The Fabulous History of the French Flag (R. Delpard)

When a popularization work dealing with colors and symbols opens with a dedication to Michel Pastoureau and intends to refer to his work, we finally say to ourselves maybe hold a quality book on an interesting subject: the history of construction of the French flag. The historian knows, however, that appearances are often deceptive because it is not only a dubious history of the French flag that Raphaël Delpard reveals but also an uncertain national novel.

The history of France and its flag

This book does not only concern the history of the French flag but to a greater extent the history of France, its people and its identity. But this story is told episodically and exclusively through the prism of the national novel, mainly evoking kings and saints. Thus, after a very interesting first part on the origins of the object "flag", the author recounts in a rather disjointed way the construction of France and its flag alternating rather heterogeneous chapters ranging from the Gauls to the French Revolution. Let us quote for example chapter 21 devoted to the Crusades, finally almost exclusively to the first (at the end of XIe century) as well as the medieval repressions against the Jews that it brought about. Chapter 22 then opens directly on Louis XI and the incorporation of the white flag as an emblem of the armies in the second half of the XVe century. It is therefore a very concise and rather vain history of France that Raphaël Delpard presents to us, according to the subjects close to his heart such as the nation or the people.

So, that he pours into the national patriotic novel, after all with such a synthetic work, it seems inevitable and in a certain way quite logical although some digressions appear really distant from the original subject, let's think for example of the setting at the point between Arian and Aryan. But the main problem with the work is undoubtedly the author's desire to systematically seek to find a sign of the construction of the French flag through the various historical eras, sometimes the most distant.

What real origin for the French flag?

Despite his meticulous and genuine archival work, Raphaël Delpard sometimes seems carried away by his passion, which leads him to venture on very slippery historiographical slopes, desperate to seek the origins of the colors of the French flag. Take the example of blue, the first color he really addresses in his talk. The author traces his adoption back to the Merovingian kings and to Clovis fighting under his protection, the latter taking as his emblem the famous blue cape of Saint Martin! The blue of the French flag would thus come from the outfit that became a relic that the saint shared with a poor person. But the problem is, the actual color of the cloak remains unknown. And while throughout his work, Raphaël Delpard takes the opportunity to twist received ideas and untruths on subjects that are sometimes quite far from the French flag, such as Charlemagne's nonexistent “flower beard”, he falls into his own trap and continues to diffuse these historical errors that he intends to combat.

In addition, he can go so far as to contradict himself, since a few pages before, he addresses blue as the color of the Gauls, a color considered as barbaric by the Romans who - the author quite rightly says - ignore this color. . How could the Roman soldier Martin thus wear a blue coat and not, for example, white, as the medievalist historian Philippe Contamine maintains? Blue, white, red or even green, the debate around the color of the saint's mantle is far from settled but it seems inconceivable not to refer to it when one wishes to attribute to it the origin of one of the colors of the saint. French flag. And then it is very difficult to immerse yourself in this more disappointing than Fabulous History of the French Flag.

Raphaël Delpard, The Fabulous History of the French Flag, Éditions Quai de Seine, Ivry-sur-Seine.

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