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Governor, Bishop and Intendant

At the beginning of September 1675 Frontenac was confronted with an event which could have given him little pleasure. This was the arrival, by the same ship, of the bishop Laval, who had been absent from Canada four years, and Jacques Duchesneau, who after a long interval had been appointed to succeed Talon as intendant. Laval returned in triumph. He was now bishop of Quebec, directly dependent upon the Holy See1 and not upon the king of France. Duchesneau came to Canada with the reputation of having proved a capable official at Tours.

By temper and training Frontenac was ill-disposed to share authority with any one. In the absence of bishop and intendant he had filled the centre of the stage. Now he must become reconciled to the presence at Quebec of others who held high rank and had claims to be considered in the conduct of public affairs. Even at the moment of formal welcome he must have felt that trouble was in store. For sixteen years Laval had been a great person in Canada, and Duchesneau had come to occupy the post which Talon had made almost more important than that of governor.

Partly through a clash of dignities and partly through a clash of ideas, there soon arose at Quebec a conflict which rendered personal friendship among the leaders impossible, and caused itself to be felt in every part of the administration. Since this antagonism lasted for seven years and had large consequences, it becomes important to examine its deeper causes as well as the forms which under varying circumstances it came to assume.

In the triangular relations of Frontenac, Laval, and Duchesneau the bishop and the intendant were ranged against the governor. The simplest form of stating the case is to say that Frontenac clashed with Laval over one set of interests and with Duchesneau over another; over ecclesiastical issues with the bishop and over civil interests with the intendant. In the Sovereign Council these three dignitaries sat together, and so close was the connection of Church with State that not a month could pass without bringing to light some fresh matter which concerned them all. Broadly speaking, the differences between Frontenac and Laval were of more lasting moment than those between Frontenac and Duchesneau. In the end governor and intendant quarreled over everything simply because they had come to be irreconcilable enemies. At the outset, however, their theoretical grounds of opposition were much less grave than the matters in debate between Frontenac and Laval. To appreciate these duly we must consider certain things which were none the less important because they lay in the background.

When Frontenac came to Canada he found that the ecclesiastical field was largely occupied by the Jesuits, the Sulpicians, and the Recollets. Laval had, indeed, begun his task of organizing a diocese at Quebec and preparing to educate a local priesthood. Four years after his arrival in Canada he had founded the Quebec Seminary (1663) and had added (1668) a preparatory school, called the Little Seminary. But the three missionary orders were still the mainstay of the Canadian Church. It is evident that Colbert not only considered the Jesuits the most powerful, but also thought them powerful enough to need a check. Hence, when Frontenac received his commission, he received also written instructions to balance the Jesuit power by supporting the Sulpicians and the Recollets.

Through his dispute with Perrot, Frontenac had strained the good relations which Colbert wished him to maintain with the Sulpicians. But the friction thus caused was in no way due to Frontenac's dislike of the Sulpicians as an order. Towards the Jesuits, on the other hand, he cherished a distinct antagonism which led him to carry out with vigor the command that he should keep their power within bounds. This can be seen from the earliest dispatches which he sent to France. Before he had been in Quebec three months he reported to Colbert that it was the practice of the Jesuits to stir up strife in families, to resort to espionage, to abuse the confessional, to make the Seminary priests their puppets, and to deny the king's right to license the brandy trade. What seemed to the Jesuits an unforgivable affront was Frontenac's charge that they cared more for beaver skins than for the conversion of the savages. This they interpreted as an insult to the memory of their martyrs, and their resentment must have been the greater because the accusation was not made publicly in Canada, but formed part of a letter to Colbert in France. The information that such an attack had been made reached them through Laval, who was then in France and found means to acquaint himself with the nature of Frontenac's correspondence.

Having displeased the Sulpicians and attacked the Jesuits, Frontenac made amends to the Church by cultivating the most friendly relations with the Recollets. No one ever accused him of being a bad Catholic. He was exact in the performance of his religious duties, and such trouble as he had with the ecclesiastical authorities proceeded from political aims rather than from heresy or irreligion.

Like so much else in the life of Canada, the strife between Frontenac and Laval may be traced back to France. During the early years of Louis XIV the French Church was distracted by the disputes of Gallican and Ultramontane. The Gallicans were faithful Catholics who nevertheless held that the king and the national clergy had rights which the Pope must respect. The Ultramontanes defined papal power more widely and sought to minimize, disregard, or deny the privileges of the national Church.

Between these parties no point of doctrine was involved,2 but in the sphere of government there exists a frontier between Church and State along which many wars of argument can be waged--at times with some display of force. The Mass, Purgatory, the Saints, Confession, and the celibacy of the priest, all meant as much to the Gallican as to the Ultramontane. Nor did the Pope's headship prove a stumbling-block in so far as it was limited to things spiritual. The Gallican did, indeed, assert the subjection of the Pope to a General Council, quoting in his support the decrees of Constance and Basel. But in the seventeenth century this was a theoretical contention. What Louis XIV and Bossuet strove for was the limitation of papal power in matters affecting property and political rights. The real questions upon which Gallican and Ultramontane differed were the appointment of bishops and abbots, the contribution of the Church to the needs of the State, and the priest's standing as a subject of the king.

Frontenac was no theorist, and probably would have written a poor treatise on the relations of Church and State. At the same time, he knew that the king claimed certain rights over the Church, and he was the king's lieutenant. Herein lies the deeper cause of his troubles with the Jesuits and Laval. The Jesuits had been in the colony for fifty years and felt that they knew the spiritual requirements of both French and Indians. Their missions had been illuminated by the supreme heroism of Brebeuf, Jogues, Lalemant, and many more. Their house at Quebec stood half-way between Versailles and the wilderness. They were in close alliance with Laval and supported the ideal and divine rights of the Church. They had found strong friends in Champlain and Montmagny. Frontenac, however, was a layman of another type. However orthodox his religious ideas may have been, his heart was not lowly and his temper was not devout. Intensely autocratic by disposition, he found it easy to identify his own will to power with a defense of royal prerogative against the encroachments of the Church. It was an attitude that could not fail to beget trouble, for the Ultramontanes had weapons of defense which they well knew how to use.

Having in view these ulterior motives, the acrimony of Frontenac's quarrel with Laval is not surprising. Rightly or wrongly, the governor held that the bishop was subservient to the Jesuits, while Colbert's plain instructions required the governor to keep the Jesuits in check. From such a starting point the further developments were almost automatic. Laval found on his return that Frontenac had exacted from the clergy unusual and excessive honors during church services. This furnished a subject of heated debate and an appeal by both parties to the king. After full consideration Frontenac received orders to rest content with the same honors which were by custom accorded the governor of Picardy in the cathedral of Amiens.

More important by far than this argument over precedence was the dispute concerning the organization of parishes. Here the issue hinged on questions of fact rather than of theory. Beyond question the habitants were entitled to have priests living permanently in their midst, as soon as conditions should warrant it. But had the time come when a parish system could be created? Laval's opinion may be inferred from the fact that in 1675, sixteen years after his arrival in Canada, only one priest lived throughout the year among his own people. This was the Abbe de Bernieres, cure of Notre Dame at Quebec. In 1678 two more parishes received permanent incumbents--Port Royal and La Durantaye. Even so, it was a small number for the whole colony.

Frontenac maintained that Laval was unwilling to create a normal system of parishes because thereby his personal power would be reduced. As long as the cures were not permanently stationed they remained in complete dependence on the bishop. All the funds provided for the secular clergy passed through his hands. If he wished to keep for the Seminary money which ought to go to the parishes, the habitants were helpless. It was ridiculous to pamper the Seminary at the expense of the colonists. It was worse than ridiculous that the French themselves should go without religious care because the Jesuits chose to give prior attention to the souls of the savage.

Laval's argument in reply was that the time had not yet come for the creation of parishes on a large scale. Doubtless it would prove possible in the future to have churches and a parochial system of the normal type. Meanwhile, in view of the general poverty it was desirable that all the resources of the Church should be conserved. To this end the habitants were being cared for by itinerant priests at much less expense than would be entailed by fixing on each parish the support of its cure.

Here, as in all these contests, a mixture of motives is evident. There is no reason to doubt Frontenac's sincerity in stating that the missions and the Seminary absorbed funds of the Church which would be better employed in ministration to the settlers. At the same time, it was for him a not unpleasant exercise to support a policy which would have the incidental effect of narrowing the bishop's power. After some three years of controversy the king, as usual, stepped in to settle the matter. By an edict of May 1679 he ordained that the priests should live in their parishes and have the free disposition of the tithes which had been established under an order of 1667. Thus on the subject of the cures Frontenac's views were officially accepted; but his victory was rendered more nominal than real by the unwillingness or inability of the habitants to supply sufficient funds for the support of a resident priesthood.

In Frontenac's dispute with the clergy over the brandy question no new arguments were brought forward, since all the main points had been covered already. It was an old quarrel, and there was nothing further to do than to set forth again the opposing aspects of a very difficult subject. Religion clashed with business, but that was not all. Upon the prosecution of business hung the hope of building up for France a vast empire. The Jesuits urged that the Indians were killing themselves with brandy, which destroyed their souls and reduced them to the level of beasts. The traders retorted that the savages would not go without drink. If they were denied it by the French they would take their furs to Albany, and there imbibe not only bad rum but soul destroying heresy. Why be visionary and suffer one's rivals to secure an advantage which would open up to them the heart of the continent?

Laval, on the other hand, had chosen his side in this controversy long before Frontenac came to Canada, and he was not one to change his convictions lightly. As he saw it, the sale of brandy to the Indians was a sin, punishable by excommunication; and so determined was he that the penalty should be enforced that he would allow the right of absolution to no one but himself. In the end the king decided it otherwise. He declared the regulation of the brandy trade to fall within the domain of the civil power. He warned Frontenac to avoid an open denial of the bishop's authority in this matter, but directed him to prevent the Church from interfering in a case belonging to the sphere of public order. This decision was not reached without deep thought. In favor of prohibition stood Laval, the Jesuits, the Sorbonne, the Archbishop of Paris, and the king's confessor, Pere La Chaise. Against it were Frontenac, the chief laymen of Canada,3 the University of Toulouse, and Colbert. In extricating himself from this labyrinth of conflicting opinion Louis XIV was guided by reasons of general policy. He had never seen the Mohawks raving drunk, and, like Frontenac, he felt that without brandy the work of France in the wilderness could not go on.

Such were the issues over which Frontenac and Laval faced each other in mutual antagonism.

Between Frontenac and his other opponent, the intendant Duchesneau, the strife revolved about a different set of questions without losing any of its bitterness. Frontenac and Laval disputed over ecclesiastical affairs. Frontenac and Duchesneau disputed over civil affairs. But as Laval and Duchesneau were both at war with Frontenac they naturally drew together. The alliance was rendered more easy by Duchesneau's devoutness. Even had he wished to hold aloof from the quarrel of governor and bishop, it would have been difficult to do so. But as an active friend of Laval and the Jesuits he had no desire to be a neutral spectator of the feud which ran parallel with his own. The two feuds soon became intermingled, and Frontenac, instead of confronting separate adversaries, found himself engaged with allied forces which were ready to attack or defend at every point. It could not have been otherwise. Quebec was a small place, and the three belligerents were brought into the closest official contact by their duties as members of the Sovereign Council.

It is worthy of remark that each of the contestants, Frontenac, Laval, and Duchesneau, has his partisans among the historians of the present day. All modern writers agree that Canada suffered grievously from these disputes, but a difference of opinion at once arises when an attempt is made to distribute the blame. The fact is that characters separately strong and useful often make an unfortunate combination. Compared with Laval and Frontenac, Duchesneau was not a strong character, but he possessed qualifications which might have enabled him in less stormy times to fill the office of intendant with tolerable credit. It was his misfortune that circumstances forced him into the thankless position of being a henchman to the bishop and a drag upon the governor.

Everything which Duchesneau did gave Frontenac annoyance--the more so as the intendant came armed with very considerable powers. During the first three years of Frontenac's administration the governor, in the absence of an intendant, had lorded it over the colony with a larger freedom from restraint than was normal under the French colonial system. Apparently Colbert was not satisfied with the result. It may be that he feared the vigor which Frontenac displayed in taking the initiative; or the quarrel with Perrot may have created a bad impression at Versailles; or it may have been considered that the less Frontenac had to do with the routine of business, the more the colony would thrive. Possibly Colbert only sought to define anew the relations which ought to exist between governor and intendant. Whatever the motive, Duchesneau's instructions gave him a degree of authority which proved galling to the governor.

Within three weeks from the date of Duchesneau's arrival the fight had begun (September 23, 1675). In its earliest phase it concerned the right to preside at meetings of the Sovereign Council. For three years Frontenac, 'high and puissant seigneur,' had conducted proceedings as a matter of course. Duchesneau now asked him to retire from this position, producing as warrant his commission which stated that he should preside over the Council, 'in the absence of the said Sieur de Frontenac.' Why this last clause should have been inserted one finds it hard to understand, for Colbert's subsequent letters place his intention beyond doubt. He meant that Duchesneau should preside, though without detracting from Frontenac's superior dignity. The order of precedence at the Council is fixed with perfect clearness. First comes the governor, then the bishop, and then the intendant. Yet the intendant is given the chair. Colbert may have thought that Duchesneau as a man of business possessed a better training for this special work. Clearly the step was not taken with a view to placing an affront upon Frontenac. When he complained, Colbert replied that there was no other man in France who, being already a governor and lieutenant-general, would consider it an increase of honor to preside over the Council. In Colbert's eyes this was a clerk's work, not a soldier's.

Frontenac saw the matter differently and was unwilling to be deposed. Royal letters, which he produced, had styled him 'President of the Council,' and on the face of it Duchesneau's commission only indicated that he should preside in Frontenac's absence. With these arguments the governor stood his ground. Then followed the representations of both parties to the king, each taxing the other with misdemeanors both political and personal. During the long period which must elapse before a reply could be received, the Sovereign Council was turned into an academy of invective. Besides governor, bishop, and intendant, there were seven members who were called upon to take sides in the contest. No one could remain neutral even if he had the desire. In voting power Laval and Duchesneau had rather the best of it, but Frontenac when pressed could fall back on physical force; as he once did by banishing three of the councilors Villeray, Tilly, and Auteuil--from Quebec (July 4, 1679).

Incredible as it may seem, this issue regarding the right to preside was not settled until the work of the Council had been disturbed by it for five years. What is still more incredible, it was settled by compromise. The king's final ruling was that the minutes of each meeting should register the presence of governor and intendant without saying which had presided. Throughout the controversy Colbert remonstrated with both Frontenac and Duchesneau for their turbulence and unwillingness to work together. Duchesneau is told that he must not presume to think himself the equal of the governor. Frontenac is told that the intendant has very important functions and must not be prevented from discharging them. The whole episode shows how completely the French colonial system broke down in its attempt to act through two officials, each of whom was designed to be a check upon the other.

Wholly alienated by this dispute, Frontenac and Duchesneau soon found that they could quarrel over anything and everything. Thus Duchesneau became a consistent supporter of Laval and the Jesuits, while Frontenac retaliated by calling him their tool. The brandy question, which was partly ecclesiastical and partly civil, proved an excellent battle-ground for the three great men of Canada; and, as finance was concerned, the intendant had something to say about the establishment of parishes. But of the manifold contests between Frontenac and Duchesneau the most distinctive is that relating to the fur trade. At first sight this matter would appear to lie in the province of the intendant, whose functions embraced the supervision of commerce. But it was the governor's duty to defend the colony from attack, and the fur trade was a large factor in all relations with the Indians. A personal element was also added, for in almost every letter to the minister Frontenac and Duchesneau accused each other of taking an illicit profit from beaver skins.

In support of these accusations the most minute details are given. Duchesneau even charged Frontenac with spreading a report among the Indians of the Great Lakes that a pestilence had broken out in Montreal. Thereby the governor's agents were enabled to buy up beaver skins cheaply, afterwards selling them on his account to the English. Frontenac rejoined by accusing the intendant of having his own warehouses at Montreal and along the lower St Lawrence, of being truculent, a slave to the bishop, and incompetent. Behind Duchesneau, Frontenac keeps saying, are the Jesuits and the bishop, from whom the spirit of faction really springs. Among many of these tirades the most elaborate is the long memorial sent to Colbert in 1677 on the general state of Canada. Here are some of the items. The Jesuits keep spies in Frontenac's own house. The bishop declares that he has the power to excommunicate the governor if necessary. The Jesuit missionaries tell the Iroquois that they are equal to Onontio. Other charges are that the Jesuits meddle in all civil affairs, that their revenues are enormous in proportion to the poverty of the country, and that they are bound to domineer at whatever cost.

When we consider how Canada from end to end was affected by these disputes, we may well feel surprise that Colbert and the king should have suffered them to rage so long. By 1682 the state of things had become unbearable. Partisans of Frontenac and Duchesneau attacked each other in the streets. Duchesneau accused Frontenac of having struck the young Duchesneau, aged sixteen, and torn the sleeve of his jacket. He also declared that it was necessary to barricade his house. Frontenac retorted by saying that these were gross libels. A year earlier Colbert had placed his son, Seignelay, in charge of the Colonial Office. With matters at such a pass Seignelay rightly thought the time had come to take decisive action. Three courses were open to him. The bishop and the Jesuits he could not recall. But both the governor and the intendant came within his power. One alternative was to dismiss Frontenac; another, to dismiss Duchesneau. Seignelay chose the third course and dismissed them both.


1 Laval had wished strongly that the see of Quebec should be directly dependent on the Papacy, and his insistence on this point delayed the formal creation of the diocese.
2 The well-known relation of the Jansenist movement to Gallican liberties was not such that the Gallican party accepted Jansenist theology. The Jesuits upheld papal infallibility and, in general, the Ultramontane position. The Jansenists were opposed to the Jesuits, but Gallicanism was one thing and Jansenist theology another.
3 On October 26, 1678, a meeting of the leading inhabitants of Canada was held by royal order at Quebec to consider the rights and wrongs of the brandy question. A large majority of those present were opposed to prohibition.


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

 

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