While French did exist in France and differed depending on areas, it was not the official language. When did it become so ?

  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is trivial; copy and paste the question into google and you'll find the Wikipedia page that asserts, "The Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts of 1539 made French the administrative language of the kingdom of France for legal documents and laws."
    – MCW
    Jan 23, 2017 at 1:28
  • True, but as you mentioned: 'if' you copy/paste. This is a different approach. Get into a museum and you'll miss zillion of things. Get a guide or another and you'll get a view from different standpoints and most certainly learn. Stackoverflow will never match Wikipedia, but offers a different way to learn or discover.
    – mat
    Jan 23, 2017 at 9:56
  • Since it is on hold, I need to make a point to show that this question was indeed relevant: here is another question: What is the oldest evidence of an official speech ever delivered in french ?
    – mat
    Jan 23, 2017 at 18:21
  • hint: it is in wikpedia
    – mat
    Jan 23, 2017 at 18:26
  • 1
    The question is on hold because it is trivial; "... off topic if they can be easily answered by looking up the relevant topic on Wikipedia." You can't make a trivial question relevant - you can make it non-trivial. Your comments about functioning statehood seem to be to be the best direction to make this a non-trivial question. We all know there were no nation states prior to the Congress of Westphalia, but you're offering a different definition of the power of a state. Interesting.
    – MCW
    Jan 23, 2017 at 21:51

1 Answer 1


In 1539, the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts established (among many other things: 192 articles) that all legal and notarised documents were to be written exclusively in French (articles 110 and 111).

Here are the articles in both French (as written at that time, Middle French):

Nous voullons et ordonnons qu’ilz soient faictz et escrits si clerement qu’il n’y ait ne puisse avoir aucune ambiguïté ou incertitude, ni lieu à en demander interpretacion.

Et pour ce que telles choses sont souventesfoys advenues sur l'intelligence des motz latins contenuz esdictz arretz, Nous voulons que doresenavant tous arretz ensemble toutes autres procedeures, soyent de nous cours souveraines ou aultres subalternes et inferieures, soyent de registres, enquestes, contractz, commissions, sentences, testamens et aultres quelzconques actes et exploictz de justice ou qui en dependent, soient prononcez, enregistrez et delivrez aux parties en langage maternel francoys et non autrement.

And English:

We wish and order that they [judicial acts] be drawn up and written so clearly that there be neither ambiguity nor uncertainty nor the possibility of ambiguity or uncertainty, nor grounds for asking for interpretation thereof.

And because so many things often happen due to [poor] understanding of Latin words used in decrees, we intend that henceforth all decrees and other proceedings, whether of our sovereign courts or others, subordinate and inferior, or whether in records, surveys, contracts, commissions, awards, wills, and all other acts and deeds of justice or of law, that all such acts are spoken, written, and given to the parties [concerned] in the French mother tongue, and not otherwise.

  • 2
    To have an "official" language you have to have a functioning state, with a head that has enough authority. By the time of Villers-Cotterets that was pretty much the case, but regions of what is now France were independent enough that they could continue using Occitan, Catalan, Provencal, Breton, Basque, you name it - in fact the ordinance says the problem is unintelligible latin ("...l'intelligence des motz latins..."). All that to say that 1539 is the date usually given, but you could choose later ones.
    – boisvert
    Jan 22, 2017 at 23:04
  • I could not agree more with you. 1. independant areas (at that time) are not concerned since they were not part of the kingdom. 2. Indeed the problem arose because latin was becomig unintelligible. And by the way, french was spoken but lacked common agreement on spelling. Thus, the edict enforced spelling agreements. It took a century to reach that. And as languages evolve, so does speling. But that would be another subject.
    – mat
    Jan 23, 2017 at 10:16
  • Yes, from what I have read, the use of regional languages for official purposes did not in fact cease after 1539, as they were also considered "langues maternelles françaises". It was about the time of Richelieu that French alone was mandated.
    – JTM
    May 28, 2018 at 23:36

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