Napoleon's Flag: analysis of a French Imperial Symbol

In his decree of July 10, 1804, Emperor Napoleon I stipulated that the new imperial coat of arms must be “Azure with the imperial eagle of gold, encroaching a thunderbolt of the same”.

After the proclamation of the Empire, this flag became a symbol of the radiant and glorious power of Imperial France.

Designed by the revolutionary artists Denon, Gay and Biennais, the “weapons of the Empire”, inspired by both ancient Rome and Charlemagne, marked French history of the 19th century.

But actually, what do you know about the imperial flag?

Contents :

Historical anecdote: Emperor Napoleon's choice for his flag

The main coat of arms of the flag

The hidden symbols of Napoleon's flag

Some flags of France in history

Several flags of different origins

Let magic and secrets float

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Historical anecdote: Emperor Napoleon's choice for his flag

Any change in regime involves changes in the emblems used. It is inconceivable for a king, a leader or an emperor to keep the symbolism of his predecessor, as long as they are not from the same regime.

When Napoleon Bonaparte became Emperor of the French in May 1804, he wanted an imperial symbol which, displayed on soldiers' standards and town hall flags, would signify his legitimacy and the greatness of his reign. More broadly, Napoleon wanted to distinguish himself from the French monarchy, the old regime and the Bourbon family (the royal family that preceded him).

He thus charged his advisors with finding new coats of arms for the imperial flag of France.

Most quickly agreed: it was the rooster who best represented the nation. Proud, valiant, protective... Well, the Gauls were already using it millennia ago! The Romans spoke of the ancestors of the French as proud roosters and medieval writers saw them as an animal with great qualities.

For Napoleon, it was just a common farm animal, living with cows and pigs, and therefore unworthy of representing his greatness. His choice therefore fell on the symbol of the lion.

Legend or true story, it is said that it was when signing the imperial decree that he crossed out the word “lion” to replace it with “ eagle ”, almost on impulse.

In short, whatever its history, it is this precise flag that flew above the French soldiers of the Empire during some of its greatest battles.

Coat of arms of Napoleon's flag, with the imperial eagle in the middle.

The main coat of arms of the flag

Still marked by the heraldic tradition of the Middle Ages, the French imperial flag has a predominant central element: its coat of arms.

Understanding their meanings is therefore essential.

The Eagle

According to legend, the eagle was chosen by Napoleon on a whim. Some people prefer to think that this is a calculated and particularly intelligent political choice.

Symbol of power par excellence during classical Antiquity, the eagle is a rich, powerful, proud animal and higher than the others. To explore this further, here is an encyclopedia page dealing with the imperial eagle.

In short, its meaning fits perfectly with what the emperor wanted to show.

Through the eagle, the prestige, style and strength of the New Regime are expressed.

The Legion of Honour

The national order of the Legion of Honor is the first order of the French Republic to have seen the light of day. Created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, then consul, this order was radically new in its conception and contrasted with those of the Ancien Régime.

Already, his decoration is awarded to both soldiers and civilians. The Legion of Honor can be received by both men and women (it was one of the first times that this happened in history). It was awarded without consideration of origins, religion or social status. It was only the quality of the human that counted.

Through the Legion of Honor, Napoleon's flag recalls the importance of equality, the central value of the Revolution and the Republic.

The scepter and the hand of Justice

These two symbols are directly inspired by the French monarchy.

If most sovereigns wore it to display their power, the hand of Justice is unique to France. Its use dates back to the Middle Ages, where it expressed the direct interaction of the ruler with God, the way he held out his hand to receive his grace and guidance.

The scepter is also a religious character, in the sense that it represents the authority of supreme justice. For the affairs of our world, it is the king who owns it. For those of the sacred and spiritual, it is God who judges.

Through the scepter and the hand of Justice, Napoleon's flag shows a natural authority inspired by Catholic ideals.

The crown

What would a king be without his crown? Well, the same thing can be said of an emperor.

The crown has always had an important symbolic function. Whoever wears it has power. In many paintings, Napoleon wears one. It is therefore natural that it is also on his flag.

Through the crown, it is the royal authority that is depicted.

The imperial cloak

The imperial mantle serves exactly the same purpose as the crown.

Throughout French history, sovereigns have worn coats. During coronations, baptisms, weddings... The coat is a central symbol of royal power.

Napoleon took it over and wore one during important official moments.

Through the imperial mantle, the continuity between the millennial reign of the monarchy and that of the Empire is expressed.

Marble statue of Napoleon, with a scepter and a laurel wreath.

The hidden symbols of Napoleon's flag

Can we really talk about hidden symbols: after all, they are there, right under our noses.

However, certain elements of the French imperial flag are discreet… or simply obscured by other more important ones.

Each one, however, carries a deep meaning.

Do you have France in your heart? Do its symbols, whether known or mysterious, intrigue you?

So keep reading, but also take a look at this collection of French lucky charms and symbols.

The imperial bee

After careful consideration, Napoleon chose the bee as his emblem to represent his status as emperor. He loved the eagle, yes, but the bee is truly his trademark.

Countless leaders throughout the ages have chosen the eagle to represent their power. Very few have set their sights on the bee. This animal is, however, rich in quality.

The bee is an industrious beast which, through hard work, unfailing diligence and regularity in its task, knows how to build like no other.

Through its sweet honey, the bee brings sweetness, peace and kindness. This honey also has curative properties and treats men. Napoleon also brings peace and vitality.

Fun fact: the emperor was known for sleeping very little. However, under the Ancien Régime (scientists now know that this is false), we thought that bees never slept. However, they remained lively, alert, vigilant and as efficient in their work as ever... Exactly like Bonaparte!

Blue White Red !

The current French flag is made up of three colors: blue, white and red. Each of them has multiple symbolism and references.

Although these three colors may seem simple, their meanings are multiple and deep. Still today the flag of the Republic, these three vertical stripes carry great ideas of patriotism.

For the French revolutionaries, the “blue-white-red” the ideals of the Revolution then transformed into a motto: liberty, equality, fraternity, democracy, secularism and modernization. Over time, this division transformed into the famous “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, but the colors of the national flag remained the same.

Another interpretation is that its colors symbolize the three traditional States characteristic of the Age of Enlightenment: the nobility (by royal blue), the clergy (by white, the color of religious purity) and the bourgeoisie (by red, sumptuous wealth ).

Yet another idea suggests that the colors of Napoleon's flag were a nod to France's past. Blue would be the color of Saint Martin, a great saint very important to the city of Paris. The red would serve Saint Denis, famous martyr and bishop of the capital. White would symbolize virginal purity, signifying the presence of the Virgin Mary or Saint Joan of Arc.

Other symbols for our standard

There are actually several variations of Napoleon's flag. Here is a small list of other elements that you can find there, as well as their meaning:

  • The Phrygian cap : symbol of the emancipation of slaves under Rome, it shows the value of Liberty
  • The laurel wreath : again inspired by Antiquity, this Napoleonic symbol shows victory and glory.
  • The lictors' fasces, or fasces : an emblem of power and authority of the Roman Senate.
  • The cockade : reminder of the ideals of the French Revolution, and the sacrifice of the revolutionaries.
  • The lyre : favorite instrument of the Greek god Apollo, the lyre expresses beauty, wisdom and the arts.
  • The Swan : With messages of purity, fidelity and wholesome love, the Swan has been attributed to Empress Joséphine, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte.

A franc, a ring with the cross of Lorraine and a medieval flag.

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Some flags of France in history

The history of France is rich and fascinating. She has many mysteries to reveal to us, and likes to do so through symbols. Flags are therefore ideal means of transmitting messages.

It is not for nothing that an entire collection on our site, dealing primarily with lucky charms and mystical symbols, is based on flags and other banners throughout history.

The banner

If we believe that France descends from the Gauls, we cannot attribute an original flag to it. There were a multitude of different tribes, and not all of them had a standard.

Those who think its history as with the baptism of Clovis are equally confused: multiple legends tell us of how golden lilies appeared on his shield, or how the bishop Saint Denis gave him his blue cloak... but no trace history attests to all this.

In short, for many people , the first recognized French flag is the oriflamme, a red two-pointed banner that the sovereigns of the High Middle Ages used on the battlefields.

“Of golden lily flowers on an azure field”

In the 12th century, the oriflamme was replaced by a blue shield decorated with golden fleurs-de-lis. For more than three centuries, the kings of France used this flag, in more or less different forms, but always respecting its symbols and colors.

Seeing such a flag hoisted on a flagpole revived the hearts of the French regiments and fighters with new courage. Seeing the national emblem, this great flag of France, reminded them of the meaning of their fight.

The tricolor flag

The French Revolution broke out in 1789. The Tricolore, a flag still used today by the French, was adopted in 1794.

With the radical changes brought about by the New Regime, new national principles were enacted. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity had to be expressed, and they did so wonderfully through the Tricolor.

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Napoleonic flag of the first empire

Napoleonic flag of the first empire

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Discover the author: Cyril Gendarme

Cyril Gendarme is a writer whose website "The Lucky Door" ("La Porte Du Bonheur" in French, his native language) has become a reference in the field of esotericism. Born in Belgium, Cyril has been attracted to the mysteries of the world since he was a child. When his interest in occultism was awakened, a particular subject caught his attention: lucky charms.

After years of study and in-depth research on esoteric traditions from around the world, Cyril decided to share his knowledge with the public through the internet. In 2019, he launched "The Lucky Door," a website dedicated to exploring lucky charms, magical symbols, and esoteric arts.

The Lucky Door is much more than just a showcase for those curious about magic, divination, or tradition. It is the result of Cyril's passion for researching and understanding the mysteries of the universe. Every piece of information available on the site testifies to his dedication to sharing his knowledge of the most hidden symbols and their unique powers.

In addition to his online work, Cyril regularly organizes workshops and conferences in different countries. His presence on social media is also highly appreciated, where he offers personalized advice and happily answers questions from his community.