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The national flag of Francemarker (known in French as drapeau tricolore, drapeau français, and in military parlance, les couleurs) is a tricolour featuring three vertical bands coloured blue (hoist side), white, and red. It is known to English speakers as the French tricolour or simply, the tricolour, although tricolore (in the French pronunciation) is far from unknown.

The traditional emblem of France was the fleur-de-lis, or lily, which first appeared on the arms in the 12th century. The Tricolour was used during the Revolution and has since become a symbol of liberty around the world. Other nations have also adopted the design. Because France has no arms, the Tricolour is also the national emblem. The colours represent those of Paris (blue and red), combined with that of the Bourbon Dynasty (white), though they are usually associated with freedom, equality, and brotherhood, the ideals of the French Revolution. Another possibility is that the colors and design were adapted from the Dutch flag and that symbolic meanings were attributed after the fact.Erikon, Thomas Hylland and Richard Jenkins, (2007) Flag, nation and symbolism in Europe and America, p. 23.
" France Flag"


The colours adopted by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, which replaced a darker version of the flag,
Scheme Blue White Red
Pantone Reflex Blue Safe Red 032
RGB (0,85,164) (255,255,255) (239,65,53)
HTML #0055A4 #FFFFFF #EF4135
NCS S 2565 R80B N/A S 0580 Y80R

Currently, the flag is 50 percent wider than its height (i.e. in the proportion 2:3) and, except in the French navy, has stripes of equal width. Initially, the three stripes of the flag were not equally wide, being in the proportions 30 (blue), 33 (white) and 37 (red). The theory behind this was that if they were equal then the white stripe, being brighter, would appear disproportionately wider to the human eye. Under Napoleon I, the proportions were changed to make the stripes' width equal, but by a regulation dated 17 May 1853, the navy went back to using the 30:33:37 proportions, which it continues to use, as the flapping of the flag makes portions farther from the halyard seem smaller.


Flag of France
The blue and red of the flag have been the colours of Parismarker since 1358 when they were used by the followers of Etienne Marcel, then leader of a Parisian revolt against the King of France and the Dauphin. In 1794, the Convention officially adopted the tricolour, the Commander of the Guard, Lafayette, having reputedly added the royal white between the blue and the red. According to an alternative theory, the design was inspired by the Dutch flag, which has horizontal red, white, and blue stripes.

Meanings have subsequently been ascribed to the colours. It is sometimes said - and taught in French schools - that the colours of the French flag represent the three main estates of the Ancien Régime (the clergy: white, the nobility: red and the bourgeoisie: blue). Blue, as the symbol of the bourgeoisie, comes first within the colour enumeration and red, representing the nobility, comes last. Both extreme colours are situated on each side of white referring to a superior order.If it is true that blue was the colour of the bourgeoisie during medieval times, the white colour may be linked to Joan of Arc (a first use, with a lamb) and later, along with the fleur de lys, to the monarchy.

French armies had such a flag, the Navy only using a plain white flag. Officers, and generals, wore white scarves in order to be recognizable. The red colour, often associated with Saint Denis, was used as the royal standard (oriflamme) during the Middle Ages; though red and blue were the colours used in opposition to the monarchy by the followers of Etienne Marcel.


Middle ages

Oriflamme banner
During the early Middle Ages, the oriflamme, the flag of Saint-Denis, was used—red, with two, three or five spikes. Originally, it was the personal flag of Charlemagne, given to him by the Pope in the ninth century. Over time, it became the royal banner under the Carolingians and the Capetians. It was stored in Saint-Denis abbey, where it was taken when war broke out. French kings went forth into battle preceded either by Saint Martin’s red cape, which was supposed to protect the monarch, or by the red banner of Saint Denis.
A tricolour band surrounds this 14th century image of the King of France

Later during the Middle Ages, these colours came to be associated with the reigning house of France. In 1328, the coat-of-arms of the House of Valois was blue with gold fleurs-de-lis bordered in red. From this time on, the kings of France were represented in vignettes and manuscripts wearing a red gown under a blue coat decorated with gold fleurs-de-lis. It should be noted that, in liturgical symbolism, gold is the equivalent of white.

Many other examples exist of the association of the three colours —blue, white and red— with the French kings and their households.

During the Hundred Years War, England was recognised by a red cross, Burgundy, a red saltire, and France, a white cross. This cross could figure either on a blue or a red field. The blue field eventually became the common standard for French armies. The French regiments were later assigned the white cross as standard, with their proper colours in the cantons.

The French flag of a white cross on a blue field is still seen on some flags derived from it, such as those of Quebecmarker and Martiniquemarker.

The flag of Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years War is described in her own words, "I had a banner of which the field was sprinkled with lilies; the world was painted there, with an angel at each side; it was white of the white cloth called 'boccassin'; there was written above it, I believe, 'JHESUS MARIA'; it was fringed with silk.".File:Flag of Greece (1828-1978).svg|The white cross on a blue fieldFile:Flag of Quebec.svg|The current Flag of QuébecFile:Flag of Martinique.svg|The current Flag of MartiniqueFile:joan of arc miniature graded.jpg|Joan of Arc,

historical image ca. 1485

From the royal standard to the tricolore

From the accession of the Bourbons on the throne of France, the green ensign of the navy became a plain white flag, being the symbol of purity and of royal authority. The merchant navy was assigned "the old flag of the nation of France", the white cross on a blue field.

A red, white and blue drapeau tricolore was approved by the Constituent Assembly on October 24, 1790. The order was reversed to blue-white-red (the current design) by a resolution passed February 15, 1794. Despite its official status, the tricolore was rarely used during the French Revolution. Instead, the red flag of the Jacobin Club, symbolizing defiance and national emergency, was flown as an unofficial national flag. The tricolore was restored to prominence under Napolean.

After the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy following the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the tricolore — with its revolutionary connotations — was replaced by the pre-Revolutionary white flag of the Bourbons. However, following the July Revolution of 1830, the new "Citizen-King," Louis-Philippe, restored the tricolour.

The tricolour remained the national flag under the Second Republic and Second Empire. Following the overthrow of Napoleon III, voters elected a royalist majority to the National Assembly of the new Third Republic. This parliament then offered the throne to the Bourbon pretender, Henri, comte de Chambord. However, he insisted that he would accept the throne on the condition that the tricolour be replaced by the white flag. As the tricolour had become a cherished national symbol, this proved impossible to accommodate. Plans to restore the monarchy were adjourned and ultimately dropped, and France has remained a republic, with the tricolour flag, ever since.

The Vichy régime, which dropped the word "republic" in favour of "the French state", maintained the use of the tricolour but Philippe Pétain use a version of the tricolour defaced with a fasces and stars as personal standard. This flag is called the "Francisque". During this same period, Free French Forces used a tricolour defaced with a red Cross of Lorraine.

The constitutions of 1946 and 1958 (article 2) instituted the "blue, white and red" flag as the national emblem of the Republic

File:Flag of France (XIV-XVI).svg|The flag of medieval France, still used for present-day Île-de-FrancemarkerFile:Flag of the Kingdom of France (1814-1830).svg|The drapeau blanc (white flag), naval ensign of the Kingdom of France until 1789 and the french flag from 1814 to 1830File:Pavillon_royal_de_France.svg|Standard of the royal family of France commonly used as the State flag of France prior to the revolution in 1789.File:Pavillon LouisXIV.svg|Standard of King Louis XIV said to be the national flag in the 18th centuryFile:Sans-culotte.jpg|Early depiction of the tricolour in the hands of a sans-culotte during the French Revolution.File:Flag of France.svg|The flag of France since 1794 (interruption 1814/15-1830).File:VichyFlag.svg|Personal flag of Philippe Pétain, Chief of State of Vichy France (Chef de l'État Français).File:Flag_of_Free_France_1940-1944.svg|Flag used by the Free French Forces during World War II.File:Drapeaux 1RE et 2REI Paris 2003.jpg.JPG|Flags of the first and second regiments of the Foreign Legion.


  1. Whitney Smith, Flags through the ages and across the world, McGraw-Hill, England, 1975 ISBN 0-07-059093-1, pp. 66-67, The Standard of Joan of Arc,after quoting her from her trial transcript he states: "it was her influence which determined that white should serve as the principal French national color from shortly after her death in 1431 until the French Revolution almost 350 years later."
  3. 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition, New York 1910, Vol.X, p.460: "The oriflamme and the Chape de St Martin were succeeded at the end of the 16th century, when Henry III., the last of the house of Valois, came to the throne, by the white standard powdered with fleurs-de-lis. This in turn gave place to the famous tricolour."George Ripley, Charles Anderson Dana, The American Cyclopaedia, New York, 1874, p. 250, "...the standard of France was white, sprinkled with golden fleur de lis...". *[1]The original Banner of France was strewn with fleurs-de-lis.
  4. [2]:on the reverse of this plate it says: "Le pavillon royal était véritablement le drapeau national au dix-huitième siecle...Vue du chateau d'arrière d'un vaisseau de guerre de haut rang portant le pavillon royal (blanc, avec les armes de France).[3] that is, "...The Royal Pavillon was the national flag in the 18th century..." etc.

Further reading

  • Flags Through the Ages and Across the World, Smith, Whitney, McGraw-Hill Book Co. Ltd, England, 1975. ISBN 0-07-059093-1.

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