Legion of Honour

Annie Lee | Jul 15, 2022

Table of Content


The National Order of the Legion of Honor (French: "Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur") is the highest and most important French national decoration.

The French state has divided the orders into the two national orders, miscellaneous orders and the remaining ministerial orders. The purity and exclusivity of the Legion of Honor is closely guarded by the order's chancellor.

In addition to the Legion of Honor, there is the National Order of Merit, established in late 1963. This National Order of Merit is awarded for "important merits" (French: "mérites distingués"), while the Legion of Honor rewards "eminent merits". The National Order of Merit is less prestigious than the Legion of Honor.

To keep both orders exclusive, triennial quotas are established. The numbers of appointments depend on the size of the French population and the number of members of the two orders. One must be forty years of age. There cannot be more than 75 Grand Crosses. A certain period must elapse between an appointment and a promotion, and every Frenchman (except the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister) must be a knight before he is eligible, because of "new eminent merits for France," for promotion to officer. In order to be promoted to commander, another period with again because of "new eminent merits for France" must elapse. The law makes an exception for dying persons who would otherwise not live to see their appointment, nominations for valor, and appointments of foreigners.

Cities, including Luxembourg and Liege, military regiments, schools, and companies, including the French railroad company SNCF, also received the order.

Strict rules apply to appointments. Members of Parliament and judges cannot receive the Legion of Honor while in office. Judges can therefore be decorated at their farewell with a higher grade than is normally allowed. After all, they have missed out on interim promotions. Of course, an MP can be decorated for bravery when fighting in a war. Ministers are not allowed to nominate their accountants.

Foreigners do not become members of the Legion of Honor but they are awarded the Legion of Honor.

In 2010, there were allowed to be 75 grand crosses, 250 grand officers, 1250 commanders, 10,000 officers and 113,425 knights. In reality, there were 67 grand crosses, 314 grand officers, 3009 commanders, 17,032 officers and 74,384 knights in the Legion of Honor. The high numbers of actual appointed members in the various ranks can be explained in part by the appointment of veterans.

Appointments are made in three ways, the ministers each have a quota for nominations. This also applies to the President of the Republic. All these nominations are assessed by the Chancellor of the Legion of Honor. In 2008, an administrative renewal took place. A nomination in the form of a citizens' initiative signed by 50 residents of the department in which the nominee lives is also considered.

In the event of an unusual career, for example one in which a great deal of time was spent in positions in which one could not be decorated for formal reasons, this applies to sitting magistrates and parliamentarians, one can be made an immediate officer, commander or grand officer in the Legion of Honor. The latter happened to Simone Veil in January 2009. Gold medalists at the Olympic Games can expect to be appointed to the Legion of Honor.

The annual honorarium was substantial in the days of Napoleon I. In 2012, the amounts were small. Knights received €6.10 per year, officers €9.15, commanders €12.20, grand officers €24.39 and grand crosses €36.59.

The Legion of Honor has always had a strong military character. In peacetime, half of the quota is allocated to the armed forces. Firefighters, police personnel, priests and ministers, senior civil servants and representatives of the people are also often decorated.

Special arrangements apply to the French Prime Minister. He or she is decorated with the Commander's Cross of the National Order of Merit three months after taking office. A decree of November 21, 2008, establishes that after two years in that office, a Prime Minister of France is by right a Grand Officer in the Legion of Honor.

The imperial decrees of 1808 and 1810 regulated hereditary nobility for the third generation of bearers of the Legion of Honor. These decrees were repealed by Louis XVIII. An ordinance royale of October 8, 1814 by Louis XVIII on hereditary nobility for the third consecutive generation in the rank of knight has never been repealed. On the other hand, the French Republic has no nobility while the institution still exists in French society. Even in the 21st century, there are French people who assert their right to nobility, or at least to a name indicating nobility with the predicate "the". These are 846 families including the De Gaulle family.

In February 1802, at his Malmaison country residence, First Consul Napoleon first dropped the idea of a new decoration in a conversation with Monge. The First Consul was referring to the many diplomats adorned with knighthoods at the receptions in his residence, the Tuileries. The French, so successful in battle after all, stood out baldly in the process, and Napoleon lamented the dissolution of the Order of Saint Louis. He noted that "the French love equality and distinctions equally." The decorations would "whether one likes it or not command respect." Soon after this conversation, Roederer was instructed to formulate a "Projet de l'institution de la Légion d'honneur."

The Legion of Honor was established as a national institution and organization on May 19, 1802 (29 floréal of year X) by Napoleon Bonaparte, first consul of France. The legion was not intended to be a knightly order, which Napoleon disliked. The French monarchy's knightly orders had all been abolished in the French Revolution. It was too early for a more or less democratic and secular French order of knighthood in the form of an order of merit. The earlier orders had only been abolished in 1793, and in Napoleon's government old revolutionaries still held key positions. The Legion of Honor took the form of a unit formed after a Roman legion in which the degrees were command posts. Attached to the positions was an "honorary soldier's fee" which was particularly high for the highest grades. Soon the honorary legion did acquire all the characteristics of a knighthood of the French empire. Because of its democratic character, the order was the model for the Napoleonic orders as founded throughout Europe by the Bonapartes.

Every state needs tangible honors, and the weapons of honor that the French revolutionary governments had awarded did not suffice. Speaking of the small cross of the Legion of Honor, the first consul Napoleon Bonaparte said "I know these are toys, but for such toys men risk their lives." As the more egalitarian ideals of the great French Revolution became more prominent, material rewards and badges of honor became more important.

The name Legion d'honneur was taken from a Roman institution, the Legio honoratorum conscripta, because Napoleon was fond of references to antiquity. The eagles and the sixteen cohorts were also inspired by the Romans. Many champions of the equality and fraternity fought for in 1789 were still represented in the French government. Their criticism of the establishment of a distinction was refuted by the first consul with words "I challenge you to show me a republic, old or new, in which one makes no distinction between the people. You call these toys, well, it is with such toys that one leads men".

In the French Council of State, the proposal to establish a Legion of Honor on 14 floréal of year X (May 4, 1802) was discussed. This proceeded, as usual, in an open discussion. First Consul Bonaparte stressed that even a modern republic needed honors and that the Legion of Honor was not a restoration of any of the old institutions of the French monarchy. The bill was approved by 14 votes to 10.

The bill was discussed in the Tribunal on May 17. There they appointed Napoleon's younger brother Lucien Bonaparte as rapporteur. On his recommendation, the bill was passed by 56 votes to 38. The opponents feared the undermining of the principle of equality of the French Revolution and the introduction of a new aristocracy.

The initial proposals did not yet include a wearable badge of honor.

Lucien Bonaparte, Pierre-Louis Roederer, Auguste-Louis-Frederic de Marmont Viesse and Mathieu Dumas defended the bill in the Corps législatif. That passed the bill on May 19, 1802. The law was signed and sealed by the first consul on 9 prairial of year X (May 29, 1802). The law on the Legion of Honor was published in the official journal, the "Moniteur".

The first appointments were published in September 1803. The first consul appointed legionnaires, officers, commanders and grand officers. The decorations were approved in a decree on 22 Messidor year XII (July 11, 1804).

The Legion of Honor was divided into 16 cohorts. Each cohort counted 350 legionnaires, 30 officers, 20 commanders and 7 grand officers. At the head of the Legion of Honor was the "Grand Council of the Legion of Honor." The first consul, of course, presided over the Grand Council. There was also a chapter that regulated the finances of the order. Frenchmen could be inducted into the Legion of Honor without distinction of rank, station, or religion.

The ornaments must have been ready on that day because four days later the first trinkets were awarded in the chapel of the Hôtel des Invalides. Napoleon had arranged a grandiose ceremony in which, seated on a throne on a six-step platform covered with a blue carpet with woven golden bees, he decorated a number of deserving officers under a red canopy.

The red ribbon of the Legion of Honor recalls the royal military decorations; the Order of Saint Louis and the Military Institute intended for Protestant officers. The five arms of the decorations were a clear break from the Christian past and the crosses of the orders of the ancien régime usually named after saints.

The ranks of the members of the Legion of Honor did not correspond to the usual degrees of a knighthood. The Legion of Honor had légionnaires, officers, commanders who led a regional "cohort." At the top of the hierarchy were the grandes aigles and the Grand Council. As so often, Napoleon I was not very consistent in creating his quasi-historical institutions and ceremonial. The decorations resembled those of orders and a Grand Aigle wore ribbon, star and trinket as of a grand cross in a traditional knightly order.

A decree dated 10 pluviôse of the year XIII (January 30, 1805) established a new highest degree of the Legion of Honor. The decree spoke of a "Grande Décoration" or "Great Decoration". The bearers were allowed to call themselves "Grand Aigle de la Légion d'honneur". On July 19, 1814, Louis XVIII changed the name to "grand cordon" or Grand Ribbon. On March 26, 1816, Louis XVIII changed the degrees in an ordinance to Chevalier, Officier, Commandeur, Grand Officier and Grand-Croix.

The honorary soldiery was very generous during the Empire, especially for the highest grades.

The vast majority of appointments were men. But there was never a provision that a woman could not be included in the Legion of Honor. Napoleon I himself included in the Legion of Honor at least three times a woman who had shown merit in caring for his soldiers. His two empresses and his sisters did not wear the red ribbon of the Legion of Honor. In 1851, Marie Angélique Duchemin veuve Brûlon was knighted. Women also used the male designation of their rank.

In 2011, Hélène Carrère d'Encausse was appointed as the tenth Grand Cross. The proportion of ladies in appointments is rising rapidly.

It is not unusual in France for a lady to wear the same decorations as a gentleman. In other countries, ladies' adornments are worn on a narrower grand ribbon or on a bow.

The Legion of Honor in the Empire

Napoleon I was inaugurated as Emperor of the French Republic on December 2, 1804. He wore a diamond-encrusted chain of the Legion of Honor during this ceremony. As Emperor, Napoleon was the Grand Master of the Legion of Honor. The red ribbons, stars and embroidered silver chatons could also be seen everywhere in his entourage on the day of the coronation.

The heavy gold chain worn by the emperor at his coronation was the work of the jeweler Martin-Guillaume Biennais. The chain consisted of sixteen solid gold eagles with open wings interspersed with openwork gold medallions bearing the numbers of the sixteen cohorts of the Legion of Honor. Each eagle holds a pair of lightning bolts. In the center, the chain meets in a large circular ornament containing a diamond-encrusted "N" under an imperial crown. This chain disappeared around 1805. We know this first chain from the coronation portrait that David painted of Napoleon.

In 1805, Napoleon received a second chain. This one was different in shape and was decorated with more diamonds. This chain fell into the hands of the Bourbons after the fall of Napoleon. The chain was stripped of its gems and melted down in 1819.

In some portraits of Napoleon, the first chain ends in a medallion with a crown instead of an "N".

Clergymen wore their Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor that day on a wide triangular silk ribbon around the neck according to old French custom. The way the Legion of Honour was worn did not differ substantially from the customary knightly orders in Europe. What was new was the Napoleonic heraldry in which it was prescribed that members of the lower ranks include their cross in a canton in an honorable place in their coat of arms. The higher ranks hung the five-armed cross as a showpiece on a broad red ribbon around their coat of arms.

In his decree of 10 pluviose of the year XIII (January 30, 1805), Napoleon had established a "grande décoration". This degree with as decorations a grand ribbon, grand cross and a star decorated with a silver eagle was called the "Grand Aigle".

After the reintroduction of nobility into French law, members of the Legion of Honor were all granted nobility and the rank of a non-hereditary knight or "chevalier de l'empire." When three generations of a family had carried the Legion of Honor this title would become hereditary.

Napoleon granted fifteen of his relatives and close associates a gold chain of the Legion of Honor. This honorific, which was not a separate degree, was abolished again in 1815.

The bearers were his brothers Joseph, Louis and Jerome, his brothers-in-law Joachim Murat, Félix Baciocchi and Camille Borghese, stepson Eugène de Beauharnais, Charles Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte and an ally and stepson-in-law Charles of Baden. Marshal Berthier, Chancellor Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès, Charles Lebrun and Foreign Minister Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand were also awarded the chain. Although Napoleon was the sole wearer of the Legion of Honor chain at the time of his coronation in 1805, wearing it during the Empire was never the exclusive prerogative of the Grand Master.

The emperor wore the chain as a heraldic showpiece around his coat of arms. This heraldic image differed greatly from the chain actually worn. The drawn heraldic chain has a blue medallion with a gold "N" as decoration. The other bearers of the chain also wore the chain around their coat of arms.

During the empire, it is fairly certain, three women were inducted into the Legion of Honor. They were Virginie Ghesquière, Marie-Jeanne Schelling and soeur Anne Biget. The archives of the order were burned during the uprising of the Paris Commune in 1870 together with the Palace of the Legion of Honor so that incomplete data about the first years of the order have survived.

In his Kingdom of Italy, Napoleon I as king founded a traditional knightly order. The Napoleonic orders in Holland, Westphalia, Naples, and Spain were also knightly orders although they shared characteristics such as the pay and the profane nature of the Legion of Honor.

These orders were characterized by their secular nature, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and non-believers were decorated, something unthinkable in the older orders. The French emperor also included simple soldiers in his Legion of Honor. Most decorations went to the military but the bearers also included entrepreneurs, administrators, scientists and artists.

The first Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor, Count Bernard Germain de Lacépède took his task very seriously and warned Napoleon against establishing the "Order of the Three Golden Fleeces" devised by the Emperor because a new order would put the Legion of Honor in the shade. Consequently, it did not come to the granting of this order. The Chancellor did not object to the establishment of the Order of the Reunion to be conferred in the territories (such as the Netherlands) that were later annexed to France.

Napoleon had to buy the loyalty of his disgruntled and greedy marshals, relatives and associates with an incessant stream of titles, gifts and financial concessions. Thus, for the holders of the highest degree of the Legion of Honor, there came a remarkably high honorary salary of 10 000 francs a year for a Great Eagle.

Even in the monarchy of the Bourbons, restored in 1814, in the Second Empire and the successive republics, the Legion of Honor continued to exist in modified form. In that year, instead of the decoration of the star with Napoleon's heraldic animal the eagle, which was unacceptable to the returned Bourbons, the degree of "grand cordon" or grand ribbon was introduced. The designation "Grand-aigle" for the highest degree of the Legion of Honor was also dropped.

The Legion of Honor is awarded for extraordinary merits granted to the French nation in the military or civilian field (the distribution is about 2

Napoleon I wore his star and the ribbon of the Legion of Honor almost all the time. As was still common in the 19th century, so did his marshals and many of his generals and ministers. Thus, the silver star and the distinctive red ribbon of the Legion of Honor became emblems of the Empire.

In 1806 there were 13,000 legionnaires alive. In 1807, foreigners were decorated for the first time, and by 1814 there were 25,000 living members of the Legion of Honor. Napoleon I appointed about 48000 members. The turnover was. due to diseases and terrible losses on the battlefields, very high. Napoleon appointed only 1200 civilians so the Legion of Honor remained primarily a military institution, yet the Emperor emphasized that the members were each other's equals.

Napoleon cradled his only legitimate heir Napoleon Franz Charles Joseph with the Grand Ribbon of the Legion of Honor at birth. After the fall of the empire, the boy was raised in Austria. He did not wear the Legion of Honor, of which he was the grandmaster for several days after his father's abdication as Napoleon II, in his exile.

Napoleon I had seized domains all over the increasingly vast empire, the proceeds of which were henceforth set aside for the "cassette" of the Legion of Honor. In many cases these were the possessions and commendencies of the Teutonic Order and the Order of Malta, detested by Napoleon.The fall of Napoleon left France, especially after the Battle of Waterloo, poverty-stricken. It was no longer possible to pay the high honorary soldiery.

With the French Revolution, the heraldic tradition of France was also obliterated. Napoleon I breathed new life into the use of coats of arms by establishing rules and initiating a new heraldic style. The coats of arms were distinguished from those of the ancien régime by the functionality and military character of Napoleonic heraldry. New rules for cloaks and showpieces were established, and the Legion of Honor was incorporated into the arms as a showpiece or canton.

The decorations of the Legion of Honor were incorporated into the coat of arms with priority over those of the Order of Reunion or the Order of the Iron Crown as showpieces. Where the Legion of Honor was carried, other orders were omitted. One hung the ornaments under the shield or around the shield. The heraldic ornaments are distinguished from the actual ornaments by the elevation with the imperial monogram "N" on a field of azure.

The few possessors of the great chain of the Legion of Honor hung that chain around their coat of arms.

After the restoration of the Bourbons, most families reverted to their old coats of arms but traces of the Napoleonic heraldic tradition can be found throughout mainland Europe.

The Legion of Honor and the restoration of the Bourbons

The restored Bourbon King Louis XVIII who ascended the throne of his brother and his ancestors in 1814 always wore the light blue ribbon of the Order of the Holy Spirit. This ribbon was also worn by the returning Bourbon princes and the nobility of their retinue. The king wore the knight's cross of the Legion of Honor on his chest, but the reinstated military Order of St. Louis was given the place of honor, closer to the king's heart.

The uninspiring but practical new king had to moderate the implementation of the desire to restore the ancien régime because he could not let the French Revolution and its charismatic predecessor be forgotten. He also had to govern with the help of the military and administrative elite spawned by the Revolution and Napoleonic rule. These gentlemen mostly wore the Legion of Honor. In the Netherlands, many of William I's new subjects asked to be allowed to exchange their Legion of Honor for that of the Order of the Dutch Lion. In Spain, Naples and some German states, the wearing of the orders of Napoleon and the Empire was banned outright.

Because the French king was not strong enough in his position to prohibit the wearing of the Legion of Honor, he reformed the order. It became the second order of France and the military Order of Saint Louis was also reinstated.

The Napoleonic eagle on a lightning bolt had to give way as an emblem on the star to a head of the popular and tolerant Bourbon King Henry IV. Therefore, the highest degree was renamed from grand aigle to grand ribbon in 1814. The princes of the House of Bonaparte lost the right to wear their gold chain. This was abolished, along with the high honorary soldiery.

The king's crown with lilies replaced the Napoleonic emperor's crown as an elevation. Instead of the portrait of the Emperor of the French, the portrait of Henry IV appeared in the medallion of the gem. On the reverse side appeared the three lilies of the Bourbons.

The Legion of Honor under the Citizen King

In 1830, the brother of Louis XVI who had ruled France as Charles X for eleven years in a highly reactionary manner was ousted by the July Revolution in Paris. A distant cousin, Louis Philippe Duke of Orleans ascended the throne as Louis Philippe. He was called the "Citizen King" because of his political alliance with bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie and ruled constitutionally.

The July Revolution definitively ended the attempts of the House of Bourbon and its supporters to restore pre-revolutionary royal authority. France became a state governed more or less according to liberal principles in which so much emphasis was placed on the constitution promulgated in July 1830 that a table of laws, recalling the Ten Commandments, was included in the French coat of arms. The Legion of Honor also regained prominence in the coat of arms of France adapted to the new political relations. The previous French kings Louis XVIII and Charles X, like their pre-revolutionary predecessors, had hung the chains of the Order of St. Michael and the Order of the Holy Spirit around their coats of arms. Because Louis Philippe was not crowned, he derived his authority from the popular will and the new constitution and not from a divine sanction such as coronation and anointing, there are no portraits with coronation mantle and chain. Louis Philippe used the red great ribbon, a chain would have made him look too much like his great predecessor Napoleon.

The new monarch left the head of Henry IV, who was also his ancestor, on star and trifle. The crown also remained unchanged as an elevation. The star of the grand crosses, on the other hand, was radically changed. In the space between the arms, five red-white-blue enameled and crossed French tricolored flags were now placed. The previous king had not wanted to use that "tricolore," symbol of Paris' role in the Revolution and the French Revolution, the flag under which the armies of Napoleon I had marched. The Citizen King left the royal crown unchanged. On the reverse side of the decoration, the three-color crossed flags also returned.

The old orders of the Bourbons were abolished by law in 1830, and the Legion of Honor became the sole order of merit and definitively the highest award for courage and merit of the French state. Thus, in the decorations of the Legion of Honor, the new strictly constitutional government sought to reconcile the French Revolution and liberal kingship based on a modern constitution.

The Citizen King and his sons frequently posed with the decorations of the Legion of Honor. Louis X and his sons and grandsons had worn the blue ribbon of the Order of the Holy Spirit.

The Citizen King had to navigate between democratic and freedom-loving sentiments, the memory of the great French Revolution still fresh, and the emerging liberal middle class that wanted peace above all. The regime also saw through the reactionary supporters of the Bourbons and the opportunistic Bonapartes, heirs of Napoleon I as threats.

The Legion of Honor was awarded sparingly. After 17 years in government, there were no more than 47000 members in 1847. This reduction was achieved by natural attrition, the veterans of Napoleon I died and France was not engaged in major new wars.

One of Napoleon's marshals, Édouard Mortier, first Duke of Treviso, was in charge of the administration of the Legion of Honor from 1831 to 1835. He was killed in office, during a parade and at the side of Louis Philippe in a bombing. He was succeeded by Count Étienne Maurice Gérard, Marshal of France.

The Legion of Honor in the Second French Republic

Under Prince-President Napoleon, a nephew of Napoleon I, the Legion of Honor was restored more or less to its Napoleonic form. The portrait of the founder returned to the medallion from 1848 to 1852, as Consul, thus without the laurel wreath on the head, but the place of a crown was left empty. The five-armed cross was thus attached directly to the ribbon. Chancellor was Rémi Joseph Isidore Exelmans, a marshal of France.

Prince-President Napoleon founded a "Military Medal." This Medal Militaire cannot be separated from the Legion of Honor. The reason was that it was becoming less common for NCOs to receive the Legion of Honor. The class society of the 19th century was to blame for this. The medal is administered by the Chancellor of the Legion of Honor. When a soldier already possesses the Legion of Honor and then also receives the Military Medal it is considered the highest military honor France can bestow.

The Prince-President indicated the special place of the Medaille militaire in the institution decree by pointing out that soldiers and non-commissioned officers could also continue to receive the Legion of Honor in the future and that those who possessed the Legion of Honor could receive the Médaille militaire thereafter so that both awards could be worn side by side.

In the days following its institution, the medal was nevertheless still seen as a "Légion d'honneur au rabais," a lesser version of a decoration, the campaigns of the French armies under Napoleon III in Italy, Africa, Indochina and Mexico changed that. By 1900, the Médaille militaire was an award held in high esteem.

The Legion of Honor under Emperor Napoleon III

Napoleon III, after his coup d'état and assumption of imperial dignity, replaced the wreath as an elevation with an imperial crown. The imperial portrait of Napoleon I (this time in gold with a gold laurel wreath on the head) came to be placed on the central medallion. The emperor himself wore a large chain of the order. The chain was a copy of the precious chain that Napoleon I had worn at his coronation, the "sacre," in 1805. This second chain has been preserved and is on display at the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris.

The chain closely resembles the second chain of Napoleon I destroyed in 1819 and consists of 16 openwork medallions interspersed with green enameled oak wreaths. The symbols on the medallions represent law, astronomy, navy, architecture, painting, sculpture, literature, medicine, surgery, mathematics, physics, chemistry, agriculture, infantry, cavalry, engineers and artillery. The wreaths are attached to the links with golden eagles or rings. On the center of the chain, a large circular link with red enameled gold ribbon is tied together the numbers of the sixteen cohorts of the Legion of Honor. The small oblong medallions are decorated with bees and stars. They frame a large "N" as the monogram of the founder of the Legion of Honor. Two wreaths of gilded leaves are attached around the monogram. The cross hanging from this chain is white enamel and has a diameter of 81 millimeters. Napoleon III's chain lacked the diamonds that had been part of Napoleon I's chain.

The ribbon, layout and decorations of the order were not changed by Napoleon III.

Although there was a ermine coronation or king's robe and a chain was once again forged for the exclusive use of the new Emperor of France, there was no coronation as was organized for Napoleon I in 1805. None of Napoleon's successors dared to follow so clearly in the Emperor's footsteps; they knew themselves too insignificant for that compared to Napoleon I. Napoleon III wore his chain not over an ermine robe but on the uniform of the French army.

Napoleon III had a few more male relatives whom he awarded with his Legion of Honor. A bastard of Napoleon I, Count Alexandre Colonna-Walewski who had sprung from a widely known romance with the Polish Maria Walewski was also inducted into the Legion of Honor. In Count Walewski's case, this happened in 1858. He received the Grand Cross of the order. A bastard of his mother, Charles de Morny was made a Grand Cross in the Legion of Honor as early as 1852.

As Chancellor of the Legion of Honor, Napoleon III appointed an old marshal of his imperial uncle, Anne Charles Lebrun Duke of Plaisance. Briefly succeeded in 1860 by Aimable Pélissier, Duke of Malakoff. From 1860 to 1864, Admiral Ferdinand Hamelin was chancellor. From 1864 to 1870, Charles de Flahaut was allowed to administer the Legion of Honor. Flahaut was a bastard of Talleyrand and the lover of Hortense de Beauharnais, Queen of Holland and mother of Napoleon III. Napoleon III has always denied the rumors than Flahaut was his father by saying "I have checked it out".

The Legion of Honor was widely worn by the second reigning Emperor of the French. He had to emphasize in publicity his descent as a member of the Bonaparte family in order to capitalize on the prestige of his uncle Napoleon I.

The order was frequently awarded. The 19th century saw the heyday of European knighthoods. They were widely worn, widely awarded, and often "in demand," especially by diplomats.France was involved in peace conferences and colonial congresses dividing Africa among the European powers. A World's Fair was held in Paris in 1867, and it was customary to award the higher-ranking staff and organizers. One notable decoration was the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor awarded to Prussian Prime Minister Bismarck in 1865.

To emphasize bonds of friendship, numerous ambassadors, ministers, mayors, scientists, artists and performers, businessmen and consuls all over the world received the Legion of Honor. Napoleon III also decorated his colleagues on the European thrones with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor. Members of the Dutch and Belgian royal families were therefore also decorated with the Legion of Honor. Also in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, where France and Prussia competed for political influence, numerous officials, politicians and artists were awarded the Legion of Honor. This was also true of Dutch and Belgian artists. Of those who also attracted attention in France, some such as Ary Scheffer were included in the Legion of Honor.

The decoration of deserving ladies also remained an exception under the imperial regime of Napoleon III. The Empress Eugénie was also not included in the Legion of Honor.

Napoleon III sought fame on the battlefield. His armies fought successfully to make possible the unification of Italy where the Empire of Austria was defeated. A military adventure in Mexico ended less well but both campaigns earned numerous French officers the Legion of Honor. There were also colonial wars, including in Vietnam. The Crimean War fought with the United Kingdom, Turkey and Sardinia earned a large number of French officers and officers of allies the Legion of Honor. Inclusion in the Legion of Honor was rare for non-commissioned officers, soldiers and sailors. They could count on the Military Medal in cases of bravery, outstanding service or special anniversaries. The promise that the wearers of this medal would also be allowed to make use of the schools and boarding schools of the Legion of Honor was not fulfilled during the reign of Napoleon III.

Just as his uncle had done with his son, the King of Rome, Napoleon III also placed the grand ribbon of the Legion of Honor in the cradle of his son, the "prince-impérial" Louis Napoléon Bonaparte. Napoleon and his son continued to wear their star and ribbon even after the fall of the empire. In France, many ornaments were fitted with new medallions by jewelers. The elevation was also modified by replacing the crown with a wreath. Abroad, not everyone took the trouble to follow closely the ever-changing constitutional relations of France. One saw in the Netherlands even after 1870 statesmen and administrators with a Legion of Honor with the crown of Napoleon III or his predecessors.

The Legion of Honor in the Third French Republic

The Defeat against the Prussian-led German armies in 1870 produced many appointments to the Legion of Honor. The French fought bravely but they were overrun by the more agile and better equipped Germans. The uprising of the Parisians who turned against their own government after the French surrender brought disaster to the Legion of Honor. The Parisian pétroleuses set fire to the Hôtel de Salm. The archives of the Order of the Legion of Honor were lost.

The Third French Republic, proclaimed in 1870, chose to maintain the Legion of Honor as the highest French order. The ring of the medallion was inscribed with the year "1870". The crown was replaced by a wreath of laurels and oak leaves. The chain worn by Napoleon III was abolished and did not return until the Fifth Republic.

The chain with the five-armed cross attached was no longer included as a heraldic showpiece in the coat of arms of the French Republic. Instead, a large ribbon, sometimes with a rosette instead of a bow, or a simpler ribbon of the Legion of Honor was depicted.

There was, however, a chain produced by the jewelers Lemoine in 1881 to a design by Édouard Armand-Dumaresq. The precious design had been approved by President Jules Grévy and contained, in addition to 565 grams of gold, 25 grams of the platinum that had recently become available to jewelers. The chain was intended only for the French Head of State, ex officio Grand Master of the Legion of Honor.

Armand-Dumaresq chose fasces as the main motif. The bundles of rods were not yet a symbol of the fascist movement but referred to authority in the Roman republic. Furthermore, Francisque's small stars and 16 medallions recalling the earlier cohorts were placed within as many wreaths of oak leaf and the letters "H.P." (for the motto Honneur et Patrie) were connected with small rings. Again, images on the 16 medallions represented law, astronomy, navy, architecture, painting, sculpture, literature, medicine, surgery, mathematics, physics, chemistry, agriculture, infantry, cavalry, engineers and artillery.

On the reverse side, their names and the date they were sworn in were engraved. This was done retroactively to 1871 and the assumption of office by President Thiers. One finds the following names and dates on the reverse; Adolphe Thiers 31 août 1871, Maréchal de Mac-Mahon 24 mai 1873, Jules Grévy 30 janvier 1879, Jules Grévy 30 janvier 1886, Sadi Carnot 3 décembre 1887, Jean Casimir-Perrier 25 juin 1894, Félix Faure 17 janvier 1895, Émile Loubet 18 février 1899, Armand Fallières 18 février 1906, Raymond Poincaré 18 février 1913, Paul Deschanel 18 février 1920, Alexandre Millerand 23 septembre 1920, Gaston Doumergue 13 juin 1924, Paul Doumer 13 juin 1931, Albert Lebrun 10 mai 1932, Albert Lebrun 10 mai 1939, Charles de Gaulle 13 novembre 1945.

On the back of the 16th medallion the name of Maréchal Pétain was engraved in 1943. This inscription was removed after the war.

The chain ends in a large double wreath of oak, palm and laurel leaves around the monogram "RF" for "République Française." Below it hangs a white enameled five-armed cross with a diameter of 7 centimeters. The presidents of the republic did not pose with this chain.

President Patrice de Mac Mahon started the tradition that Presidents of the Republic always performed in a dark suit with black vest over which they wore the distinctive red ribbon of the Legion of Honor. The silver star was worn on the left breast. During the Third Republic the presidents were recognizable by this red ribbon, on photographs and drawings the red was often colored in.

Scandals plagued the French republic between 1870 and 1945. One of these was the decoration scandal that broke out in 1887 when it was revealed that Daniel Wilson, the son-in-law of President Jules Grévy, had traded in appointments to the Legion of Honor. President Grévy was forced to resign.

The Legion of Honor faced competition during the Third Republic from a proliferation of ministerial orders and colonial orders. Over the years, the ministries established nineteen different ministerial orders of merit such as the Maritime Order of Merit ("Ordre du Mérite Maritime") and the Order of Merit for Agriculture ("Ordre du Mérite Agricole"). These ministerial awards all had three degrees. Grand Ribbon and Grand Officer were absent from these orders, each of which possessed its own "Grand Council" filled with commanders in the respective order. The responsible minister presided over this college.

The Chancellor of the Legion of Honor oversaw the French decoration system and worked to maintain the prominent role of the Legion of Honor. A certain period of time had to elapse between appointment to a ministerial or colonial order and the award of the Legion of Honor or a promotion to the Legion of Honor. This rule was strictly adhered to by successive chancellors. They always saw to it that the other orders did not overshadow the Legion of Honor. For a Frenchman it therefore remained true that he first had to be a knight in the Legion of Honor before he could be promoted to a higher rank in the order; a high rank in another French order did not matter. Conversely, a commander or officer in the Legion of Honor could count on a corresponding or higher degree in a ministerial or colonial order.

Despite the restraint in decoration policy, the joke went around that "half the French wore the Legion of Honor and the other half were waiting for it." In reality, this could only be said of the senior civil service where seniority meant that one was more or less automatically included in the Legion of Honor.

The French colonial orders did, in most cases, have a grand cross or grand ribbon and a grand officer. There were five of these colonial orders.

Nevertheless, the Legion of Honor remained the most coveted French decoration. The chancellor of the Legion of Honor saw to it that his order remained more exclusive. A certain amount of time also had to pass between an appointment to one of the ministerial orders and the Legion of Honor. Nevertheless, the fragmentation of the decoration system was perceived as a malady because a clear policy was not possible.

The number of members of the Legion of Honor was and is limited. The French government established and sets quotas that depend on the size of the population. There cannot be more than a certain number of members in a given rank of the Legion of Honor. In wartime, this rule does not succeed because then a not in advance estimable number of nominations for valor are submitted. After the Franco-German war of 1870, the First and Second World Wars, there were therefore many more members of the Legion of Honor than anticipated. One then slowly reduced the size of the Legion. Foreigners were excluded from this quota.

France also instituted dozens of medals for specific merits. One example is the Aviation Medal. Most medals were awarded for merits in the social field.

The Legion of Honor in the Fourth French Republic

In the Fourth French Republic, proclaimed after World War II, it was especially noticeable that, thanks to the succeeding wars in Europe and in the colonies, there were many more knights in the Legion of Honor than the statutes allowed.

The decorations of the Legion of Honor were not substantially changed in the Fourth Republic and the Fifth Republic. There was, however, a new chain for the Grand Master. The earlier chain of the Third Republic was no longer usable now that all the reverse sides of the links were engraved with the names of the sixteen presidents of the republic between 1870 and 1945. The modern designed solid gold chain was the work of the designer André Arbus and the goldsmith Raymond Subes of the jewellery house Argus-Bertrand in Paris. The chain was presented with great ceremony to President Vincent Auriol on December 1, 1953.

The chain received sixteen medallions as usual and ends in a central ornament formed from the intertwined letters "H" and "P" (for "Honneur et Patrie"). From this monogram hangs a five-armed cross with a diameter of 81 millimeters.

The sixteen medallions were given new symbolic images for society and the armed forces. Infantry, navy, armored forces, industry and commerce, geography, music and painting, science, architecture and sculpture, social work, literature, medicine and surgery, agriculture, the French language community, telecommunications, aviation, and as the sixteenth, artillery were chosen.

On the reverse side of these medallions are engraved the names of the last two presidents of the Fourth Republic and those of their successors in the Fifth Republic. Next to the name of each of these presidents is the year of their swearing in. They are Vincent Auriol 1947, René Coty 1954, Charles de Gaulle 1959, Charles de Gaulle 1965, Georges Pompidou 1969, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing 1974, François Mitterrand 1981, François Mitterrand 1988, Jacques Chirac 1995, Jacques Chirac 2002, Nicolas Sarkozy 2007 and François Hollande in 2012. There are four more empty medallions.

In 1945, to reward resistance fighters and Frenchmen who continued to fight on the side of the Allies after the 1940 capitulation, an Order of Liberation was established, which became France's second order after the Legion of Honor.

The number of ministerial orders continued to increase including an Order of Merit for the Sahara.

The French government began to use the colonial Order of the Black Star and, to a lesser extent, the Order of the Star of Anjouan as the French Order of Merit, especially on state visits. Thus, the Legion of Honor was relieved. These last two orders were also awarded in diplomatic relations with the Netherlands. For Queen Juliana, Prince Bernhard, Prime Minister Drees and Jozef Luns there were Grand Crosses of the Legion of Honor.

The decorations of the Legion of Honor remained the same in the third and fourth French republics.

In the Fifth French Republic proclaimed by Charles de Gaulle in 1960, French orders were radically reformed.

Most of the now nineteen ministerial orders were abolished. That fate also befell the two remaining colonial orders. In place of all these different awards, the National Order of Merit was established in 1960, sharing its chancellor with the Legion of Honor.

As an award, the Legion of Honor is the more substantial of the two national orders. The Legion of Honor is awarded for "eminent merit" while for the National Order of Merit "significant merit" suffices.

The Legion of Honor is awarded, on the advice of the government, by the president of the republic, who is grand master of the order. Former ministers, prefects (head of a department), diplomats and high magistrates are almost automatically included in the Legion. But artists, industrialists, great sports champions and ecclesiastical dignitaries are also included in the order.

The chancellor of the Legion of Honor is an official who assists the president of the republic, formerly also the French kings and the two emperors, in the administration of the Legion of Honor, France's highest order of knighthood. He is responsible for keeping the French decorations "pure" and, with his chancellery, also oversees other special decorations of honor such as the Médaille militaire.

Charles de Gaulle posed as President of the French Republic with the great chain of the Legion of Honor. He then also wore his chain as the first (and only) Grand Master of the Order of Liberation, established by him in 1940 as Head of the Free French Government in Exile in London.

In 1981, General Alain de Boissieu stepped down as Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor rather than hand over the chain of the order to newly elected President François Mitterrand. General de Boissieu was a son-in-law of Charles de Gaulle. The occasion was that the socialist Mitterrand had once called his old political opponent de Gaulle a "dictator." His successor General André Biard did not raise any personal or political objections.

Anyone wishing to wear or organize a knighthood in France soon has to deal with the chancellor. He oversees the legal prohibition of wearing red buttonhole decorations and instructs administrators of pseudo-orders such as the Order of St. Lazarus not to use the name "Knightly Order" within France.

France has known ten forms of state in the first 150 years since the establishment of the Legion of Honor. In the first fifty years, there were no fewer than eight. The Legion of Honor followed the state form by changing the details of its decorations.

The legion's badge of honor has always remained a five-pointed gem, but its form closely followed the French state design; under first consul Napoleon Bonaparte, there was initially no elevation. The medallion on the obverse showed the founder, consul Napoleon. After Napoleon's coronation as Emperor of the French, the gem was given a bracket crown. The central medallion now depicted Napoleon I with a laurel wreath enameled green in some crosses. Under the returned Bourbons of the Restoration era, the crown was changed and the imagery of Napoleon was replaced with that of Henry IV. This popular French king was acceptable to all French parties. The "civilian king" Louis Philippe added "tricolores," tricolored French flags, to the star of the order after 1830. Henry IV who was also his ancestor retained his place until the fall of the Bourbon-Orléans monarchy in 1848.

The Second French Republic omitted the crown as an elevation and opted to re depict the founder, depicted as consul of France. The Second Empire reinstated the imperial crown, which the Republic replaced again with the wreath of oak leaves and laurels in 1870. In that year, Napoleon I was also replaced by Ceres, the symbol of the French Republic.

The blue ring on the front of the cross always contained a text in gold or silver letters. This text was adapted to the political circumstances.

Thus, the reverse did not remain the same either. The Bourbons chose to depict the three lilies in their coat of arms.

Because some Frenchmen experienced multiple state forms, the decorations were adapted by some to the new era. The central medallion consists of a shallow hollow tube on which the two medallions (obverse and reverse) are mounted. These two enameled silver plates can also be disassembled. Others had new ornaments made. Well-known suppliers are Maison Arthus-Bertrand in Saint-Germain-des-Prés (Paris), the very traditional Maison Bacqueville in the gallery of the Palais Royal (Paris) and the French mint, La Monnaie de Paris on the Quai de Conti (Paris).

The second model star of the restoration received a portrait of Henry IV of France in the central medallion. On the ring, the motto HONNEUR ET PATRIE remained.

The ribbon has always been red. The appearance of the ribbons did change over the years. In the 19th century, it was customary to affix a bow to the ribbon worn on the chest. This bow fell into disuse during the century. The officers' rosette used to be attached at the bottom of the ribbon but one now finds the rosette in the middle. In the first years of the Legion of Honor, the great ribbon ended in a large and laborious bow. During the 19th century, large rosettes on the left hip became increasingly popular. Today, simple bows are worn.

The first knights wore their Legion of Honor in public almost all the time. Later, it became customary to wear only a red ribbon on the lapel. In the years after the fall of Napoleon I, small brooches with miniatures were also fashionable.

Decorations in the Fifth French Republic

The ten-pointed star was embroidered with silver thread and sequins in the first years of the order. The embroidered stars were sewn on the uniforms and dress coats.Later, embroidered stars were worn with a silver medallion. In the middle of the 19th century, the embroidered stars were replaced by solid silver ones with brackets on the back. In the Fifth Republic, a "gold", that is, gilt silver, star was prescribed for Grand Crosses.

The star worn on the left shoulder of the Grand Officers, commonly called the "crachat" has always been made of silver. It was not until the Fifth Republic of France that the Grand Crosses were given gilt silver stars.

During the splendid First Empire (1805-1815), the Grandes Aigles of the order wore a large embroidered star or chaton on their cloaks.

Persons from the Northern or Southern Netherlands with French nationality who became members of the Legion of Honor during the First French Empire:

The decoration can also be awarded to non-French people. For example, on February 19, 1999, a number of American veterans of World War I who had fought in France received the award. Pilot Eugene Bullard had already received the award individually in 1959. All Allied veterans of this war were inducted into the Order in 2004.

On August 24, 2015, soldiers Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and student Anthony Sadler, all from the U.S. and British businessman Chris Norman were awarded knighthood in the Legion for their heroic actions in overpowering Ayoub el-Khazzani, a heavily armed man in the Thalys from Amsterdam to Paris, preventing a massacre.

German politician Gerhard Schroeder is a Grand Cross or Commander in the Order, as is American comedian Jerry Lewis. The controversial Danish artist Gerda Wegener (1885-1940) was also awarded.


The table below shows a listing of Belgians who received awards.


The table below shows a list of Dutch people who received an award.


  1. Legion of Honour
  2. Legioen van Eer
  3. « ... lorsque l'aïeul, le fils et le petit-fils auront été successivement membres de la Légion d'honneur et auront obtenu des lettres patentes, le petit-fils sera noble de droit et transmettra sa noblesse à toute sa descendance. »
  4. Alex Mazas
  5. « Je vous défie de me montrer une république, ancienne ou moderne, qui savait se faire sans distinctions. Vous les appelez les hochets, eh bien c’est avec des hochets que l’on mène les hommes.»
  6. a b c Presser
  7. Dans l'Ancien Régime il y avait deux décorations importantes :1 : L'ordre militaire de Saint-Louis, créé par Louis XIV en avril 16932 : L'institution du Mérite militaire, créée par Louis XV en mars 1759.
  8. La commission chargée de préparer le projet de loi fut présidée par Cambacérès.
  9. Par 166 voix contre 110.
  10. X. esztendő, virágzás (floréal) hava 29.
  11. ^ The award for the French Legion of Honour is known by many titles, also depending on the five levels of degree: Knight of the Legion of Honour; Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur; Officer of the Legion of Honour; Officier de la Légion d'honneur; Commander of the Legion of Honour; Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur; Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour; Grand officier de la Légion d'honneur; Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour; Grand'Croix de la Légion d'honneur. The word honneur is often capitalised, as in the name of the palace Palais de la Légion d'Honneur.

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