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A fleur-de-lis, the most common symbol in French heraldry

French heraldry is the use of heraldic symbols in France. Although it had a considerable history, existing from the 11th century, such formality has largely died out in France, as far as regulated personal heraldry is concerned. Civic heraldry on the other hand remains a visible part of daily life.

The role of the herald (héraut) in France declined in the 17th century. Today the law recognises both assumed and inherited arms, considering them under law to be equivalent to a visual representation of a name, and given the same protections. However, there is no central registry of arms; in case of dispute, the individual who can prove the longest right to the blazon must be decided in court.

Many of the terms in international heraldry come from French.


Like the British system of heraldry, the French follow the Rule of Tinctures. This states that there are two types of Tinctures (heraldic colors): the colors Sable (black), Gueules (red), Sinople (green) and Azur (blue) and metals Or (gold or yellow) and Argent (silver or white). For sake of visibility (the whole point of the system), no Charges of a color can be used on a field of a color and no Charges of a metal can be used on a field of a metal, nor can the divisions of the field be color-on-color or metal-on-metal. Arms that do not follow the Rule of Tinctures are referred to as Armes pour enquérir (a "Coat of Arms to be investigated").

French heraldry has a set system of crown and coronets.[1] Supporters are not linked with any rank or title, unlike the coronets, and are far less common than in other forms of European heraldry, such as English heraldry.[1] Even the Royal Arms' angelic supporters are not shown in most depictions. Crests are rare in modern depictions, again in contrast to England.[1]

Napoleonic heraldryEdit

Arms of Joseph Fouché (1759-1820) as a Count. The quarter azure in chief dexter charged with a lion's head indicates his positions as a count and a minister

Along with a new system of titles of nobility, the First French Empire also introduced a new system of heraldry.

Napoleonic heraldry was based on traditional heraldry but was characterised by a stronger sense of hierarchy. It employed a rigid system of additional marks in the shield to indicate official functions and positions. Another notable difference from traditional heraldry was the toques, which replaced coronets. The toques were surmounted by ostrich feathers: dukes had 7, counts had 5, barons had 3, and knights had 1. The number of lambrequins was also regulated: 3, 2, 1 and none respectively. As many grantees were self-made men, and the arms often alluded to their life or specific actions, many new or unusual charges were also introduced.[2]

The most characteristic mark of Napoleonic heraldry was the additional marks in the shield to indicate official functions and positions. These came in the form of quarters in various colours, and would be differenced further by marks of the specific rank or function. In this system, the arms of knights had an ordinary gules, charged with the emblem of the Legion of Honour; Barons a quarter gules in chief sinister, charged with marks of the specific rank or function; counts a quarter azure in chief dexter, charged with marks of the specific rank or function; and dukes had a chief gules semé of stars argent.[2]

The said 'marks of the specific rank or function' as used by Barons and Counts depended on the rank or function held by the individual. Military barons and counts had a sword on their quarter, members of the Conseil d'Etat had a chequy, ministers had a lion's head, prefects had a wall beneath an oak branch, mayors had a wall, landowners had a wheat stalk, judges had a balance, members of Academies had a palm, etc.[2]

A decree of 3 March 1810 states: "The name, arms and livery shall pass from the father to all sons" although the distinctive marks of title could only pass to the son who inherited it. This provision applied only to the bearers of Napoleonic titles.[2]

The Napoleonic system of heraldry did not outlast the First French Empire. The Second French Empire (1852–1870) made no effort to revive it, although the official arms of France were again those of Napoleon I.[2]

French crowns and coronetsEdit

Commune Department Capital Capital

Ancien RégimeEdit

Baron Vidame Vicomte (Viscount) Comte (Count) Comte et Pair de France (Count and Peer of France) Marquis Marquis et Pair de France (Marquis and Peer of France)
Duc (Duke) Duc et Pair de France (Dukes and Peer of France) Prince du Sang (nobles in the descendance of a former French king) (Petit-) Fils de France (Royal Prince, children or grandchildren of the King) Dauphin (heir apparent), (Dauphin de Viennois) Roi (King)

National Emblem of FranceEdit

National Emblem of France
ArmigerThe French Republic
BlazonRF, standing for République française
Other elementsFasces, laurel branch, oak branch

The current emblem of France has been a symbol of France since 1953, although it does not have any legal status as an official coat of arms. It appears on the cover of French passports and was originally adopted by the French Foreign Ministry as a symbol for use by diplomatic and consular missions in 1912 using a design drawn up by the sculptor Jules-Clément Chaplain.

In 1953, France received a request from the United Nations for a copy of the national coat of arms to be displayed alongside the coats of arms of other member states in its assembly chamber. An interministerial commission requested Robert Louis (1902–1965), heraldic artist, to produce a version of the Chaplain design. This did not, however, constitute an adoption of an official coat of arms by the Republic.

Technically speaking, it is an emblem rather than a coat of arms, since it does not respect heraldic rules—heraldry being seen as an aristocratic art, and therefore associated with the Ancien Régime. The emblem consists of:


A golden fleur-de-lis, the most common colour in French heraldry

The fleur-de-lys (or fleur-de-lis, plural: fleurs-de-lis; /ˌflɜːrdəˈl/, [ˌflœː(ʀ)dəˈlɪs] in Quebec French), translated from French as "lily flower") is a stylized design of either an iris or a lily that is now used purely decoratively as well as symbolically, or it may be "at one and the same time political, dynastic, artistic, emblematic and symbolic",[3] especially in heraldry.

While the fleur-de-lis has appeared on countless European coats of arms and flags over the centuries, it is particularly associated with the French monarchy on a historical context, and nowadays with the Spanish monarchy and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg as the only remaining monarchs of the House of Bourbon.

It is an enduring symbol of France that appears on French postage stamps but has not been adopted officially by any of the French republics.

Arms of major citiesEdit

All cities within France have coats of arms; these are often intertwined with local traditions over history.

Regions of FranceEdit


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c François Velde (2003-02-06). "French Heraldry: National Characteristics". Heraldica. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
  2. ^ a b c d e François R. Velde. Napoleonic Heraldry
  3. ^ Michel Pastoureau (1997), Heraldry: Its Origins and Meaning, 'New Horizons' series, translated by Francisca Garvie (Thames and Hudson), ISBN 0-500-30074-7, p. 98.
  4. ^ Faure, Juliet (2002). L'arsenal de Paris: histoire et chroniques (in French). L'Harmattan. p. 35.
  5. ^ a b c d e Ralph Schor, Histoire du Comté de Nice en 100 dates, Alandis Editions, 2007, p. 22-23 (in French)
  6. ^ Histoire du blason de Grenoble Archived 2008-11-12 at the Wayback Machine (in French)