General Information

History of Notariat

From the third to the twentieth century, the notariat has stood the test of time and currently exists in nearly 91 countries located in America, Europe and Asia. Since it's beginnings the profession has continued to evolve.


Prehistory of Notariat

In the 3rd century AD, under the late Roman Empire, officers whose roles were similar to that of modern French notaires were already authenticating contracts on behalf of the State. There were record keeping systems. 


The colonizers introduced the concept into Gaul and "Gallo-Romans notaries" started drawing up documents, particularly land censuses designed to establish the basis for property tax .

The profession disappeared after Rome fell to the barbarians, but reappeared in the 9th century by virtue of a capitulary issued by Charlemagne. It presented only weak overlaps with the contemporary notary, despite an identity of denomination. 



At the dawn of the Kingdom of France

In 1270, shortly before setting off on his last crusade, King Louis IX, commonly known as Saint Louis, and King Philippe le Bel, in 1302, played an important part in developing the role of the French notary.

  • King Louis IX appointed with the jurisdiction of the Grand Châtelet de Paris, 60 notaries; this is the origin of the company of notaries of the capital.
  • King Philippe le Bel extended the role of the French notary to all the lands governed by the sovereign,  integrating regional and even local notaries into a national scheme. 


 From the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts to the end of the Old Regime

During the 16th century, state structures asserted themselves and were modernized.

  • In 1539 King Francois Ier, by ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts prefigured how the civil law notary was to be organised : the deeds were to be written in French instead of regional dialects, the deeds were to be archived and a record their existence was to be kept.
  • In 1597, King Henri IV made the French notaires keepers of the Seal of State.


French Revolution and 19th century


The French Revolution did not challenge the notarial institution, but, on the contrary, confirmed with the law dated 1791. Rooted in the public conscience, the notary is recognized as being part of the social organization of modern France.

During the final phase of the Consulate, life-consul Napoleon Bonaparte, under an Act dated 25 Ventôse year XI by the revolutionary calendar , gave French notarys a status the main features of which have remained unchanged.


The 20th century

The Superior Council of the Notariat was created in 1941 and the republican refoundation with the ordinance dated November 2, 1945 provided the notariat with institutional structures 

The profession of Notaire considerably developed since this period, made particularly vital by the need to rebuild France after World War II. The Notariat has made a major contribution to this rebuilding in the legal and tax fields.

The legal profession experienced dramatic expansion after the War as politicians reformed most of France's institutions or created new institutions in many different fields.

At the same time as these developments, town-planning regulations underwent dozens of one-off changes and two new areas of law emerged: that of protection of consumer rights and that of environmental protection.

In short, the law has seen more changes in the last half-century or less than it underwent in the previous one hundred and fifty years. However, by investing significant technical and financial resources, the Notariat has managed to cope with and adapt to all these changes.

The Macron Law dated August 2015 has profoundly changed the profession, and in particular the mode of accession is based on an set-up card proposed by the Competition Authority and validated by the Ministry of Justice and the Minister of Economy. A drawing of lots can also be practiced. The pricing of acts has also been revised. Overall, with this reform, the number of offices and notaries has grown very strongly in a few years, with the French notarial profession now being the densest in Europe.

The International Institute of Notarial History (I.I.H.N.) / "Le Gnomon" aims: "to bring together enthusiasts of the notarial past, professional or non-professional historians, and lovers of notarial symbolism, attendance tokens, medals, signs , engravings, paintings, drawings, prints, uniforms, seals and others. Its purpose is to highlight and raise awareness in terms of history of the notariat, the notarial culture and to draw from this retrospective examination, all prospective consequences; it may, for this purpose, organize exhibitions and conferences, publish brochures and catalogs and carry out all activities allowing the direct or indirect development of the object defined above. Any action of a political or religious nature is formally excluded." 


The International Institute for the History of Notaries (I.I.H.N.) / "Le Gnomon" was created in 1974 by Me Tesnière. Since 2012, the current President is Me Jean-Pierre Clavel.

The notariats of 46 countries are members of the International Institute for the History of the Notariat. They are each represented on the Board of Directors by a Vice-Chairman. The I.I.H.N also has individual members in many countries.. 

The General assembly of I.I.H.N. 

Once a year, the I.I.H.N. holds its General Assembly generally in December, at the time of the Liaison Assembly of the Notaries of France. 

I.I.H.N. Review: Le Gnomon 

The review « Le Gnomon » is sent four times a year to subscribers, universities and various correspondents in more than 80 countries.Each issue features original historical studies on French or foreign notariats. These are historians’ or notaries’ works.

Other special issues are published during the year (in particular the proceedings of each Colloquium organized by the I.I.H.N., etc....). On the occasion of certain national congresses, an issue of the Review was distributed dealing with the history of the notariat and the region. 

Other activities of the I.I.H.N. 

The I.I.H.N organizes or participates in several exhibitions dedicated to the history of the notariat. This has been the case at several national and international congresses.