Soldiers of the Sixteenth Century

The Soldiers Of Cartier And Roberval

An Increasing Military Presence

Roberval and his soldiers in New France in 1542

Caption: Roberval and his soldiers in New France in 1542

View Multimedia - Voyages of Jacques Cartier

Caption: View Multimedia - Voyages of Jacques Cartier

On his first voyage in 1534, Jacques Cartier apparently did not take along any professional soldiers or gentlemen other than his officers. However, there was at least one gunner on the crew of his two ships, because they fired cannons. An account of his second voyage in 1535 mentions that "all the gentlemen" of the expedition were on board as well as soldiers. They were so well armed that Chief Donnacona worried when they landed about why "the captain and his people carried so many war sticks," when the Amerindians had none. These "war sticks" were probably pikes and halberds. The French, in fact, were on their guard. When they went to Hochelaga, it was only with "the captain, the gentlemen, and 25 well-armed soldiers." 17 Furthermore, when they decided to pass the winter in Canada for the first time that same year, they feared "betrayal" on the part of the Amerindians and erected a small fort "entirely enclosed with large pieces of wood standing on end ... and with artillery all around it." They also reinforced it with "large moats, wide and deep, and a draw bridge gate." 18

Military preparations, previously limited to the essentials, assumed an important place in Cartier's third voyage to Canada a few years later in the company of Sieur de Roberval. Their goal this time was not just exploration but colonization. A plan written by Cartier at the time mentioned that he needed "40 harquebusier men-at-arms." 19 However, a Spanish spy posted in St. Malo in April 1541 observed that the preparations seemed to be for a much larger expedition. He reported that Sieur de Roberval commanded 300 "men-at-arms," that Captain Jacques Cartier led 400 sailors and 20 master pilots, and that 160 gentlemen would be on board, not to mention all the artisans, workmen and other skilled people needed to establish the future colony - in all some "800 to 900 people." 20 The soldiers were armed, according to the spy, with harquebuses and crossbows, and also carried rondaches or small round shields. The ships allegedly carried 400 harquebuses, 200 crossbows, 200 rondaches and more than 1000 pikes and halberds. There were also several pieces of artillery. In short, there was enough to arm not only the soldiers and gentlemen, but also the sailors and future colonists.

Additional Images

Jacques Cartier ordered cannon firings to impress the Indians
Jacques Cartier takes possession of Canada for France, 1534
A 16th century ‘rondelle’