Legion of Honour

Legion of Honour
Légion d'honneur
Chevalier légion d'honneur 2.png
Chevalier (Knight) medal insignia
Awarded by France
TypeOrder of merit
Established19 May 1802; 215 years ago (1802-05-19)
MottoHonneur et patrie ("Honour and Fatherland")
Awarded for
Excellent civil or military conduct
delivered, upon official investigation
FounderNapoleon Bonaparte
Grand MasterPresident of France
Grand chancelierBenoît Puga
Secretary-GeneralLuc Fons
Classes
  • 00,0  1  Grand Maître
  • 00,067  Grand(s)-Croix
  • 00,314  Grand Officier(s)
  • 03,009  Commandeur(s)
  • 17,032  Officier(s)
  • 74,384  Chevalier(s; plural form)
Statistics
First induction14 July 1804
Precedence
Next (higher)None
Next (lower)
  • NOLH Streamer.JPG
    Order's streamer
  • Legion Honneur GC ribbon.svg
    Grand-Croix
  • Legion Honneur GO ribbon.svg
    Grand Officier
  • Legion Honneur Commandeur ribbon.svg
    Commandeur
  • Legion Honneur Officier ribbon.svg
    Officier
  • Legion Honneur Chevalier ribbon.svg
    Chevalier

Ribbon bars of the order

The Legion of Honour, with its full name National Order of the Legion of Honour (French: Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur),[2] is the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits, established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte and retained by all the divergent governments and regimes later holding power in France, up to the present.

The order's motto is "Honneur et Patrie" ("Honour and Fatherland"), and its seat is the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur next to the Musée d'Orsay, on the left bank of the River Seine in Paris.[3]

The order is divided into five degrees of increasing distinction: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer), and Grand-Croix (Grand Cross).

History

Consulat

In the French Revolution, all of the French orders of chivalry were abolished, and replaced with Weapons of Honour. It was the wish of Napoleon Bonaparte, the First Consul, to create a reward to commend civilians and soldiers and from this wish was instituted a Légion d'Honneur,[4] a body of men that was not an order of chivalry, for Napoleon believed France wanted a recognition of merit rather than a new system of nobility. The Légion however did use the organization of old French orders of chivalry for example the Ordre de Saint-Louis. The badges of the legion also bear a resemblance to the Ordre de Saint-Louis, which also used a red ribbon.

Napoleon originally created this to ensure political loyalty. The organization would be used as a façade to give political favours, gifts, and concessions.[5] The Légion was loosely patterned after a Roman legion, with legionaries, officers, commanders, regional "cohorts" and a grand council. The highest rank was not a grand cross but a Grand Aigle (grand eagle), a rank that wore all the insignia common to grand crosses. The members were paid, the highest of them extremely generously:

  • 5,000 francs to a grand officier,
  • 2,000 francs to a commandeur,
  • 1,000 francs to an officier,
  • 250 francs to a légionnaire.

Napoleon famously declared, "You call these baubles, well, it is with baubles that men are led... Do you think that you would be able to make men fight by reasoning? Never. That is good only for the scholar in his study. The soldier needs glory, distinctions, rewards."[6] This has been often quoted as "It is with such baubles that men are led."

The order was the first modern order of merit. Under the monarchy, such orders were often limited to Roman Catholics, and all knights had to be noblemen. The military decorations were the perks of the officers. The Légion, however, was open to men of all ranks and professions—only merit or bravery counted. The new legionnaire had to be sworn in the Légion.

It is noteworthy that all previous orders were crosses or shared a clear Christian background, whereas the Légion is a secular institution. The badge of the Légion has five arms.

First Empire

In a decree issued on the 10 Pluviôse XIII (30 January 1805), a grand decoration was instituted. This decoration, a cross on a large sash and a silver star with an eagle, symbol of the Napoleonic Empire, became known as the Grand Aigle ("Grand Eagle"), and later in 1814 as the Grand Cordon (big sash, literally big ribbon). After Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of the French in 1804 and established the Napoleonic nobility in 1808, award of the Légion gave right to the title of "Knight of the Empire" (Chevalier de l'Empire). The title was made hereditary after three generations of grantees.

Napoleon had dispensed 15 golden collars of the legion among his family and his senior ministers. This collar was abolished in 1815.

Although research is made difficult by the loss of the archives, it is known that three women who fought with the army were decorated with the order: Virginie Ghesquière, Marie-Jeanne Schelling and a nun, Sister Anne Biget.[7]

The Légion d'honneur was prominent and visible in the French Empire. The Emperor always wore it and the fashion of the time allowed for decorations to be worn most of the time. The king of Sweden therefore declined the order; it was too common in his eyes. Napoleon's own decorations were captured by the Prussians and were displayed in the Zeughaus (armoury) in Berlin until 1945. Today, they are in Moscow.

The Legion of Honour under the Empire
A depiction of Napoleon making some of the first awards of the Legion of Honour, at a camp near Boulogne on 16 August 1804. 
As Emperor, Napoleon always wore the Cross and Grand Eagle of the Legion of Honour. 
Embroided insignia of the Legion of Honour, detail of Napoleon's uniform of colonel of the Chasseurs à cheval of the Imperial Guard. 
First Légion d'Honneur investiture, 15 July 1804, at Saint-Louis des Invalides by Jean-Baptiste Debret (1812). 

Restoration of the Kings of Bourbon in 1814

Louis XVIII changed the appearance of the order, but it was not abolished. To have done so would have angered the 35,000 to 38,000 members. The images of Napoleon and his eagle were removed and replaced by the image of King Henry IV, the popular first king of the Bourbon line. Three Bourbon fleurs-de-lys replaced the eagle on the reverse of the order. A king's crown replaced the imperial crown. In 1816, the grand cordons were renamed grand crosses and the legionnaires became knights. The king decreed that the commandants were now commanders. The Légion became the second order of knighthood of the French monarchy, after the Order of the Holy Spirit.

July Monarchy

Louis Philippe I, King of the French, wearing the sash of the order

Following the overthrow of the Bourbons in favour of King Louis-Philippe of the House of Orleans, the Bourbon monarchy's orders were once again abolished and the order of the Légion d'honneur in 1830 was restored as the paramount decoration of the French nation. The insignia were drastically altered. The cross now displayed tricolour flags. In 1847, there were 47,000 members.

Second Republic

Yet another revolution in Paris (1848) brought a new republic (the second) and a new design to the Légion d'honneur. A nephew of the founder, Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was elected president and he restored the image of his uncle on the crosses of the order. In 1852, the first recorded woman, Angélique Duchemin, an old revolutionary of the 1789 uprising against the absolute monarchy, was admitted into the order. On 2 December 1851, President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte staged a coup d'état with the help of the armed forces. He made himself Emperor of the French exactly one year later on 2 December 1852, after a successful plebiscite.

Second Empire

An Imperial crown was added. During Napoleon III's reign, the first American was admitted: Dr. Thomas Wiltberger Evans, dentist of Napoleon III.

Third Republic

In 1870 the defeat of the French Imperial Army in the Franco-Prussian War brought the end of the Empire and the creation of the Third Republic (1871–1940). As France changed, the Légion d'honneur changed as well. The crown was replaced by a laurel and oak wreath. In 1871, during the Paris Commune uprising, the Hôtel de Salm, headquarters of the Légion d'Honneur, was burned to the ground in fierce street combats; the archives of the order were lost.

In the second term of President Jules Grévy which started in 1885, newspaper journalists brought to light the trafficking of Grévy's son-in-law, Daniel Wilson, in the awarding of decorations of the Légion d'Honneur. Grévy was not accused of personal participation in this scandal, but he was slow to accept his indirect political responsibility, which caused his eventual resignation on 2 December 1887.

During World War I, some 55,000 decorations were conferred, 20,000 of which went to foreigners. The large number of decorations resulted from the new posthumous awards authorised in 1918. Traditionally membership in the Légion d'Honneur could not be awarded posthumously.

Fourth Republic

The establishment of the Fourth Republic in 1946 brought about the latest change in the design of the Legion of Honour. The date "1870" on the obverse was replaced by a single star.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Erelegioen
Alemannisch: Ehrenlegion
asturianu: Llexón d'Honor
azərbaycanca: Fəxri Legion ordeni
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Ордэн Ганаровага легіёну
brezhoneg: Lejion a enor
Deutsch: Ehrenlegion
Esperanto: Honora legio
hrvatski: Legija časti
Bahasa Indonesia: Légion d'honneur
italiano: Legion d'onore
Lëtzebuergesch: Légion d'honneur
Bahasa Melayu: Légion d'honneur
Nederlands: Legioen van Eer
norsk nynorsk: Æreslegionen
occitan: Legion d'Onor
پنجابی: لیجن آف آنر
Simple English: Legion of Honour
slovenčina: Rad čestnej légie
slovenščina: Red legije časti
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Legija časti
Tiếng Việt: Bắc Đẩu Bội tinh