We must not conclude from the foregoing that French language policy before the French Revolution was inept and somehow laissez-faire. As is well known, France had exhibited dirigiste tendencies as early as 1539, when François I issued the Ordonnance of Villers-Cotterêts, according to which all official documents were to be henceforward written in `French.' Though the issuance of edicts and ordonnances may have zero effect on actual linguistic behavior, it legitimizes the notion that such edicts can control something, or will control something, and that the monarch has the right and authority to control language. [As I have claimed, however, it is the implementation of language policy that is usually its achilles' heel; if a decree has no teeth, it will not be implemented, especially if there is a cost to its effective implementation, and no cost (or penalty) for failure to implement.]
When most people think of language control in France, it is the Académie française that comes to mind. [The] Académie française, or French literary academy, [was] established by the French first minister Cardinal de Richelieu in 1634 and incorporated in 1635, and existing, except for an interruption during the era of the French Revolution, to the present day. Its original purpose was to maintain standards of literary taste and to establish the literary language. (Encyclopedia Brittanica, website.) The Academy was founded in 1635, as a private organization, and then chartered by Richelieu in 1637; its tasks were to establish a poetic, rhetoric, a grammar, and a dictionary and it was this last task, the dictionary, that it is most famous for. It arose out of the perception that French was somehow threatened by Italian and to some extent Spanish; loan words from these languages were being borrowed freely, and fears that French would be swamped and even wiped out by these languages prompted the desire to establish an academy. A language academy, of course, is an example of dirigisme since it rests on the notion that rules and decisions about language can be made by a body given the authority to make them, and language users will follow those rules. It never had a mandate to standardize French, however, and especially not its orthography; its members disavowed attempts to impose this task on them.``Depuis le début de ce siècle, l'Académie a fait savoir qu'elle ne se sentait plus ni le droit ni les moyens d'assurer seule ses fonctions. Elle a signifié à plusieurs reprises qu'elle entendait seulement rester de greffer de l'usage' [...]. Elle ne se reconnait pas le droit', déclarait-elle en 1935, et encore tout récemment, de réformer l'orthographe.'" (Catach 1991:55) Rather, they felt the priority was to greffer l'usage (lit.: graft usage') and in fact use the best usage.' It was hampered by the fact that its own members failed to follow their own rules to spell French in any uniform way (Voltaire was famous for this) and the committee of 40 was forced to subcontract the task to Vaugelas, who struggled on his own.