Last Updated: 9 February 2023

Les filles de La Rochelle (The girls from La Rochelle) is a sailor's song from the Atlantic coast of France and Canada, characteristic of the earlier sailor's tales and songs that were intended to occupy moments of rest and leisure. The song describes an imaginary and wonderful ship that is operated by children.

Les filles de La Rochelle Female sailor. Photo LightFieldStudios via Envato Elements

Photo LightFieldStudios via Envato Elements

The story of the song

The lyrics date back to the 18th century at the most, although the theme is known from the late 15th century. The melody was published in 1846.

As the song has an oral tradition, there are different versions.

Who are the girls from La Rochelle?

It is not known who the women mentioned in the song actually are. Depending on the source, they may be :

  1. The song may be inspired by the siege of La Rochelle in 1627-1628 during which many men died. The Rochelaises (women living in La Rochelle) decided to take over the defence of the town.
  2. The same Rochelaises are said to have laid a trap for Richelieu's soldiers during this same siege.
  3. For others, the song refers to the period of emigration to New France, when orphans and "women of ill repute" were taken on board to find husbands on the shores of the St. Lawrence.
Richelieu inspecting the siege of La Rochelle. Painting by Henri Motte 1881

Richelieu inspecting the siege of La Rochelle. Painting by Henri Motte 1881

Where is La Rochelle?

La Rochelle is a stunning coastal town located on the west coast of France, in the Charente-Maritime département (Nouvelle-Aquitaine region).

It is renowned for its picturesque harbour and stunning architecture, with its two impressive towers dominating the skyline.

The harbour town is a popular tourist destination, especially in the summer months, with its beautiful beaches and bustling harbour packed with restaurants and cafés.

There are plenty of things to see and do in La Rochelle, including walking the cobbled streets, visiting the impressive aquarium, and exploring the old town. The Cathedral of St. Louis is also worth a visit, along with the many museums, markets, and galleries.

Learn more about La Rochelle on the blog.

La Rochelle 30 © French Moments

The harbour of La Rochelle © French Moments

Les filles de La Rochelle

Lyrics, music, free download... let's learn more about the popular song:

Malbrough s'en va-t-en guerre

The lyrics in French

The original song of Les filles de La Rochelle has 8 verses and a chorus.

Couplet 1

(Ce) sont les filles de La Rochelle,

Ont armé un bâtiment,

Pour aller faire la course

Dedans les mers du Levant.


Ah ! La feuille s'envole, s'envole,
Ah ! La feuille s'envole au vent.

Couplet 2

La grand-vergue est en ivoire,
Les poulies en diamant ;
La grand-voile est en dentelle,
La misaine en satin blanc.

Couplet 3

Les cordages du navire
Sont de fils d'or et d'argent,
Et la coque est en bois rouge
Travaillé fort proprement.

Couplet 4

L'équipage du navire,
C'est tout filles de quinze ans ;
Le capitaine qui les commande
Est le roi des bons enfants.

Couplet 5

Hier, faisant sa promenade
Dessus le gaillard d'avant,
Aperçut une brunette
Qui pleurait dans les haubans.

Couplet 6

Qu'avez-vous, gentille brunette,
Qu'avez-vous à pleurer tant ?
Av'vous perdu père et mère
Ou quelqu'un de vos parents ?

Couplet 7

Je ne pleure ni père ni mère,

Ni quelqu’un de mes parents

J'ai perdu mon avantage

Qui s'en fut la voile au vent

Couplet 8

Il est parti vent arrière

Il reviendra vent devant

Il reviendra jeter l'ancre

Dans la rade des Bons Enfants

Translation of the lyrics into English

Here is an approximative translation into English:

Verse 1

(These) are the girls of La Rochelle,
Have armed a ship,
To go racing
In the seas of the Levant.


Ah, the leaf flies away, flies away,
Ah! The leaf flies away in the wind.

Verse 2

The grand-yard is made of ivory,
The pulleys are diamond;
The mainsail is of lace,
The foresail is of white satin.

Verse 3

The ropes of the ship
Are of gold and silver thread,
And the hull is of red wood
Cleanly worked.

Verse 4

The ship's crew,
They are all girls of fifteen years old;
The captain who commands them
Is the king of good children.

Verse 5

Yesterday, going for a walk
On the forecastle,
Saw a brunette
Who was crying in the shrouds.

Verse 6

What's the matter, sweet brunette,
What have you got to cry about?
Have you lost father and mother
Or any of your relatives?

Verse 7

I'm not crying for my father or mother,
Nor any of my parents
I lost my advantage
Who went away with his sail to the wind

Verse 8

He went downwind
He'll come back windward
He'll come back to drop anchor
In the harbour of the Good Children

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Les filles de La Rochelle © French Moments

French Nursery Rhymes

My challenge for the year 2023 is to publish 80 French Nursery Rhymes lyrics and descriptions (list below). Come back as time goes by to discover the new articles:

About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of Discovery Courses and books about France.

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