The Two Flags of France

Here’s something you might not know… France has two official flags! You’re probably familiar with this flag, often called the Tricolour or Tricolore in French:

Flag of France
(via Wikipedia)

But you might have seen this flag and not even noticed it:

Civil and Naval Ensign of France
(via Wikipedia)

What’s going on here? Why is one flag slightly different?

It all comes down to history, of course. The French Monarchy used a variety of flags over the centuries, but most had some form of blue shield and gold fleur-de-lis on a white background. The traditional colors of the city of Paris are blue and red, and during the French Revolution local militias wore red and blue cockades. Since white is a more “national” color, the Marquis de Lafayette suggested that white be added to the red and blue cockades, and the tricolor motif was born.

The flag of Paris:

Flag of Paris
(via Wikipedia)

Just move the stripes over and add a white one in the middle to create the new French flag.

But not really. The first post-Revolution flag actually had the stripes reversed:

First Flag of France
(via Wikipedia)

This flag was adopted on October 24, 1790, and the colors reversed to the current design on February 15, 1794. Despite this, the Tricolor wasn’t used often. Most commonly, the red flag of the Jacobin Club was flown as a national flag. But one guy really dug the Tricolor, and his name was Napoleon. Throughout his reign, the Tricolor was the official flag of France. But then, in 1815, the Bourbons were restored to power, and they went back to the white flag of old. Or rather, they did, until the July Revolution of 1830. It’s been the official flag of France ever since. In fact, after the overthrow of Napoleon III, the French elected a royalist majority to the National Assembly. The Assembly, in turn, offered the crown to Henri, Count of Chambord. But Henri demanded that the nation switch back to the white Bourbon flag. The French people – given the choice of the flag or a king – chose the flag. And that was the last of the monarchy in France.

But what about the weird flag at the top of this post, the one with the skewed proportions? That’s the naval ensign. Unlike the official flag, with three equal blue, white and red stripes, the naval ensign uses proportions of 30:33:37. Why? When seen at a distance, the proportions look normal, especially if the flag is flapping in the wind. But the thing is, the flags are so similar that they’re often used interchangeably. I’ve heard, for example, that the ensign is often placed behind government officials at press conferences, because the red is more prominent, and looks more like a “French flag” than the regular flag. When standing still, like at an indoor press conference, the red bits sometimes get lost in the folds of the flag, or are below camera level. Using the ensign fixes this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.