Marguerite de La Rocque: 16th Century Noblewoman Stranded on the Isle of Demons
Marguerite de la Rocque was a French noblewoman who is well-known for surviving several years alone on a deserted island known as the Isle of Demons. Marguerite was marooned on the island by her cousin, Jean-Francois de Roberval. Some say that Roberval acted out of anger, due to Marguerite’s ‘scandalous’ behavior. Others say that he acted out of greed, in hopes of receiving a portion of inheritance. Regardless of Roberval’s reason for stranding Marguerite on the Isle of Demons, the time she spent there was certainly harrowing. She went from a life of luxury, to one of survival. She witnessed the death of several people, including her infant child. Due to some good fortune, Marguerite was eventually rescued from the Isle of Demons, and survived to tell her tale.
Marguerite de la Rocque was born sometime around the year 1515 in France. By the age of 20, Marguerite had acquired an immense wealth and lived a life of privilege and luxury. She owned a great deal of land in Southern France in an area known as Languedoc. In addition to her individually owned lands, she also owned a substantial amount of land jointly with her cousin Jean-Francois de Roberval. As a woman of means, Marguerite’s life was relatively carefree.
Marguerite de la Rocque owned substantial amounts of land in Languedoc, France ( Wikimedia Commons )
Marguerite’s cousin, Roberval, was viewed by many as a “social-climber.” He would affiliate himself with anyone he believed would be useful to him, engaging in social activities. One of his associations was with King Francis I of France. Roberval befriended King Francis, and the two would spend their time together womanizing and game hunting. Through this close relationship, Roberval convinced King Francis to appoint him Lieutenant-General of New France, the area which is now known as Canada.
Portrait of King Francis I of France by Joos van Cleve c. 1530 (Wikimedia Commons)
In 1542, Roberval was to set sail on one of three ships headed towards New France. The ships were carrying hundreds of colonist, livestock, and equipment to New France. Roberval was to travel aboard the ship known as the Valentine, and Marguerite decided to travel with him. It is unclear why a woman of means would choose to travel aboard these ships en route to New France. This has remained an unanswered question over the years, as a woman of such means would have no reason to embark on such a journey. She did, however, and what happened next had become a legendary tale of a lone survivor struggling to survive on a deserted island. After the ship set sail, Roberval marooned Marguerite and two others on the Isle of Demons, a legendary land once believed to exist on Quirpon Island, Newfoundland in Canada, leaving them behind to perish.
The Isle of Demons began appearing on maps in the beginning of the 16th century, but had disappeared by the mid-17th century. According to legend, the island was populated by demons and wild beasts, which would attack any ships that passed or anyone that was foolish enough to wander onto the island.
Inscription of the Isle of Demons off Newfoundland in the map. (Wikimedia Commons)
The reason for Roberval’s actions has been disputed. According to some accounts, Roberval was not happy with Marguerite’s behavior aboard the Valentine. The 27-year old Marguerite had become pregnant after having an affair with a young man on the ship. Roberval viewed Marguerite’s actions with the young man as scandalous, and as disrespectful to her family. Other accounts illustrate Roberval acting not out of anger, but out of greed, hoping to inherit from Marguerite. Regardless of his motive, and acting under the authority in his role as Lieutenant-General, Roberval ordered the ship to take Marguerite to a deserted island – the Isle of Demons. There, Roberval marooned her on the island, along with the young man with whom she had become smitten, and her maid, Damienne. By some accounts, Roberval marooned Marguerite, and her lover opted to join her. In other accounts, it was the young man who was marooned and Marguerite that chose to join him.
The trio was given a few supplies, including a gun, gunpowder, an assortment of knives, and a Bible. Together they found a cave within which to take shelter. Unfortunately, Damienne and Marguerite’s lover both perished on the island, prior to the infant’s birth. Marguerite was forced to endure the pregnancy and the birth on her own. Sadly, the infant died as well, and Marguerite was left alone on the island, struggling to survive on the very meager supplies left to her by Roberval.
As a noblewoman, Marguerite would have faced many struggles in her attempts to survive the harsh conditions of the island. Food, shelter, and water, all items that had been readily available to her back in France, would now have been a daily struggle for her. At one point she used the gun to shoot a bear. She skinned the bear, and used its skin for warmth. Her desire for survival remained strong, and she pushed forward on the lonely island for more than two years before being rescued. In 1544, she was discovered by a group of fishermen. Thanks to the fishermen, Marguerite’s ordeal on the Isle of Demons was over.
Little is known about the details of Marguerite’s time on the Isle of Demons, or what happened when she returned to France. There is no record that she took any action against Roberval, although he lived in France until he was approximately 60 years old, when he was beaten to death by a mob. Marguerite founded a private school for girls, and lived out her life in Nontron in the Chateau de la Mothe.
Featured image: Depiction of Marguerite de la Rocque on the Island of Demons (Taringa.net)
France's Robinson Crusoe was a woman – Southern Highland News. Available from: http://www.southernhighlandnews.com.au/story/2872831/frances-robinson-crusoe-was-a-woman/
Marguerite de la Rocque, Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Available from: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/la_roque_marguerite_de_1E.html
Marguerite de la Rocque, The Canadian Encyclopedia. Available from: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/marguerite-de-la-rocque/
Women at Sea: Mademoiselle de la Rocque – Pauline’s Pirates and Privateers. Available from: http://paulinespiratesandprivateers.blogspot.com/2012/08/women-at-sea-mademoiselle-de-la-rocque.html
By M R Reese