ROUER DE VILLERAY, LOUIS, soldier, clerk of court, notary, secretary of Governor Jean de Lauson then of Charles de Lauson de Charny, provost court judge of the Beaupré Heights, special lieutenant of the seneschal’s court and warehouse clerk of the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France, member of the colony’s first Conseil, first councillor in the Conseil Souverain, agent of the tax farm; b. 1629 at Amboise, near Tours (France), son of Jacques Rouer de Villeray, a valet to the queen, and of Marie Perthuis; d. 6 Dec. 1700 at Quebec.
Louis Rouer de Villeray belonged to a noble family that came originally from Italy; he was intelligent and hard-working, but lacked money; he was only just over 20 when he landed in Canada in 1650 or 1651. On his arrival he became a soldier at Quebec, then at Trois-Rivières, where he was noticed by Pierre Boucher*, who made him his confidential agent by constituting him, through an act signed before Séverin Ameau* on 20 Oct. 1653, “his general and special procurator . . . to deal with the accounts for the goods that the said Sieur Boucher wished to have brought to the aforesaid Trois-Rivières.”
The following year Rouer returned to Quebec, where Governor Jean de Lauson made him his secretary. De Lauson’s son Charles kept him on in this position. He was also a notary, 1653–57, and clerk of court in the jurisdiction of Quebec. He likewise held the office, not a particularly burdensome one at that period, of provost court judge of the Beaupré shore.
His marriage with Catherine Sevestre, 19 Feb. 1658, did much to improve his circumstances. His father-in-law, Charles Sevestre, having died two months earlier, he inherited title to a piece of land one arpent wide by 10 deep between the Grande Allée and the river, with fishing rights. Governor Louis d’Ailleboust allowed him also to succeed Charles Sevestre in the two functions of special lieutenant of the seneschal’s court and clerk of the warehouse of the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France at Quebec.
The somewhat muddled financial records left by his father-in-law created difficulties for Villeray. When he was elected to the council of the fur trade shortly afterwards, he was accused of occupying that office illegally, since he had not yet settled Charles Sevestre’s accounts. The complaints against Villeray reached the court, and by a royal edict dated 13 May 1659 he was relieved of his duties and ordered to go to France in the autumn, with the object of clearing himself and presenting Charles Sevestre’s accounts together with supporting vouchers. When he returned the following spring he was reinstated. But as the council of the fur trade persisted in holding him responsible for the sums spent by his father-in-law on the sole authority of the governor of the time, Villeray, who nevertheless had Governor Voyer* d’Argenson’s backing, had to go back to France in 1660 and 1662 to defend his case.
His efforts were not wasted. On 19 Jan. 1663 the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France confirmed the grant to him of the lands inherited from his father-in-law, granted him the three or four acres the title of which was in dispute, and gave to the whole the designation of Villeray fief. In the same year he received an important promotion. When, on 18 Sept. 1663, Governor Saffray de Mézy and Bishop Laval* chose the five members who with themselves were to constitute the Conseil Souverain, Villeray was the first one nominated. From that time on, Rouer de Villeray had a leading part to play in the conduct of the colony’s judicial and administrative affairs.
One of the first actions of the Conseil Souverain was directed against the lawyer Jean Peronne Dumesnil, a superior officer whom the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France had sent to the colony in 1660, as a comptroller general, an intendant of the Cent-Associés, and a sovereign judge; his accusations and inquisitions had turned all the men in high places against him. Villeray and Jean Bourdon were given authority to seize the documents that Dumesnil had appropriated and to evict him from his house, which belonged to the colony. They carried out their task with the help of some ten soldiers.
In the council, disagreements between the governor and the bishop were not long in breaking out. After the council had sided with the bishop on the question of tithes, Mézy, by his ordinance 13 Feb. 1664, suspended Rouer de Villeray, Ruette d’Auteuil, and Attorney-General Bourdon; he accused them of usurping the governor’s authority and of conspiring with the bishop to foment sedition. He reversed his decision two months later, but fresh dissensions were aroused on the occasion of the election of a settler’s syndic. A meeting of townspeople had finally been called by the governor alone to make a choice, and at this the councillors protested. Enraged at their opposition, the governor, on 19 Sept. 1664, dismissed Bourdon, Villeray, d’Auteuil, and Jean Juchereau de La Ferté; Villeray was absent, having sailed for France on the preceding 30 August. On 24 September the governor appointed three new councillors, but without the required consent of the bishop. In a report presented to the king, Villeray accused Mézy of being jealous of the council’s powers and of being annoyed that he had not obtained an increase in salary. Only Mézy’s death prevented him from being dismissed.
In France, Villeray probably met Talon, the newly appointed intendant of New France. He persuaded Talon to intercede with the minister, so that Villeray and some other Canadians could load on a ship belonging to the Compagnie des Indes occidentales the supplies bought in the mother country. It was also probably with the intendant that he returned to Quebec in the summer of 1665. On 6 Dec. 1666 he once more received the office of first councillor, this time from Prouville de Tracy.
Up to this time, Villeray had been considered completely devoted to the bishop and the Jesuits. But it seems that shortly afterwards his attachment to Talon proved the stronger. When on 10 Nov. 1668 the intendant proposed a decree allowing the sale of spirits to the Indians, Villeray voted in favour of the measure. This was an insult to the bishop: had not Villeray been earlier elected churchwarden of the parish of Quebec? His relations with the bishop, however, continued to be good. And Talon, who was his protector, granted him the post of receiver of the 10 per cent tax imposed on dry goods arriving in Canada.
Governor Rémy de Courcelle kept Villeray on in his office of councillor in 1669, but the following year, on 13 June 1670, he removed him from it, accusing him of being too closely associated with the bishop. Several important settlers protested against this eviction, which moreover had not been approved by the bishop. The Sieur Patoulet, Talon’s secretary, judged the governor’s action to be of doubtful legality, and in a report dated 25 Jan. 1672 he suggested that a royal decree should confirm Courcelle’s decision and the subsequent decrees of the council, but should reinstate Villeray, the only person capable, according to him, of exercising judicial functions.
Nevertheless, Buade de Frontenac, the new governor, was already thinking of depriving Villeray of his office as receiver of taxes. While admitting that Villeray was intelligent and well educated, he thought he was a blunderer and an intriguer, completely won over to the Jesuits. In addition, in a letter addressed to Colbert, Frontenac said that he had received complaints against Villeray both from the merchants of La Rochelle, “creditors of the communauté du Canada” (who were to receive the money derived from duties), and from the settlers of the colony, who could not obtain receipts for the taxes they had paid. Furthermore, he accused Villeray of also exacting a levy of 5 per cent that had been abolished two years before. In 1673 Frontenac took from him his office of councillor to give it to Jean-Baptiste de Peiras*, M. de Courcelle’s former secretary.
But Villeray had protectors. In the spring of 1674 the minister ordered Frontenac to reinstate him in his office of tax collector and in his rank of first councillor, his return to the council being guaranteed through his appointment to this post by the Compagnie des Indes occidentales, which possessed the sole right to confer it.
Frontenac obeyed with bad grace. Alleging that the letters patent had not been received, he seated Villeray on the council, but did not grant him the rank of first councillor. He also lost no time in correcting the erroneous information that the minister had received about Villeray. The minister, in his dispatch of 17 May 1674, had said that Villeray was one of the most well-to-do settlers in the colony, an important businessman, and a pioneer in trade with the West Indies. Frontenac vehemently refuted all this: far from being rich, Villeray could not have existed if during the previous few years he had not been the factor of a La Rochelle merchant; he himself boasted that, having studied law and jurisprudence for ten years, he had not been able to engage in commerce. Frontenac had expressed some scepticism with regard to the legal knowledge of Rouer de Villeray, who possessed no diploma. But his library was a testimony to his studies. When an inventory was made of it after his death, it contained 41 titles – books of law, religion, and history.
Villeray knew how to utilize his legal knowledge at the time of the Perrot affair, to the great discomfiture of Frontenac. Since the governor of Montreal, François-Marie Perrot, had defied Frontenac’s authority, the latter had him arrested and imprisoned at Quebec on 28 Jan. 1674. Perrot, questioned during the spring and summer, challenged the competence of his judges, and presented several petitions couched in legal terminology and referring to royal edicts more than a century old. Rouer de Villeray’s hand is to be seen in this. He was probably the only man possessing sufficient knowledge of jurisprudence to draw up such learned petitions. He had been kept away from the interrogations; he was therefore free to help the accused. He had good reason for so doing: to avenge himself for the unjust persecutions inflicted upon him by Frontenac, who himself admitted that he had no cause for complaint against him, and to pay his court to his protector Talon, whose nephew Perrot was. Thanks to these skilful manoeuvres, Frontenac was compelled to give way and to send Perrot to be judged by the king. Frontenac was severely reprimanded, and Perrot kept his post.
The Conseil Souverain was reorganized by an edict dated 5 June 1675. It was put on the same footing as the Parlements in France; its members were appointed for life, by royal commission. Villeray was again appointed first councillor, by a commission dated 26 April 1675. He therefore continued to enjoy a distinction which, in the words of Governor Louis-Hector de Callière*, made him “primus inter pares.” The king gave him further evidence of his esteem by having 2,500 livres paid to him, as his salary for the five years during which he had been excluded from the council.
Despite a sufficiently precise definition of their respective powers, difficulties between Frontenac and Duchesneau soon made themselves manifest. But the most serious quarrel broke out in 1679, over the presidency of the council; Duchesneau sent Villeray and Bermen* de La Martinière as delegates to the governor, suggesting that the question be referred to the king. The governor refused point-blank, and demanded that the effective control be granted to him. The deadlock lasted for months. Finally Frontenac issued an ultimatum. The council held firm. On 4 July Frontenac sent written orders to three councillors to leave Quebec: Ruette d’Auteuil, the attorney-general, Villeray, and Charles Legardeur de Tilly. The latter was forced to withdraw to the Île d’Orléans. The councillors met at the intendant’s house on 4 and 5 July, but to no avail. A provisional agreement was not concluded until 16 October: Ruette d’Auteuil and Tilly were allowed to return home, but Villeray was to go and explain his conduct to the king to Frontenac’s great surprise, Villeray, far from being upset at having to justify himself before the king, seemed confident of obtaining royal approval. Villeray was right. He returned in October with an order for his reinstatement to the council, and a dispatch, dated 29 April 1680, in which the king expressed his dissatisfaction and his condemnation of Frontenac’s claims.
The intendant asked the king for a gratuity to compensate for the losses and expenses that the governor had caused Villeray. His exile, which occurred during the harvest season, had greatly inconvenienced him, since he lived on the produce of his lands. By 1668, through inheritance or purchase, he had brought together 103 or 104 acres, all of them between the river and the Grande Allée, west of the Saint-Louis gate. He had subsequently rounded out his estate. In 1675 he had bought from René Robinau de Bécancour a fief one arpent by 10. Later on he rented the comté of Orsainville from Talon, in return for 250 livres a year.
The governor’s enmity was long-lived. At a session of the council in March 1681, Frontenac admonished Villeray and forbad him to use the title of esquire, despite the production by Villeray of his supporting documents. But Frontenac was recalled shortly afterwards, and the relations between his successors and Villeray were excellent. On 27 April 1684, Villeray obtained the Île-Verte seigneury for his sons. In the same year he was among the 18 notables consulted about the fur trade.
Governor Brisay* de Denonville had the highest opinion of his unselfishness and intelligence. He said that he had kept him back when he wanted to go to France, because he had nobody more capable of apprising him of the affairs of the Conseil Souverain. The governor approved Villeray’s request to the king, whereby the office of special lieutenant of Quebec would be re-established, and Villeray’s son appointed to it so that he could study and fit himself to succeed his father. But this request was rejected.
In 1686 Villeray began a new phase in his career, as agent of the tax farm. Gilles de Boyvinet, the agent sent by the company, had been drowned at Quebec on 22 July; consequently Intendant Bochart* de Champigny, after consulting the governor, gave Villeray the commission of comptroller of the Compagnie du Canada, because of the doubtful honesty of the Sieur de La Héronnière, who had been appointed temporarily by Intendant Duchesneau.
In the autumn of the same year Villeray went to France. He obtained a gratuity from the king and the title of director general of the tax farm for the Compagnie Pointeau. When he returned, he found his house in ashes. The governor and the intendant asked for his gratuity to be continued.
In 1688 he secured for his youngest son the seigneury of Rimouski, his eldest son taking possession of the whole Île-Verte seigneury.
After Frontenac’s return in 1689, Villeray was delegated to approach the governor in order to request him to attend the sessions of the council. After much negotiation, it was agreed to receive Frontenac with all the ceremony that he wanted, and this improved subsequent relations with him.
According to Intendant Champigny, Villeray carried out his duties as general agent of the tax farm with scrupulous fidelity. On 10 Nov. 1692 he was appointed procurator of the Associés de Paris, former tax farmers of the Compagnie d’Oudiette, who held a third of the shares in the Compagnie du Nord.
If we are to take the word of the offended Lamothe Cadillac [Laumet*] Villeray was, in 1693, maintaining a butcher’s shop in his house, with his servant retailing meat and his wife acting as cashier.
In 1694, when Pierre Le Moyne* d’Iberville needed funds for his expedition to Hudson Bay, a meeting of the Compagnie du Nord was called. Villeray, as procurator of the Associés de Paris, while admitting that he had received no instructions on this score, offered to borrow at 12 per cent interest in order to have a share in the undertaking, but his offer was refused.
The following year, Frontenac complained to one of his protectors that Villeray had had the effrontery to tell him on several occasions that he considered him as merely an honorary member of the council.
In 1698, by order of the minister, the intendant examined the lands of the Sieur de Villeray on which the fortifications of Quebec had been constructed. He reported that in 1690, 3 acres of turf had been taken up, 7 acres had been dug down to the rock for the redoubts, 23 acres altogether had been taken over, and an ice-pit had been removed; that consequently Villeray was asking for a substantial indemnity or an increase in his annual gratuity. The minister granted him a life pension of 400 livres.
In 1698 also, a quarrel had broken out between the settlers and the agents of the tax farm over the date at which all the furs were to be delivered. To hasten the departure of the ships, the agents wanted to fix the date as 1 October, the settlers as 20 October. The intendant suggested 10 October as a compromise.
On 6 Dec. 1700, at the age of 71, Villeray died during an epidemic that was raging at Quebec. On 19 Feb. 1658 he had married Catherine, daughter of Charles Sevestre and Marie Pichon. He had had three children by her: Augustin Rouer* de La Cardonnière et de Villeray, Louis Rouer* d’Artigny, and Charles Rouer de Villeray. Catherine Sevestre had died in 1670 at Quebec. Louis Rouer had married again on 26 Nov. 1675; his second wife was Marie-Anne, daughter of Jacques Du Saussay de Bémont and of Anne Carlier, who returned to France some time after her husband’s death. From 1702 on, the widow received a pension of 200 livres, and d’Artigny a pension of 150 livres, to compensate for the lands utilized for the fortifications.
Callière, the governor, by way of a funeral oration, wrote to the minister that Louis Rouer de Villeray had been appointed first councillor because of his merit and knowledge, and that his memory was respected throughout the whole country.
In Villeray the colony lost one of its great officials. Intelligent and active as he was, he had quickly attracted the attention of the governors. He had retained the protection of almost all the administrators of the country by his zeal, honesty, and good judgement, in legal as well as in financial matters. As first councillor, he had tried to impose respect for the powers and prerogatives of the Conseil Souverain, but he had remained content to follow the party with which he felt himself most in harmony, that of the bishop, and secondly, that of the intendant. One cannot hold against him his tilts with Frontenac: only the protégés of the governor were safe from his mighty rages. He had spent 50 years in the country. In his office as first councillor, which he had occupied for more than 30 years, in his position as agent of the tax farm, which he had held for nearly 15, as well as in the management of his estates, he had shown himself a capable and conscientious man. His inexhaustible energy had enabled him to manage several demanding tasks at the same time, frequently interrupted though these were by his numerous trips to France. He had acquired a good knowledge of the laws, of commerce, of agriculture. Thanks to his sterling qualities, he had carved out for himself an honourable and fruitful career.
AN, Col., B; C11A. ASQ, Documents Faribault, 94, 95, 126a; Lettres N, 39; 0, 1, p.2; Polygraphie IV, 55; Séminaire, XXXV, 27b; Registre A, 294–96. JR (Thwaites). Papier terrier de la Cie des I.O. (P.-G. Roy).P.-G. Roy, Inv. des concessions. Charles-P. Beaubien, “Louis Rouer de Villeray,” BRH, V (1899), 356–58. “La bibliothèques de Louis Rouer de Villeray, premier conseiller au Conseil Souverain de la Nouvelle-France,” BRH, XXVIII (1922), 178–80. Eccles, Frontenac. P.-G. Roy, “A propos de Louis Rouer de Villeray,” BRH, XXXI (1925), 419f.; “La famille Rouer de Villeray,” BRH, XX–VI (1920), 33–52; 65–77; 97–111.
© 1966–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Bernard Weilbrenner, “ROUER DE VILLERAY, LOUIS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 24, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/rouer_de_villeray_louis_1E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Bernard Weilbrenner|
|Title of Article:||ROUER DE VILLERAY, LOUIS|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1966|
|Year of revision:||1979|
|Access Date:||March 24, 2023|