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Flag of France
The national flag of France (known in French as drapeau tricolore, drapeau français, and in military parlance, les couleurs) is a tricolour featuring three vertical bands coloured royal blue (hoist side), white, and red. It is known to English speakers as the French tricolour or simply the tricolour.

The royal government used many flags, the best known being a blue shield and yellow fleur-de-lis on a white background, or state flag. Early in the French Revolution, the Paris militia, which played a prominent role in the storming of the Bastille, wore a cockade of blue and red, the city's traditional colors. According to Lafayette, white, the "ancient French colour", was added to militia cockade to create a tricolor, or national, cockade. This cockade became part of the uniform of the National Guard, which succeeded the militia and was commanded by Lafayette. The colors and design of the cockade are the basis of the Tricolor flag, adopted in 1790. A modified design by Jacques-Louis David was adopted in 1794. A solid white flag was used during the Bourbon restoration in 1815-1830, but the tricolor has been used since.

Symbolism
Blue and red are the traditional colors of Paris, used on the city's coat of arms. Blue is identified with Saint Martin, red with Saint Denis. At the storming of the Bastille in 1789, the Paris militia wore blue and red cockades on their hats. White had long featured prominently on French flags and is described as the "ancient French colour" by Lafayette. White was added to the "revolutionary" colors of the militia cockade to "nationalize" the design, thus creating the tricolor cockade. Although Lafayette identified the white stripe with the nation, other accounts identify it with the monarchy. Lafayette denied that the flag contains any reference to the red-and-white livery of the Duc d'Orleans. However, this myth did allow Orleanists to adopt the tricolor as their own.

Lafayette's tricolor cockade was adopted in July 1789, a moment of national unity that soon faded. Royalists began wearing white cockades and flying white flags, while the Jacobins, and later the Socialists, flew the red flag. The tricolor, which combines royalist white with republican red, came to be seen as a symbol of moderation and of a nationalism that transcended factionalism.

History
Middle ages
During the early Middle Ages, the oriflamme, the flag of Saint-Denis, was used-red, with two, three, or five spikes. Originally, it was the personal flag of Charlemagne, given to him by the Pope in the ninth century. Over time, it became the royal banner under the Carolingians and the Capetians. It was stored in Saint-Denis abbey, where it was taken when war broke out. French kings went forth into battle preceded either by Saint Martin's red cape, which was supposed to protect the monarch, or by the red banner of Saint Denis.

Later during the Middle Ages, these colours came to be associated with the reigning house of France. In 1328, the coat-of-arms of the House of Valois was blue with gold fleurs-de-lis bordered in red. From this time on, the kings of France were represented in vignettes and manuscripts wearing a red gown under a blue coat decorated with gold fleurs-de-lis. It should be noted that, in liturgical symbolism, gold is the equivalent of white.

Many other examples exist of the association of the three colours -blue, white and red- with the French kings and their households.

During the Hundred Years' War, England was recognised by a red cross, Burgundy, a red saltire, and France, a white cross. This cross could figure either on a blue or a red field. The blue field eventually became the common standard for French armies. The French regiments were later assigned the white cross as standard, with their proper colours in the cantons.

The French flag of a white cross on a blue field is still seen on some flags derived from it, such as those of Quebec and Martinique.

The flag of Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years War is described in her own words, "I had a banner of which the field was sprinkled with lilies; the world was painted there, with an angel at each side; it was white of the white cloth called 'boccassin'; there was written above it, I believe, 'JHESUS MARIA'; it was fringed with silk.".

The Tricolore
From the accession of the Bourbons to the throne of France, the green ensign of the navy became a plain white flag, the symbol of purity and of royal authority. The merchant navy was assigned "the old flag of the nation of France", the white cross on a blue field.

The tricolor flag is derived from the cockades used during the French Revolution. These were circular rosette-like emblems attached to the hat. Camille Desmoulins asked his followers to wear green cockades on 12 July 1789. The Paris militia, formed on 13 July, adopted a blue and red cockade. Blue and red are the traditional colors of Paris, and they are used on the city's coat of arms. Cockades with various color schemes were used during the storming of the Bastille on 14 July. The blue and red cockade was presented to King Louis XVI at the Hôtel de Ville on 17 July. Lafayette argued for the addition of a white stripe to "nationalize" the design. On 27 July, a tricolour cockade was adopted as part of the uniform of the National Guard, the national police force that succeeded the militia.

A drapeau tricolore with vertical red, white and blue stripes was approved by the Constituent Assembly on 24 October 1790. Simplified designs were used to illustrate how the revolution had broken with the past. The order was reversed to blue-white-red, the current design, by a resolution passed on 15 February 1794. Despite its official status, the tricolore was rarely used during the revolution. Instead, the red flag of the Jacobin Club, symbolizing defiance and national emergency, was flown. The tricolore was restored to prominence under Napoleon.

When the Bourbon dynasty was restored following the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the tricolore "with its revolutionary connotations " was replaced by a white flag, the pre-revolutionary naval flag. However, following the July Revolution of 1830, the "citizen-king", Louis-Philippe, restored the tricolore, and it has remained France's national flag since that time.

Following the overthrow of Napoleon III, voters elected a royalist majority to the National Assembly of the new Third Republic. This parliament then offered the throne to the Bourbon pretender, Henri, comte de Chambord. However, he insisted that he would accept the throne only on the condition that the tricolour be replaced by the white flag. As the tricolour had become a cherished national symbol, this demand proved impossible to accommodate. Plans to restore the monarchy were adjourned and ultimately dropped, and France has remained a republic, with the tricolour flag, ever since.

The Vichy régime, which dropped the word "republic" in favour of "the French state", maintained the use of the tricolore but Philippe Pétain used a version of the flag defaced with fasces and stars as his personal standard. This flag is called the "Francisque". During this same period, Free French Forces used a tricolore defaced with a red Cross of Lorraine.

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