Why was France’s flag predominantly white from 1814 to 1830?

Royal flag of France during the Bourbon Restoration

Contrary to popular opinion France’s flag from 1814 to 1830 was not entirely white; instead the French used a predominantly white flag. The flag was known as the “Bourbon Restoration flag” or the “White flag”. So what made the French replace the famous tricolor (tricolore) flag with the white flag?

The white flag was chosen as a symbol of the Bourbon monarchy’s return to power after the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte and the First French Empire. The white color flag was a pre-revolutionary naval flag, and it was chosen at to represent the House of Bourbon, the ruling royal family at the time, and was associated with the monarchy.

Basically, it was a deliberate departure from the tricolor flag that had been adopted during the French Revolution, which had a blue, white, and red design. The Bourbon dynasty wanted to remove the vestiges of the revolution.

The Bourbon Restoration period in France lasted from 1814 to 1830 and saw the return of the Bourbon monarchy under King Louis XVIII (reign: 1814-1824) and later King Charles X (reign: 1824-1830). The white flag was flown during this time to symbolize the restoration of the old regime and the Bourbon dynasty.

Flag of France from 1814 to 1830

The Bourbon Restoration flag was adopted from the Naval Ensign of the Kingdom of France (pure white version), which was used before 1789, and between 1814/15 and 1830.

However, it is important to note that the white flag was not universally accepted or embraced by all segments of French society. It was seen by some as a symbol of the monarchy’s attempt to erase the ideals and achievements of the French Revolution.

The white flag of the monarchy transformed into the Tricolore as a result of the July Revolution. Painting by French artist Léon Cogniet (1830)

Ultimately, the Bourbon Restoration ended with the July Revolution of 1830, which led to the establishment of the July Monarchy and the return of the tricolor flag as the national flag of France. The decision to do was made by Louis-Philippe duke of Orléans, lieutenant general of the Kingdom, under the ordinance of 1st August 1830. Since then France has used the tricolor, except for a brief interruption in 1848 during the February Revolution (Révolution de février).

Louis Philippe I (1773 – 1850), nicknamed the Citizen King, was King of the French from 1830 to 1848. He was proclaimed king in 1830 after his cousin Charles X was forced to abdicate by the July Revolution. Portrait of King Louis Philippe by French artist Louise Adélaïde Desnos (1838)

Is there any relationship between France’s white flag in the 19th century and the white flag used as symbol for surrender?

France’s adoption of the White Flag in the 19th century is not the reason why white flags became a symbol of surrender. Many people like to think this way because France’s surrender in World War II. But it’s all false.

As a matter of fact, white flags were used as a symbol of surrender long before the 19th century. Some historians claim that the usage traces its roots to ancient China as a symbol of mourning. With the passage of time, it morphed from that into a symbol of surrender. On the other hand, Europeans began using white flags to signal the end of battle around the Middle Ages. For example, defenders of a castle would hoist a white flag to signal their capitulation to the attacking army.

Did you know…?

Since 1976, France has employed two versions of its tricolore flag, with differing degrees of official usage by the state. The original design, characterized by the inclusion of navy blue, coexisted with a version featuring a lighter shade of blue. Starting in 2020, France defaulted to the older variant as the standard, employing it across various official settings, including the Élysée Palace.

The Bourbon Restoration came to an end with the July Revolution of 1830, which resulted in the overthrow of King Charles X and the establishment of the July Monarchy under King Louis-Philippe. With the demise of the Bourbon Restoration, France was returned to its Tricolore flag

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