In the Name of Love
Marguerite De La Roche, Madame De Roberval
When the scoundrel and pirate Jacques Cartier made his last voyage to Canada, King Francois I, decided to turn it into a major event.  Convinced that there was wealth beyond imagination, he loaded the ships with provisions and settlers, hoping to gain the attention of the King of Spain; who couldn't care less.  Bugles blared, trumpets sounded and crowds gathered around the point of departure. 

This time, he was not only sending Cartier, but also
Francois De La Roque, Sieur De Roberval, a military 'hero'; who would be the Governor of the new colony.  What a fiasco.  We already know how devious and self-serving old Jacques, the seasoned 'sea captain'  was; but Roberval could have given him a run for his money in the evil man department.  To top it off, their 'settlers' were taken right from the prisons and off the streets; so many boarded the vessels in chains.

The expedition should have been called the Voyage of the Damned, and as most of us know it was a complete failure.  Though Cartier built a military compound in Quebec; the Canadians mustered an even larger army and had he not decided to turn and run, he surely would have been defeated in battle.  Roberval was late in arriving, but when he finally met up with second in command, Jacques Cartier disobeyed orders to stick around and snuck off in the night.  He later had to stand trial as a deserter.

But this is not the story of those bungling fools; but a tragic love story of a young girl; left stranded on an island, because she dared to love a man without title or wealth.  Her name was Marguerite de la Roche; the nineteen year old niece of the dastardly Roberval. 

Francois may have been her guardian at the time, and though it is said that the two were close, I rather doubt it, in light of the turn of events.  He certainly wasn't supporting her, since Marguerite was very wealthy in her own right.  As co-seigneuress of Pontpoint (she was left her father's or Francois' brother's share) and a principal landowner in Périgord and Languedoc; Roberval may have had an ulterior motive in remaining close to his charge.  Makes sense considering his character, or lack thereof.
The Love Story
When Sieur De Roberval was commissioned to create a penal colony in the 'New World', he took along his young niece Marguerite.  Just nineteen, this may have been the sort of adventure she was looking for.  However, during the long voyage, she met and fell in love with a young sailor, but knowing that her uncle would never approve of the match, she kept the affair a secret; and not without reason.

Whether the young lovers were caught in an embrace, or their relationship was reported to Roberval, has not been determined, but when he did find out, he was furious.  He arrested her lover and forbid Marguerite from having anymore to with him, despite the fact that she was pregnant.  She begged for his release and told her uncle that she was in love with the man, and planned to marry him as soon as possible.


Though he tried for hours to change her mind, Marguerite refused to back down, so as a punishment, he forced his men to take her to Demon's Island ('Ile Des Demons'), so named because it was thought to be inhabited by the devil himself.  Leaving the young girl with only her female servant, Bastienne; four guns and a few supplies, the ship pulled away to everyone's horror.  There was not a sailor alive who would have set foot on that island, let alone be left there; but the defiant Marguerite refused to let fear stand in the way of her happiness.

In desperation, her lover broke free of his guards, jumped ship and swam to join her.  This was the last straw, and her 'loving uncle' left her there to perish.
Undaunted, the young lovers immediately set to work, building a hut and a home, but planning to hail down the next vessel that passed their way.  However, not too many ventured closed to Demon's Island and they were left to their own devices. 

Soon after, their child was born; but when winter set in, the exiles found thenmselves ill equipped to survive.  Marguerite's intended was the first to go, followed by their child and then the nurse.  Now alone, the poor young girl was left to fend for herself. She hunted and fished, and kept the fire going, hoping to draw attention to her plight.  However, everytime a ship spotted the smoke, they were convinced that it was from the devil's fire, so made a hasty retreat.  The sight of the now dark-skinned woman dressed in furs, waving her arms frantically, added to the eerie sight; and many sailors reported the incident, lending credence to the story of demons.
The 'Loving' Uncle
Of course, the only real demon in this story was the 'loving uncle' who never so much as sent a search party to rescue his niece.  Marguerite, would survive for two and half years, until finally a brave fisherman spotted the young girl and delivered her safely to France. 

Soon after, there were two accounts of the tragic tale published.  The tamer version was written by
Marguerite D'Angouleme,  which came straight from Roberval, and had the sailor as the exiled one, and the niece following on her own accord.  This seems highly unlikely, since it does not explain how the nurse came to be there, and also contained many inaccuracies concerning the actual voyage. 

The second account was written by Thevet, and based on the story as told to him by Marguerite herself.  He says "Shocked by Marguerite's conduct, Roberval set her down on an island called Île des Démons, and the young man joined her there.  Marguerite gave birth to a child, who died; the young man succumbed too, as did the servant-girl. Marguerite stayed on alone on the island, using her firearms against the wild animals; she managed to survive and was one day picked up by fishermen who took her away to France". 

Later a Canadian poet would tell the tragic tale as told by the brave young girl who lived it.
Marguerite de Roberval
by: Isabel Ecclestone Mackay
Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada:
McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1916.
O THE long days and nights ! The days that bring
No sunshine that my shrinking soul can bear,
The nights that soothe not. All the airs of France,
Soft and sun-steeped, that once were breath of life,
Now stir no magic in me. I could weep–
Yet can I never weep–to see the land
That is my land no more ! For where the soul
Doth dwell and the heart linger, there
Alone can be the native land, and I have left


Behind me one small spot of barren earth
That is my hold on heav'n !
You bid me tell my story?
That were hard. I have no art
And all my words have long been lost amid
The greater silences. The birds–they knew
My grief, nor did I feel the need of speech
To make my woe articulate to the wind!
If my tale halts, know 'tis the want of words
And not the want of truth.


  'Twas long, you say?
Yes, yet at first it seemed not long. We watched
The ship recede, nor vexed them with a prayer.
Was not his arm about me? Did he not
Stoop low to whisper in my tingling ear ?
The little Demon-island was our world,
So all the world was ours–no brighter sphere
That swung into our ken in purple heaven
Was half so fair a world ! We were content.
Was he not mine? And I (he whispered this)
The only woman on love's continent !
How can I tell my story? Would you care
To hear of those first days? I cannot speak
Of them–they lie asleep so soft within
My heart a word would wake them ?
I'll not speak that word!

       
There came at last a golden day
When in my arms I held mine own first-born,
And my new world held three. And then I knew,
Mid joy so great, a passion of despair!
I knew our isle was barren, girt with foam
And torn with awful storm. I knew the cold,
The bitter, cruel cold! My tender babe,
What love could keep him warm? Beside my couch
Pale famine knelt with outstretched, greedy hand,
To snatch my treasure from me. Ah, I knew,
I knew what fear was then!

We fought it back,
That ghost of chill despair. He whom I loved

Fought bravely, as a man must fight who sees
His wife and child defenceless. But I knew–
E'en from the first–the unequal strife would prove
Too long, the fear too keen! It wore his strength
And in his eyes there grew the look of one
Who grapples time, and will not let it go,
Yet feels it slipping, slipping–


Ah, my dear!
I saw you die, and could not help or save–
Knowing myself to be the awful care
That weighed thee to thy grave!
  The world held two
Now–one so frail and small, and one made strong
By love and weak by fear. That little life!
It trembled in my arms like some small flame
Of candle in a stealthy draught that blows
And blows again–one never knows from whence,
Yet feareth always– till at last, at last,
A darkness falls ! So came the dark to me–
And it was night indeed!

Beside my love
I laid my lovely babe. And all fear fled;
For where joy is there only can fear be.
They fear not who have nothing left to fear!
So that is all my tale. I lived, I live
And shall live on, no doubt. The changeful sky
Is blue in France, and I am young–think you
I am still young ! Though joy has come and passed
And I am gazing after with dull eyes!


One day there came a sail. It drew near
And found me on my island, all alone–
That island that had once held all the world–
They succoured me and bought me back again
To sunny France, and here I falter through
This halting tale of mine. And now 'tis told
I pray you speak of it no more !

If I would sleep o' nights my ears must close
To that sad sound of waves upon the beach,

To that sad sound of wind that waileth so!
To visions of the sun upon the sea
And green, grass-covered mounds, bleak, bleak, but still
With early flowers clustering here and there!
Hats Off to the Heroines
Uniquely Canadian Site Map
Victorian Canada Home Page
1