ROCBERT DE LA MORANDIÈRE, MARIE-ÉLISABETH (Marie-Isabelle) (Bégon de La Cour) (usually called Élisabeth), letter-writer; b. 27 July 1696 in Montreal, daughter of Étienne Rocbert de La Morandière and Élisabeth Duverger; d. 1 Nov. 1755 at Rochefort, France.
Marie-Élisabeth was the eldest of the Rocbert family; her father held the office of king’s storekeeper in Montreal. In 1711, at the time of his first voyage to Canada, the sub-lieutenant Claude-Michel Bégon de La Cour, who was to be Élisabeth’s husband, became acquainted with Étienne Rocbert. Bégon returned to the colony the following year to continue his career there on land, and since there were no barracks in Montreal he lived with the Rocbert family. His many and varied war wounds, including the loss of one eye and some missing fingers, had not deprived him of all charm: he soon won Élisabeth’s heart, and the couple decided to get married as soon as possible.
The intendant of New France, Michel Bégon, however, considered the young Mlle Rocbert to be of too modest an origin and for several years opposed his younger brother’s marriage. In addition, military men could not marry without the governor’s permission, and Philippe de Rigaud* de Vaudreuil officially refused it to the young Bégon, as he did to all officers who wanted to marry persons of lower rank, even though he secretly encouraged Bégon’s passion to vex the intendant, with whom the governor did not get along well. But the lovers resisted all pressure. They even ended up by marrying à la gaumine, in keeping with a custom that was vigorously condemned by Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix*]. In the face of such obstinacy the intendant gave in, and the pseudo-marriage was regularized in Montreal on 19 Dec. 1718.
In 1719 Mme Bégon gave birth to Marie-Catherine-Élisabeth. When she was 18 this girl married Honoré Michel de Villebois de La Rouvillière, then commissary and subdelegate of the intendant in Montreal. The young woman died in 1740, leaving a little boy and girl to be raised by her mother. Claude-Michel-Jérôme, born in 1732, was the only one of Mme Bégon’s four or five children to survive her.
The Chevalier Bégon had been appointed successively town major of Quebec (1726), king’s lieutenant for Trois-Rivières (1731) and Montreal (1733), then governor of Trois-Rivières (1743), and so his wife no doubt had the opportunity to become well acquainted not only with the small Montreal community but also with the society of the other two “governments” of the Canada which she was later to chronicle. When she was widowed in 1748, Mme Bégon moved back to the family house in Montreal, on Rue Saint-Paul, at the site where the Bonsecours market is located today. Before renting this house to François Bigot*, who was to make it into an intendant’s palace famous for dissipation, Mme Bégon spent her last year in New France in it, “preoccupied with grief and study,” to use her own words. During this period she wrote the first five of the nine quires that are still extant of her correspondence with her son-in-law, Michel de La Rouvillière, then the financial commissary of Louisiana. Élisabeth Bégon’s only consolation was to converse with her “dear son”: this widower, almost her own age, seems to have inspired in her a genuine amorous passion which she disguised, consciously or not, as maternal affection. In the seclusion to which mourning confined her, Mme Bégon observed ironically the comportment of her fellow citizens. Daily she noted and commented on their behaviour and the events of the day, or simply recorded the pattern of family activities. The letter-writer was well informed: many visitors frequented her salon, who were often as much self-seeking as they were importunate, for Mme Bégon’s influence on the acting governor general of the colony, La Galissonière [Barrin], was known.
It was, indeed, under the protection of La Galissonière, her nephew by marriage and her faithful friend, that she travelled to France with her household in the autumn of 1749. She went to Rochefort to live, hoping for her son-in-law’s return to the mother country. There she knew only disappointment and sadness, finding her chief consolation in the journal she continued to send to Michel. In it she made interesting comparisons between the French provinces and Canada, to the latter’s advantage. News from the colony was always plentiful in this correspondence, for Mme Bégon heard it from people arriving from her native land and through the incredible number of letters she exchanged with her friends in New France.
Élisabeth Bégon passed away at Rochefort on 1 Nov. 1755. She had never again seen her beloved, who had died at New Orleans three years earlier having sent his mother-in-law letters full of “harsh words.”
Élisabeth Bégon’s correspondence – the reason she is remembered by posterity – is certainly not a literary masterpiece. Written in a familiar if witty and colourful style, it constitutes nevertheless an extremely lively account of the final years of the French régime in Canada. As Claude de Bonnault has so correctly written, it is “a precious and invaluable collection which could be entitled ‘The 18th-century Canadians described by themselves.’”
[Mme Bégon’s correspondence is preserved at the ANQ and includes 9 quires and 38 separate items covering the years 1749–53. The various letters are dated from Montreal and then from Rochefort, with occasional ones from Brest, Blois, La Rochelle, and Bordeaux. This correspondence was published under the titles “Correspondance de Mme Bégon” (Bonnault), APQ Rapport, 1934–35, 5–186 (modernized text), 187–277 (original text), and Lettres au cher fils: correspondance d’Élisabeth Bégon avec son gendre (1748–1753), Nicole Deschamps, édit. (Coll. Reconnaissances, Montréal, 1972); selected letters were published by Céline Dupré as Élisabeth Bégon (1696–1755) (Collection classiques canadiens, 19, Montréal, 1961). c.d.]
Yvonne Bezard, Fonctionnaires maritimes et coloniaux sous Louis XIV: les Bégon (Paris, 1932). Frégault, François Bigot; Le grand marquis. Isabels Landels, “La correspondance de madame Bégon” (unpublished doctoral thesis, Université Laval, Québec, 1947). P.-G. Roy, La famille Rocbert de La Morandière (Lévis, Qué., 1905). Claude de Bonnault, “Saintonge et Canada: les Tilly,” BRH, XLI (1935), 238–56, 296–313. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Quelques maisons du vieux Montréal,” Cahiers des Dix, X (1945), 254–62. P.-G. Roy, “Honoré Michel de La Rouvillière,” BRH, XXII (1916), 151–56.