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The first page of the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts, 1539.
Printed version of the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts, August 1539, prescribing the use of French in official documents.
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The Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts is an extensive piece of reform legislation signed into law by Francis I of France on August 10, 1539 in the city of Villers-Cotterêts.

Largely the work of Chancellor Guillaume Poyet, this legislative edict, in 192 articles, dealt with a number of governmental, judicial and ecclesiastic matters (ordonnance générale en matière de police et de justice).

Articles 110 and 111, the most famous, prescribed the use of French in all judicial acts, notarized contracts and official legislation in order to avoid any linguistic confusion:

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.
We wish and command that [judicial acts] be made and written so clearly that there be neither ambiguity or uncertainty nor possibility of ambiguity or uncertainty, nor cause to ask interpretation thereof.
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 aultrement.

The major goal of these articles was the discontinuation of the use of Latin in official documents (although Latin continued to be used in church registers in some regions of France), but they also had an effect on the use of those other languages and dialects spoken in many regions of France (see Languages of France).

Other articles enforced the recording, by priests, of baptisms (necessary for determining the age of candidates for ecclesiastical office) and burials, and required these acts to be signed by notaries.

Another article prohibited artisanal and trade federations (toute confrérie de gens de métier et artisans) in an attempt to suppress workers' strikes (although mutual-aid groups were unaffected).

Many of these clauses reveal a drive towards an expanded, unified and centralized state, and the clauses on the use of French mark a major step towards linguistic and ideological unification in France in a time of growing national identity.

See also

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