Suffering and Excess under Siege|
Suffering and Excess under Siege
By July 1759 the British had entrenched their cannons across the river from Quebec, at the Pointe de Lévy.
British General James Wolfe had been unable to carry out his land assault on the city, because of the fortified shore, so he prepared for bombardment instead. It would be a lengthy, destructive siege of a town that was already 150 years old. Quebec was a sophisticated urban centre, with a few examples of grand architecture and a society that mirrored France a colonial Versailles. The local aristocracy revolved around Angelique-Geneviève Péan, the wife of Michel-Jean-Hughes Péan, adjutant at Quebec. "All the elegant people meet at his house," an observer noted, "and here life is carried on after the fashion of Paris."
The fashion of Paris was further mimicked when the twenty-five-year-old Angelique-Genevieve became mistress to the forty-five year-old Intendant François Bigot.
With a pragmatic shrug, her husband simply accepted the situation and profited from her contacts. In France, King Louis XV's mistress Madame de Pompadour ruled through a combination of beauty, charm and shrewdness. Angelique followed her example, proving to be an adept mediator and power broker. There were grand dinners, clever entertainments and excessive gambling. It was a corrupt, profligate society that included the Governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, and reluctantly, the General, the Marquis de Montcalm, who was critical of it. Vaudreuil even set up a faro table at his house to accommodate the gamblers.
François Bigot's administration in New France was corrupt, competent and reluctant.
He repeatedly and unsuccessfully applied for postings in France. While he was stuck in Quebec however, he made the best of it, amassing a personal fortune. He was accused of systematically starving the people of New France and was paternalistic to the point of tyranny. But he brought order; the streets were paved and public shootings were curtailed. Bigot operated as the governors of most colonies acted, which was to their own advantage, a governmental model borrowed from Paris. Beneath his wayward example there was a descending network of mistresses, relatives and friends who benefited hugely from their lonely postings.
The excess of the administrators was at odds with the near starvation of the people, who resented their imported rulers.
The citizens of New France were already fifth generation Canadians and the divide between the two groups was palpable and widening. Montcalm was acutely aware of these divisions within New France but was resigned to his job as protector. "I shall do everything to save this unhappy colony or die," he said.
While the aristocracy gambled and the townspeople endured, the nuns struggled to establish a suitable moral climate. They were battling the risqué fashions of France, which arrived every spring and occasionally undermined decency, and they served as nurses, educators and social workers. They developed business skills and trades and provided a bridge between the disparate citizens.
They would prove to be the city's most valuable resource during the long, destructive siege of Quebec.