FYI France: online “Actes Royaux” at the BnF, seeing history

FYI France: online “Actes Royaux” at the BnF, seeing history

There are many wonders to be mined, online at the BnF’s digital library, Gallica. As exciting as the original announcements of these large-scale digitization projects were, their steady development and enormous growth since, as-revealed by regular re-visits, can be even more impressive.

The other day, for example, re-visiting Gallica I stumbled upon something the BnF calls “Actes Royaux”: ordinances, announcements, commands, “édits” and “harangues”, declarations and decrees of the French State, stretching back to the 16th Century… now online…

This is the Ancien Régime, and the Age of Absolutism, the infamous “lettres de cachet” which led to the Bastille, the internal workings of the Châtelet, the governance of Old Paris — and Louis XIV and his many wars, and their glory, and what it meant to be a wounded soldier of one of those, caught stealing, or begging, in the Paris streets…

How the whole state enterprise actually was run, the legal and administrative history — but also French printing history, back nearly to their Age of Incunabula and the many deep and broad changes early printing brought to French government and social and political life, the raw matériel of same…

All available in an online digital fulltext collection at Gallica, now 3168, oops now 3173 documents-strong, and growing:

At that web address you now can, literally, walk through French history and law — these are wall posters, the notorious “placards”, and leaflets produced for the government by famous printers such as the shop of “R. Estienne”, broadsides, working documents of the national “administration” bureaucracy — you can choose your favorite 16th century topic, say “Armée”, and there the documents themselves are, now, hundreds of them, in their originals or very nearly, available for you to sort by various criteria and study, as you might have walking down a street in 16th century France.

Doing so now from Tasmania, or Chennai or an airport or even on an airplane, or on-board a TGV zooming past Cluny — or in the bathtub, the way Marat did — wherever your French Studies laptop or iPad or iPhone happens to be… just don’t drop your iPhone into the bathwater, and watch your back…

Sample entries: something for everyone, and remembering that a click now gets you to the fulltext image “originals” —

* the founding of royal academies —

Auteur(s) : France
Titre conventionnel : [Acte royal. 1713-02-00. Marly]
Titre(s) : Lettres patentes… qui confirment l’établissement des Académies royales des Inscriptions et des Sciences. Avec les règlemens [des 16 juillet 1701 et 26 janvier 1699] pour lesdites deux Académies.*.. Registrées en Parlement le 3 may 1713 [Texte imprimé]
Publication : Paris : Vve F. Muguet et H. Muguet, 1713
Description matérielle : In-4°, 12 p. — or,

* speeches — Henri III speaks, at Blois —

Titre : Harangue prononcée par le Roy en l’assemblée générale de ses Estatz, en la ville de Bloys, le… 6e jour de décembre 1576
Auteur : Henri III (roi de France ; 1551-1589)
Éditeur : J. de Lastre (Paris)
Date d’édition : 1576
Sujet : Blois — États généraux (1576) (Actes royaux)
Sujet : États généraux (1576 ; Blois) (Actes royaux)
Format : 23 p. ; in-8
Description : [Acte royal. 1576-12-06. Blois]

And now — very interesting for any library — these images are showing up in the OPAC… The “digitization project” and the “library catalog” at last are meeting, online — you now, and I suppose and hope increasingly, can see full bibliographic – standard catalog records alongside the images, and images in the catalog records!

Example: online fulltext in the OPAC “catalog record”, now, not just in the “digital imaging project” Gallica —

Louis XV ; France. Déclaration concernant les gages attribuez aux officiers gardescostes de la marine… Registrée en la Chambre des Comptes le 7 juin 1720 (Paris : J. Saugrain , [s. d.]) Acte royal. 1720-05-03. Paris ; In-4Ê , 4 p. ; Sujet(s): Bohémiens (Actes royaux) ; online fulltext at the BnF :

Many of us have been wondering when these two might meet — nowadays, after all, they’re all just digits — so it is “media convergence”, alors, finally!

Believe it or not, in the past, the OPAC was one digital generation while the “images / digitization project” was another and somewhat-younger bunch — both pony-tailed, but the first already-graying while the second was still-blonde — and the turf wars were legendary, back when office space for “computers” still was considered an oddity, in a “library” — many noticed the need for, in classical American tech-feuding terms, “the farmer and the cowman must be friends”…

A salutary solution, in the Gallica / Opale situation: wonderful, now, to be able to view both the complete bibliographic catalog record and, on or at least via the same webpage, the digitized online fulltext of the original document…

The one so often validates the other: not-so-fondly recalling the early OPAC wars — back when the scribbled 3×5 cardboard card was considered indispensable and infinitely superior to anything so obviously-ephemeral as to be merely “digital” — and digital fans laminated library walls with remnants of the old cards, while digital foes wagged fingers and warned of the loss of invaluable librarian “Notes”.

Well, now not only are the “Notes” there, they are right next to readable fulltext images of the documents themselves! What an improvement, in intellectual access, what a step up and forward for the librarian’s professional contribution — kudos to the BnF! And what, potentially (?), a saving for the much-harassed library finance officer, seeking a nickel or two to save in “OPAC” / “imaging project” duplication! We’ll see…


And now translated excerpts, from a good article by the BnF’s Gilles Baudouin explaining the BnF’s “Actes Royaux” project described above — the article appeared in January, in the interesting & useful “Blog lecteurs de la BnF” cited in the URL:

Les actes royaux : une collection particulière méconnue

“The Actes Royaux: a little-known collection”

[tr. JK, excerpts:]

“The Actes Royaux are administrative decrees, or collections of them, emanating from the sovereign; issued by the conseil du roi, the chambre des comptes, cours des aides, cours des monnaies, chambre du trésor et du domaine…

“The acts in the Collection extend from the 16th century, with King Henri II, to the reign of Louis XVI and the birth of the French Revolution.

“From the beginning of the 16th century, certain French printers published some ordinances and collections of royal acts.

“At that time, these items went into the private collections of learned gentlemen and so, paradoxically, did not become a part of the Bibliothèque Royale.

“But in 1652, the brothers Pierre and Jacques Dupuy, at the time curators at the Bibliothèque du Roi and owners of one of the finest and most representative collections of Actes Royaux, willed their precious trove to Louis XIV, a gift which led to regular additions to the royal collection…

“At the Revolution, the library, having become “national”, enriched itself considerably via the efforts of Conservateur des Imprimés Joseph Van Praet, drawing largely upon the collections placed into dépôts littéraires and confiscated from religious communities, certain civil institutions, and émigré nobles.

“Following the Revolution the collection did not increase, with one exception, the acquisition of Actes Royaux from the first half of the 16th c., held now in the Réserve des livres rares.

“Where to find these Actes —

“The collection of Actes Royaux of the Bibliothèque nationale de France is divided between the department of Droit économie politique (cote F), the Réserve des livres rares (cote Rés. F) and the departement of Philosophie, histoire, sciences de lÿÿhomme (cote L or M).

“The collection… is entirely cataloged — 42,369 items — in a series of 7 volumes, edited between 1910 and 1960, within the Catalogue général des livres imprimés de la Bibliothèque nationale.

“A group of these texts, held at the departement of Droit économie politique, now is being digitized as part of the digital library Gallica.

“This is the ‘série générale des recueils’ assembled prior to 1886, which contains Actes from different periods and emanating from a variety of jurisdictions.”

[For anyone interested in the BnF Actes Royaux collection qua collection: the above-mentioned series of 7 printed volumes offers a precise and excellent Préface, in Volume 1 at pages i-lvii, explaining the history and structure of both the collection and the cataloging project, written by the original series editor Albert Isnard. And, interestingly, the initial reign-specific entry included in that volume’s list describes a
1 bis item from Dagobert Ier, a decree “de fugitivis” issued “en faveur de l’abbaye de Saint-Denis”.*.. Or maybe it wasn’t: “diplôme faux”, the entry reads… So the early French kings faced spammeurs, too… JK]



“Worth a journey”, like so many things in France — one far better-informed, these days, and useful & productive & enjoyable, for being on the Ouebbe…

The Ouebbe qua encyclopédie, maybe, like Wikipedia: no equivalent of the originals, but the closest many of us can get, and an incentive for going further, for a few, and a much-improved preparation for the eventual Grand Tour voyage.

If we ever are to “preserve” such documents, we need to show others why they are worth preserving, and the Ouebbe is a wonderful tool for that — as the BnF, once again, demonstrates superbly here.

Jack Kessler,


FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal ISSN 1071-5916

| FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic
| journal published since 1992 as a small-scale,
| personal experiment, in the creation of large-
| scale “information overload”, by Jack Kessler.
/ Any material written by me which appears in
—– FYI France may be copied and used by anyone for
// \ any good purpose, so long as, a) they give me
——— credit and show my email address, and, b) it
// \ isn’t going to make them money: if it is going
to make them money, they must get my permission
in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France archives may be found at
(PACS-L archive), or
or . Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison-pen letters all gratefully received at .

Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler,
all rights reserved except as indicated above.

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Klaus Graf (2010, 16. Oktober). FYI France: online “Actes Royaux” at the BnF, seeing history. Archivalia. Abgerufen am 17. April 2024, von

Autor: Klaus Graf

Historiker und Archivar, Blogger

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