Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts

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The Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts (French: Ordonnance de 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 government, judicial and ecclesiastical matters (ordonnance générale en matière de police et de justice).

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


The major goal of these articles was to discontinue 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 the other languages and dialects spoken in many regions of France.

Other articles required that priests record baptisms (needed for determining the age of candidates for ecclesiastical office) and burials, and that these acts be signed by notaries.

Another article prohibited guild 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 marked a move towards an expanded, unified and centralized state and the clauses on the use of French marked a major step towards the linguistic and ideological unification of France at a time of growing national sentiment and identity.

See also[edit]


Title page of the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts
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