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- This article is about the history and political implication of the term. See Triband (flag) for flags consisting of three stripes. See List of flags with three colours for flags using three colours.
A tricolour is a type of flag or banner design with a triband design which originated in the 16th century as a symbol of republicanism, liberty or indeed revolution. The term is often spelled in the French or Italian fashion as Tricolore due to the significance of the concept in these countries. Specifically, when used within context, the flags of France, Italy, Mexico and Ireland are referred to as "the tricolour" or "the tricolour flag" in English, all of them first adopted with the formation of an independent republic in the period of 1789 to 1848.1
The first association of the tricolour with republicanism is the orange-white-blue design of the Prince's Flag (Prinsenvlag, predecessor of the flags of the Netherlands and Luxembourg), used from 1579 by William I of Orange-Nassau in the Eighty Years' War, establishing the independence of the Dutch Republic from the Spanish Empire.
The most famous tricolour, known as La Tricolore is the blue-white-red (whence also called Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge) flag of France adopted in the French Revolution. With the formation of French client republics after 1795, the revolutionary tricolour was adopted more widely, by the Republic of Alba 1796 (red-blue-yellow), the Cisalpine Republic 1797 (Transpadane Republic, green-white-red), the Cisrhenian Republic 1797 (green-white-red), the Anconine Republic 1797 (blue-yellow-red), the Roman Republic 1798 (black-white-red), the Helvetic Republic 1798 (green-yellow-red; canton of Neuchatel 1848), the Parthenopean Republic 1799 (blue-yellow-red), the Principality of Lucca and Piombino 1805 (blue-white-red).
The green-white-red tricolour remained a symbol of republicanism throughout the 19th century and was adopted as national flag by a number of states following the Revolutions of 1848, the Kingdom of Sardinia (inherited by the Kingdom of Italy 1861),
The flag of Germany (black-red-gold) originates in as the flag of the revolutionary, anti-monarchist Freikorps of the 1830s, later adopted by the republicanist bourgoisie, at the time known as Dreifarb, a German loan-translation of Tricolore. This flag was a symbol of opposition against the German Kleinstaaterei and the desire for German Unification. It was at first illegal in the German Confederation, but was adopted as the national flag at the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848/9. The flag of Belgium was introduced in a similar context, in 1831, its colours taken from the flag used in the Brabant Revolution of 1789. The first national flag of the New World inspired by this symbolism was the flag of Mexico, adopted when the First Mexican Empire gained independence from Spain in 1821.
After 1848, the young republican nation states continued to pick triband designs, but now more prevalently expressing the sentiment of nationalism or ethnic identity than anti-monarchism, flag of Hungary (1848). the flag of Romania (1848), the Flag of Ireland (1848), the flag of Estonia (1880s) and the flag of Lithuania (1905). By contrast, the flag of Russia was adopted by the Tsardom of Russia in the late 17th century and while it may have been inspired by the Dutch tricolour, it never had any republican implications.
The political ideology of the unification of an ethnic nation state associated with the flag since the 19th century has resulted in the design of new "tricolours" expressing specific nationalisms in the 20th century, the Pan-African colors adopted in the 1920s for Pan-Africanism, chosen in numerous African flags during decolonisation (green-yellow-red, taken from the triband design used by the Solomonic dynasty for the Ethiopian Empire since 1897). The Pan-Arab colors adopted in Arab nationalism 1916 are a comparable concept, even though they combine four, not three, colours. Also in the 20th century, Pan-Iranian colors for Iranian nationalism and Pan-Slavic colors for Slavic nationalism were adopted based on the triband design of the flags used during the 19th century by the Qajar dynasty and the Russian Empire, respectively.
The Indian independence movement in 1931 also adopted a tricolour (loan-translated as Hindi तिरंगा tirangā) in the traditional symbolism of "national unification" and republican "self-rule" (Purna Swaraj), adopted as the flag of the Indian Republic in 1947.
- English usage according to OED: "tricolor (adj.): Of a flag, cockade, etc.; esp. of the national flags of France, Italy, and Mexico; tricolor (n.): A tricolour flag, cockade, etc.; esp. the national flag of France adopted at the Revolution, consisting of equal vertical stripes of blue, white, and red; The green, white, and orange Irish Republican flag." In the cases of Italyand Mexico, the focus was on independence, and republicanism competed with constitutional monarchy (Cisalpine Republic vs. Kingdom of Italy, First Mexican Empire vs. First Mexican Republics)