Power houses: furnishing authority in New France 1660-1760

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University of Delaware
In New France, public buildings were imbued with powerful symbolism both inside and out. The use of terms such as castle (château ), palace (palais ), and private townhouse (hôtel or hôtel particulier ) to designate structures built for colonial notables underscored their rank within the socio-political framework of the French Ancien Régime. Inside stately colonial residences built at royal expense, material manifestations of power and fashion converged to create microcosms of monarchical absolutism and aristocratic sociability an ocean away from the metropole. Like their counterparts in France, colonial governors, intendants, bishops, and others made full use of physical objects and spaces to legitimize authority, articulate elite identity, and arbitrate good taste. Imported furniture, tapestries, mirrors, and other items allowed these individuals to live according to courtly etiquette and style launched at Versailles in addition to trends for comfort refined in Paris. Through the lens of archival records, architecture, and decorative arts, this study draws connections between the ownership of such commodities in New France and the development and entrenchment of elite cultural practice there. An approach combining Atlantic world history, biography, material culture theory, and social history specifically targets expressions of authority through material display, unpacking efforts by colonial officials to adhere to an established set of values and standards that were thoroughly French. Considering their experiences in both France and in French colonies stretching from Canada to Louisiana, this thesis further contextualizes the nearly vanished material worlds of political elites in New France. The interpretive period spans the 1660s, the decade in which French North America was made a royal province, through the 1760s, when it was lost to Great Britain and Spain at the end of the Seven Years' War