Hamilton edged Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas to take top spot for the 75th time in his career, but cut a subdued figure, admitting he was slightly frustrated at missing time.
Previous series leader Sebastian Vettel was only fifth in his Ferrari.
France last hosted an F1 race in 2008 but that was at Magny-Cours, meaning even the more experienced of current drivers, like world champion Lewis Hamilton, have never raced in a grand prix at Paul Ricard, near Marseille.
"Leading the field is where I want to be, so it's great to be back on pole".
"This place is lovely, it's really stunning down here", Hamilton said of a circuit that last hosted a grand prix in 1990 and represents a new challenge for a man who has won everywhere else on the calendar.
The four-time world champion said he will try to do two things at once - prepare for the race and support England when they play Panama.
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton during practice in France.
Xiaomi unveils its latest tablet offering decent specs at a bargain price
The device offered pure stock Android , unlike other Xiaomi phones which are considered to be bloated due to Xiaomi's stock MIUI. The new Mi Pad 4 is powered by an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 AIE processor clocked at 2.2 GHz with an Adreno 512 GPU.
"The headline has been the new power unit, which has been a massive effort from all the team in Brixworth.and that work is starting to pay off", said team boss Toto Wolff.
"Great work guys! I'm so happy for England as well", he said over the team radio, referring to the national soccer team's 6-1 World Cup rout of Panama in Russian Federation. "I think it is a tricky track, not easy to get in a good ride start to finish".
Hamilton will start the race on the supersoft tyres, as will Bottas and the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. "We have a good vehicle".
The track was slippery in the final session of qualifying after a few drops of rain fell early on.
Denmark's Kevin Magnussen finished sixth for the Haas team, with Bottas seventh and Carlos Sainz eighth for Renault after losing two places three laps from the end when his vehicle lost power.
"I have no words to describe how I feel right now", Leclerc told reporters after reaching the final top 10 shootout for the first time.