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French Flag: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

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France's top tourist destinations include fantastic castles, magnificent towers and charming towns. This charming country on the western edge of Europe is known for its high-end food, wine and clothing. Simply put, France represents the world of romance and love. France is a country in Western Europe with Mediterranean beaches, alpine villages and a historic capital. Its busiest metropolis, Paris, is known for its designer boutiques, classical art museums such as the Louvre, and landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower.

However, due to France's enormous complexity of cities and tourist attractions, its flag might not be eye-catching at first – until you understand the history, symbolism and meaning behind the creation of the country's official flag. So, what does the French tricolor flag mean? Below, we unravel everything you need to know about the history, meaning, symbolism, and other fun facts of the French flag.

French flag design

The French flag has three vertical stripes in blue, red and white. While not the original tricolor, this design was developed after the French Revolution and developed into one of the most important flags in history. Many other countries in Europe and beyond later adopted the tricolor, which, as Encyclopaedia Britannica states, "symbolicly opposed the royal standards of past absolutism and clericalism".

The French flag is the country's national emblem, as proclaimed in the French Constitution of 1958. The flag is defined in English heraldry as "layered in light blue, silver and red".

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Traditionally, blue bands are dark navy blue. However, President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing changed it to light blue (and red) in 1974. Both forms have been in use since then; buildings in public use, town halls, and barracks often use the darker colored flag. However, official state facilities occasionally use lighter versions.

Today, flags are 1.5 times wider than they are tall. The three stripes of the national flag are of varying widths and have a ratio of 37:33:30, with the red stripe being the largest.

Symbolism of the French flag

History and Symbolism of the Flag of France 1
The white stripes are derived from the original French flag, while the red and blue stripes are from the coat of arms of Paris.

©iStock.com/Olivier DJIANN

Despite its simplicity, the French flag has many meanings. The national flag has blue, white and red vertical stripes. The white stripes are derived from the original French flag, while the red and blue stripes are from the coat of arms of Paris.

The coat of arms of Paris uses the traditional colors of the city, red and blue. Saint Martin is associated with blue and Saint Denis with red. The "revolutionary" colors of the militia garlands were "nationalized" by the addition of white, creating the coat of arms of France.

The three main estates of the Ancien Regime can also be represented in the colors of the French flag (white for the clergy, red for the nobility, and blue for the bourgeoisie). Red, which represents nobility, comes last, and blue, which represents class, comes first. On either side of white, two extreme colors indicate higher levels.

History of the French Flag

The three colors were originally combined in the form of cockades during the early days of the French Revolution. By July 1789, shortly before the storming of the Bastille, Paris was in turmoil. A militia was organized, marked by a two-color cockade in the traditional shades of Parisian red and blue.

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On 17 July, the blue and red coat of arms was presented to King Louis XVI at the town hall, the Marquis de Lafayette, commander of the guards, urging the design to be "nationalized" by adding the white stripe. The tricolor cap badge became part of the National Guard uniform on July 27, replacing the militia as the country's police force.

The "tricolor" became the country's official flag on February 15, 1794. Following a proposal by the painter Jacques-Louis David, legislation required that the blue flag be flown closest to the flagpole.

During the Revolution of 1848, the Provisional Government used the "tricolor", but those at the barricades waved red flags in protest. A consensus centered on the three colors was eventually formed during the Third Republic. Since 1880, the dedication of the flag to the Armed Forces on July 14 has been a source of intense patriotic sentiment. The Count of Chambord, who pursued the French monarchy, never recognized the "tricolor", but when the First World War broke out, the royalists stood behind their backs.

french flag today

Article 2 of the 1946 and 1958 constitutions identified the "blue, white and red" flag as the national emblem of the Republic.

Today, all government institutions fly the French flag. It is honored according to very defined ceremonies and is flown on special national occasions. When the French president addresses the public, the French flag usually serves as the background. It can fly the European flag or the flag of another country, as the case may be.

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Two sides of the French flag

Since 1976, the French government has used, to varying degrees, two versions of the flag: the original version (characterized by the use of navy blue) and a lighter version. Since 2020, the old version has been the default throughout France, including at the Elysee Palace. The stripes of the French flag were originally navy blue, but were modified in 1976 to a lighter shade to match the blue flag of the European Union. The then president, Valéry Giscal d'Estaing, made this choice.

The flag used by the Second French Republic, the Provisional Government of the French Republic, the Second French Empire, the Third French Republic, the Cantons of France, the Fourth French Republic and the Fifth French Republic is a vertical tricolor of dark blue, white and red. This was originally in Passed on February 15, 1794.

From 1974 to 2020, a light version of the flag of the French Fifth Republic flies alongside the default dark flag. In July 2020, President Emmanuel Macron dropped the variant, which shows a lighter version of the original blue-white-red tricolor.


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The French flag is red, white and blue.

© iStock.com/-ELIKA-

about the author

Victor Victor

For six years, I have been a professional writer and editor of books, blogs and websites, with a particular focus on animals, technology and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with my friends.

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  1. , available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_France
  2. , available here: https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/coming-to-france/france-facts/symbols-of-the-republic/article/the-french-flag
  3. , available here: https://www.britannica.com/topic/flag-heraldry