The essay analyzes French language policy as a probe to set forth different notions of “cultural sovereignty” in France from the end of the 19th century to decolonization. It traces the construction of Francophonie as a political project of the early 3rd Republic that involved statal actors and institutions as well as scholarly and intellectual engagement and an emerging civil society. Although French language policy changed over the years and followed quite different ideas and practices in- and outside the Hexagon it aimed at control, cohesion and cultural sovereignty inside the French nation-state as well as in its colonies. In both cases the different target groups received and appropriated it in diverse and unintended ways. By analyzing the actors, ideas and practices of Francophonie as well as its internal and external facets in the same analytical field the essay tries to bring out the differences and commonalities of French notions of cultural sovereignty between metropole and empire.