In 2016 the French government implemented a new internal administration system for the country. Formerly divided into twenty-two metropolitan regions, after a long period of discussion and bargaining, France lowered that number to just thirteen. Seven of these new regions were formed by merging sixteen former regions into greater wholes while six regions remained unchanged.
The former twenty-two metropolitan regions had a mixture of flags, some wonderful banners based on the regional arms, often with deep roots in the historical heraldry present in these regions. Others were a disappointing display of regional logos, completely disregarding the rich history and symbolism which France and its historical regions have to offer. Thankfully these riches, ignored by the governments, were appreciated by the citizens and unofficial many armorial flags were in common use by the public.
Some of the new regions since 2016 are still in need of new symbols while the designs implemented by some are sadly lacking. Let us now take a look at the flags of the first two of the seven new regions whose flag situations are the most promising. It is worth noting that the symbols of some of the new regions are still in development (and most information is often behind a wall of French) so the following article is based on our best knowledge and research of the current situation. It thus may not contain some more recent information.
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes lies in the southeast of France and was formed by joining together the former regions of Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes. As the name suggests, it flows down from the Alps in the east into the Rhone river valley and into the Massif Central highlands of Auvergne in northern Occitania.
The official flags of the two former regions were no great loss with Auvergne’s flag displaying a green swirl “volcano” on a white field alongside the region’s name while Rhône-Alpes went with the region’s name in purple on a white field. We might at least take consolation in the flags flown by the public. In the case of Auvergne a gold flag with a green-edged-and-ringed red gonfalon derived from the arms of the historical region. In the same manner a flag design based on the arms of its corresponding historical regions was in use in Rhône-Alpes. This flag combines the dolphin of Dauphiné and the lion of Lyonnais overlaid with an inescutcheon of the Savoyard cross, all below a blue chief of five gold fleur-de-lis, present in the arms of Lyonnais (3 fleur-de-lis) and representing the other lesser regions with lilies in their arms.
The symbols of the new region of 2016 are undergoing some birthing problems yet look to evolve into a strong flag and arms soon. While the region started out with, and from our information still officially uses, a flag containing a white logo and name on a blue field, it is in the process of adopting a new flag. It is to be derived from a coat of arms quartering the main elements from the arms of the historical provinces. In the first quarter is to be the gonfalon of Auvergne, in the second the cross of Savoy, in the third the lion of Lyonnais and in the fourth the dolphin of Dauphiné. The concept was designed by Matthieu Casali and was met with mixed reactions.
While many praise it for upholding both historical regional symbolism and good flag and heraldic design, it has also raised critical voices. Opposition councillor Corinne Morel Darleux delivered a scathing speech on the proposed arms on her Facebook account. Here she calls the arms out for containing the symbols of “monarchical provinces before the French Revolution, under the domination of dukes and counts” and complains about their suitability to being included on regional business cards. The region was set to vote on the new symbols on 14th June but has since postponed the decision to a later date. Meanwhile the flag has already been placed into the council chambers.
Bourgogne-Franche-Comté is just north of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. It came into existence with the joining of the former regions of Bourgogne (which we shall call Burgundy, a name more known to anglophones) and Franche-Comté. It encompasses the two historical regions of the same names along with a large part of the historical Duchy of Nevers.
The former region of Burgundy was a great example of how historical French heraldry can be utilised to create a praiseworthy regional flag. The regional arms made use of a design used by the former house of Valois-Burgundy (simplifying the semé of fleur-de-lis to just three). The arms have through history transcended from a noble symbol and become connected to the land itself. The regional flag was then derived from the shield as a banner of arms. Likewise the former region of Franche-Comté adopted its historical arms and flag displaying a golden lion on a blue field semé with golden billets.
The newly established region of Brougogune-Franche-Comté shortly used a neutral logo flag before adopting a combination of the arms and flags of the two regions its succeeded. In fact, if the web page of the region is to be believed, the creation of a coat of arms “bearing the common identity of the new region” was a primary policy for Marie-Guite Dufay, the first regional president. The council established a committee of archivists and historians to design symbols for the region. And design it did. As was mentioned, the final design of arms combined the arms of the two previous region. In first and fourth quarters are the Burgundian lilies (returning to the semé of fleur-de-lis field) and stripes, while the second and third quarter feature the golden lion of Franche-Comté. The design is thus fairly balanced and carries well the heraldic traditions present in the region. The flag is, once again, a banner of arms.