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Louis De Buade, Comte De Frontenac

Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac et de Palluau, was born in 1620. He was the son of Henri de Buade, a noble at the court of Louis XIII. His mother, Anne de Phelippeaux, came from a stock which in the early Bourbon period furnished France with many officials of high rank, notably Louis de Phelippeaux, Comte de Pontchartrain. His father belonged to a family of southern France whose estates lay originally in Guienne. It was a fortunate incident in the annals of this family that when Antoine de Bourbon became governor of Guienne (1555) Geoffroy de Buade entered his service. Thenceforth the Buades were attached by close ties to the kings of Navarre. Frontenac's grandfather, Antoine de Buade, figures frequently in the Memoirs of Agrippa d'Aubigne as aide-de-camp to Henry IV; Henri de Buade, Frontenac's father, was a playmate and close friend of Louis XIII; [Footnote: As an illustration of their intimacy, there is a story that one day when Henry IV was indisposed he had these two boys on his bed, and amused himself by making them fight with each other.] and Frontenac himself was a godson and a namesake of the king.

While fortune thus smiled upon the cradle of Louis de Buade, some important favors were denied. Though nobly born, Frontenac did not spring from a line which had been of national importance for centuries, like that of Montmorency or Chatillon. Nor did he inherit large estates. The chief advantage which the Buades possessed came from their personal relations with the royal family. Their property in Guienne was not great, and neither Geoffroy, Antoine, nor Henri had possessed commanding abilities. Nor was Frontenac the boyhood friend of his king as his father had been, for Louis XIV was not born till 1638. Frontenac's rank was good enough to give him a chance at the French court. For the rest, his worldly prosperity would depend on his own efforts.

Inevitably he became a soldier. He entered the army at fifteen. It was one of the greatest moments in French history. Richelieu was prime minister, and the long strife between France and the House of Hapsburg had just begun to turn definitely in favor of France. Against the Hapsburgs, with their two thrones of Spain and Austria, [Footnote: Charles V held all his Spanish, Burgundian, and Austrian inheritance in his own hand from 1519 to 1521. In 1521 he granted the Austrian possessions to his brother Ferdinand. Thenceforth Spain and Austria were never reunited, but their association in politics continued to be intimate until the close of the seventeenth century.] stood the Great Cardinal, ready to use the crisis of the Thirty Years' War for the benefit of his nation--even though this meant a league with heretics. At the moment when Frontenac first drew the sword France (in nominal support of her German allies) was striving to conquer Alsace. The victory which brought the French to the Rhine was won through the capture of Breisach, at the close of 1638. Then in swift succession followed those astounding victories of Conde and Turenne which destroyed the military pre-eminence of Spain, took the French to the gates of Munich, and wrung from the emperor the Peace of Westphalia (1648).

During the thirteen years which followed Frontenac's first glimpse of war it was a glorious thing to be a French soldier. The events of such an era could not fail to leave their mark upon a high-spirited and valorous youth. Frontenac was predestined by family tradition to a career of arms; but it was his own impetuosity that drove him into war before the normal age. He first served under Prince Frederick Henry of Orange, who was then at the height of his reputation. After several campaigns in the Low Countries his regiment was transferred to the confines of Spain and France. There, in the year of Richelieu's death (1642), he fought at the siege of Perpignan. That he distinguished himself may be seen from his promotion, at twenty-three, to the rank of colonel. In the same year (1643) Louis XIV came to the throne; and Conde, by smiting the Spaniards at Rocroi, won for France the fame of having the best troops in Europe.

It was not the good fortune of Frontenac to serve under either Conde or Turenne during those campaigns, so triumphant for France, which marked the close of the Thirty Years' War. From Perpignan he was ordered to northern Italy, where in the course of three years he performed the exploits which made him a brigadier-general at twenty-six. Though repeatedly wounded, he survived twelve years of constant fighting with no more serious casualty than a broken arm which he carried away from the siege of Orbitello. By the time peace was signed at Munster he had become a soldier well proved in the most desperate war which had been fought since Europe accepted Christianity.

To the great action of the Thirty Years' War there soon succeeded the domestic commotion of the Fronde. Richelieu, despite his high qualities as a statesman, had been a poor financier; and Cardinal Mazarin, his successor, was forced to cope with a discontent which sprang in part from the misery of the masses and in part from the ambition of the nobles. As Louis XIV was still an infant when his father died, the burden of government fell in name upon the queen-mother, Anne of Austria, but in reality upon Mazarin. Not even the most disaffected dared to rebel against the young king in the sense of disputing his right to reign. But in 1648 the extreme youth of Louis XIV made it easy for discontented nobles, supported by the Parliament of Paris, to rebel against an unpopular minister.

The year 1648, which witnessed the Peace of Westphalia and the outbreak of the Fronde, was rendered memorable to Frontenac by his marriage. It was a runaway match, which began an extraordinary alliance between two very extraordinary people. The bride, Anne de la Grange-Trianon, was a daughter of the Sieur de Neuville, a gentleman whose house in Paris was not far from that of Frontenac's parents. At the time of the elopement she was only sixteen, while Frontenac had reached the ripe age of twenty-eight. Both were high-spirited and impetuous. We know also that Frontenac was hot-tempered. For a short time they lived together and there was a son. But before the wars of the Fronde had closed they drifted apart, from motives which were personal rather than political.

Madame de Frontenac then became a maid of honor to the Duchesse de Montpensier, daughter of Gaston d'Orleans [Footnote: Gaston d'Orleans was the younger brother of Louis XIII, and heir-presumptive until the birth of Louis XIV in 1638. His vanity and his complicity in plots to overthrow Richelieu are equally famous.] and first cousin to Louis XIV. This princess, known as La Grande Mademoiselle, plunged into the politics of the Fronde with a vigor which involved her whole household--Madame de Frontenac included--and wrote Memoirs in which her adventures are recorded at full length, to the pungent criticism of her foes and the enthusiastic glorification of herself. Madame de Frontenac was in attendance upon La Grande Mademoiselle during the period of her most spectacular exploits and shared all the excitement which culminated with the famous entry of Orleans in 1652.

Madame de Frontenac was beautiful, and to beauty she added the charm of wit. With these endowments she made her way despite her slender means--and to be well-born but poor was a severe hardship in the reign of Louis XIV. Her portrait at Versailles reflects the striking personality and the intelligence which won for her the title La Divine. Throughout an active life she never lacked powerful friends, and Saint-Simon bears witness to the place she held in the highest and most exclusive circle of court society.

Frontenac and his wife lived together only during the short period 1648-52. But intercourse was not wholly severed by the fact of domestic separation. It is clear from the Memoirs of the Duchesse de Montpensier that Frontenac visited his wife at Saint-Fargeau, the country seat to which the duchess had been exiled for her part in the wars of the Fronde. Such evidence as there is seems to show that Madame de Frontenac considered herself deeply wronged by her husband and was unwilling to accept his overtures. From Mademoiselle de Montpensier we hear little after 1657, the year of her quarrel with Madame de Frontenac. The maid of honor was accused of disloyalty, tears flowed, the duchess remained obdurate, and, in short, Madame de Frontenac was dismissed.

The most sprightly stories of the Frontenacs occur in these Memoirs of La Grande Mademoiselle. Unfortunately the Duchesse de Montpensier was so self-centered that her witness is not dispassionate. She disliked Frontenac, without concealment. As seen by her, he was vain and boastful, even in matters which concerned his kitchen and his plate. His delight in new clothes was childish. He compelled guests to speak admiringly of his horses, in contradiction of their manifest appearance. Worst of all, he tried to stir up trouble between the duchess and her own people.

Though Frontenac and his wife were unable to live together, they did not become completely estranged. It may be that the death of their son--who seems to have been killed in battle--drew them together once more, at least in spirit. It may be that with the Atlantic between them they appreciated each other's virtues more justly. It may have been loyalty to the family tradition. Whatever the cause, they maintained an active correspondence during Frontenac's years in Canada, and at court Madame de Frontenac was her husband's chief defense against numerous enemies. When he died it was found that he had left her his property. But she never set foot in Canada.

Frontenac was forty-one when Louis XIV dismissed Fouquet and took Colbert for his chief adviser. At Versailles everything depended on royal favor, and forty-one is an important age. What would the young king do for Frontenac? What were his gifts and qualifications?

It is plain that Frontenac's career, so vigorously begun during the Thirty Years' War, had not developed in a like degree during the period (1648-61) from the outbreak of the Fronde to the death of Mazarin. There was no doubt as to his capacity. Saint-Simon calls him 'a man of excellent parts, living much in society.' And again, when speaking of Madame de Frontenac, he says: 'Like her husband she had little property and abundant wit.' The bane of Frontenac's life at this time was his extravagance. He lived like a millionaire till his money was gone. Not far from Blois he had the estate of Isle Savary--a, property quite suited to his station had he been prudent. But his plans for developing it, with gardens, fountains, and ponds, were wholly beyond his resources. At Versailles, also, he sought to keep pace with men whose ancestral wealth enabled them to do the things which he longed to do, but which fortune had placed beyond his reach. Hence, notwithstanding his buoyancy and talent, Frontenac had gained a reputation for wastefulness which did not recommend him, in 1661, to the prudent Colbert. Nor was he fitted by character or training for administrative duty. His qualifications were such as are of use at a post of danger.

His time came in 1669. At the beginning of that year he was singled out by Turenne for a feat of daring which placed him before the eyes of all Europe. A contest was about to close which for twenty-five years had been waged with a stubbornness rarely equaled. This was the struggle of the Venetians with the Turks for the possession of Crete.1 To Venice defeat meant the end of her glory as an imperial power. The Republic had lavished treasure upon this war as never before--a sum equivalent in modern money to fifteen hundred million dollars. Even when compelled to borrow at seven per cent, Venice kept up the fight and opened the ranks of her nobility to all who would pay sixty thousand ducats. Nor was the valor of the Venetians who defended Crete less noble than the determination of their government. Every man who loved the city of St Mark felt that her fate was at stake before the walls of Candia.

Year by year the resources of the Venetians had grown less and their plight more desperate. In 1668 they had received some assistance from French volunteers under the Duc de la Feuillade. This was followed by an application to Turenne for a general who would command their own troops in conjunction with Morosini. It was a forlorn hope if ever there was one; and Turenne selected Frontenac. Co-operating with him were six thousand French troops under the Duc de Navailles, who nominally served the Pope, for Louis XIV wished to avoid direct war against the Sultan. All that can be said of Frontenac's part in the adventure is that he valiantly attempted the impossible. Crete was doomed long before he saw its shores. The best that the Venetians and the French could do was to fight for favorable terms of surrender. These they gained. In September 1669 the Venetians evacuated the city of Candia, taking with them their cannon, all their munitions of war, and all their movable property.

The Cretan expedition not only confirmed but enhanced the standing which Frontenac had won in his youth. And within three years from the date of his return he received the king's command to succeed the governor Courcelles at Quebec.

Gossip busied itself a good deal over the immediate causes of Frontenac's appointment to the government of Canada. The post was hardly a proconsular prize. At first sight one would not think that a small colony destitute of social gaiety could have possessed attractions to a man of Frontenac's rank and training. The salary amounted to but eight thousand livres a year. The climate was rigorous, and little glory could come from fighting the Iroquois. The question arose, did Frontenac desire the appointment or was he sent into polite exile?

There was a story that he had once been a lover of Madame de Montespan, who in 1672 found his presence near the court an inconvenience. Others said that Madame de Frontenac had eagerly sought for him the appointment on the other side of the world. A third theory was that, owing to his financial straits, the government gave him something to keep body and soul together in a land where there were no great temptations to spend money.

Motives are often mixed; and behind the nomination there may have been various reasons. But whatever weight we allow to gossip, it is not necessary to fall back on any of these hypotheses to account for Frontenac's appointment or for his willingness to accept. While there was no immediate likelihood of a war involving France and England,2 and consequent trouble from the English colonies in America, New France required protection from the Iroquois. And, as a soldier, Frontenac had acquitted himself with honor. Nor was the post thought to be insignificant. Madame de Sevigne's son-in-law, the Comte de Grignan, was an unsuccessful candidate for it in competition with Frontenac. For some years both the king and Colbert had been giving real attention to the affairs of Canada. The Far West was opening up; and since 1665 the population of the colony had more than doubled. To Frontenac the governorship of Canada meant promotion. It was an office of trust and responsibility, with the opportunity to extend the king's power throughout the region beyond the Great Lakes. And if the salary was small, the governor could enlarge it by private trading. Whatever his motives, or the motives of those who sent him, it was a good day for Frontenac when he was sent to Canada. In France the future held out the prospect of little but a humiliating scramble for sinecures. In Canada he could do constructive work for his king and country.

Those who cross the sea change their skies but not their character. Frontenac bore with him to Quebec the sentiments and the habits which befitted a French noble of the sword.3 The more we know about the life of his class in France, the better we shall understand his actions as governor of Canada. His irascibility, for example, seems almost mild when compared with the outbreaks of many who shared with him the traditions and breeding of a privileged order. Frontenac had grown to manhood in the age of Richelieu, a period when fierceness was a special badge of the aristocracy. Thus dueling became so great a menace to the public welfare that it was made punishable with death; despite which it flourished to such an extent that one nobleman, the Chevalier d'Andrieux, enjoyed the reputation of having slain seventy-two antagonists.

Where dueling is a habitual and honorable exercise, men do not take the trouble to restrain primitive passions. Even in dealings with ladies of their own rank, French nobles often stepped over the line where rudeness ends and insult begins. When Malherbe boxed the ears of a viscountess he did nothing which he was unwilling to talk about. Ladies not less than lords treated their servants like dirt, and justified such conduct by the statement that the base-born deserve no consideration. There was, indeed, no class--not even the clergy--which was exempt from assault by wrathful nobles. In the course of an altercation the Duc d'Epernon, after striking the Archbishop of Bordeaux in the stomach several times with his fists and his baton, exclaimed: 'If it were not for the respect I bear your office, I would stretch you out on the pavement!'

In such an atmosphere was Frontenac reared. He had the manners and the instincts of a belligerent. But he also possessed a soul which could rise above pettiness. And the foes he loved best to smite were the enemies of the king.


1 This was not the first time that Frontenac had fought against the Turks. Under La Feuillade and Coligny he had taken part in Montecuculli's campaign in 1664 against the Turks in Hungary, and was present at the great victory of St Gothard on the Raab. The regiment of Carignan-Salieres was also engaged on this occasion. In the next year it came to Canada, and Lorin thinks that the association of Frontenac with the Carignan regiment in this campaign may have been among the causes of his nomination to the post of governor.
2 By the Treaty of Dover (May 20, 1670) Charles II received a pension from France and promised to aid Louis XIV in war with Holland.
3 Frontenac's enemies never wearied of dwelling upon his uncontrollable rage. A most interesting discussion of this subject will be found in Frontenac et Ses Amis by M. Ernest Myrand (p. 172). For the bellicose qualities of the French aristocracy see also La Noblesse Francaise sous Richelieu by the Vicomte G. d'Avenel.


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Chronicles of Canada, The Fighting Governor, A Chronicle of Frontenac, 1915

 

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