The national colors of France—blue, white and red—originated in the form of a cockade combining royalist white with blue and red, the heraldic colors of the city of Paris. Blue/red cockades were ordered to be worn on the hats of the Paris Militia (later the National Guard) in 13 July 1789. Four days later the Marquis de Lafayette presented a white/red/blue cockade to King Louis XVI, and on 4 October 1789 this device was made an official symbol of France. Soon thereafter, the colors of this cockade began to be adopted for the flags of France, eventually producing one of the world's most famous and influential flags: le drapeau tricolore français, the French Tricolor.




White Royal Flag


Flag of the City of Paris



Early Tricolor Variants  •  1789-94

The 1790 Naval Jack

The 1794 National Flag

The Revolution of 1789, which transformed France into a constitutional monarchy, did not immediately lead to a change of flags. The old white royal flag, of which several versions existed, continued in use. The colors blue, white and red were first used for the flags of the National Guard, a military force raised by Lafayette to defend the revolutionary regime. The colors of many National Guard battalions combined blue and red, the heraldic colors of Paris, with royalist white. Soon there appeared a number of unofficial three-color flags, mostly striped horizontally, and on 24 October 1790 the National Assembly passed a law establishing the first official Tricolor. This was actually a naval flag, vertically striped red, white and blue, and bordered blue/red. In 1791, the reorganization of the French Army led to the adoption of new military colors. The first battalion of each regiment received a flag with a canton horizontally striped blue, white and red, and a blue/red border. Finally, on 15 February 1794 ( 29 Pluviose of the Year II) the National Assembly adopted the blue/white/red Tricolor as the national flag and war ensign of the French Republic. In 1812 the vertically striped Tricolor also became the standard pattern for military colors on land.

THE REVOLUTIONS OF 1830, 1848 AND 1871


National Flag  •  1848


The Count of Chambord's Tricolor

The fall of Napoleon and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy (1814-15) led to the abolition of the Tricolor in favor of the white royal flag. The Revolution of 1830, however, which deposed the Bourbon King Charles X in favor of the Orléanist Louis-Philippe, brought the Tricolor back. During the Revolution of 1848, which deposed in his turn King Louis-Philippe, there were demands for the Tricolor's replacement by a plain red flag. The National Assembly briefly adopted a variant striped blue/red/white, but only days later this flag was abolished and the 1794 Tricolor was officially confirmed. Demands for a plain red flag surfaced once more during the 1871 revolution, but the suppression of the Paris Commune ended this threat to the Tricolor. The conservative regime that assumed power after the fall of Napoleon III favored a restoration of the monarchy but this plan fell through when the Bourbon pretender, the Count of Chambord, grandson of King Charles X, refused to accept the by-then traditional and popular Tricolor as the national flag of France. "Henry V cannot abandon the white flag of Henry IV," he insisted, thus making it inevitable that France would remain a republic. Ironically, many years before the Count had sketched a design for a royal Tricolor with the crowned arms of France on the white stripe—a flag that might have enabled him to ascend the throne of France.



Vichy France


Free France

After 1871 there was never any serious challenge to the primacy of the Tricolor. Not even the catastrophic defeat suffered by France at the hands of Nazi Germany in June 1940 led to a change of flags. Both the collaborationist Vichy regime, led by Marshal Philippe Petain, and Free France, the resistance organization led by General Charles De Gaulle, claimed the Tricolor as its own. As Head of State, Petain had a Tricolor displaying the baton (rendered as a medieval weapon, the francisc) and seven stars of his military rank (Marshal of France), but this was not a national flag. The Free French Tricolor, with the Cross of Lorraine on the white stripe, was often flown as an alternative to the plain Tricolor, particularly by Free French naval vessels. The plain Tricolor, however, continued to be universally recognized as the true national flag of France.



President of the Republic & Prime Minister


Colonial Governor-General


Colonial Governor


Laos  •  1893-1952


French Indochina  •  1923-45


Syria  •  1925-32


Autonomous State of Togo  •  1956-60

The Tricolor has served as a basis for military and naval flags, distinguishing flags of government officials, and colonial flags. Both the President and the Prime Minister have a square Tricolor; that of the former may, at the President's option, bear a monogram or badge on the white stripe. Government flags for use afloat have stripes proportioned 30:33:37 (like the naval ensign), which is supposed to make the stripes appear equal in width when viewed from a distance. The square blue flag, formerly used by colonial governors-general, is now the flag of government ministers with responsibility for French overseas departments and territories. Versions for use as car flags are proportioned 7:8 rather than square. Most colonial flags featured a Tricolor canton, though unlike British colonial ensigns the size of the canton varied. 


The Italian Tricolor  •  1798


The Belgian Tricolor  •  1831


The Romanian Tricolor  •  1848


The Irish Tricolor  •  1922


The Guinean Tricolor  •  1958

The French Tricolor has had a great influence on flag design worldwide. Its simplicity, distinctiveness and association with the ideals of republicanism and nationalism led many other nations to adopt flags of three stripes. Among the first was the green/white/red Italian Tricolor, originally adopted in 1797 as the national flag of the Cisalpine Republic. The Belgian Tricolor was based on the coat of arms of the province of Brabant: a golden lion with red tongue and claws on a black field. Its official proportions are an unusual 13:15—nearly square. Romania and Ireland also adopted flags based on the Tricolor, as did many former French colonies in Africa, the flag of the Republic of Guinea being an example.