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French Republic, République française

Last modified: 2023-09-02 by olivier touzeau
Keywords: france | europe | tricolore | constitution | lafayette | blue |
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[French Flag]

Flag of France - Image by Željko Heimer, 22 September 2001

Flag adopted, as an ensign, by Decree of 27 Pluviôse of the Year II (15 February 1794)
Proportion: 2:3
Description: Vertically divided blue-white-red
Use: on land, as the national (civil and state) flag.

Colour approximate specifications (Album des Pavillons [pay00]):

  • Blue: Pantone 282c / CMYK (%) 100-70-0-50
  • Red: Pantone 186c / CMYK (%) 0-90-80-5

On this page:

See also:

Origin of the French flag

In brief we can accept that the colours are basically those of Paris as used on the day of the storming of the Bastille, mixed with the Royal white. It is thought that the Marquis de Lafayette was responsible for inventing the red, white and blue cockade which soon became compulsory for Revolutionaries in 1789. We don't have to believe that the combination arose because the King placed a red-blue cockade in his hat next to a Royal white one, but combinations of Revolutionary and Royal emblems were common at that time.

The flag was created in 1790 but with the colours the reverse of what they are today, i.e. with red at the hoist, and revised in 1794 to the modern form. The 1790 flag existed only as part of the jack and ensign of the navy.

The flag went out of use with Napoléon I's defeat at Waterloo, but was brought back in 1830 (again by Lafayette) and has remained in use ever since. Although significances have been attached to the colours these are all spurious and invented after the fact. The red and blue of Paris were the livery colours of the coat of arms and natural ones for use by the militia.

William Crampton, undated

Colours of the French flag

The colors of the French flag "combine" different symbols, invented after the fact:
- Blue is the color of Saint Martin, a rich Gallo-Roman officer who ripped his blue cloak with his sword to give one half of it to a poor who was begging him in the snow. This is the symbol of care, of the duty that the rich had to help the poor.
- White is the color of the Virgin Mary, to whom the Kingdom of France was consecrated by Louis XIII in the 17th century; it is also the color of Joan of Arc, under whose banner the English were finally driven out of the Kingdom (15th century). It became logically the color of Royalty. The King's vessels carried plain white flags at sea.
- Red is the color of Saint Denis, the saint patron of Paris. The original oriflamme (war banner) of the Kings was the red oriflamme of Saint Denis.

Pierre Gay, 15 September 1998

Most French flags, at least in the beginning of their use, have a very dark blue shade, sometimes called bleu drapeau (flag blue). Petit Larousse Illustré has nothing on bleu drapeau, but has:
Bleu roi : bleu soutenu (celui du drapeau francais) (King blue: strong blue, the blue of the French flag).
Therefore, it seems that the use of a dark blue for the French flag has been widely accepted, since it is highligted to examplify the "King blue" shade.

Ivan Sache, 23 September 2001

For the naval flags, the maintenance service of the French Navy (HCC) gives the following specifications (in reference to AFNOR standard NFX 08002):

  • Blue A 503
  • White A 665
  • Red A 805

Blue Pantone 282c and red 186c are my translation (approximation) of those colours.

Armand Noël du Payrat, 24 September 2001

The protocol manual for the London 2012 Olympics (Flags and Anthems Manual London 2012 [loc12]) provides recommendations for national flag designs. Each NOC was sent an image of the flag, including the PMS shades, for their approval by LOCOG. Once this was obtained, LOCOG produced a 60 x 90 cm version of the flag for further approval. So, while these specs may not be the official, government, version of each flag, they are certainly what the NOC believed the flag to be.
For France, PMS Reflex blue, 032 red. The vertical version is simply the flag turned through 90 degrees clockwise.

Ian Sumner, 10 October 2012

Not even the military regulations do define the shades. I guess the colors of the flags made in the past were also quite different from one another given this lack of precision but nobody particularly cared as long as it looked like the French flag.

Corentin Chamboredon , 15 November 2021


Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Prime Minister of France from 6 May 2002 to 31 May 2005, made a consistent use of his own interpretation of the colours of the flag in his political speeches.

8 May 2002 - Interview by F. Leroy, France3 Poitiers, the regional TV channel of Poitou, Raffarin's region.
Mais aujourd hui, je sers ces trois belles couleurs, le bleu de notre histoire, le blanc de nos espoirs, et le rouge du sang de nos ancêtres, ce drapeau bleu, blanc, rouge [...] (Today, I serve these three beautiful colours, the blue of our history, the white of our hopes, and the red of the blood of our ancestors, this blue, white, red flag [...])

11 November 2002 - Commemoration of the 11 November 1918 Armistice in Rethondes, the place where the Armistice was signed.
Ce drapeau qui allie le bleu de notre histoire, le blanc de notre espoir et le rouge du sang de nos aînés, le sang de notre gloire [...] (This flag, which matches the blue of our history, the white of our hope and the red of the blood of our elders, the blood of our glory [...])

7 March 2003 - European Forum in Avignon.
[...] notre appartenance à notre drapeau, à ce bleu de l'histoire, à ce blanc de notre espoir, à ce rouge du sang de nos ancêtres. ( [...] our sence of belonging to our flag, to this blue of history, this white of hope, this red of the blood of our ancestors.)

Ivan Sache, 22 November 2003

Shades of blue

[Variant flag]

French flag with cobalt shade of blue, recommended between 1974 and 2020 - Image by Ivan Sache, 15 November 2021

President Macron has changed the shade of blue on the French flag from the EU shade of blue to navy blue "in a bid to 'reconnect' with the symbol of the French Revolution." (source: DailyMail)

Dave Fowler , 15 November 2021

The change, decided in July 2020, was aired last September by two journalists and last week-end by the Europe 1 radio. No official communication was ever made about the change. The change remained unnoticed because only flags hoisted over State building, such as the Palais de l'Élysée (seat of the presidency) and the Palais Bourbon (seat of the National Assembly) had the blue color darkened. This was also true for the most public "performance"s of Emmanuel Macron; the change is not mandatory but recommended, for instance for town halls. (source: RTS).

Claiming that the blue color was reverted to the original shade of the flag designed by the painter Jacques David in 1794 is quite odd, because, to my knowledge, this color was never specified more precisely than "navy blue".
In 1976, President Giscard d'Estaing, finding the flag too "martial", decided to have the blue color lighter, "cobalt blue". At the same time, he also modified the orchestration of the national anthem "La Marseillaise", adding strings and woodwind instruments. Giscard's idea was also to have a closer chromatic association between the flags of France and of the European Union.

Ivan Sache , 15 November 2021

According to the article by Europe1 radio on November, 14th 2021 (source), "The decision to change the color of the French flag was taken by the President of the Republic on July 13, 2020, strongly pushed by a person little known to the general public, a certain Arnaud Jolens, the director of operations of the Elys e, as well as Bruno Roger-Petit, the president's memory advisor. But also with a small complicity of the Navy who composed at the time the particular staff of the Elysée around Admiral Rogel. You should know that the French Navy has always used this navy blue. (...) The entourage of the Head of State explains the desire of the President of the Republic to reconnect with the French flag of 1793, the imagination of the volunteers of the year II and the Convention. Clearly, it is very political: reconnecting with a symbol of the French Revolution. The Elysée has had an internal debate, between those who consider that it has no interest, that this new flag is ugly and that it clashes next to the European flag, and others, attached to review the flag of their childhood before the Giscard years. A few weeks before the French Presidency of the European Union, next January, everyone swears that this is not an anti-European gesture."

Jean-Marc Merklin , 15 November 2021


Communiqué by the Société française de vexillologie

"The press has just reported on the change in the shade of blue of the tricolor decided by President Macron. In fact, no regulatory text has ever fixed the color of the French flag. This concept is moreover recent, since the colors of a flag depend on the support and the dyeing processes more than on the hue itself. On the other hand, the firmly established practice, since at least the Second Empire, is to use a dark blue, a navy blue close to a midnight blue. This is how the national flag appears in all the Pavillon Albums published by the French Navy since 1858.
President Giscard d'Estaing is credited with the desire to lighten this blue at the start of his seven-year term, in 1974, in order to make it less martial in the same way as he had asked that the rhythm of the Marseillaise be slowed down (the date of June 1976, often mentioned, is undoubtedly due to a confusion with the creation, on that date, of the new flag of the Presidency of the Republic, with a fasces in the center). No text has formalized this decision, which probably only resulted in a modification of the specifications of the contracts awarded by the Presidency of the Republic for the supply of the flags floating on the Élysée Palace and the presidential residences.
Nonetheless, since that date, there has been a clear lightening of the blue of the various flags made.
However, the blue of the flags used by the French Navy is always a midnight blue. The only official document referring to a color is the Album des Pavillons [pay00] currently published by the hydrographic and oceanographic service of the navy. In its latest edition of 2019, it indicates that the blue of the French flag is approximately Pantone 282C or CMYK 100-70-0-50. On the other hand, the administration of the armies speaks of "deep" blue for the flags and banners of the units, a shade close to the Pantone 294U, 295U, 302U and 303U.

The first text on the tricolor is the decree of October 24, 1790, transformed into a law of October 31, 1790, which states that "the jack (pavillon de beaupré) shall be composed of three equal bands and placed vertically" in the order of red-white-blue. The current order was undoubtedly fixed for the first time by the decree concerning the banners of the army of June 30, 1791.As regards the flag, it is a decree of June 26, 1793 which decides that a tricolor flame will be placed in Paris on all public buildings and "invites" all owners to do the same "above their houses in the course of next month".

During the Hundred Days, a decree of March 9, 1815 ordered that the tricolor "will be displayed" on town halls and "on country bell towers".

Finally, on August 1, 1830 (Monarchie de juillet), Louis-Philippe signed, as lieutenant general of the Kingdom, an ordinance which stipulated: "The French nation resumes its colors". Slightly amended, this sentence became the article 67 of the charter. The tricolor flag has been the national emblem since then.

Today, the second paragraph of article 2 of the Constitution of 1958 is in force: "The national emblem is the tricolor, blue, white, red".

Full communiqué in French (website of the SFV)

Reported by Rob Raeside, 17 November 2021

Nickname of the French flag

Nouveau Petit Larousse Illustré has for Tricolore the following entry:

Tricolore adj. (du pref. tri , et du latin color , couleur). De trois couleurs. Le drapeau tricolore, le drapeau français. - L'origine des trois couleurs qui figurent dans notre drapeau national remonte à l'année 1789 : pour cimenter la bonne intelligence entre le roi et la ville de Paris, dans la journée où, suivant le mot heureux de Bailly, Paris reconquit son roi, on réunit à la couleur blanche, qui était celle de la royauté, le bleu et le rouge, couleurs qui figuraient dans les armes de la ville de Paris.
(Tricolore adj. (from prefix tri and Latin color, colour). Of three colours. Le drapeau tricolore: The French flag. - The origins of the three colours shown on our national flag dates back to year 1789: In order to create a good relation between the King and the town of Paris, on the day where, as Bailly expressed it rejoicing, Paris reconquered its King, the colour white, which was that of Royalty, was associated with blue and red, which are colours figuring in the arms of the town of Paris.

Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 26 September 2001

Decree on the French flag

The French National Convention adopted as national flag the three colours blue, white, red on 15 February 1794 - or more exactly, on the 27 Pluviôse of the Year II, according to the revolutionary calendar. The Decree says:

II. The national flag shall be formed of the three national colours, set in three equal bands, placed vertically so that blue is closed to the staff of the flag, white in the middle, and red at the fly.
III. The jack and the ensign are formed in the same way, observing the size proportions established by custom.
IV. The commissioning pennant shall also be made of the three colours, with one-fifth blue, one-fifth white, and three-fifths red.

Armand Noël du Payrat, 4 February 1998

The French flag in the Constitution

The present Constitution of the French Fifth Republic, adopted in 1958 says:
L'emblème national est le drapeau tricolore, bleu, blanc, rouge (The national emblem is the tricolor, blue, white, red, flag).

Pierre Gay, 24 September 1998

French national ensign

French ensign

French national ensign - Image by Željko Heimer, 22 September 2001

The respective proportions of the vertical blue, white and red stripes on the French flag when used at sea as the civil or naval ensign or jack are 30:33:37, to give a good visual effect when flying, and are therefore called optical proportions.
Civil vessels shall indeed use the prescribed ensign (and not a Tricolore flag with equal stripes.

The Tricolore ensign was adopted by Decree of the 27 Pluviôse of the Year II (15 February 1794) and confirmed by Decree dated 7 March 1848. The proportions 30:33:37 were officialized by a Regulation dated 17 May 1853.
This of 1853 gives the precise measurements, in metres and centimetres, of the standard legal ensigns, numbered from 1 to 16. #1 is 9 m x 13.5 m and #16 is 50 cm x 75 cm.

Željko Heimer, Armand Noêl du Payrat & Pierre Gay, 12 March 2006

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