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Living in the Languedoc:   Central Government:   French National Symbols:   The Tricolore (Tricolor or Tricolour)

The French TricolourThe French National Flag. Only one visual symbol has the official sanction of the Constitution: the tricolore flag (tricolore drapeau). It is sometimes referred to as a tricolour (UK) or tricolor (US) or tricoleur.

The colours are those of Paris (blue and red) combined with the Royal white (the dispossession and execution of the King still lay in the future when the tricolore was first used).

Origin of the Cockade and Tricolore. The Marquis de Lafayette was probably responsible for inventing the red, white and blue cockade which soon became compulsory for revolutionaries in 1789. Two examples are shown one on the left, one on the right on a Liberty cap.

History of the Tricolore. The flag was created soon after, in 1790, but with the colours the reverse of what they are today, i.e. with red at the hoist and the blue to the fly. The order was reversed in 1794 to the familiar modern form.

Associated with Revolutionary and later Imperial France. The three colours in vertical stripes were first used as a canton on Naval flags in 1790, and extended to the whole field in 1794. One of the flags in the naval signalling alphabet is still a red-white-blue vertically striped flag - ie like the modern French flag, but with the colours reversed. The French National Convention adopted the modern blue-white-red flag as the national flag on 15 February 1794 (or 27 pluviôse an II in the revolutionary calendar). The relevant part of the decree says, in translation:
II. The national flag shall be formed of the three national colours, set in three equal bands, vertically arranged so that the blue is nearest to the staff, the white in the middle, and the red flying.

The Tricolore went out of use with Napoléon's defeat at Waterloo. It was replaced by a white flag (c/f the old royal flag) from 1814 to 1830. During the July revolution of that year the Tricolore was re-established by the Marquis de Lafayette under the relatively liberal regime of Louis-Philippe. It has remained in use ever since. The present Constitution of the French Republic (1958) declares: L'emblème national est le drapeau tricolore, bleu, blanc, rouge (The national emblem is the tricolor, blue, white, red, flag). When hoisted vertically, the French national flag is often forked.

The three vertical coloured bands were not always of equal width, and on the French naval jack they are still not of equal width. The idea is that unequal bands can look more equal that genuinely equal ones when the flag is flying. Whether or not it works in real life, is difficult to tell - it certainly does not work well for flat rectangles on the page (see the flag on the left).

The flag features on an official French logo shown on the left, along with Marianne and French national motto. It is sometimes represented as a coat of arms as on the right, most people not knowing and not recognising the (semi-official) coat of arms of France.

The French tricolore has provided a model for the flags of other Republics - for example Italy and Ireland among many others. But it is not restricted to republics. Belgium for example, a monarchy, uses a tricolore.

The French national flag is one of the sybols of sovereignty mentioned in article 2 of the French Constitution of 1958: "L'emblème national est le drapeau tricolore, bleu, blanc, rouge."

Variations on the basic tricolore have been used. The French Tricolore featured a Liberty cap for a brief period in 1842.

During the Second World War, Vichy France used a plain Tricolore. The flag shown on the right was the personal flag of Marshal Pétain, head of the German-occupied État français. The Free French used a tricolore defaced (to use a technical term) with the Cross of Lorraine, as shown on the left.

This is the flag of Louisiana, adopted in 1861. It is one of the many early flags of Louisiana and never had official status.
This is the flag of Acadia (Acadie), one of the oldest Francophone communities of Canada. Acadians were deported to various locations in 1755 after their homeland passed to the British Crown in 1713 (it is now the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick). This Tricolore was introduced in the 1840's as the flag the Motherland of the Acadians. Shortly afterwards, it was adopted as a flag for French Canadian Nationalists. The yellow star is the Stella Maris (symbol of the Virgin Mary, patron saint of mariners).
This was the flag of the Lebanon when it was under French control. The French organised Syria into five states under a League of Nations Mandate. One of these states was the French Mandate of Greater Lebanon 1920-1932. Its flag was the French flag with a cedar on the central white stripe.
The Flag of French Sudan 1958-1959, which became the independent
Republic of Mali in 1960
The Flag of French overseas Departments and Territories

High French officials use personal banners based on the French tricolore. Presidents since de Gaule deface the banner with their own personal device. Banners of other officials are standardised like the examples below:

Prime Minister
Minister of National Defence
Joint Chief of Staff
Naval Chief of Staff

Admirals also use defaced banners:

Fleet Admiral
Fleet Vice Admiral
Vice Admiral
Rear Admiral
certain Captains

Here are some other examples:

Minister of Overseas Departments & Territories
Maréchal de France
Army Chief of Staff
Air Force Chief of Staff
General Delegate for Armament


Military flags use the same colours but a different design with a white lozenge in the middle. On the left is the flag of one of Napolean's regiments.

On the right is the flag of the Free French Navy with the cross of Lorraine (Croix de Lorraine) in a white lozenge. This jack is still hoisted today on warships of the French Navy named after Free French Naval units.

French Yacht Club Flags




The French TricolourYou will notice that almost no private individual in the Languedoc flies the French Tricolore flag, though many fly the flag of the old Counts of Toulouse, with the famous Cross of Toulouse. Many mairies will fly this flag along with the tricolore and the flag of the European Community.

A minor footnote: The annual `rent' paid by The Duke of Marlborough to the English Crown for the royal manor of Woodstock and Blenheim Palace is a Royal French flag, "Argent three fleurs-de-lys Or" as shown on the right. It dates from the victory of John Churchill at Blenheim in 1704, well before the French Revolution, when this was the French national flag.

The French TricolourThe Duke of Wellington pays a similar rent for his property, also granted in recognition of military victory. His victory, at Waterloo, occurred just over a century later, in 1805, after the French Revolution. Each year he presents as rent a tricolore, the national French flag in 1805.


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The French Tricolour
French National Symbols:
The Tricolour