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Kingdom of France (843?-1792)

Royaume de France

Last modified: 2011-07-16 by
Keywords: fleur-de-lis (yellow) | cross (white) | white flag | bastille | royal standard | angels: 2 | echelles du levant |
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[French Royal Standard]

French Royal standard - Image by Mario Fabretto, 29 September 1998

See also:

Royal standard

The French Royal standard is white with a semy of yellow fleurs-de-lis and the greater amrs of the kingdom placed in the middle.
The Medal of the Order of the Holy Spirit (Ordre du Saint-Esprit) is appendend to the. The most famous of the Orders of Chivalry in ancient France, the Order of the Holy Spirit was created by King Henry III in 1578; suppressed in 1791, the Order was reestablished in 1815-1830.
Accordingly, the flag shown above cannot have been used before the end of the 16th century.

This flag was mostly used as a royal standard. In the French monarchy, of divine essence, the concept of "state" in its modern sense, could not exist. The identification of the Kingdom to the King peaked with Louis XIV, whose motto L'État, c'est moi (I am the State) reflects the concept of absolute monarchy.

Ivan Sache & Marc Tanneau, 22 September 2003

"Banner of France" (Bannière de France)

"Banner of France Ancient" (France Ancien)

[France Ancient]

Banner of France Ancient - Image by Pierre Gay, 29 September 1998

The arms Azur semé de lis or (France Ancient) made their first royal appearance on Louis VIII's seal, but Philip II (1180-1223) already used them on his banners; his cloak was blue, embroidered with golden lilies (to recall the stars of heaven on his so-called "cosmic cloak"). Besides, the stylized fleurs-de-lis pattern can be found on coins minted under the reigns of Louis VI (1081-1137) and Louis VII (1120-1180).

Pierre Gay, 29 September 1998

[France Ancient]

Banner of France shown in the "Book of All Kingdoms" - Image by Eugene Ipavec, 30 December 2009

The "Book of All Kingdoms" [f0fXX], of 1350, tells the voyages of an anonymous Castilian friar and is illustrated with 113 flag images, referred to (though seldom described) in the text.
The 2005 Spanish illustrated transcription of the "Book" [f0f05] shows a blue flag with three yellow fleurs-de-lis set two and one; the flag is shown in the ogival default shape of this source.
The anonymous author of the "Book" describes the flag thusly: El rey de Francia á por señales un pendón azul con tres flores de lises de oro atales (The King of France has for device a blue pendon with three golden fleurs-de-lis, like these).

António Martins, 4 November 2007

"Banner of France Modern" (France Moderne)

[France Modern]

Banner of France Modern - Image by Rick Wyatt, 29 September 1998

Charles V simplified the arms of France in 1365, keeping only three fleurs-de-lis to honor the Holy Trinity. The modification was adopted progressively: Charles VI (1368-1422) used the old design on his counter seal, but also used the new design on every other occasion. Nevertheless, it is considered that Charles V made the first official use of the modern arms.

Pierre Gay, 29 September 1998

White flag

Royal battle flag

Prior to 1792 the notion of a French flag is itself fuzzy. The usual story told is this: during the Crusades, various nations adopted crosses of various colours. Brittany was black, Flanders and Lorraine green, Italy and Sweden yellow, Burgundy a red Saint Andrew's, Gascony a white Saint Andrew's. France allegely had a red cross and England a white cross. The first crusaders all had red crosses: this scheme was adopted in 1188, at least for France, England and Flanders. It appears that the English switched to the red cross of Saint George sometime in the late 14th century. And then, in 1420, King of France Charles VI disowned his son the Dauphin Charles and chose Henry V of England as his successor, and the English "took over" the French red cross as their own. I'm not sure how much sense this all makes, but one thing seems clear from the iconography: in 1356 and 1380, the English had white crosses and the French red; in 1415 and after, the colours were inverted.

Anyway, Dauphin Charles had to find an emblem of his own. In 1422, when Charles VI died, he became Charles VII, adopted a white cross as his emblem and a white flag as his banner. Joan of Arc's famous banner was white with religious figures embroidered on it. Thereafter the three parties involved in the Civil Wars of 1420-1436 were distinguished by the cross: white for the French, red for the English and red saltire for the Burgundians.

The white flag itself was the flag of commanding officers, such as colonel generals, and later colonels. In particular, it was the flag of the King when he commanded himself the troops on the battlefield.

François Velde, 30 June 1995

Flag used in the Échelles du Levant

According to Encyclopaedia Universalis (Thesaurus, Drapeaux dans l'Ancien Régime), the white flag was hoisted on the French consulates in the Échelles du Levant, as prescribed by Decree of 3 March 1781. Échelles du Levant (Eastern Ports of Call) were trading posts established by the Christian nations in Islamic countries from the 16th century onwards. Échelle here means "a ladder", recalling that access to the trading posts from the sea was done through ladders. The word comes from Italian scala, which also gave in French escale (port of call).

The use of the white flag on the consulates was the first reported use of the white flag on land. The consulates administratively depended on the State Secretary of Navy.

Ivan Sache, 3 February 2001

Flag over the Bastille, 14 July 1789

[The Flag over the Bastille]         [Bastille flag]

Flag hoisted over the Bastille
Left, Smith's [smi75c] rendition - Image by Timothy Boronczyk, 14 July 1998
Right, Crampton's [cra89] rendition - Image by Randy Young, 20 July 1999

Smith gives a correct rendition of the flag that was flown over the Bastille on that fateful day more than two centuries ago (14 July 1789).
Crampton's rendition is not correct since the flag should be square. It was a regimental flag, thus explaining the square pattern and the white cross in the canton, used by the defenders of the Bastille, which was a royal fortress.

Edward Mooney & Ivan Sache, 20 January 1999

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