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- The Fighting Governor - 4/20 -

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 equalled. This was the struggle of the Venetians with the Turks for the possession of Crete. [Footnote: 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.] 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 valour 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 favourable 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, [Footnote: 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.] 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 honour. 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. [Footnote: 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.] 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 duelling 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 duelling is a habitual and honourable 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.



Frontenac received his commission on April 6, 1672, and reached Quebec at the beginning of September. The king, sympathetic towards his needs, had authorized two special grants of money: six thousand livres for equipment, and nine thousand to provide a bodyguard of twenty horsemen. Gratified by these marks of royal favour and conscious that he had been assigned to an important post, Frontenac was in hopeful mood when he first saw the banks of the St Lawrence. His letters show that he found the country much less barbarous than he had expected; and he threw himself into his new duties with the courage which is born of optimism. A natural fortress like Quebec could not fail to awaken the enthusiasm of a soldier. The settlement itself was small, but Frontenac reported that its situation could not be more favourable, even if this spot were to become the capital of a great empire. It was, indeed, a scene to kindle the imagination. Sloping down to the river-bank, the farms of Beauport and Beaupre filled the foreground. Behind them swept the forest, then in its full autumnal glory.

Awaiting Frontenac at Quebec were Courcelles, the late governor, and Talon the intendant. Both were to return to France by the last ships of that year; but in the meantime Frontenac was enabled to confer with them on the state of the colony and to acquaint himself with their views on many important subjects. Courcelles had proved a stalwart warrior against the Iroquois, while Talon possessed an unrivalled knowledge of Canada's wants and possibilities. Laval, the bishop, was in France, not to return to the colony till 1675.

The new governor's first acts went to show that with the king's dignity he associated his own. The governor and lieutenant-general of a vast oversea dominion could not degrade his office by living like a shopkeeper. The Chateau St Louis was far below his idea of what a viceregal residence ought to be. One of his early resolves was to enlarge and improve it. Meanwhile, his entertainments surpassed in splendour anything Canada had yet seen. Pomp on a large scale was impossible; but the governor made the best use of his means to display the grace and majesty

The Fighting Governor - 4/20

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