Faces of our history: Élisabeth Bégon social life

Faces of our history: & Eacute; lisabeth B & eacute; gon the worldly life

MISE & Agrave; DAY

A scandalous wedding

This portrait is often attributed to Élisabeth Bégon, née Rocbert de la Morandière (1696-1755). Yet this is a mistake. It is said to be his aunt by marriage, Catherine Guymont, wife of Michel Bégon de Montfermeil. This blunder would have nothing to please the prestigious Bégon family, who have little esteem for the letter-writer of humble origins. Born in Montreal in 1696, she is the eldest daughter of a commoner, the king's storekeeper, Étienne Rocbert de la Morandière. While staying with her father, she falls in love with Claude-Michel Bégon, the noble brother of the intendant. In 1718, she married him “à la gaumine”, meaning that the marriage vows were recited on the sly during a mass. Reluctantly, this unofficial union was accepted by the Begons and the bishop. In 1737, the couple's eldest daughter married Honoré Michel de Villebois de La Rouvillière. During the following decade, Élisabeth Bégon assiduously wrote letters to this son-in-law which will go down in history. & Nbsp;


A unique testimony

“Elevation of the Maison de Mme Bégon”, rue Saint-Paul (corner Bonsecours), around 1749. Today, the site is occupied by the Bonsecours market

Widowed in 1748, Élisabeth Bégon left Trois-Rivières where her husband was governor. She moved to Montreal to her home on Saint-Paul Street, where the Bonsecours market is located today. Élisabeth Bégon held a salon and regularly received her nephew by marriage, General Roland-Michel Barrin, Marquis de La Galissonière, then acting governor of the colony. Several visitors seeking to win the favor of the general frequent his salon. At a time when everything depends on good relations, the widow maneuvers with tact and diplomacy. The letters she writes to her son-in-law are full of crisp news from everyday life and social life in Montreal. The end of his life in France, however, was a great disillusionment. Excluded from the good society that was his in the colony, his testimony gives a foretaste of the difficulties that the Canadian gentry will experience after the Conquest. & Nbsp; & nbsp;


A heritage to be rediscovered

Extract from the first notebook of the Journal de Madame Bégon. In this letter dated November 12, 1748, Mme Bégon recounts to her “dear son” (her son-in-law Honoré Michel de Villebois de la Rouvillière) the visit of a friend and her niece in Quebec and the balls of the intendant Bigot at which they Have attended.

On a trip to France in 1932, the correspondent for the Archives of the Province of Quebec, Claude Bonnault, discovered the precious letters in the attic of a distant descendant of the Bégons, the Countess of Rancougne. Quickly realizing the historical importance of the manuscript, he recommended its purchase by the government of Quebec. Preciously preserved today at the National Archives of Quebec, the work of the Canadian letter-writer has not always been the subject of an adequate reading. Unaccustomed to the affected register of eighteenth-century female letter writing, some literary and historians insinuate a loving relationship between Élisabeth Bégon and her son-in-law, Honoré Michel de Villebois de La Rouvillière, whom she affectionately nicknamed “my dear son” ; ”. An essential source for understanding Montreal high society and the events that marked the last years of New France, the work of Élisabeth Bégon, sometimes poorly understood, remains for many to be rediscovered.

* Research and writing by historian Maude Bouchard-Dupont

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