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La Reyne le veult – why are Acts of Parliament confirmed in Norman French rather than English?

On Thursday, The Queen officially prorogued Parliament which marked the end of the 2015-2017 Parliamentary session. As part of the prorogation, the giving of Royal Assent takes place for bills that have been passed by both houses. This is because prorogation signals the end of all parliamentary business, meaning if a bill isn’t passed into law by this point, it may not be carried on into the next Parliament.

Once Black Rod has summoned the House of Commons to the bar of the House of Lords, the Clerk of the Crown announces the title of each bill awaiting Royal Assent. The Clerk of the Parliaments then turns towards the bar and says ‘La Reyne le veult‘.

With its century-old traditions and odd customs, it is not too surprising that Acts of Parliment are confirmed in Norman French. A literal translation of La Reyne le veult is ‘The Queen wishes it’.

The House of Lords has been an English speaking chamber since the 1400s, however, Norman French is still used on formal occasions.

When a bill has passed its third reading in the House of Commons, it goes to the House of Lords for their approval. Written at the start of the bill are the words: ‘Soit baillé aux Seigneurs‘, meaning ‘Let it be sent to the Lords‘.

When the bill is returned to the Commons, it reads ‘A ceste bille [avecque des amendmens] les Seigneurs sont assentus’ meaning ‘To this bill [with amendments] the Lords have assented.’

When amendments are accepted, the bill reads ‘A ces amendmens [avecque une amendment] les Communes sont assentus’ meaning ‘To these amendments [with an amendment] the Commons have assented.’

Whereas La Reyne le veult is used on most occasions when bills are passed, occasionally a much longer portion of Norman French is used.

When approving finance bills for Royal Assent, the Clerk says: “La Reyne, remerciant Ses bons Subjects, accepte leur Benevolence, et ainsi le veult.”

This means: “The Queen, thanking her good subjects, accepts their benevolence, and so wills it.”

Sir David Beamish who retired as Clerk of the Parliaments a couple of weeks ago, admitted that he does not speak a word of Norman French other than the words he has to read out in Parliament.

There is no reason why Parliament still uses Norman French on formal occasions, but it certainly adds to the sense of tradition and pomp and will surely continue for centuries to come.

  • Augur Pearce

    And don’t forget the tactful phraseology by which Royal Assent is refused – ‘La Reyne s’avisera’, ‘The Queen will think it over’. Admittedly that hasn’t been heard since Queen Anne; but it’s just as well to be able to recognise it, should it happen!

  • JohnB

    Long may these curious traditions continue.
    While we, in Australia, do not have these bits of Norman French as part of our parliamentary proceedings, as far as I am aware, there are sadly other areas where tradition is being removed.
    The “motto” of the Victoria Police used to be “Tenez le Droit” (Uphold the Right) but this was changed to the English language version several years ago. No place for tradition under our republicans.
    The legal appointment of “Queens Counsel” was turned into the dreary “SC – Senior Counsel” but then some republican leaning barristers realised it affected their appeal to wealthy clients in Hong Kong and Singapore who were rather keen on being represented by QCs rather than SCs and so some states in Australia re-instated the title.

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