The flag of France is known to English speakers as the ‘Tricolour’, or ‘Tricolore’ to French speakers, and dates back to the French Revolution of the 1790s. This was when its red and blue colours were first used, by citizens of Paris who were storming the Bastille prison, in Paris.
Revolutionary Roots and French Traditions
These revolutionaries, the bourgeoisies, wore red and blue caps, choosing those colours because they are strongly associated with Paris. Blue is identified with Saint Martin and red with Saint Dennis. These two colours were incorporated into the flag of the new France, with white being added to give the flag a more French feel. White was a colour which had traditionally been used on the flag of France up to this point in history, inspired by the banner carried by Joan of Arc in her fight against the English.
The Constituent Assembly of the early Revolutionary regime approved the use of the new flag on 24 October 1790. Nevertheless, it was not widely used until the accession of Napoleon Bonaparte to power. The Tricolore became the flag of France under which the forces of Napoleon fought until his defeat at Waterloo in 1815.
Bourbon Period and the Tricolore Restored
After the Bourbon monarchs were restored to the rule of France in 1815, the Tricolore was replaced by the naval standard which had flown from French ships prior to the Revolution. By 1830, though, the Tricolore had been restored to its former place as the flag of France, following the accession to power of the ‘citizen king’, Louis Philippe.
The flag could have been replaced again in 1870, when the Third Republic of France was established, following the overthrow of Napoleon III. The throne of France was actually offered to a member of the Bourbon dynasty, Henri, comte de Chambord. His demand that the Tricolore be replaced proved impossible to accommodate, though, as the revolutionary flag had become so well-loved in France. France therefore remained a republic under the Tricolore, rather than becoming a monarchy again, with an older flag of France flying.
A Symbol of France
Nowadays, the flag of France is recognised across the world as a symbol of the nation’s glories and history. The three colours of the flag of France also have a deeper meaning. Blue stands for vigilance, truth, loyalty, perseverance and justice. The white band is generally seen as representing peace and honesty, while the red means toughness, bravery and strength.