ILA’s French Language students often wonder, especially on Bastille day, what the French Flag Colors Represent. Although the colors of the French flag are the same as the American and the British flag — red, white, and blue — they wonder what the French flag colors represents.
Throughout the years, there have been various interpretations of what the flag’s colors actually mean.
The French flag contains three vertical stripes of equal width. From the flagstaff to the end, these colors are blue, white, and red. More than 20 countries use these three colors in their flag, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
The history behind the French Tricolour, is just one of the many interesting facts about France. As with other nations, France’s flag is highly symbolic of the nation’s core values.
The meaning of the flag’s colors are deeply rooted in the country’s aristocratic and revolutionary history. Traditional colors of the flag in pre-revolutionary France contained a white background with a blue shield and the gold Fleur-de-lys depicting the royal coat of arms. However, after the French Revolution, the country’s leaders wanted a simpler design that supported the new values of the nation, and the French Tricolour was adopted.
The French Tricolour
White is the traditional color of the House of Bourbon, who ruled in France from the late 16th Century until the French Revolution. On the flag, the color white represents the King.
Red and Blue
The red and blue in the flag represents the city of Paris. Revolutionaries in Paris traditionally flew red and blue. Likewise, revolutionaries wore blue and red cockades (ribbons) on their hats when they stormed the Bastille in 1789.
Some popular but non-official interpretations include:
- The colors symbolize nobility (blue), clergy (white), and bourgeois (red), which were the estates of the old regime in France.
- When the Tricolour was formally adopted in 1794, its colors symbolized the values of the French Revolution: liberty, equality, brotherhood, democracy, secularism, and modernization. Today, that motto has been shortened to Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, which translates to Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood.
- One popular interpretation suggests the colors may have also symbolized important people in French history. Blue symbolizes Saint Martin (Martin of Tours), a Christian saint with a shrine in Paris. Red symbolizes Saint Denis, a martyr and saint who was the Bishop of Paris. White symbolizes the Virgin Mary or Joan of Arc.