MONSEIGNAT, CHARLES DE (Monseignac), manager for Robert Cavelier* de La Salle, clerk and deputy director of the king’s domain (1681–82), first secretary of Governor Louis de Buade* de Frontenac, comptroller of the navy and fortifications in New France (1701–18), secretary councillor and chief clerk of the Conseil Supérieur (1705–18), resident agent and director for the tax farmers of the Domaine d’Occident (1707–18); b. c. 1652, son of Jean de Monseignat and Hélène Perchot of the parish of Saint-Jacques-la-Boucherie in Paris; m. 28 Sept. 1693 at Quebec Claude de Sainte (d. 1702) by whom he had seven children; m. 23 Feb. 1704 Marguerite Delesnerac; buried 21 Oct. 1718 in the crypt of Notre-Dame de Québec.
Charles de Monseignat’s career was full of the chicanery that characterized the civil service of Louis XIV. His experience in financial and legal matters was gained in the Chambre des Comptes at Paris. He also served with several public and private financial agencies before coming to Canada with La Salle as the explorer’s business manager. His primary responsibility was to hold off La Salle’s creditors and he frequently had to appear in court to delay the seizure of his employer’s property for debt. After two trying years in La Salle’s service, he sought work elsewhere.
In 1681 Monseignat was at Quebec working as a clerk in the office of Josias Boisseau*, the turbulent agent general of the tax farmers of the king’s domain. He was a deputy director in the same office the following year. Since La Salle and Boisseau were protégés of Frontenac, it is likely that he came to the governor’s attention while in their employ.
Monseignat returned to France soon after Frontenac was recalled from the colony in 1682. While there he served in a variety of offices, ranging from camp commissary to deputy director of a military hospital. He was employed as an auditor in the head office of the tax farms at Paris when Frontenac, reinstated as governor, invited him to return to Canada as his secretary.
During Frontenac’s second administration (1689–98), Monseignat and the junior secretary, Barthélemy-François Bourgonnière de Hauteville, handled his entire correspondence. Monseignat also acted as Frontenac’s publicity agent, writing the celebrated “Account of the most remarkable occurrences in Canada” which credited the deliverance of New France from her enemies in 1689–90 to the governor. This stirring chronicle was highly successful; it was reprinted in Claude-Charles Le Roy de La Potherie’s Histoire de l’Amérique septentrionale and has been the source for most accounts of the defeat of Phips*. Monseignat composed it in the form of a private letter and it has been suggested that the Marquise de Maintenon was the recipient. Since the first secretary had written other chronicles for Frontenac’s wife, it is more likely that this account was intended for the use of the Comtesse de Frontenac, her husband’s advocate at the court of France. Later, when the king and Pontchartrain began to take a disturbing interest in Frontenac’s conduct, Monseignat was selected in 1696 to carry to Versailles a glowing eye-witness description of the governor’s campaign against the Oneidas and Onondagas.
Frontenac repaid Monseignat for his services by granting him certain favours. On 24 Oct. 1694, the Intendant Jean Bochart de Champigny wrote to the minister of Marine that “M. de Frontenac’s secretary obtains large profits from the permits granted for trade with the Ottawas . . . otherwise, he has always seemed an honourable enough man to me.” It appears, however, that the governor was unable to influence the minister on his secretary’s behalf. In 1692 Monseignat twice petitioned for a gratuity but apparently with no success. In 1696 he was recommended by Frontenac for a naval commissary’s commission without salary. The minister replied with a polite refusal – “His Majesty wishing not to create new naval commissaries nor to appoint persons who have not passed through the ranks.” In the light of future events, this reply was full of irony.
In their dispatch of 20 Oct. 1699, Callière and Champigny reported that “Monsieur de Frontenac, just before his death, recommended to the Sieur de Champigny the Sieur de Monseignat, who had served as his secretary for ten years and with whom he was pleased. There is no vacant post here that would suit him.” From this statement one can speculate that Monseignat was too closely associated with the deceased governor to find favour in the eyes of his successors.
In the will drawn up just before his death in November 1698, Frontenac had selected Monseignat and a mutual friend, François Hazeur, as his executors. There now remained little for Monseignat to do in New France other than to wind up the governor’s estate. This done, he and his son departed for France, followed in 1700 by his wife and daughter. Like a stone thrown at his heels, a case was initiated in the Montreal court by Nicolas Perrot against Monseignat for alleged misuse of a fur-trading licence.
Monseignat’s search for a new appointment took over a year but the result was gratifying. By letters of provision granted on 1 June 1701, he was named comptroller of the navy and fortifications in New France. The comptroller was the senior financial official in the colony under the intendant. His duties were “to keep a register of revenues and expenditures for the Marine and fortifications in Canada, to sign contracts and acknowledgements for work done, to verify contractors’ receipts; and to perform those other functions of a comptroller in the same manner as those naval comptrollers established in our ports and arsenals in France.” The new post carried a yearly salary of 1,000 livres. Monseignat hastened back to Canada in that same year, accompanied by François Clairambault d’Aigremont the new naval commissary.
Monseignat’s enjoyment of his new post was brief. Like Job in his tribulations, Monseignat learned that the king gave and the king took away. He was informed by the minister’s dispatch of 10 May 1702 that “the king has created 100 posts of commissary of the navy and galleys which must be purchased at 30,000 livres apiece [in return] for a salary of 2,000 livres and 1,000 livres in the exercise of one’s duties, with the prerogatives listed in the edict that [François de Beauharnois*] will show you. Since these commissaries have to perform the functions of comptroller, your office will be abolished and you will not be retained in it if you do not buy one of these posts. Therefore, take the necessary steps to find the required sum and let me know what you can do by the first ships available because I shall be obliged to make the appointment next year.” As if this were not enough trouble, Monseignat’s wife died a few months later.
Purchased offices were exceptional in New France but the king’s need for money took precedence over custom. It was little comfort to Monseignat that his confrère, d’Aigremont, had received a similar letter. This ultimatum was, as one contemporary statement expressed it, “a most distressing extremity” for Monseignat. “He has,” the governor and intendant said, “few possessions, a large family, and he has just been bankrupted of his liquid assets. He hopes . . . that His Majesty will kindly retain him in his post without converting it into a [venal] office or, at least, reduce for his benefit the price at which they are set.”
Monseignat was retained as acting comptroller at half pay and, by way of compensation, he was appointed to the Conseil Supérieur on 1 June 1703. The minister represented this as a great favour. He informed Monseignat that his majesty “is thus consenting to let you keep by means of these two posts the same salary that you had as comptroller.” In truth, the combined salaries were 200 livres short of his former income.
Monseignat could not leave well enough alone. His next request noted that the minister was not too accurate in his addition and, in the same breath, asked that he grant him “the post of clerk which pays 500 livres so that his emoluments might equal those that he had.”
The minister was most obliging; he appointed Monseignat chief clerk of the Conseil Supérieur on 1 June 1704. The catch, intentional or not, was that the commission for this post was worded in such a way as to deny Monseignat the formal title of secretary councillor and chief clerk. On top of this, he could not be paid for this position until his installation on 1 Dec. 1705 and, because he had had no official orders to carry on as acting comptroller, he had received nothing for his services in that capacity since 1703. How he survived is a mystery; one suspects that he enjoyed the private charity of someone like Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil. The senior officials of the colony, in their dispatch of 19 Oct. 1705, asked on Monseignat’s behalf for an amended clerk’s commission “identical to those of his predecessors” and for permission to let him draw the comptroller’s salary for the years 1704 and 1705 since he had not been paid for those years. Jacques Raudot suggested that the orders to serve as acting comptroller be sweetened with the commission of écrivain du Roi with pay.
At this point the minister of Marine hesitated to let Monseignat go on accumulating functions like burs. Raudot’s proposal was turned down. Monseignat received an amended commission as chief clerk in 1707 with a note from the minister which read as follows: “I am also sending you an order to perform the comptroller’s duties, but I have not promised to give you a salary for that office since you have been clerk of the Conseil Supérieur, because the comptroller’s office was given only to do you honour in Canada.” A second letter from the minister rejected Monseignat’s own appeal for a reward for his services as comptroller “because the time is not favourable.” The time only became favourable nine years later when the venality of the naval commissary’s office was abolished. On 7 July 1717 Monseignat was reinstated as comptroller after having performed the functions of the office for 14 years at half or no pay.
Monseignat was neither a fool nor an incompetent and yet he endured exceptionally bad treatment from the crown. As a good father he trained Louis-Denis, the elder of his two sons, to follow him in his positions; qualified sons of royal officials in New France enjoyed a preference when their father’s successor was selected. Such had been the case when in March 1693 Alexandre Peuvret de Gaudarville was appointed en survivance to replace his father as clerk of the Conseil Souverain. Thus Monseignat was acting on an established precedent when in 1711, and again in 1712, he sought to secure the succession of his office as chief clerk of the Conscil Supérieur for his son.
In 1714 the minister answered Monseignat’s petitions with a flat refusal: “I have already let it be known that the king was absolutely determined not to grant any survivorships for posts in New France . . . it is useless for you to ask again.” On one last hope, Monseignat now begged for the survivorship of his post of comptroller or, at least, an order making Louis-Denis the comptroller’s understudy. The response was, as before, negative.
Charles de Monseignat’s cat and mouse game with the ministry of Marine may have been diverting but it was not profitable. His appointments had increased while his official income had declined. To meet the demands of his accumulated functions he employed deputies like his son and René Hubert whom, in 1711, he authorized to serve as his assistant and to act as chief clerk in his absence. Hubert was replaced in 1713 by Monseignat’s trusted friend, Pierre Rivet, who was also his chief clerk in the Quebec office of the Domaine d’Occident.
Monseignat had been the agent and director for the tax farmers of the Domaine d’Occident since July 1707. He needed the private income and he was also the best qualified man for the position. He had already worked for tax farmers in Quebec and Paris and had served as receiver-general of excise taxes in Champagne and as a collector of bridge and road taxes in France. In Canada the tax farmers leased the right to collect import duties and to exercise certain privileges in return for a promise to pay selected salaries and subsidies in the colony. Monseignat, as director of the tax farm, managed the collection of the revenues and made the required payments.
Since Monseignat represented the king and the tax farmers at the same time, any financial conflict between the two caught him in the middle. When such a situation arose, however, he generally resolved the matter in the king’s favour. In 1709, for example, he seized the estate of the Marquis de Crisafy under the right of aubaine. Since the late marquis was legally a foreigner his property fell to the king but, in this case, it was claimed by the tax farmers who had leased the crown’s fiscal privileges. Unfortunately, the king had already given Crisafy’s estate to the Comte d’Averne and Monseignat, as comptroller, had to recover the assets from himself as director of the domain. The minister in 1711 complimented him on his handling of the estate “and the exact account of that part which reverts to the Comte d’Averne.”
A similar conflict arose over the right to salvage the ships of Sir Hovenden Walker’s expedition which were wrecked off Île-aux-Oeufs in 1711. The tax farmers claimed the privilege under article 382 of their lease while Georges Regnard Duplessis, receiver of the admiralty, claimed it by virtue of the royal ordinance of August 1681. While the dispute simmered in the admiralty court, Monseignat and Duplessis came to a private understanding and dispatched a joint expedition to begin the salvage operation.
In a letter of 9 Nov. 1712, Monseignat reported to the minister that the goods obtained had barely paid the costs of the expedition but that there were several items which remained to be sold. The minister, however, ordered the Conseil Supérieur of New France to register the decree of the king’s council of 10 March 1691 by which “the vessels and goods of the state’s enemies which are washed up onto the shores of the kingdom are declared to belong to His Majesty alone.” A substitute comptroller, named for the duration of the case, summoned the salvagers to the admiralty court on the basis of this decree. The judgement ordered Monseignat and Duplessis to surrender to the king all that had accrued from the salvage operation and to pay court costs.
The tax farmers did not fire Monseignat; he had betrayed their interests because he had more to fear from the crown than from the tax farmers. No one could really expect to win a case against the king or those representing his power.
The Domaine d’Occident was like the goose that laid the golden eggs. The crown often gave it a severe plucking but stopped short of killing it. When card money threatened to bankrupt the domain, the government intervened. As card money depreciated, people paid the tax farm in this currency at or near face value while those who were paid by the farm demanded payment at real value. The director of the domain, Monseignat, had to match expenditures with revenue. The tax farmers had given him orders to pay out card money at the same rate as he had received it. The clergy and the officers whose incomes came out of the domain objected and he tried to appease them with partial payment in letters of credit. As a result the domain began to fall into arrears.
When the intendant and governor demanded that the domain pay senior officers double in card money in 1717, Monseignat stood fast and received the minister’s support. His position became impossible after the king’s declaration of 21 March 1718 reduced the value of card money by half. The disproportion between revenues and expenditures had to be remedied. On 13 July 1718 Monseignat asked the intendant for an order to compel importers to pay the farm in hard cash or, if in cards, double. An intendant’s ordinance was issued on the same day against three importers.
No man was better suited than Monseignat to supervise the destruction of card money. As comptroller, he had been authorized since 1710 to recover for burning the cards issued by Champigny in 1702. Worn out cards of later issues were replaced but it was hoped that the provisional money would be phased out. When new and larger issues of card money defeated this plan, the crown turned to official devaluation.
In a reference to the natural devaluation of card money, Monseignat wrote that “those who are on salaries from the king suffer greatly and cannot provide themselves with a quarter of the necessities of life.” But his work for the tax farmers had already freed him from dependence on the crown and it is likely that he used his offices to procure additional income. Moreover, he had engaged in a small number of private trading ventures in the late 17th century and he seems to have had commercial interests when he died. Le Roy de la Potherie, the former comptroller, had told the minister in 1702 that Monseignat “will calmly let the money flow out because he has grandiose views on commerce which hardly befit a comptroller.” There must have been a grain of truth in this for Monseignat’s estate was appraised at over 17,000 French livres in 1718.
AJM, Registre du bailliage, 1665–82, f.330v.; Greffe de Claude Maugue, 20 mai 1682. AJQ, Greffe de Louis Chambalon, 10 janv. 1699, 23 févr. 1697; Greffe de François Genaple, 8 janv., 21 févr. 1704; Greffe de Florent de La Cetière, 5 déc. 1718. AQ, NF, Coll. de pièces jud. et not., 2026, 3345. AN, Col., B, 22, ff.135, 276v–77; 23, ff.104v, 216v–17, 235v; 27, f.288; 29, f.110; 33, ff.382v–83; 36, f.407–8; C11A, 30, f.36–37; 33, ff.151–53; 11, pp.3–99; 17, pp.36, 143; 19, pp.1–38, 122–31; 31, pp.188–89; 33, pp.273–76; 34, pp.323, 448–51; 39, pp.7, 153–56; D2C, 47/2, p.333 (copies in PAC). BN, MS, Clairambault 884, f.456. Documents relating to Canadian currency during the French period (Shortt). Jug. et délib., II, III, IV, V, VI. Ord. comm. (P.-G. Roy), I, 288. Recensement de Québec, 1716 (Beaudet), 15. P.-G. Roy, Inv. ins. Cons. souv.; Inv. jug. et délib., 1717–1760, I, VI, VII; Inv. ord. int., I. Gareau, “La prévôté de Québec,” 117–19. P.-G. Roy, “Charles de Monseignat,” BRH, XI (1905), 292–98; “Les secrétaires des gouverneurs et intendants de la Nouvelle-France,” BRH, XLI (1935), 82–83.