excess of zeal, and offered me many excuses, with which I condescended to seem satisfied, telling them, nevertheless, that I would not accept such again, and that, if the occasion ever arose, I would put the preacher where he would learn how he ought to speak. ..."

On the news of the words which were pronounced in the pulpit at Ville-Marie, M. de Frontenac summoned M. de Fdnelon to send him a verified copy of his sermon, and on the refusal of the abb£, he cited him before the council. M. de Fdnelon appeared, but objected to the jurisdiction of the court, declaring that he owed an account of his actions to the ecclesiastical authority alone. Now the official authority of the diocese was vested in the worthy M. de Berni&res, the representative of Mgr. de Laval. The latter is summoned in his turn before the council, where the Count de Frontenac, who will not recognize either the authority of this official or that of the apostolic vicar, objects to M. de Berni&res occupying the seat of the absent Bishop of Petrasa. In order not to compromise his right thus contested, M. de Berni&res replies to the questions of the council " standing and without taking any seat." The trial thus begun dragged along till autumn, to be then referred to the court of France. The superior of St. Sulpice, M. de Bretonvilliers, who had succeeded the venerable M. Olier, did not approve of the conduct of the Abb£ F^nelon, for he wrote later to the Sulpicians of Montreal: " I exhort you to profit by the example of M. de F£nelon. Concerning himself too much with secular affairs and with what did not affect him, he has ruined his own cause and compromised the friends whom he wished to serve. In matters of this sort it is always best to remain neutral."

Frontenac was about to be blamed in his turn. The governor had obtained from the council a a decree ordering the king's attorney to be present at the rendering of accounts by the purveyor of the Quebec Seminary, and another decree of March 4th, 1675, declaring that not only, as had been customary since 1668, the judges should have precedence over the churchwardens in public ceremonies, but also that the latter should follow all the officers of justice; at Quebec these officers should have their bench immediately behind that of the council, and in the rest of the country, behind that of the local governors and the seigneurs. This latter decree was posted everywhere. A missionary, M. Thomas Morel, was accused of having prevented its publication at Levis, and was arrested at once and imprisoned in the Chateau St. Louis with the clerk of the ecclesiastical court, Romain Becquet, who had refused to deliver to the council the registers of this ecclesiastical tribune. He was kept there a month. MM. de Bernieres and Dudouyt protested, declaring that M. Morel was amenable only to the diocesan authority. We see in such an incident some of the reasons which induced Laval to insist upon the immediate constitution of a regular diocese. Summoned to produce forthwith the authority for their pretended ecclesiastical jurisdiction, "they produced a copy of the royal declaration, dated March 27th, 1659, based on the bulls of the Bishop of Petraea, and other documents, establishing ineontestably the legal authority of the apostolic vicar." The council had to yield; it restored his freedom to M. Morel, and postponed until later its decision as to the validity of the claims of the ecclesiastical court.

This was a check to the ambitions of the Count de Frontenac. The following letter from Louis XIV dealt a still more cruel blow to his absolutism : "In order to punish M. Perrot for having resisted your authority," the prince wrote to him, "I have had him put into the Bastille for some time; so that when he returns to your country, not only will this punishment render him more circumspect in his duty, but it will serve as an example to restrain others. But if I must inform you of my sentiments, after having thus satisfied my authority which was violated in your person, I will tell you that without absolute need you ought not to have these orders executed throughout the extent of a local jurisdiction like Montreal without communicating with its governor. ... I have blamed the action of the Abb£ de F^nelon, and have commanded him to return no more to Canada ; but I must tell you that it was difficult to enter a criminal procedure against him, or to compel the priests of St. Sulpice to bear witness against him. He should have been delivered over to his bishop or to the grand vicar to suffer the ecclesiastical penalties, or should have been arrested and sent back to France by the first ship. I have been told besides," added the monarch, "that you would not permit ecclesiastics and others to attend to their missions and other duties, or even leave their residence without a passport from Montreal to Quebec; that you often summoned them for very slight causes; that you intercepted their letters and did not allow them liberty to write. If the whole or part of these things be true, you must mend your ways." On his part Colbert enjoined upon the governor a little more calmness and gentleness. " His Majesty," wrote the minister, "has ordered me to explain to you, privately, that it is absolutely necessary for the good of your service to moderate your conduct, and not to single out with too great severity faults committed either against his service or against the respect due to your person or character." Colbert rightly felt that fault-finding letters were not sufficient to keep within bounds a temperament as fiery as that of the governor of Canada; on the other hand, a man of Frontenac's worth was too valuable to the colony to think of dispensing with his services. The wisest course was to renew the Sovereign Council, and in order to withdraw its members from the too preponderant influence of the governor, to put their nomination in the hands of the king.

By the royal edict of June 5th, 1675, the council was reconstituted. It was composed of seven members appointed by the Crown; the governor-general occupied the first place, the bishop, or in his absence, the grand vicar, the second, and the commissioner the third. As the latter presided in the absence of the governor, and as the king was anxious that "he should have the same functions and the same privileges as the first presidents of the courts of France," as moreover the honour devolved upon him of collecting the opinions or votes and of pronouncing the decrees, it was in reality the commissioner who might be considered as actual president. It is, therefore, easy to understand the continual disputes which arose upon the question of the title of President of the Council between Frontenac and the Commissioner Jacques Duchesneau. The latter, at first "President des trS-soriers de la generality de Tours" had been appointed intendant of New France by a commission which bears the same date as the royal edict reviving the Sovereign Council. While thinking of the material good of the colony, the Most Christian King took care not to neglect its spiritual interests; he undertook to provide for the maintenance of the parish priests and other ecclesiastics wherever necessary, and to meet in case of need the expenses of the divine service. In addition he expressed his will "that there should always be in the council one ecclesiastical member," and later he added a clerical councillor to the members already installed. There were summoned to the council MM. de Villeray, de Tilly, Damours, Dupont, Louis Ren4 de Lotbiniere, de Peyras, and Denys de Vitre. M. Denis Joseph Ruette d'Auteuil was appointed solicitor-general; his functions consisted in speaking in the name of the king, and in making, in the name of the prince or of the public, the necessary statements. The former clerk, M. Peuvret de JMesnu, was retained in his functions.

The quarrels thus generated between the governor and the commissioner on the question of the title of president grew so embittered that discord did not cease to prevail between the two men on even the most insignificant questions. Forcibly involved in these dissensions, the Sovereign Council itself was divided into two hostile camps, and letters of complaint and denunciation rained upon the desk of the minister in France: on the one hand the governor was accused of receiving presents from the savages before permitting them to trade at Montreal, and was reproached for sending beavers to New England; on the other hand, it was hinted that the commissioner was interested in the business of the principal merchants of the colony. Scrupulously honest, but of a somewhat stern temperament, Duchesneau could not bend to the imperious character of Frontenac, who in his exasperation readily allowed himself to be impelled to arbitrary acts; thus he kept the councillor Damours in prison for two months for a slight cause, and banished from Quebec three other councillors, MM. de Villeray, de Tilly and d'Auteuil. The climax was reached, and in spite of the services rendered to the country by these two administrators, the king decided to recall them both in 1682. Count de Frontenac was replaced as governor by M. Lefebvre de la Barre, and M. Duchesneau by M. de Meulles.


Return to our Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus