The Cestui que trust in Law french

When English lawyers spoke - and still speak - French - How some terms that are now unknown in French law have become the norm in modern legal English


  • Anne-Sophie Milard University of Paris Saclay


Law French, English Law, Anglo-Norman, Trust, Cestui que trust, Beneficiary


The aim of the article is to explore a period in history when England, Normandy and France were closely linked, when 'French' was spoken on both sides of the Channel, and when a new language developed, Law French, traces of which cannot be ignored in modern English law. To do this, we need to go back in time, even beyond 1066, when English did not exist in the form we know it today and a foreign language, Anglo-Norman, was introduced on the English soil, developed there, in particular in the legal world, under the name of Law French, and then slowly died out, although it partially survived in the special sphere that is law. In order to be as concrete as possible, the example of the cestui que trust has been chosen, offering an opportunity to take a journey that is at once historical, etymological and legal. The cestui que trust expression is one of those ready-made formulas whose pronunciation is a challenge in itself, while its meaning remains enigmatic at first sight. There is a very simple equivalent, the term beneficiary of a trust, the (very) vague equivalent of the French fiducie, but even in 2023, an English lawyer will still take (great) pleasure in favouring the cestui que trust expression over the beneficiary one. Even today, it remains difficult to understand with certainty whether the trust and by extension the cestui que trust are products of Roman, Norman, English, French or other law. The article is written in French, as it has the merit of emphasising that medieval French had and still has an influence on English law, something that few French speakers are aware of, but it can be translated into English.