The Flag

French flag flying in wind

Photo by Cyril Plapied

The French are a patriotic people. If you’ve ever been to France – or even seen pictures, you know this. They have flags everywhere!

The French flag is one of the simplest flags. It is comprised of three vertical bands of blue, red, and white. It is popularly referred to as the French Tricolor.

The French Revolution is responsible for bringing the France National flag into existence. Until the Revolution in 1789, France was a monarchy. During the revolution, the Tricolor was used. Since the Revolution turned France from a monarchy to a republic, the Tricolor is recognized as a symbol of freedom and liberty around the world.

Looking for more French flags? Here are some from the French regions and here are some from the former French provinces.

Colors and Meaning

Over the years, the colors of the French National flag have come to represent liberty, equality, and fraternity – all ideals associated with the French Revolution. But the meaning behind the colors has come after the fact, and there are many theories.

The general agreement is that the colors are red, white, and blue because they stand for the colors of Paris (red and blue) and the House of Bourbon (white).

It is sometimes said that the colors of the French flag represent the three main estates of the Ancient Regime of the clergy (white), the nobility (red), and the middle class (blue). Blue, as a symbol of the middle class, comes first and red, representing the nobility, comes last. Both colors are situated on each side of white, referring to a superior order.

Knowing what you know about the Tricolor coming into existence during the Revolution, do you think this is true? I don’t! The revolutionaries were not exactly fond of the nobility at this time. I doubt they would agree with this interpretation of their flag!

Here is an interpretation invented after the fact. Some think the French flag combines different symbols:

  • Blue is the color of Saint Martin, a rich Gallo-Roman officer who ripped his blue cloak with his sword to give one half of it to a poor who was begging him in the snow. This is the symbol of care; of the duty that the rich had to help the poor.
  • White is the color of the Virgin Mary, to whom the Kingdom of France was consecrated by Louis XIII in the XVIIth century. It is also the color of Joan of Arc, under whose banner the English were finally driven out of the Kingdom. It became logically the color of Royalty. The King’s vessels carried plain white flags at sea.
  • Red is the color of Saint Denis, the saint patron of Paris. The original war banner of the Kings was the red oriflamme of Saint Denis.

Today, most citizen agree that they serve three beautiful colors: the blue of their history, the white of their hopes, and the red of the blood of their ancestors.