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History of the French Flag

Blue, white and red flag of France at the Arc de Triomphe, Paris

The French call their flag Le drapeau tricolore. English speakers know it as the French Tricolore. It’s one of the most iconic flags in European history. But how did it come to be?

The evolution of the French Flag

The flag of France before the French Revolution featured the fleur-de-lis on a blue background. The Bourbon family who ruled from the late 1500’s to the time of the French Revolution (and for a short while in the 1800s) had a white flag with gold fleur-de-Lis.

As a symbol of the despised royal family and aristocracy, come the French Revolution, the fleurs-de-lis had to go. During the uprising the blue and red colours of the Paris flag as we know it, were taken up by the militia. It was based on the blue and red rosettes they wore. They came about  thanks to Marie Joseph Yves Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. He was made commander of the newly formed National Guard (a national police force) in 1789. And he created a rosette of red, white and blue for his force. It’s thought to be the first time the colours were used to represent France.

Now you might think it odd that an aristocrat was appointed to this position when all around him were losing their heads. But he was a hero of the people after going to America to fight in the American Revolution. When he returned he joined the cause of the revolutionaries in France. The colours were adopted for the French flag. And, for a while the flag even featured a rooster, another emblem of France.

The flag underwent a short-lived amendment when Napoleon Bonaparte added gold eagles. Then it was abolished for a few years when France become a constitutional monarchy again (1830-1848). It finally made a come-back when France returned to being a republic.

Read about Picpus Cemetery, Paris where the Marquis de Lafayette, French hero of the American Revolution is buried. Here each year there is a remembrance service on 4th July.

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