Soldiers of the Sixteenth Century

Difficult Relations

‘Ruse de guerre des Canadiens’ by A Thévet, published in 1575

Caption: ‘Ruse de guerre des Canadiens’ by A Thévet, published in 1575

View Multimedia - Voyages of Jacques Cartier

Caption: View Multimedia - Voyages of Jacques Cartier

The ships finally set sail in May 1541, with Cartier leading the way. On the five ships, there was probably one company of soldiers. Upon arrival at what is now Quebec City (which he called Charlesbourg-Royal), Cartier built two forts, one at the foot of Cap Rouge and the other, certainly smaller, on top of it, because that location commanded the entire region. Work proceeded apace. While some of the party began to cultivate the land, others set off to explore. They soon discovered what they believed to be gold, silver and diamonds - a French Eldorado! Unfortunately, relations with the Iroquois deteriorated. Though they were cordial when they first met, their exchanges became openly hostile during the winter of 1541-42. The Amerindians even boasted to some Spanish fishermen of having killed some 35 Frenchmen. The situation grew perilous enough for Cartier to abandon Charlesbourg-Royal. He returned to France in June 1542 with what remained of his party ... and with his treasures.

Roberval, in turn, departed for Canada in 1542 with three ships carrying 200 people, including a few gentlemen. However, upon arriving in Newfoundland at the site where the city of St. John's now stands, he met Cartier sailing away to France! Roberval pointed out that the French now had sufficient forces to confront the Amerindians and ordered Cartier to return, but in vain. The thirst for gold and glory won out over duty, and Cartier slipped away by night, headed for St. Malo. However, he was bitterly disappointed upon his arrival: his treasure was nothing but worthless rock! Furthermore, the king of France would never again confer the command of an expedition upon him, no doubt because he had disobeyed Roberval.

Despite Cartier's departure, Roberval sailed on to Quebec. The fortifications erected the previous year seem to have been destroyed, because everything had to be rebuilt. Soon a fort that "was very strong, located on a mountain" and incorporating "a large tower" and a main building arose on the summit of Cap Rouge. Another fort was built at the foot, "of which part formed a two-storey tower, with two good main buildings." 23 The new settlement was baptized France-Roy. The Amerindians did not seem very hostile to the newcomers, but kept their distance. During the winter of 1542-43 scurvy struck, mowing down one-quarter of the French colonists. With his colony decimated and no gold found, Roberval gave up, and by the beginning of September 1543 the survivors were back in France.