The Republic was proclaimed on September 4, 1870 in Paris, and General Louis Trochu became President of the Government of national defence. On September 20, 1870, Paris was besieged by the Germans and capitulated on 28 January 1871.
The Assembly, withdrawn to Bordeaux, met on 12 February and delegated the "executive power of the French Republic" to Adolphe Thiers. A law of 31 August 1871 gave him the title of President of the French Republic.
He resigned on 24 May 1873 and was replaced by Marshal Patrice de Mac Mahon, elected by the monarchist majority in the Assembly. An attempt to restore monarchy failed in October 1873 by the intransigence of the Count of Chambord on the flag issue. The constitutional laws were then passed in January and February 1875. Marshal de Mac Mahon withdrew on January 30, 1879.
These first two presidents had no specific ensigns. Indeed, in the Manuel du matelot timonier published by Tumaine in 1874 we find the following :
"The ship mounted by the Head of State flies the national ensign at the mainmast. Any other distinguishing mark is then retracted. The boat mounted by the Head of State carries the national ensign at the front and at the stern. This ensign is silk in the national colours."
In the text it should be noted that it is about "Head of State" instead of "President of the Republic." In addition the flag on a boat was silk while that of the Minister of the Navy mentioned later in this book was in the national colours in ordinary fabric.
On 30 January 1879 the "republican" Jules Grévy became president but resigned on December 2, 1887. We then find the following in the Manuel du matelot timonier (1881 edition) :
"The ship mounted by the Head of State bears the mainmast square ensign in the national colours. Any other identifying mark is then brought. The boat mounted by the Head of State carries the national ensign at the front and at the stern. This ensign is silk in the national colours. "
The special ensign appeared for the first time with the decree of May 20, 1885 which stated: "The ship mounted by the President of the Republic bears the mainmast square ensign with the national colours, in the centre of which its initials are gold-embroidered. Any other identifying mark is then retracted. The boat mounted by the President of the Republic has the same flag at the front and the national ensign at the stern."
NB: the form of the initials of Jules Grévy was not found to date.
Jules Grévy’s successor, Sadi Carnot, was elected on December 3, 1887, and was assassinated by an Italian anarchist on June 24, 1895. Regarding his flag, Manuel du matelot timonier (1893 edition) repeats the words of May 30, 1885 decree but contains no marks of design in use at that time. On the other hand, the Album des Pavillons of the 1889 Service hydrographique de la Marine on sheet 1 gives the ensign for the President in national colours loaded in the centre of a simple letter C gold. Its proportions were 1 x 1.17 with a ratio of strips of 0.30, 0.33, 0.37.
President Casimir Perrier, elected on June 27, 1894, resigned on 16 January, 1895. His initials appear intertwined in a correction of the aforementioned Album des Pavillons.
President Felix Faure succeeded him on the same day and died on February 16, 1899. His ensign bore both "F" curiously crossed.
Emile Loubet who was elected on February 18, 1899 ended his seven-year period on February 18, 1906, and Armand Fallières who was elected on that very day ended it on 15 February, 1913. Their sea flags bore the initials placed one near the other.
Raymond Poincaré was elected on February 17, 1913 and ended his term on February 17, 1920. His ensign also wore his initials near each other. In the other hand, he owned a car flag where they were intertwined. This flag had the flagpole topped with a copper tip and decorated with a tricolour tie.
His incapacitated successor, Paul Deschanel, was dismissed on September 23, 1920. His initials were also placed one near the other.
He was replaced by Alexandre Millerand who had to resign on June 11, 1924 under the pressure of the "Cartel des Gauches". The initials of his flag were intertwined.
Gaston Doumergue who was elected on June 13, 1924 ended his term on June 13, 1931. He was replaced by Paul Doumer on that very day. The latter was assassinated by a Russian refugee on 6 May, 1932. Their initials were placed one near the other. The Album des Pavillons of the Service hydrographique de la Marine published in 1923 provides for these presidents’ ensigns proportions the values 1 x 1 with the ratio of strips of 0.30, 0.33, 0.37.
Albert Lebrun who was elected on May 10, 1932and re-elected in 1939 withdrew on July 13, 1940, giving way to Marshal Petain. His ensign bore his initials placed one near the other while they were interlaced on his car flag. The latter was especially used during the visit of British sovereigns in Paris in July 1938. With him the Third Republic sank and the French State of the Vichy government succeeded him.
General Philippe Pétain formed a government on June 17after Paul Reynaud’s resignation and gave a message asking for an armistice. The National Assembly met in Vichy gave him the constituent power on 11 July. By an act of July 11, Marshal Petain repealed the Republic and proclaimed himself the head of the French State.
The ensign of chief of State used at sea and raised at the mainmast of the ship which was carrying it was square and in the white of the tricolour it wore the ax (unofficial national emblem) surmounting seven gold stars (Album des Pavillons of the Service hydrographique de la Marine, patch No. 15 of July 1942). However the ensign located at the front of the Marshal's launch during his visit to the Toulon harbour fleet in November 1940, had 1,15m x 1,30m for dimensions.
His car flag also carried the ax and the seven golden stars. It was surrounded by a gold fringe and the hoist terminated by the same emblem was adorned with a white tie fringed with gold and a tricolour end. Its dimensions were about 0,40m x 0,50m. The white tie was to mark the function of Chief of the Armies.
The Germans invaded the south of France on 11 November 1942 and the fleet of Toulon was scuttled on 27 November. The sovereignty of the Vichy government was virtually reduced to nothing. On 20 August 1944, Marshal Petain was forcibly removed by the Germans and transferred to Sigmaringen. This act marked the end of the French State.
Previously, General de Gaulle who had been a member of Paul Raynaud Ministry since 6 June 1940 fell into disagreement with Marshal Petain’s decision of armistice. The next day, he went to London where he launched his Appeal of June 18, asking the French to group around him to continue the war.
The need for an emblem was felt and the project presented by Vice Admiral Muselier was soon adopted by General de Gaulle. The Cross of Lorraine appeared on July 2, 1940 on the Naval Jack ships having joined Free France and then on the tricolour flags of Territories in Africa and in Oceania that joined General de Gaulle.
Recognized by the British Government on 28 June 1940, he formed the French National Committee in London on September 24, 1941. After the assassination of Admiral Darlan in North Africa and his replacement by General Henri Giraud, de Gaulle arrived in Algiers on May 30, 1943 and with him on June 3 he created the French Committee of National Liberation which became the provisional Government of the French Republic on June 3, 1944 (three days before the Normandy landing).
From the end of June 1940 to March 1941, in London on his car General de Gaulle wore a small tricolour flag measuring approximately 14cm x 22 cm charged with a red cross of Lorraine on the white band. However on June 14 as he arrived at Bayeux, he wore a tricolour flag with the blue cross of Lorraine on his jeep.
He entered Paris in the evening of 25 August 1944 and established his provisional government of which he was president until January 20, the date when he withdrew as he disagreed with the Constituent Assembly.
During this period he used a car tricolour flag with gold fringe, the white part being charged with a red cross of Lorraine.
Felix Gouin and then Gearges Bidault succeeded General de Gaulle. On October 13 a referendum approved the new constitution which was promulgated on October 27, 1946 (4th Republic). On December 16, Léon Blum replaced Georges Bidault who resigned. The presidents of the Provisional Government did not have their initials on their emblems.
On 16 January 1947, Vincent Auriol was elected President of the Republic. His flag at sea was perfectly consistent with the decree of 1885. On the other hand his car flag was simply tricolour with a tricolour tie and a gold fringe.
On January 14, 1954, René Coty replaced Vincent Auriol. His flag at sea wore his initials placed one next to the other (Album des pavillons of the Service hydrographique de la Marine, 1954 edition). His car pennant from an old photo was a simple tricolour with a white tie.
Given the difficulties of the country in front of independence wars (Indochina, Algeria, etc.) and unstable governments, René Coty appealed to General de Gaulle who was invested Chairman of the Council on 1 June, 1958. He proposed a new constitution (5th Republic) which was adopted on 28 September by referendum and promulgated on October 4, 1958.
De Gaulle was elected President of the Republic and took office on January 8, 1959. He quickly replaced the tricolour with Cross of Lorraine that the protocol had seen fit to float on the Elysée, simply by the national tricolour. On the other hand, he had a tricolour car flag which was golden fringed with a red cross of Lorraine, to the dimensions 0,35m x 0,40m and adorned with a white tie fringed with gold.
The flag at sea was square with his initials CG embroidered in gold. Below a small cross of Lorraine was added. On April 28, 1969, he resigned after a failed referendum.
Alain Poher, Senate President, served as interim president. His car used a tricolour flag with gold fringe without particular mark, along with a tricolour tie fringed with gold.
On 15 June 1969, Georges Pompidou, Prime Minister, replaced Alain Poher. His car flag bore his initials in gold letters and was decorated with a tricolour tie fringed with gold. His flag at sea was square with the same initials. He died on April 2, 1974 and Alain Poher assured his second interim. This time his car flag bore his initials.
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, on duty on May 19, 1974 first used an ensign and a square tricolour flag. By year's end he ordered a new flag that floated from 2 June 1976 on the Elysée: it wore a fasces surrounded by two golden laurel branches on the white band. The flag had for dimensions 0.38M x 0.27m. Blue became clearer. The flag at sea also wore this emblem and all were adorned with a white tie fringed with gold.
On 10 May 1981 François Mitterrand was elected President and took office on May 21. His car flag was the simple tricolour flag golden fringed with the white tie and the flag bore his initials. A new emblem was submitted on 8 April 1982: it was golden half-oak and half-olive tree and it appeared on the car flag and on the flag at sea.
After 14 years as president, he was replaced by Jacques Chirac who was elected on May 7, 1995 and took office on May 17. He did not adopt any personal emblem and the standard flag was used.
His successor Nicolas Sarkozy who was elected on 6 May 2007 took office on May 16. He repeated the same provisions as his predecessor.
On May 15, 2012, François Hollande took office after his election on 6 May. The flag at sea and the car flag were unchanged. The white tie is still present.
Excerpt from several articles published in the Emblems and Flags bulletin written by Lucien Philippe, former editor, and updates added by the president of the SFV .