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  • Writer's pictureParisian Niche

French Symbols - Le Tricolore - French Flag

We have had lots of fun researching and learning about some of the other French symbols, like the fleur de lys and the Napoleonic bee. We've even tossed around (get it?) the meaning behind Paris' unique city motto, Fluctuat Nec Mergitur.

Today, let's take a closer look at the French flag - Le Tricolore - in all it's striped glory. It has a surprisingly rich and long history - and took many iterations to get to the flag we recognize and love today...

In fact, today's flag was only finally instituted as the national emblem of the French Republic in the constitutions of 1946 and 1958 (the Fifth French republic beginning in 1958, under Charles de Gaulle).

Today, you will always see the flag on public buildings as well as behind the President during public addresses (paired often with the blue and gold starred flag of the European Union).

Let's head wayyyyyy back in time to its origins during the medieval Kingdom of France...


This flag (called the oriflamme, or flag of Saint Denis) was originally the royal banner under the Capetians. Quite interestingly, French kings were led into battle by this banner or Saint Martin's red cape, a symbol of protection.

Looks nothing like what France displays today, I know, but you ain't seen anything yet!


Heading forward in the Middle Ages, we recall again how important the fleur de lys was symbolically - shown here bordered by the red.


Do you want a fun French flag related "cocktail party fact" to take with you to your next fabulous soirée?

Of course you do, you soirée savvy P'Nicher, you!

We can note that from around 1328 the above flag / coat of arms of the House of Valois was heavily represented in the art works and writings of the time.

Many vignettes and manuscripts from this time portrayed the French kings wearing a red gown or underpinning, while being draped in a bright blue robe / cape / flag absolutely bedecked and bedazzled in golden fleur de lys.

How cool is that?

Now, I just need a cool Parisian cocktail party invite to spread this interesting history around. Apéro, anyone?

Waving our flag onward...


Moving toward the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453), we can note that the French were now represented by a white cross, either against a blue or red background.

In this particular work of art, you can see the symbol on the soldiers' uniforms against the red background, with their trusty golden fleur de lys (on blue background) close by.


P'Niche would be remiss if she didn't also point out another important flag of the Hundred Years' War... that of Joan of Arc. To quote one of the Patron Saints of France herself, "I had a banner on which the field was sprinkled with lilies; the world was painted there, with an angel at each side and written above it, I believe 'JHESUS MARIA', it was fringed with silk."

Unfortunately, Joan of Arc did not live to see the French victory, but she sure did know how to make an entrance with her flag!


As we wave forward in time to the Capetian and Bourbon dynasties, we can note the trio of golden fleur de lys have again been placed against the blue background. There were many variants of that flag, including this 1643 Royal Standard of France, with its white background.


In fact, when the French came to fight in the American Revolution, they did not yet have a blue, white, and red flag!

As seen here, the French flew a white flag. Many people think this piece of art (Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumbull) is the British army waving the white flag of surrender, but that white flag represents the French troops proudly at our side in victory - merci, les français!

Wait, did someone say Revolution?!

Annnnnnd here, we are at the start of the French Revolution...


Enter now the colors of the Tricolore that we know and love today...

This cockade of blue, white, and red was showcased (often atop the Phrygian cap, as seen here) heavily during the French Revolution.

Originally, the cockade was just red and blue (the colors of Paris), but Lafayette (love him!) pushed for the addition of the white to nationalize the emblem.

The color breakdown was as follows, each color representing one of the three estates of French society:

· Blue - the clergy

· White - the nobility

· Red - the third estate

Fun fact - the French Revolutionary cockade inspired many Italian born sympathizers to wear their own cockades, simply of green leaves. This led later on, to the evolution of what we recognize as the Italian flag of today- the Italian tricolor flag of green, white and red. The more you know!

Now, what if I told you that the French flag was originally striped in red, white, and blue and not the reverse as we see it today?

Too true! A dictate, passed on February 15, 1794, ordered the reversal to the blue, white, and red that we wave today.


Everything is going great, right? Right?!

Enter our buddy, Napoléon Bonaparte.

Well, exit is more like it... With the (first) defeat of Napoléon in 1815, the Bourbon dynasty was (briefly) restored to power.

With them came the pre-revolutionary flag (plain white).

By now, the weary French citizens were tired of war, but fight they continued to fight for their cause...


Following the French Revolution of 1830 (also known as the July Revolution or Three Glorious Days), Louis-Philippe ("The Citizen King") restored the Tricolore. This moment in time and flag are truly best represented in this glorious masterpiece by Eugène Delacroix.

The bleu, blanc, et rouge tricolore has remained France's national flag since this time.


For our flora loving P'Nichers, you can also take note that aside from the clergy, nobility, and third estate, the colors are also said to represent:

· Blue - cornflowers

· White - marguerites

· Red - poppies

Perfect for a Fête Nationale bouquet, don't cha think?


As we move way forward in time, here is an example of a variation of the French flag, this one used during World War II by the Free French Forces (featuring the Cross of Lorraine in her center).

So cherished was this symbol that it later became the personal standard of President Charles de Gaulle.

We're nearing the end of our flag waving stories (and boy, are my arms tired!). Sorry, I couldn't help myself...

Today's Tricolore, as was originally designed by Marquis de Lafayette and Jacques-Louis David consists of three vertical stripes - of equal height and width.

France is not alone in her love of these colors. Over 20 other countries host these colors in their flags (pssst, looking at you, USA, UK, and Australia!)

When in Paris, my favorite places for Tricolore peeping are:


· Beneath the Arc de Triomphe

Avenue des Champs-Élysées, 75008

Métro - Etoile (Line 1)

· Top of the Panthéon (Dome)

Pl. du Panthéon, 75005

Métro - Maubert-Mutualité (Line 10)

*There is a 200 step climb to the top*

· Hôtel de Ville

Pl. de l'Hôtel de Ville, 75004

Métro: Hôtel de Ville (Line 1)

And let's make a challenge P'Nichers... - where do you peep for the Tricolore when in Paris? Have any great flag photos to share? Sound off in the comments below et à bientôt!



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