Flags or ribbons with three colours, assumed by nations or
insurgents as symbols of political liberty. The present European
tricolour ensigns are, for—
black, yellow, red, divided vertically. France, blue, white,
red, divided vertically. (See below. Holland, red, white, blue,
green, white, red, divided vertically.
Tricolour of France.
The insurgents in the French Revolution chose the three colours of
the city of Paris for their symbol. The three colours were first
devised by mary Stuart, wife of Francois II. The white represented the royal house of France; the blue, Scotland; and
the red, Switzerland, in compliment to the Swiss guards, whose
livery it was. The heralds afterwards tinctured the shield of Paris
with the three colours, thus expressed in heraldic language: “Paris
portait de gueules, sur vaisscau d'argent, flottant sur des ondes de
méme, le chef cousu de France” (a ship with white sails, on
a red ground, with a blue chef). The usual tale is that
the insurgents in 1789 had adopted for their flag the two colours, red and blue, but that Lafayette persuaded them to add the Bourbon white, to show that they bore no hostility to the king. The first
flag of the Republicans was green. The tricolour was adopted
July 11th, when the people were disgusted with the king for dismissing
“If you will wear a livery, let it at least be that of the city of
Paris- blue and red.” —Dumas: Six Years Afterwards, chap. xv.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894