French ensigns

A French ensign is the flag flown at sea to identify a vessel as French. Several such ensigns have existed over the years as well as terrestrial flags based on the ensign motif.

French Navy
(Marine Nationale)
Naval Ensign of France
Motto: Honneur, Patrie, Valeur, Discipline
("Honour, Homeland, Valour, Discipline")
Naval Ministers
Maritime Prefect
Naval Action Force
Submarine Forces
Naval Aviation
FORFUSCO (Marine Commandos, Naval Fusiliers)
Maritime Gendarmerie
Current fleet
Current deployments
Ranks in the French Navy
History of the French Navy
Future of the French Navy
Ensigns and pennants
Historic ships
Historic fleets
Cross of War
Military Medal
Legion of Honour
List of French flags
Flag of France
French ensigns
Colonial flags
Regional flags

Current ensign

The current French ensign is not, as the casual observer would think, identical to the flag of France. Though both are blue, white and red, the French civil ensign has those colours in the proportion blue 30, white 33, and red 37. The intention is to create a flag which, when seen moving at some distance, will appear to have columns of equal width; in addition, the slightly wider red column is intended to improve the flag's visibility at sea.

Civil and Naval Ensign of France

The current French ensign, with proportions different from those of the French flag.

Historic ensigns

The royal Arms

As with the ensigns of other countries, the French ensign in the beginning of the 14th century was a banner of the royal arms, blue field with golden French lilies. Sometimes it bears a white cross.

In 1365, Charles V changed to a blue flag with just three golden French lilies. However, reports as late as 1514 still occasionally mention the use of the lilies and cross flag.

Occasionally illustrations from this era also show the white cross, now on a red field, but this is mostly limited to the coats of arms only. After 1450, however, those two designs are often seen flying side by side.

The colours of Bourbon

By the time of the House of Bourbon, the royal colours had merged making blue, red, and white the royal colours; Henry IV of France even had his entire entourage dress in these colours. These colours, for these or other reasons, also became the colours of the French ensigns. A plain white ensign indicated the French sailing fleet, a red flag a galley, while the blue flag was flown by the merchant ships. It's somewhat unclear whether all of these were plain flags. E.g. in 1661 the use of white flags on merchant ships is explicitly forbidden, pointing the merchants instead to the "old flag of the French nation", which then was supposed to be a white cross on blue, with on it the royal arms.

A decade or so later, the rule for the merchant navy was modified, however, to allow every kind of ensign, provided it wasn't all white. This caused two new types of French ensigns: regional or local flags flown as French ensign, and personal designs intended to show as much white as was possible without it being considered all white.

La Réale img 0270

Ensign of the Réale, the prestige galley of Louis XIV.

Pavillon royal de France

Standard of the French royal family

Flag of the Kingdom of France (1814-1830)

National flag and naval ensign of France prior to 1789 and between 1814/15 and 1830

French ship Artesien mp3h9741

The white ensign of the Artésien

White ensign Battle martinique 1779 img 9388

A ship of the line at the Battle of Martinique in 1780

Royal Standard of the King of France

Royal Standard of the Kingdom of France

The colours of the Revolution

Until the French Revolution most merchants flew designs composed of blue and white. In 1790, however, the revolution joined all three colours in one flag, and the new ensign became the white flag with a canton of three equal columns of red, white, and blue. Since the white field was too royal for the taste of the revolution, on 27 pluviôse year II of the French Republican Calendar (15 February 1794), the flag and the ensign were changed to the design of the current flag of France: Three columns of equal width, of blue, white, and red. The same banner was again decreed to be the flag on 7 March 1848.

To counter the effect that the fly of an ensign appears to shorten when moving in the wind, the widths of the columns were regulated anew on 17 May 1853, now as 30:33:37.

Flag of French-Navy-Revolution

1790 to 15 February 1794

Incorruptible-m071201 0012558 p

Portrait of the frigate Incorruptible flying the white flag with a tricolour canton, by Olivier Colin.

Loutherbourg-La Victoire de Lord Howe

On Loutherbourg's the Glorious First of June, the Montagne flies the white flag with a tricolour canton

Civil and Naval Ensign of France

1853-present (previous ensigns had the same dimensions as the national flag

French colonial flags

A number of flags used by French colonies are similar to British ensigns that were adopted by colonies throughout the British Empire except that they use the French tricolour in place of the Union Flag.

National ensign and cocarde

Roundel of the French Fleet Air Arm
Cocarde of the Aéronautique navale

The ensign of the Marine nationale differs from the national flag by its slightly darker blue, and by the dimensions of the stripes: while the stripes of the national flag have 1:1:1 proportions, the naval ensign has 30:33:37. These differences were set in the 19th century for optical reasons.

The naval ensign is flown

  • when docked: at the stern and at the bowsprit (if not replaced by the FNFL or the jack of a military award, see below)
  • at sea: on the mast.

The dimensions of the ensign depend on the size of the ship, the circumstances (ceremony or regular service) and the position (aft, bowsprit or mast).

The cocarde of aircraft of the French Naval Aviation (Aéronautique navale) differs from the regular cocarde by bearing a black anchor.

Bowsprit jacks and pennants

FNFL ensign

Naval Ensign of Free France
FNFL ensign

The FNFL ensign is flown by the ships which have fought with the Forces Navales Françaises Libres, or by ships named after such ships.

Two ships of the FNFL are still in service, the schoolship schooners Étoile and Belle Poule.

A number of modern ships bear the names of ships which have fought with the FNFL, whether because the names are traditional in the French Navy (Ouragan for instance), or specifically after a particularly significant ship (Aconit for instance). Such ships include

Additionally, the aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle also flies the flag, in honour of General Charles de Gaulle, who founded the FNFL.

Military award jacks

The first column is WWI fourragère, the second is WWII and the third Overseas Wars.

Military award jacks are flown by ships which have received mention in dispatches.

Each jack wear a croix de guerre, of different colors depending of the conflicts during which the mentions are won.

Crew members wear the corresponding fourragère

Masthead pennant

The Jeanne d'Arc flying her masthead pennant while returning to harbour.

The masthead pennant, called flamme de guerre ("war pennant") indicates a Navy ship with a commissioned commanding officer. If applicable, this pennant is replaced with the jack of a high-ranking officer or a minister aboard,

There is a tradition that when a ship is on mission off France for more than 5 months, she lengthens her masthead pennant by one metre for each month spent away from the homeland. A notable occurrence is the cruiser Georges Leygues which sailed for Dakar on 9 September 1940 and fought with the FNFL, away from German-occupied France, until the Liberation; when she entered Toulon harbour on 13 September 1944, she is said to have flown a 60-metre long masthead pennant.

Honour and command jacks

The following jacks are flown on the masthead if a minister, general officier or division commanding officer are aboard


Jack of the Prime Minister

Marque mindef

Jack of the Minister of Defence

Marque amiral

Jack of an admiral

Marque VA

Jack of a vice-amiral


Jack of a contre-amiral


Jack of a capitaine de vaisseau commanding a division


Jack of a capitaine de vaisseau commanding a unit


harbour commanding officer (in NATO operations, the "Starboard" is used)


senior merchant navy officer (if no French warship is present)

See also


  • F.E. Hulme, The Flags of the World: Their History, Blazonry, and Associations, From the Banner of the Crusader to the Burgee of the Yachtsman; Flags National, Colonial, Personal; The Ensigns of Mighty Empires; the Symbols of Lost Causes (Colonial Edition), Frederick Wayne and Co., London, pp. 152, (1895).
  • W.J. Gordon, Flags of the World Past and Present: Their Story and Associations, Frederick Wayne and Co., Ltd., London, pp. 265, (1929).
  • B. McCandless, and G. Grosvenor, "Our Flag Number", The National Geographic Magazine, National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., Vol. XXXII, No. 4, pp. 420, October, (1917).
  • G. Grosvenor, and W.J. Showalter, "Flags of the World", The National Geographic Magazine, National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., Vol. LXVI, No. 3, pp. 338–396, September, (1934).
  • Flags of All Nations Volume I. National Flags and Ensigns (B.R.20(1) 1955), Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, (1955).
  • Flags of All Nations Volume II. Standards of Rulers, Sovereigns and Heads of State; Flags of Heads of Ministries, and of Naval, Military, and Air Force Officers (B.R.20(2) 1958), Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, (1958).
  • Flags of All Nations Change Five (BR20), Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, (1989), Revision (1999).
  • W. Smith, Flags Through the Ages and Across the World, McGraw-Hill Book Co., Ltd., Maidenhead, England, pp. 361, (1975).
  • J.W. Norie, and J.S. Hobbs, Three Hundred and Six Illustrations of the Maritime Flags of All Nations; Arranged Geographically, with Enlarged Standards: Together with Regulations and Instructions Relating to British Flags &c., Printed for, and Published by C. Wilson, At the Navigation Warehouse and Naval Academy, No. 157, Leadenhall Street, Near Cornhill, (Facsimile reprint of 1848 original), (1987).
  • Ottfried Neubecker, Flaggenbuch (Flg. B.). Bearbeitet und herausgegeben vom Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine. Abgesclossen am 1. December 1939, (Historical Facsimile edition containing all national and international flags 1939-1945), pp. 193, (1992).
Flag of France

The flag of France (French: Drapeau français) is a tricolour flag featuring three vertical bands coloured blue (hoist side), white, and red. It is known to English speakers as the French Tricolour or simply the Tricolour (French: Tricolore). The Tricolour has become one of the most influential flags in history, with its three-colour scheme being copied by many other nations, both in Europe and the rest of the world.The royal government used many flags, the best known being a blue shield and gold fleur-de-lis (the Royal Arms of France) 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 colours. According to French general Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, white was the "ancient French colour" and was added to the militia cockade to create a tricolour, or national, cockade. This cockade became part of the uniform of the National Guard, which succeeded the militia and was commanded by Lafayette. The colours and design of the cockade are the basis of the Tricolour flag, adopted in 1790. The only difference was that the 1790 flag's colours were reversed. A modified design by Jacques-Louis David was adopted in 1794. The royal white flag was used during the Bourbon restoration from 1815 to 1830; the tricolour was brought back after the July Revolution and has been used ever since 1830, except with a brief interruption for a few days in 1848.

Flags of the regions of France

The galleries below show flags attributed to the eighteen (formerly, twenty-seven) regions, five overseas collectivities, one sui generis collectivity and one overseas territory of France. Most of them are non-official as regions often use their logos as a flag.

French colonial flags

Some of the colonies, protectorates and mandates of the French Colonial Empire used distinctive colonial flags. These most commonly had a French Tricolour in the canton.

As well as the flags of individual colonies, the governors-general of French colonies flew a square flag with a blue field and the French ensign in the canton. This flag was flown beneath the national ensign. Colonial governors used a rectangular swallow-tailed version of this flag.

List of French flags

This list includes flags that either have been in use or are currently used by France, French Overseas Collectivites, Sui Generis Collectivity and French Overseas Territory.

Pennant (commissioning)

The commissioning pennant (or masthead pennant) is a pennant (also spelled "pendant") flown from the masthead of a warship. The history of flying a commissioning pennant dates back to the days of chivalry with their trail pendants being flown from the mastheads of ships they commanded. Today, the commissioning pennants are hoisted on the day of commissioning and not struck until they are decommissioned. Some navies have a custom of flying a "paying off" or "decommissioning pennant," the length of which often reflects the length of service of the warship.

Regions of France
Symbols of the French Republic


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