To what extent did les Filles du Roi change the health of New France?

Part A: Historical Significance

Les Filles du Roi was King Louis XIV idea to import young women into New France to marry with the men already there.

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King Louis XIV

This was King Louis way of fixing the population gap that existed in 1663. The majority of these women were all poor and some were even orphans. Not only that, they also went through a series of tests to test their virginity to see if they were qualified to voyage to New France at the time. In fact, due to some of their health, only 1 in 10 women made it from the voyage. This resulted in 800 filles du roi, the king’s daughters, stepping foot and becoming the founding mothers of New France. Because these women were so crucial to the building up of New France at the time, all of their records were well recorded. These records included genealogy records.

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Les Filles du Roi (The Kings Daughters) 1663

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Mother’s Curse Diagram

In 2004, there was a mutation that was hypothesized by a group of scientists from New Zealand and the United States called the Mother’s Curse. This hypothesis stated that the mother’s curse is an evolutionary effect that a mitochondrial genome mutation is inherited. However, this mutation only has an effect on men and not on women.

It wasn’t until recently that there has been evidence to support that this mutation actually exists in humans. Before this, the most evident supporting piece of data was in flies. It just so happens that the evidence is shown in the French-Canadian part of the world.

T14484C is a rare genetic mutation that is also known as Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, is a mitochondrially inherited degeneration of retinal ganglion cells. In other words, this mutation leads to vision loss in both eyes. This mutation is primarily found in young men located in the Eastern Canada region. In 2005 at Universite de Montreal, they traced the ancestry of 11 patients with Leber’s disease back to one of the original Filles du Roi. The one mutation that she had is responsible for 89% of Leber’s caused in Quebec.

This disease doesn’t only impact someone’s vision, it also impacts a mans ability to reproduce which is why natural selection hasn’t weeded the mother’s curse out yet. The DNA of a person is mostly on chromosomes, but a small amount is on the power house of the cell, the mitochondria. Only the female passes on the mitochondria part of the gene, while the male only passes it over on chromosomes. However, according to the European Journal of Human Genetics, mitochondria dysfunction leads to lower fertility in men. This is because even though the sperm doesn’t pass on the mitochondria gene, the sperm itself is filled with mitochondria to and if the mitochondria has a mutation, then the sperm won’t be able to fertilize the egg.

The area around Quebec City is populated with the most people with the T14484C genetic mutation and it has been traced back to les Filles du Roi. Therefore, even though those women were the reason for the majority of the French Canadians today, they also brought in new diseases with them which harmed the health of Canadians. Though this is a huge health issue for the people who carry this mutation, it helps build on evolutionary biology and helps scientists build new medication and genetic diagnoses.

The sources that I used to find the information needed are linked below. The sources I used were all secondary sources except one primary source. The primary source I used was a science report that discusses the T14484C genetic mutation.

  1. Continuity and Change:

Some lives of French Canadians today are still impacted by the genetics of their ancestors from les Filles du Roi. Just like how les Filles du Roi is responsible for the large majority of French Canadians, they are also responsible for bringing in the mother’s curse to Canada. Scientists used to think that mitochondria dysfunction would get weeded out due to the great works of natural selection, but after some more research and a closer look at les Filles du Roi genetic documents, they are starting to question if it will ever weed out. Not only does Leber’s disease lend itself to self destruction (because it only harms men and is benign to women), it also lowers the chances of reproduction. As long as there is one woman with the mutation, the mutation will continue to spread.

The one major difference between then and now, is that now we have the knowledge and technology to be able to place a name to the disease and figure out what is causing it to happen. Even though it seems like a small step, it gives scientists something to work with to maybe find a way to fix the mutation and banish the ‘curse’.

  1. Cause and Consequence:

This mutation happened because King Louis XIV sent in les Filles du Roi and one of the women carried the mutation. The consequence meant her entire family line that were men to also carry the mutation, downgrading their health and ability to reproduce. Studies show that men who carry the mutation have a lower chance of getting married.

However, to contradict the point, carrying the mutation is better than having no one to carry the mutation. It was because of les Filles du Roi that we have the French Canadians we have today. As stated before, they were the founding mothers of Quebec and lots of French Canadians today can trace their ancestry back to the original 800.

Part B Social Studies Inquiry Processes:

In conclusion, I can say that one of the biggest health issues that les Filles du Roi brought into New France is the Mother’s Curse which was hypothesized in 2004 and is still getting proved today. Though the sick and poor women brought in many other diseases, the majority of them were weeded out with natural selection. The mother’s curse still has an impact on French Canadians today and is believed to be brought in by a single woman in les Filles du Roi. As stated before, those 800 women created the French-Canadian population, but they also created a disease that no one can quite understand, even now 355 years later. Les Filles du Roi was a big turning point in French-Canadian history, not only did the women increase the French population at the time,  they also unwittingly brought in a genetic mutation that is harming many young French-Canadian men but also can’t be solved.

Photo Citations

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leber%27s_hereditary_optic_neuropathy

King’s Daughters and founding Mothers

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_XIV_of_France

Information sources:

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/09/how-a-fille-du-roy-brought-the-mothers-curse-to-canada/540153/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1224533/

http://www.cbc.ca/2017/canadathestoryofus/most-french-canadians-are-descended-from-these-800-women-1.4029699

https://www.canada.ca/en/parks-canada/news/2016/09/immigration-filles-new-france.html