The French National Flag is popularly known as the Tricolour. It is one of the most recognized flags in the world. It has three vertical stripes of equal width colored blue, white, and red. The blue band is on the hoist side, followed by white and then the red on the fly side. The French National Convention adopted the flag on February 15, 1794.

Several theories have been forwarded to explain the meaning behind the choice of the colors blue, red, and white. One is that the blue and red represented Paris and the white represented the monarch, and they were brought together to show the alliance between the people and their King. Another theory is that they symbolize the three principal estates of the “Ancien Regime” (Old Regime), that is, the nobility whose color was red, the commoners with the blue color, and red for the nobility. This regime ended with the Revolution. Regardless of the original meaning, these colors have come to represent the values of the French Revolution which were liberté (freedom), egalité (equality), and fraternité (brotherhood).

The Tricolour came about during the French Revolution with Marquis de Lafayette, Gilbert du Motier, taking credit for the choice of colors as he claimed in his memoirs that he was the one who had King Louis XVI wear them during his walk to the “Hôtel de Ville.” There is another legend that a painter by the name of Louise David was the one who decided on the order of the colors.

Although the Tricolore has been the national flag since 1794, a white flag replaced it briefly during the Bourbon Restoration period, when the Monarchy took back power, from the year 1814 to 1830. The French ensign has used different versions of the flag. On the civil ensign, the colors blue, red, and white are not of equal width but instead are in the proportions 30:33:37 respectively. Most French colonies also had their distinctive flags with a French Tricolour in their canton. Different jacks with different looks of the flag are used depending on which commanding officer or minister is aboard a ship.

This page was last modified on May 1st, 2018