The challenge of my work centers on the fact that the buildings that held important furnishings no longer exists. Rebuilt and remodeled several times before it burnt to the ground in 1834, the château Saint-Louis was the grandest and most important secular building in French colonial Canada. This "castle" dominated the cliffs of Québec City, capital of New France, and was the official residence of the colonial governors-general. A wooden fort built by Samuel de Champlain stood on the site as early as 1620, and a stone château, begun in 1648 and rebuilt in 1694, was part of a larger fortification- the fort Saint-Louis- built for defense. The 1694 château would be further enlarged in the 1720s and can be seen in the 1724 plan above.
The intendant's palace burnt several times during the French colonial period and during the bombardment of Québec in 1759. The first official residence for the intendant was conceived within a preexisting brewery in the 1680s. When this building burned in 1713, a new "palace" was built from 1715 to 1716, and renovated after a fire in 1726. What remained after the British bombarment of 1759 was destroyed in 1775 during an American invasion, and ruins stood on the site until they were razed to build a brewery.
Functioning like a courts in miniature, these structures housed dozens of soldiers, servants, and slaves called upon to protect and tend to the governors and the intendants , their families, and a multitude of live-in guests including French envoys, Amerindian emissaries and adopted children, and even New Englanders brought to New France as captives. Fine furniture and interior decoration underscored the significance of the château St-Louis and the intendant's palace as administrative centers that reflected absolute monarchical power.
I'm focusing my research on the period 1725, when the structures' final forms under the French regime were completed, to 1760, when British forces took Canada. Several French governors and intendants left behind valuable records related to their furniture, other interior furnishings, and the staff employed to care for them. Philippe de Rigaud, marquis de Vaudreuil, took up residence as governor-general of New France with his wife and nine children in 1703. He died at the château in 1725, but not before ordering major refurbishment of the structure, both inside and out. His 1726 probate inventory lists an impressive amount of furnishings, including more than one hundred pieces of seating furniture ranging from simple rush seat chairs to elegant upholstered armchairs and a sedan chair.
Charles de La Boische, marquis de Beauharnois, assumed office in 1726. He returned to France in 1747 with a large amount of furniture, books, silver, and ceramics, all stored in the port town of Brest and auctioned off at his death in 1749. Records from the period of Beauharnois reveal the hiring of staff to maintain and protect the governor's furnishings from the 1720s to the 1740s, and bills from the 1730s reveal important renovation to spaces within the château.
One intendant, Claude-Thomas Dupuy, left spectacular records behind that detail the sale of his furnishings. A bourgeois magistrate hailing from the Parisian court, Dupuy ordered extensive addition to the palace and arrived in Canada with a staggering amount of furnishings and decorative fixtures. Unfortunately for Dupuy, tensions mounted between him and the governor, so much so that he was recalled in the fall of 1728. Having amassed significant debt, his property was seized and sold at auction in 1730 and 1731. Records from this sale survive and detail the presence of 91 pieces of mirror glass, over a dozen gilt console tables, tapestries, sculpture, a pipe organ, hundreds of books, scientific instruments, and other items at the palace during Dupuy's intendancy.
The last governor of New France and Philippe's son, Pierre de Rigaud, marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial, bought clocks, tapestries, furniture, and gilt fixtures at personal expense in Paris for use in Québec. He didn't have long to enjoy them, as France and Great Britain declared war a year into his term. He and his wife the marquise remained at the château until September of 1759, when the British attacked Québec; retreating to Montréal, the governor ordered for valuables to be left in the château's vaults for safekeeping. Within days of the siege, his effects, furnishings, and provisions had all gone missing. Returning to France in 1760, Pierre de Rigaud would spend the next decade petitioning both French and British ministers for the cost of his furnishings. An unpublished 1771 inventory drafted from his memory and conserved by the British National Archives is an exciting document that will help to tell this story.
Studying the furnishings of the château Saint-Louis and the intendant's palace through these documents, letters, surviving objects, archaeological artifacts, and architectural plans will help to bring these long-vanished buildings and the stories of their inhabitants to life.