On the 15th January 1541 King of France, Francois I, commissioned a Protestant nobleman named Jean-Francois de la Rocque, the Sieur de Roberval, to establish a colony at Cap-Rouge, near present-day Quebec City and the sixteenth century native settlement of Stadacona, along the St. Lawrence River in Canada. This colony was to be the culmination of two earlier exploratory voyages to the region, carried out by Jacques Cartier between 1534 and 1536. Cartier was himself to be retained as master-pilot for the colonial enterprise. As preparations progressed slowly the colonial mission was effectively split in to two parts. The first part, under the leadership of Cartier, left St. Malo in May 1541 with five ships and reached Cap-Rouge in August after a difficult voyage. Here Cartier established the settlement of Charlesbourg-Royale (See Map).
However, within a year Cartier and his men had abandoned the colony and left Canada around May 1542. On their return Cartier’s group encountered the second colonising contingent led by Roberval at Newfoundland, the latter having left La Rochelle in June. Despite Roberval’s pleas for Cartier to return to Canada under his leadership the mariner refused and snuck away with his men during the night, returning to France. Roberval persisted with his colonists, arriving at Cap-Rouge in July and founding a new settlement, named France-Roy, on the site of Cartier’s previous fort. As with Charlesbourg-Royale, Roberval’s settlement was not occupied for long and by the summer of 1543 he too was returning to France, having abandoned French colonial ambitions in Canada, which would not be revived for over half-a-century.
Despite this venture being the first French colonial attempt in the New World it has remained understudied, with very few detailed examinations of the Cap-Rouge colony. This is to a degree understandable given the paucity of primary evidence available for studying the colony. Historians have remained largely reliant on two incomplete English-language accounts for knowledge of the events at Cap-Rouge, one attributed to Jacques Cartier and the other to someone on the Roberval part of the expedition. Whilst both narratives give some detail of early developments in the colony, both break off before its abandonment, giving no definitive reason for the French departure under either Cartier or Roberval. Consequently, historians that have speculated on the reasons for French colonial failure in Canada have put emphasis on the lack of provisions amongst the colonists, deteriorating relations with the native Iroquoians, and the divided leadership of the enterprise, which are evident from the primary accounts. These causes for failure are certainly not incorrect and they undoubtedly played a part in the abandonment of the Cap-Rouge colony. However, the reason these factors played such a significant part in failure is because they were exacerbated by the “lure of the West”.
By examining the more comprehensive accounts of Cartier’s earlier voyages and the documents collated by H.P. Biggar relating to the preparations and aftermath of the French colony, it is clear that the determination of Cartier, and later Roberval, to push west undermined French colonial efforts in Canada. Their desire to find a Northwest Passage to the Pacific and by extension the rich spice markets of East Asia was supplemented by the native rumours of the rich mythical Kingdom of Saguenay, said to lie to the north-west of Cap-Rouge. The relentless French pursuit of these legendary sources of wealth jeopardised the survival of their colony, as resources were diverted for exploration, already-poor native relations were further undermined and internal rivalries surfaced.
This piece looks to explore the link between the French desires to push further west through the Canadian interior in search of wealth and the ultimate failure of their Cap-Rouge colony. The article will begin by examining the influences that led Cartier and Roberval to look for a Northwest Passage and a route to the Kingdom of Saguenay. It will then emphasise the debilitating affects these western ventures had on an already undermanned and under-provisioned colony, the native relations which were crucial to French survival, and the tense relationship between Cartier and Roberval. These factors may have been enough to condemn the colony on their own, but it was the “lure of the West” that made failure a certainty.
The Search for a Northwest Passage
The original motivation for Jacques Cartier’s voyages to Canada was the hope of gaining access to “certain islands and countries where it is said that a great abundance of gold and other precious things is to be found”. These “certain islands” referred to were likely the famed Spice Islands and Japan in East Asia, which were already known to be the location of a number of riches desired by Europeans. Pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg were only a few of the spices native to the lands of the Far East that were sought-after by European merchants and could fetch a high price at European markets due to their rarity. However, after 1453 the traditional overland trade routes from Asia to Europe had fallen under the influence of the Ottoman Turks with the capture of Constantinople. The excessive customs duties they imposed on the Italian merchants, who had been the middle-men of the European spice trade for generations, reduced the flow of luxuries from the East. The need for a new transit route for Asian spices was now paramount. The Portuguese managed to circumvent the Turkish blockade by travelling around the Cape of Good Hope to India, first accomplished by Vasco da Gama in 1497-8. Meanwhile, the Spanish found a sea passage through the South American continent with the circumnavigation of Ferdinand Magellan between 1519 and 1521, and the establishment of settlements on the Pacific coast of their New World territories allowed them to send merchant fleets to East Asia from that direction. Such achievements put the other great European powers, France and England, in a vulnerable position when it came to attaining luxuries. Consequently, it was they who pioneered the search for a Northwest Passage, a sea passage from the Atlantic through the North American continent to the Pacific, and this would prove a constant pursuit of Cartier.
King Francois’ desire to use North America as a stepping-stone to the lucrative Asian markets, and therefore sever French reliance on extortionate middle-men, may have inspired Cartier’s first voyage in 1534, yet there was no evidence that such an accomplishment was possible. Italian navigator John Cabot had tried and failed to find a Northwest Passage for the English crown in 1497, progressing little further than Newfoundland. However, a phenomenon such as a Northwest Passage was accepted as possible by the majority of European explorers and scholars during the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The ancient geographical belief, stemming from Aristotle and Ptolemy, that the world was surrounded by water and that one great ocean connected Europe with Asia, received resurgence in popularity because of the Renaissance emphasis on revisiting the classics. Whilst neither theoretician believed in the existence of a fourth continent (America) their emphasis on the interconnectedness of the oceans still enticed explorers. Therefore, a sea passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific was seen as quite conceivable.
Another Italian explorer, Giovanni da Verrazano, had been commissioned for a similar voyage to that of Cabot by Francois I in 1524 and his “findings” were to increase the “lure of the west” for subsequent explorers like Cartier. Verrazano found no concrete signs of wealth as he traversed the Eastern seaboard of North America, although he suggested the mountains of the north “showed indications of minerals”. More significantly, Verrazano mistook the Pamlico Sound lagoon on the coast of Carolina as the Pacific Ocean, not seeing the far banks of the inlet and consequently believing only a narrow isthmus separated him from his goal. Such a mistake suggested the possibility of a fairly short passage through the North American continent to the Pacific and would falsely inspire Cartier, who may well have accompanied Verrazano on his voyage.
Cartier’s first voyage to Canada in 1534 resulted in the exploration of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, without entering the great river itself (See Map). Whilst no passage to the Pacific Ocean was obvious, Cartier remained convinced of its existence. He claimed that “on account of this depth and width” of the Gulf, “we had hopes of discovering here a strait [through the continent]”. Indeed, the fact that Cartier’s three ships on this voyage were laden with provisions for fifteen months “indicates that it was hoped they would get to Asia and return safely again”. Geographical assumption therefore increased Cartier’s western ambitions, which would continue until the time of the colony. The commission for his second voyage ordered him to continue his exploration in search of a Northwest Passage and riches in the interior. Having left France in May 1535, Cartier soon entered the St. Lawrence River for the first time in pursuit of his objectives. This voyage would be characterised by Cartier’s determination to progress further west despite opposition from the natives of Stadacona, which would ultimately have repercussions for the later colonial endeavour. However, his progress up the St. Lawrence was ultimately halted by “the most violent rapid it is possible to see”, the Lachine rapid. Whilst this geographical barrier dashed Cartier’s immediate hopes of progressing to the Pacific, his naming of the rapid emphasises that he had not given up on fulfilling this goal. “La Chine”, literally “China” rapid, shows Cartier still preserved his conviction that he was nearing East Asia and it would remain a target on his next voyage in 1541, the colonisation attempt.
A commission for Cartier to conduct a third voyage was initially granted by Francois in October 1540. In it “the dear and beloved Jacques Cartier, who had discovered a great country in the lands of Canada and Hochelaga, forming one extremity of Asia on the West”, was commanded to explore even further west “in order better to arrive at our said intention”, the access to rich lands. Although this commission was revoked for one in favour of colonisation under the Sieur de Roberval in January 1541, the sentiments in the latter were similar. A Northwest Passage had become a stated goal of the French crown, even when a colonisation mission was ordered. Contemporary geographical belief, Verrazano’s legacy and Cartier’s stubbornness ensured such a passage would divert French attention from colonisation in the 1540s. Simultaneously, this European legend was becoming intertwined with the native myth of the rich Kingdom of Saguenay, which would prove a further lure to the French colonial leaders.
Kingdom of Saguenay
The mythical Kingdom of Saguenay holds a unique place in the history of the New World. Unlike its southern counterpart, El Dorado, there was no enduring belief in the existence of Saguenay. The only references to Saguenay come from Cartier, Roberval and Francois I during the period of French exploration in Canada between 1534 and 1543. It is not present on any of the maps resulting from the voyages of Corte-Real (1501) or Verrazano (1524), both of whom had extensive contact with the natives of the Canadian coast. Furthermore, by the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the French revived their interest in Canada, the idea of Saguenay was defunct both geographically and ideologically. Such short-lasting interest in this supposedly wealthy kingdom suggests it had little, if any, foundation of truth. Yet, as with the Northwest Passage, the Saguenay myth would prove too great a lure for Cartier and Roberval.
Cartier initially heard of the land of Saguenay in between his first two voyages from two Iroquoians he had seized in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. These men were Dom Agaya and Taignoagny, two sons of Donnacona, the native chief of Stadacona. They originally suggested to Cartier that Saguenay was a mere two day’s journey from the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, although this was likely a misunderstanding. It is probable that Dom Agaya and Taignoagny “in describing their homeland…embellished its attractions to the extent they thought necessary to assure their return [from France]”. Whilst there had been no previous signs that such a kingdom might exist, the French lust for wealth ensured they believed such an unlikely tale from the outset.
As Cartier’s second trip to Canada progressed the Kingdom of Saguenay began to take on a better-defined form, as Donnacona and his followers expanded the myth with great extravagance. They began to give the French directions to Saguenay, suggesting it lay to the North-West, possibly playing upon Cartier’s obvious desire to head in that direction. Additionally, when Cartier travelled upriver to the settlement of Hochelaga (Montreal) the natives:
Without our asking any questions or making any sign, they seized the chain of the Captain’s whistle, which was made of silver, and a dagger-handle of yellow copper-gilt like gold, that hung at the side of one of the sailors, and gave us to understand that these came from up that river [Ottawa].
Whilst the Hochelagans had suggested that riches lay in a similar direction to where the Stadaconans had located Saguenay, they did not mention the kingdom by name. Nevertheless, Cartier assumed that they must have been referring to Saguenay and the myth was only strengthened in his imagination. In fact, the most promising account of Saguenay’s riches was yet to come. Near the end of Cartier’s second voyage Donnacona proclaimed that the kingdom contained “immense quantities of gold, rubies, and other rich things, and that the men there are as white as in France”. D.B. Quinn has suggested that such tales were grounded in fact and that the “gold” Donnacona referenced was actually copper traded by the Huron tribe from the Great Lakes region, which through a number of intermediaries reached the St. Lawrence Valley. He even argues that the “white men” mentioned were the Inuit of Hudson Bay who the Huron tribes may have had contact with. However, it is unlikely that such sophisticated and wide-ranging trading structures existed in Canada at this time and the details of Donnacona’s story appear particularly tailored to attract European greed. Indeed, the wondrous prospects of Saguenay could not have failed to convince Cartier of the necessity for further western exploration, particularly given that he already appeared persuaded by the myth and that of the Northwest Passage.
Despite his conviction, what evidence did Cartier have for the existence of Saguenay save the native testimonies? Furthermore, how could he rely on accounts from peoples who did not speak French? Cartier frequently references the native “harangues” in his accounts, suggesting he could not understand them. Meanwhile, Pierre-Francois Charlevoix, an explorer and the first historian of New France, intimated that the French only communicated with the Iroquoains via sign language, as he himself later did. This goes to suggest that the French simply heard what they wanted to and the natives obliged in any way they could, such as the pointing at French possessions. Whether the Stadaconans embellished the myth of Saguenay to encourage the French to leave their province, or whether they wanted an alliance with them, they clearly had their own motives for such stories.
Again, it is possible that Cartier and his men were inspired by sixteenth century geographical theory as well as native rumour. The belief that riches, in particular gold, were to be found in the harshest climates in compensation for the difficulty of settling there was an accepted theory, later popularised by the Jesuit historian Jose de Acosta. Similarly, Macrobius’ work on antipodal symmetry, revived during the Renaissance, led some to believe that the Northwest offered potential riches. If you subscribed to this view then the gold found in the southern Spanish territories would be mirrored in the north, whilst the spices of the east would also be found in the west. Finally, there was the misconception of latitudinal similarity. On being questioned on the possibility of gold existing in Canada King Francois said confidently, “that in Hungary there was a mine, or mines, of very fine gold, and that that country was just as cold and more so [than Canada), for it lies farther north of the line”.
Such manufactured rumours, further undermined by problems of communication and possibly supplemented by questionable geographic authority, should have led to the dismissal of the existence of Saguenay. Yet the Cartier voyages had been founded upon a desire to access rich markets through a western route and the Saguenay myth fitted the French mindset and objective in this way. Roberval too would accept the legend during his own voyage in 1542-3, no doubt driven by his perilous financial situation brought about by a flamboyant life at court. Most surprisingly, Francois I, the “Renaissance King”, a thoughtful and educated man, was convinced of Saguenay’s existence. The French were so desperate to counter the wealth gained by Spain and Portugal overseas that it appears their judgement was severely clouded. The legend of a short Northwest Passage and the mythical Kingdom of Saguenay would lure the French west, to the detriment of their colonial expedition and for absolutely no reward.
Funding, Provisioning and Manpower
Roberval’s commission in 1541 was not merely one of exploration and treasure-hunting, it brought the added dimension of colonisation. Such expeditions were costly. They required food, equipment, building materials, livestock, recruitment of men of different crafts and several ships to transport these wares across vast oceans. Indeed, Cartier had acknowledged the requirements for a sustained settlement in Canada in 1538 when he drew up a list of provisions, encompassing the above, which would be necessary. He estimated that at least 276 men of various crafts and professions would be required, along with providing a detailed list of the amount of food and equipment needed to provision them. Consequently, such a mission was a vast expansion of the three-ship expedition of his second voyage, which could return to France at any time.
However, by 1541 the French crown was hardly in the financial position to provide these necessities at an adequate level. The third “Italian War” between France and the Habsburg armies of Charles V had only concluded in 1538, and may explain the delay in following-up Cartier’s 1536 voyage. Noblemen who may have been able to invest in a colonising mission had lost huge personal fortunes in the war and the royal treasury was virtually bankrupt after years of hiring expensive mercenaries to fight for the French cause. Additionally, France had a frail mercantile community in comparison to its neighbours, weakened by the disruption of war, which meant capital lending to the crown was a rarity. All these factors ensured that funding the Canadian venture in 1541 was going to be problematic, even during peacetime. The fact that the colonial attempt was divided into two parts highlights this difficulty, as Roberval remained in France to acquire the “artillery, powder and munitions, and other things necessary” for his voyage. In the year Roberval remained in France after Cartier’s departure it appears the General resorted to piracy to obtain the funds necessary to provision his part of the Canadian enterprise. The English ambassador to France, William Paget, complained to his counterpart that several London merchant ships “were spoiled by a pirate called Robert Vall” in 1541 and 1542. Going to such lengths as piracy emphasises the lack of financial backing Roberval received from the crown for what was supposed to be a royal venture.
It is unsurprising that these preparatory struggles meant that on arrival in Canada both the Cartier and Roberval missions were under-provisioned. Cartier had been unaided by a difficult Atlantic crossing, on which numerous provisions were used up both by the men and the livestock, which had to be “watered with sider”. Even with these unexpected depletions, Cartier’s claim that he left France in May 1541 “well furnished and victualled for two yeare” appears overoptimistic. As on his second voyage to Canada, when the French had wintered at Stadacona, Cartier’s men soon became reliant on the natives for food. In 1535/6 this had enabled the Iroquoians to barter food for European goods, gaining the upper-hand in the trading relationship. It is likely such a pattern continued on the colonisation mission, with the French particularly reliant on fresh food. Just before the Cartier narrative breaks off it claims, “the Savages of the Countrey came not any more about our Fort as they were accustomed, to bring us fish”. This not only suggests a degree of desperation at the removal of an important food source but that the French did not have an adequate amount of salted food, common on European colonial missions at the time, to sustain themselves. Cartier had praised the fertility of the Cap-Rouge area on arrival, claiming that “we sowed seedes here of our Countrey…which sprong up out of the ground in eight days”. Similarly, during his second voyage Cartier had noted that the natives came to the French every day “with fresh meat, venison, and all varieties of fresh fish”. Such descriptions present an image of a bountiful land with abundant food sources and yet the French remained reliant on the natives for succour. Indeed, archaeobotanical evidence from excavations at Cap-Rouge found “no evidence…to confirm Cartier’s and Roberval’s reports that foodstuffs were grown around the settlement”. It must be taken into account that the narratives of Cartier and Roberval were written for the attention of Francois I and were therefore likely to be embellished to give a more prosperous picture of the region they were settling. The probability remains that the French were under-provisioned, especially in terms of food, and did not have the ability or inclination to make use of the landscape presented to them in Canada.
This belief is further supported by the author of the Roberval account who noted that as the French prepared for the winter of 1542 at Cap-Rouge, “they tooke a view of the victuals, and it was found that they fell out short”. This forced rationing amongst the colonists and no doubt increased reliance on native food aid. Therefore, the French colonists were not only poorly-prepared in terms of provisions but their colony was quickly put into a vulnerable state of dependence on the Iroquoians who could dictate bartering arrangements. It may be that, as on Verrazano’s voyage of 1524, the French simply expected to be provided with free food by a submissive native populace. However, their alienation of the Iroquoians since first contact made this impossible.
It was therefore detrimental to the colony that within a few weeks of arrival at Cap-Rouge Cartier had begun a western expedition to determine the route to Saguenay “with two boates furnished with men and victuals”. With provisions already insufficient and the fortification of Charlesbourg-Royale barely begun, Cartier had diverted precious men and resources towards the “riches” of the west. Even if we are to take Cartier’s optimistic claim that his mission had been provisioned for two years, it is unlikely he was taking into account the quantity of resources that would be needed to support a several-hundred mile expedition up the St. Lawrence. Nevertheless, his now long-term ambition of finding the mythical Saguenay and to “passe farther” in the spring to Asia were Cartier’s motivating factors, not the Cap-Rouge colony.
Again, Cartier failed to make it past the Lachine Rapid, in 1541, and his exhaustion of provisions was therefore in vain. Nevertheless, this did not prevent Roberval from making the same mistake. After Cartier’s abandonment of the colony and Roberval’s arrival, the General made a more concerted effort to use his provisions wisely, overseeing the construction of the stronger France-Roy fort in the autumn of 1542. Yet, as explained, the reality was that Roberval’s men had inadequate food stores and were subjected to starvation and disease during the bitterly cold Canadian winter, with native generosity their only hope. After surviving the winter and the ice melt, the French had the opportunity to concentrate on primary production and ensure a stable foundation for their colonial settlement. However, in June Roberval decided the time was right to pursue the Saguenay legend and he departed with eight barks, most of his men and “all his furniture”. Despite the reality of the colonial situation the “lure of the west” was too much for Roberval, as it was for Cartier, and he used the remaining provisions of France-Roy to pursue this unattainable goal. Although the narrative ends shortly before Roberval’s departure upriver, the General and his men had arrived back in France by September 1543, as yet another war between the French and Habsburgs intensified, suggesting the pursuit of Saguenay did not last long.
Cartier and Roberval’s western missions not only diverted resources but also men away from their colonial settlements. Although it is difficult to ascertain numbers on the Cartier voyage in particular, it is likely the French were undermanned in Canada considering their colonial objectives. As they had struggled to provision their expedition, the French found recruitment for the Canadian colony equally troublesome. Many men in France had been exhausted by war and simply wanted to return to their farms, where grain production reached a maximum output during the 1530s. It is also possible, as Morison suggests that “word had gone around the waterfront [by 1540] that Canada was a lonely, frigid place which gave you nothing but scurvy”. Considering Cartier had returned scant evidence of any real riches to be found in Canada, the incentive to become a colonist there was very small. Moreover, the main French ports, such as St. Malo and La Rochelle, blocked recruitment of their sailors whom they needed for their own fishing ventures in the Atlantic. The futility of trying to recruit volunteers forced the conscription of convicts, with Francois granting the release of fifty prisoners to Cartier, unless they had been accused of “the crimes of heresy and lese-majesty”. Given Roberval’s troubled preparations it is likely he too was forced to recruit prisoners, hardly the most willing colonists, who were unlikely to show the discipline required in a foreign land.
Whilst the Roberval account suggests that he took 200 colonists, the Cartier account remains silent on settler numbers. Presumably he took a similar number and, like Roberval’s contingent, a quarter of these were probably convicts. Whilst such numbers were not wholly inadequate for establishing a settlement, they were not enough to carry out simultaneous exploration, particularly given that a large percentage of the colonists may have intentionally avoided hard work. Therefore, when Cartier removed several men away from the fledgling Charlesbourg-Royale settlement in search of Saguenay, he was increasing the vulnerability of the colony at an early stage. With potentially hostile native neighbours, an uncompleted fort and the need to organise agricultural production, the remaining men would have numbered too few. Given that a subsequent report from a Spanish fisherman in September 1542 suggested that 35 of Cartier’s men were killed by natives, whilst others likely succumbed to the harsh climate or on the trip to Saguenay, it shows the easy depletion of colonists in the New World and the difficulty of maintaining production and defence without a united force.
The mortality rate on Roberval’s part of the expedition further emphasises the lack of manpower the French possessed. Shortly after his arrival in Canada, Roberval had sent two ships back to France, with several men, “to carie news unto the King, and to come backe againe unto him the yeere next ensuing”. Cartier had acted similarly a year before when he sent two ships back with news of his arrival and to enquire on the whereabouts of Roberval. This immediately reduced the number in each crew. Yet, whilst Cartier took men with him to the west, Roberval remained at France-Roy during the winter where at least 50 of his men died of starvation and scurvy. Cartier’s failure to inform Roberval of the cure for the disease, which he had received from the natives in 1536, is yet another sign of poor French preparation. By the time Roberval set off for Saguenay he had only 100 men left, 70 of whom were to come with him, with only 30 men remaining to look after the fort. Leaving such a small detachment at France-Roy seems suicidal given that native relations had reached a point of great hostility and provisions were already all but exhausted. However, Roberval could not resist the “lure of the west” despite the destitution of the colony. The last report in the Roberval account informs us that “eight men and one Barke were drowned and lost” on the western mission, even before Roberval’s return. With further casualties a possibility and a weak force unlikely to survive native attack at Cap-Rouge, it is little surprise that Roberval had returned to France by September 1543.
The difficulty of funding the Canadian colony and encouraging volunteers to join the venture meant both Cartier’s and Roberval’s groups were poorly-provisioned and undermanned. This may in itself have been enough to lead to the failure of the colony. However, had the two leaders persisted at Cap-Rouge for a little longer, with a united force, they may have been able to establish a solid foundation of sustainable production and strong defence to allow their colony to survive. Yet the “lure of the west” was too strong for both men and their subsequent diversion of people and resources away from Cap-Rouge at inappropriate moments exacerbated the difficulties the French were already facing in the harsh climate of Canada.
European-native relations would have a strong impact on the success and failure of New World colonising missions in the sixteenth century, as the two groups sought the best way of using the other for their own ends. As noted, the French settlers became increasingly reliant on the native Iroquoians of Stadacona throughout their stay in Canada. Despite this reliance they failed to carry out a suitable native policy, which would have aided the survival of their Cap-Rouge colony after 1541. Again, the desire of the French leaders to continue exploring westwards exacerbated poor relations with the natives that had been troubled ever since first contact in 1534.
Although Cartier’s first voyage to Canada in 1534 was restricted to exploring the Gulf of St. Lawrence, he did make contact with some of the Stadaconan people that would become the neighbours of the French on their subsequent expeditions. Initial contact was amicable, with the French trading “knives, glass beads, combs, and other trinkets of small value” for native food, “at which they showed many signs of joy”. However, before departing for France, Cartier and his men committed two acts that would shape future relations with the Stadaconans in a negative way. Firstly, on 24th July, they placed a thirty foot cross on a headland, engraved with “LONG LIVE THE KING OF FRANCE”, in the presence of the natives. Whilst Cartier claimed this symbol was a mere “landmark and guidepost on coming into the harbour”, the native’s “long harangue” suggests they saw it for it was, a clear territorial claim for the French Crown. In one act the French had arrogantly dismissed the native presence in spite of the positive first contact with them. The second French mistake was their seizure of Dom Agaya and Taignoagny, the sons of Stadaconan chief Donnacona, and their removal to France. Once more Cartier tried to justify this act by suggesting the natives agreed to it and that Dom Agaya and Taignoagny were “greatly pleased” when dressed in European clothing. It is difficult to imagine the natives being pleased with their abduction and this kidnapping policy would re-occur on the second voyage, greatly damaging the trust between the two groups.
The French desire to head west had not played a part in native relations in 1534, yet the same could not be said for Cartier’s second voyage a year later. Whilst the placing of the cross and the seizure of the two men had created great mistrust amongst the Stadaconans regarding the Europeans, the fact Dom Agaya and Taignoagny were returned to their people in 1535 led to “dancing and…many ceremonies” on French arrival. The French had the opportunity to use this reprieve to solidify relations with the Stadaconans, whom they would rely on heavily throughout the winter of 1535/6 for food and medicine. However, Dom Agaya and Taignoagny had made the fateful error of fuelling French greed by informing them of the land of Saguenay to the west. Therefore, Cartier’s preoccupation after settling near Stadacona in 1535 was with pursuing this direction at whatever cost. Donnacona’s sons had also promised to guide Cartier up the St. Lawrence to Hochelaga, the most western native settlement they knew of. Nevertheless, whether they gave such a promise is unclear and if they did it may have been a ruse to ensure their return to Stadacona, for when Cartier began to make preparations to head west Dom Agaya and Taignoagny became “altogether changed in their attitude and goodwill”. They became more distant from the French, held private speeches with Donnacona, who was said to be “annoyed” at Cartier’s desire to go to Hochelaga, and the Stadaconan chief even presented the French with some young children as a sign of alliance. Taignoagny explained that “these children had been given to him to the intent he should not go to Hochelaga”. Despite accepting these gifts of alliance, Cartier had no intention of honouring the Stadaconan agreement and prepared further for Hochelaga. The Stadaconans made one final effort to dissuade Cartier, as they “dressed up three men as devils” claiming that “their God, Cudoagny by name, had made an announcement at Hochelaga…that there would be so much ice and snow that all would perish”. Cartier merely dismissed this as a “ruse” and claimed the native god was a “fool” who could have no impact on the French. Such shows of arrogance, despite the obvious desperation of the natives to placate the French, irreparably damaged relations between the groups. The natives of Stadacona appear determined to have maintained exclusive trading privileges with the French and therefore sever their reliance on Hochelaga, the dominant settlement on the St. Lawrence. However, the “lure of the west” meant the French violated the upriver traffic privilege of the Stadaconans, whose position as the settlement nearest the coast gave them the right to control trade-flow along the river, a concept respected in Europe. The French subsequently progressed to Hochelaga, were they proceeded to trade with the natives there, although they could not progress past the Lachine Rapid.
The “Hochelaga episode” gave clear proof to the Stadaconans that no use could come from French presence in their lands and relations would never be stabilised. The French were in such a rush to head towards Asia and Saguenay that they failed to give their native policy any consideration. Had they assured the Stadaconans that they would not trade with Hochelaga, the former may have been more inclined to guide them up the St. Lawrence, moving the French nearer to their goal, whilst maintaining an important native ally. However, they had now ensured that any future stay near Stadacona would be an uncomfortable one. Through the winter of 1535/6 mistrust between the natives and French grew, with Cartier becoming increasingly paranoid about possible native attack and his men were debilitated by the scourge of scurvy. The fact Dom Agaya provided Cartier with the cure for scurvy emphasises the continual reliance of the French on the natives for survival in Canada and the foolishness of alienating them.
By the time of their departure in the spring of 1536, it appeared the French could do little more to further undermine the trust of the Stadaconans. Yet Cartier conspired to order the “seizure of Donnacona, Taignoagny, Dom Agaya, and two other headmen” before his departure. He undoubtedly hoped Donnacona would add more credence to the Saguenay myth at the French court, therefore continuing the cycle of “the lure of the west” exacerbating already-poor native relations. With the Stadaconans “howling and crying like wolves” the French headed home, ignorant of the fact that they had just put in jeopardy any future settlement they planned in Canada.
The kidnapping policy of the French only served to increase the rumours of the potential riches to the west of Stadacona. Cartier’s plan worked as Donnacona wowed Francois I at the French court with increasingly extravagant tales of Saguenay and its neighbouring provinces. Aside from explaining the whiteness of the people there and the abundance of gold to be had, Donnacona suggested that even “clove, nutmeg and pepper” could be found there. The addition of spices to the Saguenay myth emphasises that Donnacona simply told the French what they wanted to hear. The fact that Lagarto, Francois’ Portuguese ambassador, pointed out that spices could not grow in cold climates did not seem to matter. For Francois, Donnacona’s reliability was beyond doubt because he never changed his story. Such naivety is not only astounding but gave false hope to the future colonial attempt.
When Roberval met the returning Cartier at Newfoundland in June 1542, shortly after the abandonment of Charlesbourg-Royale, Cartier gave as his reason for returning to France “the Savages, which went about dayly to annoy him”. Indeed, the last entry in Cartier’s account acknowledges the suspicious behaviour of the Stadaonans on his return from the Saguenay venture and that “a wonderful number of the Countrey people” had assembled near the French fort. Given the behaviour of the French on Cartier’s previous voyages and the fact they had continued exploring westwards during the colonial mission, such activity amongst the natives is unsurprising. Cartier reaped the consequences of his own doing and his undermanned and under-provisioned expedition of 1541 was left vulnerable to the now uncompromising natives.
Roberval’s contingent similarly suffered the affects of the French native policy in Canada. With even less resources than Cartier, Roberval needed native acquiescence and support in order to survive. The Iroquoians are known to have stored great amounts of food for winter and were in the position to aid the French. Yet it is highly probable that the strict and autocratic Roberval inflicted further suffering on the natives by permitting physical abuse. Andre Thevet, a historian and cosmographer of the French court who claimed to have met several of the Canadian colonists, suggests this was the case. He argued that some of Roberval’s party hacked off the limbs of innocent Iroquoians “for their pleasure”, bringing an end to the supply of native food the French received. Therefore, when Roberval embarked for Saguenay in the spring, leaving only thirty men at France-Roy, the natives had the perfect opportunity to conspire against the European invaders and remove them from their land. Considering Roberval returned to France shortly afterwards it is likely this was the case.
The French pursued a foolhardy native policy, failing to acknowledge their reliance on “savage” people and driven by their remorseless pursuit of western riches. The “lure of the west” during Cartier’s second voyage in 1535/6 damaged native relations irreparably and simply led Donnacona to tell more wondrously false tales of Saguenay at the French court. Therefore, by the time the French came to establish their colony at Cap-Rouge in 1541 they were facing a hostile enemy, without the resources and manpower to defend themselves, whilst they continued to divert their attention away from Stadacona. Such single-mindedness and arrogance played a huge part in the ultimate failure of the Canadian colony.
Cartier and Roberval Rivalry
It is clear that Roberval’s part of the expedition suffered the consequences of Cartier’s crass native policy, as well as the failure of the first French mission to cultivate the land surrounding Cap-Rouge. Indeed, according to the Roberval account, the only information the General received from Cartier at their Newfoundland meeting was that the natives had proved a nuisance to the French. There was no expansion on this ambiguous statement, no passing-on of the cure for scurvy that ultimately ravaged the Roberval camp and seemingly no geographical information exchanged about the difficulty of penetrating the rapids en route to Saguenay. The likely explanation for such a lack of cooperation between the two colonial leaders is that a strong rivalry existed between the two men, which overrode concerns about French settlement in Canada.
The reason a rivalry may have existed between Cartier and Roberval was the designation of authority for the colonial expedition. Having been commissioned to conduct a third voyage to Canada in October 1540, Cartier must have begun preparations in the belief he would have full control once again. However, in January 1541 Francois issued another commission, this time for the colonisation of Canada under the leadership of Roberval. In it Francois stated, “we have, now and henceforth, revoked and revoke, quash and annul” any previous commissions of a similar nature, without even mentioning Cartier by name. There is no explanation for why Roberval was given a commission over Cartier. It may be that he was childhood friends with Francois, or that the king wanted a man of noble status to head any overseas colony. Nevertheless, Cartier must have harboured great resentment for being snubbed in favour of a Protestant nobleman in such unceremonious circumstances. He was the man who had navigated the St. Lawrence and knew Canada better than any other and his replacement is further proof that the French Crown’s preparations for a colonial enterprise were inadequate.
It is difficult to confirm that a rivalry existed from studying the two accounts of the colonial mission. Such early New World accounts were more in the form of “official reports” than works of historiography and consequently avoided unnecessary personal grievances. With the knowledge that King Francois would read these accounts, the authors had to be careful not to incriminate themselves by questioning the king’s judgement, particularly his decision to give Roberval overall command. However, it is possible to note subtle dissension between the two men from the sources. As well as the failure to exchange valuable information, the language used by the authors to describe each man is illuminating. Cartier refers to himself in his account as “generell and leader of the shippes”, in comparison to Roberval, the “lieutenant and governor in the Countreys of Canada and Hochelaga”, therefore according himself equal status at least. On the other hand, the Roberval account refers to the “Generell” commanding Cartier to do his bidding, a clear sign of authority, which was suggested by his commission. Cartier’s seeming refusal to accept the authority of Roberval ensured the two French contingents never joined forces, as the two leaders battled to gain favour from the colonial endeavour. The “lure of the west” would again play its part in accentuating this internal rivalry.
At the Newfoundland meeting Cartier told Roberval that he was carrying “certaine Diamonts, and a quantite of Golde ore, which was found in the Countrey”. These were no doubt the “Diamants” and “fine gold, as thicke as a mans nayle” that Cartier’s men had found shortly after the French arrival at Cap-Rouge in 1541. Whilst these minerals would prove to be worthless, neither Cartier nor Roberval were yet aware of this, and their preoccupation with this speculative load says a lot about French ambitions in Canada. When Cartier and his men stole away from Roberval at Newfoundland, having been ordered to return to Canada, the account suggests why:
[Cartier] and his company, mooved as it seemeth with ambition, because they would have all the glory of the discoverie of those partes themselves.
Roberval seems to have believed that Cartier was intent on upstaging him by returning to court with great riches, possibly with the intent of attaining a new commission to exploit the wealth of Canada. A Spanish fishermen similarly reported that Cartier was returning to France with “nine barrels of gold ore and seven barrels of silver, and a certain quantity of pearls and precious stones”, with the hope that he would return to Canada to “subjugate the land of the Indians”. Whilst it is impossible to substantiate such claims without Cartier explicitly voicing his motives, the evidence suggests he was intent on conducting another voyage to Canada, possibly to continue his western exploration that he seems convinced offered further profit.
It is very likely that the western voyages of Cartier and Roberval towards Saguenay in 1541 and 1543 respectively were at least partly guided by a desire to attain individual glory at the expense of the other, no matter what detrimental affects these trips had on their colony. Roberval’s expedition, after a winter in which he lost many men and resources and could ill-afford to leave France-Roy, is particularly supportive of this view. When he sent back the two ships to inform Francois of his arrival in Canada Roberval had also requested news on “how the King accepted certaine Diamants which were sent him”. He appears to have been significantly concerned about how Cartier’s minerals were received; no doubt worried the Master-Pilot’s status would greatly improve if the results were positive. Therefore, it is probable that Roberval saw a trip to Saguenay as a means of countering Cartier’s own riches, as well as providing a financial lifeline for the colony. Nevertheless, as shown above, such a trip at this time proved a fatal blow to the colony’s survival. Ironically, had Cartier informed Roberval that it was impossible to pass the rapids near Hochelaga with boats the General may have been more reluctant to conduct such a risky venture.
Francois’ patronage of Roberval was a bizarre and antagonistic move in preparing for the colonisation of Canada. The rivalry this caused between Roberval and Cartier, the man who had laid the foundations for settlement along the St. Lawrence, added further strains to an already divided and poorly-prepared enterprise. Both men saw the supposed “riches” of the west as a means of upstaging one another, further encouraging them to divert men and resources away from their Cap-Rouge colony, which was left at the mercy of an alienated native populace. Whilst we can intimate at the rivalry between the leaders, it is impossible to tell the reactions of the individual colonists towards their situation. How did they feel being led by a Protestant? To what extent did the “lure of the west” impact on them? Did they share their leaders’ convictions? Such questions must unfortunately remain unanswered. What is clear, however, is that the actions of the French Crown and the colonial leaders over several years proved detrimental to the Canadian settlement and therefore must have to the individual settlers also.
Yet another outbreak of the “Italian Wars” with the Habsburgs in 1542 effectively ended French hopes of resurrecting the Canadian colony, as resources and men were reserved solely for the war effort. In reality the likelihood is that the Cap-Rouge settlement was condemned even before departure from France, let alone after the outbreak of war. The preparations of the French Crown were completely inadequate for the Canadian venture, as budgetary problems and an underdeveloped merchant class ensured funding was poor. Cartier and Roberval both subsequently struggled to attain the provisions they required and were further hampered by a lack of manpower, brought about by the unappealing prospect of Canada to the common man. However, despite such limitations, it was the actions of Cartier and his subordinates on his two previous voyages that put the Cap-Rouge colony in jeopardy before its inception. Their complete alienation of the native populace of Stadacona, resulting from the French desperation to push further west in search of riches, ensured the compliant suppliers of food and resources they so desperately required would not be available to them in 1541.
Samuel de Champlain showed the possibilities of preserving a small colony near Quebec at the beginning of the seventeenth century, where settler numbers were originally only sixty-five. By immediately initiating cultivation near their settlement the French severed reliance on the natives for food and created a sustainable base for development. More significantly, Champlain and his followers dismissed the golden rumours of the west that had influenced Cartier so heavily and instead focused on a known source of wealth, furs. The creation of a “New France” in North America was very simply conceived, mainly by learning from the errors of the Cap-Rouge colony.
Despite no concrete evidence of a Northwest Passage or a Kingdom of Saguenay, Cartier and Roberval continued to be lured by the west and in the process diverted men, food and provisions away from their struggling settlements, leaving them at the mercy of now-hostile native peoples. As with many of the early New World colonies a lust for riches, brought about by questionable geographical theory, native rumour and European greed, contributed to the failure of the Canadian enterprise. Whilst it would take over half-a-century for the French to rejuvenate their interest in Canada, Champlain and his successors learned wisely from the legacy of the Cartier and Roberval failures to ensure that they created self-sustaining settlements, rather than pursue the mythical wealth of the west that just might make them rich.
 The most recent edition of the Cartier accounts and that of the Roberval mission is: Jacques Cartier, Henry Percival Biggar & Ramsay Cook, The Voyages of Jacques Cartier (Toronto; Buffalo; London, 1993)
 Henry Percival Biggar, A Collection of Documents Relating to Jacques Cartier and the Sieur de Roberval (Ottawa, 1930)
 ‘Grant of Money to Cartier for his First Voyage’ in Cartier, Biggar & Cook, Voyages of Jacques Cartier, p. 117
 John Horace Parry, Age of Reconnaissance: Discovery, Exploration and Settlement 1450 to 1650 (London, 1963) pp. 41-2
 Alan Gordon, The Hero and the Historians: historiography and the uses of Jacques Cartier (Vancouver, 2010) p. 11
 Matti Lainema & Juha Nurminen, A History of Arctic Exploration: Discovery, Adventure and Endurance at the Top of the World (New York, 2009) p. 76
 Peter O. Koch, To the Ends of Earth: the Age of the European Explorers (Jefferson, N.C., 2003) pp. 43-4
 W.J. Eccles, France in America (Revised Edition) (Ontario, 1990) p. 2; Giovanni da Verrazano, Verrazano’s Voyage along the Atlantic Coast of North America, (Albany, 1916) p. 10
 John L. Allen, ‘From Cabot to Cartier: the Early Exploration of Eastern North America, 1497-1543’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 82(3) (1992) p. 514
 Jacques Cartier, ‘Cartier’s First Voyage, 1534’ in Voyages of Jacques Cartier, p. 19
 David Beers Quinn, North America from Earliest Discovery to First Settlements: the Norse Voyages to 1612 (New York; London, 1977) p. 171
 ‘Commission from Admiral Chabot to Cartier’ in Voyages of Jacques Cartier p. 118
 Jacques Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-1536’ in Voyages of Jacques Cartier p. 65
 ‘Cartier’s Commission for his Third Voyage’ in Voyages of Jacques Cartier, pp. 135-6
 ‘Roberval’s Commission’ in Voyages of Jacques Cartier, p. 144
 Joseph Edward King, ‘The Glorious Kingdom of Saguenay’, Canadian Historical Review, Vol. 31(4) (1950) pp. 395-7
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’ p. 43
 Olive Dickason, The Myth of the Savage and the Beginnings of French Colonialism in the Americas (Edmonton, 1984) p. 166
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’ pp. 44-7
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’ p. 65
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’ p. 82
 Quinn, North America from Earliest Discovery to First Settlements, pp. 180-1
 Ramsay Cook, ‘Introduction’ in Voyages of Jacques Cartier, p. xix
 Pierre-François Xavier de Charlevoix, History and General Description of New France, trans. J.G. Shea (New York, 1866) p. 119
 John Hemming, The Search for El Dorado (London, 1978) p. 9
 King, ‘The Glorious Kingdom of Saguenay’, p. 399
 ‘Letter from Lagarto to John the Third, King of Portugal’ in Voyages of Jacques Cartier, pp. 131-2
 Michel Bideaux, Jacques Cartier/Relations ; édition critique par Michel Bideaux (Montréal, 1986) pp. 30-1
 ‘List of Men and Effects for Canada’ in Voyages of Jacques Cartier, pp. 126-9
 John Hearsey McMillan Salmon, Society in Crisis: France in the Sixteenth Century (London, 1975), p. 97; Janine Garrisson, A History of Sixteenth-Century France, 1483-1598: Renaissance, Reformation and Rebellion, trans. Richard Rex (Basingstoke, 1995) p. 156
 Salmon, Society in Crisis, p.15
 Jacques Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Third Voyage, 1541’ in Voyages of Jacques Cartier, p.97
 In Bideaux, Jacques Cartier/Relations, p. 32
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Third Voyage, 1541’, p. 98
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Third Voyage, 1541’, pp. 97-8
 Michelle Guitard, Jacques Cartier in Canada (Ottawa, 1984), p. 23
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Third Voyage, 1541’, p. 105
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Third Voyage, 1541’, p. 100
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’, p. 81
 Julie-Ann Bouchard-Perron & Allison Bain, ‘From myth to reality: archaeobotany at the Cartier-Roberval Upper Fort site’, Post-Medieval Archaeology, Vol. 43(1) (2009), pp. 100-1
 ‘Roberval’s Voyage, 1542-3’ in Voyages of Jacques Cartier, p. 110
 Dickason, Myth of the Savage, p. 162
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Third Voyage, 1541’, p. 102
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Third Voyage, 1541’, pp. 103-4
 Gordon, The Hero and the Historians, p. 23
 ‘Roberval’s Voyage, 1542-3’, pp. 110-1
 Stores. ‘Roberval’s Voyage, 1542-3’, p. 112
 F.J. Baumgartner, France in the Sixteenth Century (Basingstoke, 1995), p. 163
 Morison, The European Discovery of America, p. 434
 Eccles, France in America, p. 6
 ‘Letters Patent from the Duke of Brittany Empowering Cartier to Take Prisoners from the Gaols’ in Voyages of Jacques Cartier, p. 139
 ‘Examination of Newfoundland Sailors Regarding Cartier’ in Voyages of Jacques Cartier, p. 164
 ‘Roberval’s Voyage, 1542-3’ p. 110
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Third Voyage, 1541’, pp. 99-100
 ‘Roberval’s Voyage, 1542-3’, p. 111
 ‘Roberval’s Voyage, 1542-3’, p. 112
 ‘Roberval’s Voyage, 1542-3’, p. 113
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s First Voyage, 1534’, pp. 24-5
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s First Voyage, 1534’, p. 26
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s First Voyage, 1534’, pp. 26-7
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s First Voyage, 1534’, p. 27
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’, p. 49
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’, p. 52
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’, p. 52
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’, pp. 53-4
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’, p. 54
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’, pp. 55-6
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’, p. 56
 Real Boissonault, ‘Jacques Cartier: his life and exploits (1491-1557)’, History and Archaeology, Vol. 10 (1980), pp. 36-7
 Olive Dickason, Canada’s First Nations: a History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times (Toronto, 1997), p. 74
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’, pp. 59-66
 Trudel, The Beginnings of New France, p. 26
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’, pp. 76-78
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’, pp. 79-80
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535-6’, p. 84
 ‘Letter from Lagarto to John the Third’, p. 131
 Bideaux, Jacques Cartier/Relations, p. 23
 ‘Roberval’s Voyage, 1542-3’, p. 108
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Third Voyage, 1541’, p. 105
 Dickason, Canada’s First Nations, p. 77
 T. Hacket (ed.),The new found vvorlde, or Antarctike wherin is contained wo[n]derful and strange things, as well of humaine creatures, as beastes, fishes, foules, and serpents, trées, plants, mines of golde and siluer: garnished with many learned aucthorities, trauailed and written in the French tong, by that excellent learned man, master Andrevve Theuet. And now newly translated into Englishe, wherein is reformed the errours of the auncient cosmographers (London, 1568) p. 128
 ‘Roberval’s Commission’, p. 149
 Bideaux, Jacques Cartier/Relations, pp. 25-6
 Andrea Frisch, The Invention of the Eyewitness: Witnessing and Testimony in Early Modern France (Chapel Hill, 2004), p. 16
 Tabitha Renaud, ‘Rivalry and Mutiny: the internal struggles of sixteenth-century North American colonization parties’, Terrae Incognitae, Vol. 43(1) (2011), pp. 26-7
 ‘Roberval’s Voyage, 1542-3’, p. 108
 Cartier, ‘Cartier’s Third Voyage, 1541’, p. 101
 ‘Roberval’s Voyage, 1542-3’, pp. 108-9
 ‘Examination of Newfoundland Sailors’, p. 165
 ‘Roberval’s Voyage, 1542-3’, p. 110
 Bideaux, Jacques Cartier/Relations, p. 33
 Kenneth W.K. McNaught The Penguin History of Canada (London, 1988), pp. 23-4
 Samuel Eliot Morison, Samuel de Champlain, Father of New France (Boston, 1972), p. 106
 Morison, Samuel de Champlain, pp. 12, 116
 For the most authoritative studies of the colonising mission itself see: Marcel Trudel, The Beginnings of New France, trans. Patricia Claxton (Toronto, 1973) pp. 34-52; S.E. Morison, The European Discovery of America: the Northern Voyages A.D. 500-1600 (New York, 1971) pp. 438-454.