The editors bring recent historiography on colonial legalities into focused scholarly conversation with revisionist scholarship on absolutist France, seeking to advance a revised understanding of the early modern French empire. Empire was not an ineluctable but ultimately thwarted extension of political authority outward from the metropole but a dynamic system for the ongoing negotiation of colonial and transatlantic interests through competing terms of law and legality. Our purpose is to underscore diversity and to explore the degree to which law was formulated as a result of specific local circumstances, thus elaborating an interpretation of empire that sees it as a congeries of local experiences in which each colony functioned in parallel with one another, and each engaged in a reciprocal exchange of information and interests with the French metropole. Our central contention is that law within the French empire was forged not by the articulation of uniform legal codes but by a high degree of pluralism resulting from negotiation between the vernacular values and practices of ordinary men and women – European, aboriginal and the enslaved – and the priorities of state actors.