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Why are the Dutch and French flags so similar?

Why are the Dutch and French flags so similar?

The flags of the Netherlands and France feature the same colors – red, white and blue – arranged into vertical stripes. This similarities between the two national banners is no coincidence. Rather, it reflects the close historical, cultural and political ties between the two European nations.

The Dutch flag consists of three equal horizontal bands colored red (top), white (middle) and blue (bottom). The French flag is composed of three equal vertical bands colored blue (hoist side), white (middle) and red (fly side). Despite the different orientations, the flags are essentially identical in their color schemes.

This can lead to confusion between the two banners, especially from a distance. So why are they so alike? The shared design stems from a time when the Netherlands and France were united under one rule. Additionally, both flags embody revolutionary ideals that connect the two nations.

United Under One Domain

For much of their history, the Netherlands and France were linked through royal dynasties and empires. This political unity is the main reason why both countries adopted such similar flags.

From the 16th to early 19th centuries, the Netherlands and France were under the control of the House of Orange-Nassau and later the House of Bourbon. Through inherited claims and military conquests, the ruling families merged the two lands into singular kingdoms.

The present-day Dutch flag has its roots in the banner of William of Orange. William led the Dutch revolt against Spanish rule in the 1500s. His princely flag consisting of orange, white and blue horizontals became a symbol of the nascent Dutch Republic.

When William III of Orange became King William III of England in 1689, he combined the Dutch colors with the British red ensign to create the Dutch flag used today. This red-white-blue tricolor represented the unity between Protestant Holland and Britain against Catholic France.

Yet just a few decades later, the political situation was reversed. In the early 1800s, France conquered the Netherlands and incorporated it into Napoleon’s empire. The French flag, created after the 1789 revolution, replaced the Dutch one. But even under French rule, the similar colors and symbolism of the two banners persisted.

Flags Rooted in Revolution

The French tricolor traces its origins to the early days of the French Revolution in 1789. Seeking a national symbol, French revolutionaries adopted the blue and red colors of Paris along with the royal white. Arranged into vertical stripes, the design marked a dramatic break from the Bourbon white flag.

Like its Dutch counterpart, the French flag embodied the spirit of a people rebelling against monarchical tyranny. Both banners rejected the standards of ruling dynasties in favor of freedom-inspired tricolors. With red, white and blue symbolizing liberty, equality and fraternity, the new French emblem aligned with Dutch ideals.

Even after Napoleon fell and the Netherlands regained independence, the two countries maintained similar flags. By this time, the tricolors were firmly established as national symbols tied to emancipation and popular sovereignty. Though no longer united politically, the shared revolutionary heritage of the Dutch and French people lived on through their flags.

Contrasting Orientations

Given their nearly identical color schemes, what allows the French and Dutch flags to be quickly distinguished? The key difference lies in their contrasting orientations.

The vertical stripe alignment of the French flag differs from the horizontal stripes of the Dutch one. This enables the banners to be easily differentiated, despite having the same colors. The varied orientations are tied to how the flags developed.

As previously noted, the Dutch flag evolved from the horizontal-striped, princely standard of William of Orange in the 16th century. It retained this horizontal alignment even after later incorporating France’s revolutionary colors.

The French flag’s vertical stripes originated from the merchants and militia of Paris, who in 1789 adopted the city’s symbolic blue and red hues. This vertical alignment on the French tricolor has been maintained to the present day.

So the perpendicular stripe arrangements allow the superficially similar French and Dutch flags to be properly identified at a glance. This prevents confusion between the banners, while allowing both to retain the resonant red, white and blue coloring.

Lasting Bonds

While no longer united politically, France and the Netherlands still enjoy warm ties in the 21st century through the European Union. As founding members, they closely cooperate on EU affairs and share an open border. Tourism and trade flourish between the neighboring countries.

In the realm of sports, French and Dutch fans often unite in supporting their national teams against other rivals. The two countries also collaborate on art, with many great impressionist painters like Van Gogh dividing their time between France and the Netherlands.

The rich friendship today echoes centuries of past kinship and co-rule. Though now independent, the two nations remain close at heart. And the shared colors and ideals embodied in their flags still bind France and the Netherlands in common cause.


In summary, the French and Dutch flags feature nearly matching designs due to the following historical factors:

– Dynastic links between the Netherlands and France from the 16th-19th centuries led to political unity under singular crowns. This resulted in the two states adopting each other’s symbolic red, white and blue colors.

– Both flags originated from revolutionary movements rejecting monarchy and embracing liberty, equality and fraternity. This shared symbolism brought the two banners into alignment despite political changes.

– The Dutch flag retained its horizontal orientation from its inception as the banner of William of Orange. The French flag maintained its vertical stripes from its creation during the French Revolution. These perpendicular orientations allow the two similar flags to be distinguished.

So while now representing independent countries, the flags reflect profound bonds between France and the Netherlands stemming from a long shared history and values. The enduring intertwined relationship of the two nations lives on in the spirit and colors of their flags.


The flags of modern-day France and the Netherlands bear striking similarities, with only their orientations setting them apart. This is no coincidence, but rather the result of close ties forging political unity and revolutionary camaraderie between the two lands and peoples over centuries of history. Though now separate nations, the shared red, white and blue symbolism of their near-identical flags pays enduring homage to the past kinship and ideals that still link France and the Netherlands today.


Country Flag Design Symbolism
Netherlands Horizontal tricolor of red, white and blue Red, white and blue represent liberty, equality and fraternity
France Vertical tricolor of blue, white and red Blue, white and red inspired by colors of Paris and French Revolution ideals
Time Period Political Situation Flags Used
16th-18th century Netherlands and France ruled by Houses of Orange and Bourbon Princely Dutch standard under William of Orange
1789-1815 French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars New French tricolor; Dutch flag banned by French
Post-1815 Netherlands independent; close European ties remain Modern Dutch and French flags still used today