by Robert La Roque de Roquebrune
de LA ROCQUE DE ROBERVAL, lieutenant general of Canada, born around 1500
probably in the city of Carcassone (Languedoc-Roussillon), of which is
father Bernard de La Roque dit Couillaud, was the gouvernor. His mother
was Isabeau de Poitiers. Roberval died in Paris in 1560. Roberval maternal
grand-mother was Alix de Popincourt, lady of Roberval in Picardy. This
family of La Roque belonged to a very old noble family of the south of
France. Bernard de La Roque was a gentleman of the King Household, an ambassador,
and an officer of the Comte d'Armagnac and took an active role at the trial
of Maréchal de Gié.
La Rocque de Roberval lived at the court in the circle of Prince François d'Angoulême who, once he became King (François I) knew how to support him every time he was in trouble. This fact saved him from the scaffold in 1535. As a Protestant convert to the reform church (Calvinism) he had been outlawed along with other protestant such as Clément Marot among other. He soon returned to France, and again lived the life of courtisan at the court of the King. The painting of de La Rocque de Roberval by Clouet is among a collection of 310 portraits of the court of France at Chateau de Chantilly.
Roberval, in some ways was a big spender and compromised his fortune. He borrowed from his cousins, the La Roque of Blaizins in Languedoc, from de La Roque's in Armagnac and from the Popincourt's in Picardy. This about the time he decided to recoup his wealth by organising a colony in Canada. In 1540, he had regain the favour of King François I. This is about the time he may have returned to catholicism. François I appointed him «his Lieutenant-generalin the Country of Canada,» where he was charged to « spread the Holy Catholic faith».
The terms of his commission were well defined: his mission is to estabish a colony where he must construct churches and fortified towns. He received a grant of 45 000 £ and he fitted out three ships; the Valentine, the Anne and the Lechefraye. Some gentlemen were to accompany him for the trip along with criminals drawn from France's jails to begin his colony. On January 15 1541 François I signed the commission marking the birth of the French colonization of Canada. For the expedition, Jacques Cartier served as guide for Roberval. Cartier left in May 1541 with his ships while Roberval did not leave until the following year. Cartier and Roberval met at St. John's Newfoundland and Cartier returned to France despite Roberval's orders.
Roberval had had some difficulties with the organisation of his trip: he had been obligated to sell some properties and to borrow some more. At this time he associated with Bidoux de Lartigue and roamed the seas to pirate foreign ships. The English ambassador complained to François I about the english merchant ship being looted by Roberval. The King pretended to be angry with La Rocque. Roberval preparations had made the Spaniards uneasy and a spy of Charles the Fifth informed him that the purpose of this voyage was to establish a colony in Canada.
The three ships left LaRochelle commanded by Jean FONTENEAU. The crossing lasted from April 16 to June 8 1542 on which date Roberval met Cartier in Newfoundland
The sailing in the Gulf of St.Lawrence went without any incidents other than the romantic adventure of a "related" to Roberval, demoiselle Marguerite de LA ROQUE, who Roberval abandoned on an island with her lover.
Jean-François de La Roque de Roberval established his settement at Charlesbourg-Royal on Cap-Rouge, where Cartier had earlier built a fort. The courtisan that was La Rocque de Roberval named his colony France Roy (King France) and to the river (St. Lawrence) the name of France-Prime, both in honour of François I. The historian of the time, André Thevet wrote in his Cosmographie that a "strong house" was built with an other one erected near a river called in the language of the barbarians the name of Sinagua. The land of Sinagua was probably the Saguenay River.
Roberval undertook the exploration of the country, sailed upstream the St-Lawrence River and attempted to go over the Rapids of Lachine (at Montreal). He started to explore the Saguenay River where he thought he could find precious stones and gold. His small boats manned 70 men and commanded by Lespinay, La Brosse, Longueval and Frotte returned without having found the Kingdom of Saguenay or the precious stones. One of the boat had gone down with Noirefontaine and Le Vasseur on board. The worst hardship was to come; the long and cold Canadian winter in the forts. The little colony was to be afflicted by the cold, famine and deseases. The situation became tragic. Roberval had to repress more than one uprisings. Again the historian Thevet writes that Roberval showed a very Calvinistic severity: " Capt. Roberval was very cruel in dealing wih his men, forcing them to work; otherwise they were deprived of water or food. If someone was fainting or falling his duty, he was automatically punished. On day, he had six men hung and an other one was exiled to an isolated island with chain to his feet because he found he had stollen no more than five sous. Others were flayed for similar petty theft. If Roberval showed such harshness was because the population of his colony was made mostly of ex-convicts. He did, however, exerted his right of pardon in favour of a man who had chosen to come to this expedition on his own volution: Aussillon de Sauveterre. After he had killed a stubborn sailor, Sauveterre received a letter of remission. This dociment, dated in Canada on September 9 1542 and bearing the hand written Signature " J. F. de La Roque" is the oldest and first official Canadian paper.
Roberval seem to have quickly raised doubt about the succes of his venture and sent a ship to France commanded by Sauveterre and Guignecourt, seeking François I help to come to his rescue. Shortly after, he got everyone aboard the ships sent by the king and sailed back to France. The Canadian colony had lasted only a few months. Some historians believes that Jacques Cartier was in charge of this rescue expedition, but, it is very doubtful that Cartier sailed to Canada a fourth time. In the King's order of January 26 1543 to Aussillon de Sauveterre who was sent to Roberval's assistance, there is no mention of Cartier. Charlevoix claimed that Roberval sailed a second time to America with his brother Pierre de La Roque and both perished in a shipwreck in 1549. Roberval certainly did not died in 1549 because in 1554 he carried a lawsuit against Jean de Boutillac, and his brother whose naem was not Pierre but Jean de La Roque did not roam the seas because he was a monk and prior of his order in Normandy.
The colonial attempt made by Roberval was not only desastrous for himself but for Canada and also for Jacques Cartier. The "precious stones" gathered on Canadian soil and the "gold" were neither precious stones nor gold. The historian Gustave Lanctot said that once the chemist tested them, the gold was found to be iron pyrites and the diamonds were mica. None forgive to deceiving dreams. En 1555, the estate of Roberval were mortgage and his castle was could have been seized. Les Patent Lettre that king Henri II gave him didn't appear to have made him richer.
With the evidence of the crucible, the hopes of a Kingdom had crumbled in cataclysmic fashion. No one ever forgives dreams of deception. Of Cartier great achievement, of his three expedition, in France the only thing that remained was this Proverb: "Fake like diamonds in Canada". Cartier ceased to be the highly skilled commander, the great explorer on whom were fixed the eyes of a whole nation. And Canada no longer interested anyone in France for 50 years until the coming of CHAMPLAIN.
Roberval ruined by his Canadian experience struggled with great difficulties. He mortgaged his belonging and his castle threatened with seizure. Roberval stayed faithful to his protestant faith and he became one of the first victim of the war of religions in France. As he was coming out of a Calvinist meating a night of 1560, he was attacked along with his fellow Protestants and was killed at the corner of Les Innocents cemetery in Paris.