This page is part of © FOTW Flags Of The World website

Kingdom of France (843?-1792)

Royaume de France

Last modified: 2019-01-14 by ivan sache
Keywords: fleur-de-lis |
Links: FOTW homepage | search | disclaimer and copyright | write us | mirrors


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 Royal arms placed in the middle.

Ivan Sache, 8 November 2011

Royal arms

The "Royal arms of France", that is, the greater arms known as "France modern", are made of a shield "Azure three fleurs-de-lis-or", crowned, and surrounded by the chains of the Order of St. Michael and of the the Order of St. Louis.

Ivan Sache, 8 November 2011

The fleurs-de-lis

In Fleur de lis et oriflamme : signes célestes du royaume de France (Presses du CNRS, 2015 [first published in 1991]), the historian Anne Lombard-Jourdan (1909-2010; biography) seeked to demonstrate that both the fleur-de-lis and the oriflamme had the same origin. Relying heavily on textual and linguistic analysis, she considered them to be very old Indo-European symbols that survived during centuries through a sanctuary in Gaul. The fleur-de-lis would first be a symbol of heroes chosen by gods to rule mortals. To the Romans, it was a spurt of fire coming from the top of the head (apex), which divided in two flames flowing on the sides of the forehead (cristae). It was a solar symbol associated to solar gods venerated in the empire as were Apollo, Dis Pater or Sucellus. This symbol gradually evolved, mixing with the Christian cross. From a solar symbol of victory, it became a symbol of divine protection and appeared on many Merovingian coins. Through the centuries, the cristae moved to the lower parts, a vertical arm of a cross remained and thickened to become a central petal. The cristae had to disappear because of their pagan origins, but could not be totally erased because of their strong presence in Gaul. So they were gradually transformed in something else, until they would become a true fleur-de-lis.

In Le roi tué par un cochon : une mort infâme aux origines des emblèmes de la France ? (Seuil, 2015), the heraldist and expert in Western symbology Michel Pastoureau (b. 1947) gives some clues as to why this particular symbol became the royal coat of arms.
In 1131, Louis VI the Fat's heir, Philip, died. Not in battle or hunting, but because a pig made his horse fall, which costed him his life. Although nobody was really guilty, it was considered as a terribly shameful death, so much that it tainted the dynasty's own reputation. Louis VI was then succeeded by his second son who would become Louis VII, but had until then been raised to be a cleric. As the author and Louis VII himself put it, he was not made to be a king. And he also had no luck: he married Eleanor of Aquitaine, but could never really get along with her, nor have a son from her. She finally divorced and married instead the future king of England. Shortly before, Louis VII also participated to the disastrous Second Crusade (1147-1149). So, when he came back to France, he was seriously wondering why the world wanted to punish him so much, and directed his attention to Mary, mother of Jesus, whose cult was then increasingly strong in Europe. This religious evolution brought along two symbols of purity: the lily flower, and the blue color, which passed from a secondary color to a divine color. Since the fleur-de-lis shared the same name in French with the real flower, was an already very old and well known symbol, and heraldry was growing more and more popular, we probably have there the origin of the French royal coat of arms. Louis VII may not have used such coat of arms, but he probably used combinations of blue and fleur-de-lis for his cloth, banners, furnitures, etc. We know for sure that the coat of arms do not appear on his seal in 1137 so, according to Pastoureau, the coat of arms probably appeared some time between the Second Crusade and 1179, when it appeared on his son Philip II Augustus's own seal.

Corentin Chamboredon, 26 March 2017

The chains

The Order of St. Michael (Ordre de Saint Michel) was founded on 1 August 1464 in the chapel of the castle of Amboise by King Louis XI, as the Ordre et aimable compagnie de monsieur Saint-Michel, with its seat at the Mont-Saint-Michel abbey. St. Michael was the patron of France and Louis XI's preferred saint. The order was modeled on the Order of the Golden Fleece (Ordre de la Toison d'Or), founded on 10 January 1430 in Bruges by Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy and a main challenger of the Royal power.
Membership was originally limited to 36 gentilhommes de noms et d'armes, 15 of them being appointed by the King and the other ones by the members of the order. On 3 April 1565, Charles IX increased the number of knights to 50. In the context of the War of Religions, membership inflated up to 500 members, some of them being nothing but courtiers. This depreciated the fame of the order, whose chain was nicknamed collier à toutes les bêtes ("collar for all animals").
In 1578, Henri III founded the Order of the Holy Spirit (Ordre du Saint-Esprit). Relegated to the second rank, the Order of St. Michael became the first step to reception in the Order of the Holy Spirit. This did not prevent the order to growth, membership reaching once 1,500. On 14 July 1661, Louis XIV reformed the Order, limiting membership to 100 French knights and replacing the chain by a cross linked to a black ribbon. Per its new Statutes adopted on 12 January 1665, membership was mostly granted to writers, artists and judges. Suppressed in 1791, the Order of St. Michael was reestablished on 16 November 1816 by Louis XVIII for artists, writers and scientists and eventually suppressed in July 1830. In 1937, Prince Henry of Bourbon recreated the Order of St. Michael as "a service of honor around his august person".

The Chain of the Order of St. Michael was made of gold without gems. Of some 700 g (200 golden crowns) in weight, the chain was made of 23 scallops originally linked by 23 love knots; in 1516, the knots were replaced by a double strand. In the middle, a golden medallion portraying St. Michael was linked to one of the scallops. Some chains were inscribed with the motto of the order, Immensi Tremor Oceani ("The Fear of the Immense Ocean"), recalling that Mont-Saint-Michel was never seized by the English during the Hundred Years' War.
[France Phaléristique

The Royal and Military Order of St. Louis (Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis), founded on 5 April 1693 by Louis XIV, was the most prestigious order in the French monarchy and one of the more prestigious in Europe. It was the first order based on merit rather than on nobility, granted to Roman Catholic officers in active service in the Royal army for at least 10 years, a tenure subsequently extended to 20 and 24 years. Voltaire wrote that the order was "more craved than fortune", while Napoléon I considered the order as the means that allowed Louis XIV to win the War of the Spanish Succession against the allied European princes; the Emperor modeled the Order of the Legion of Honor on the Order of St. Louis. The order included a not limited number of Knights (Chevaliers), 24 Commanders (Commandeurs) and 8 Grand Crosses (Grandes croix). From 1693 to 1715, Louis XIV actually appointed some 2,000 Knights. The King's elder son (Dauphin), the Marshals of France, the Admiral of France and the General of the Galleys were "de jure" Knights of the Order of St. Louis. The princes of Royal blood were appointed after having completed their first military campaign. The first knights, appointed on 8 May 1693 in Versailles, were the Dolphin, the Duke of Orléans, the Duke of Chartres, the Prince of Conti and the Marshal of Bellefonds. The order was ran by a Council, elected every year on St. Louis' Day.
On 1 January 1791, the Order of St. Louis and the Military Merit (Mérite militaire) were merged into the Military Decoration (Décoration militaire). The Decree of 26 September 1791 increased the eligibility to the decoration to all officers, whatever their religion was. Awarded to 5,424 members, the Military Decoration was suppressed on 15 October 1792, following the suppression of the monarchy. Of course, this did not prevent the Order of St. Louis to be granted to 4,418 officers of the exiled Royal army and to another 245 officers of the Catholic Army of Vendée.
On 28 September 1814, Louis XVIII restored the Order of St. Louis, placed at par with the Order of the Legion of Honor. All the former Marshals of the Empire were made knights. The order was eventually suppressed in July 1830.

The Chain of the Order of St. Louis was fire red, 37 mm in width. The golden cross, of 40 mm in diameter (70 mm for the Commanders and the Grand Crosses) and 11 g in weight (38 g for the Commanders and the Grand Crosses), had four swallow-tailed branches ending with eight points botonny (removed in 1788 and restored by Louis XVIII) and separated with four fleurs-de-lis.
On the obverse, the central medallion portrayed St. Louis wearing a golden armor, a blue cloak with ermine spots, holding on right a laurel wreath and on left symbols of the Passion. The blue border of the medallion was inscribed with "LUD. M. INST. 1693", changed to "LUD. MAG. INST. 1693" by Louis XVIII, that is, the abbreviation of "LUDOVIC MAGNUS INSTITUIT 1693", Latin for "Louis the Great established [it in] 1693".
On the reverse, the central medallion showed on a red background a golden flaming sword piercing a green laurel wreath and tied to it by a white scarf. The blue border of the medallion was inscribed with "BELL. VIRTUTIS PRAEM.", changed to "BELLICAE VIRTUTIS PRAEMIUM" ("As a reward for the military virtues") by Louis XVIII.
[France Phaléristique]

Ivan Sache, 8 November 2011

"Banner of France"

"Banner of France Ancient"


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

The arms "Azure semé of fleur-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

"Banner of 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


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

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 am 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

[Flag]         [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