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National Order of the Legion of Honour
Chevalier légion d'honneur 2.png
Knight medal of the French Légion d'honneur
Awarded by France
Type Order of Merit with five degrees
Awarded for Excellent civil or military conduct delivered, upon official investigation
Status Open since 1802
Established 19 May 1802
First awarded 14 July 1804
Total awarded 1742

Knight: 74,384
Officer: 17,032
Commander: 3,009
Grand Officer: 314
Grand Cross: 67
Grand Master: 1
Next (higher) None
Next (lower) Order of Liberation

File:NOLH Streamer.JPG
Ordre de la Légion d'honneur streamer
Legion Honneur GC ribbon.svg
Legion Honneur GO ribbon.svg
Grand Officier
Legion Honneur Commandeur ribbon.svg
Legion Honneur Officier ribbon.svg

Legion Honneur Chevalier ribbon.svg
Ribbon bars of the order

Napoleon, as emperor, always wore the cross and Grand Eagle of the Légion d'Honneur

Napoleon Bonaparte's awarding some of the first Légions d'honneur' on 16 August 1804 at the camp of Boulogne

The Legion of Honour, or in full the National Order of the Legion of Honour (French language: Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur)[1] is a French order established by Napoleon Bonaparte on 19 May 1802. The Order is the highest decoration in France and is divided into five degrees: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer) and Grand Croix (Grand Cross).

The order's motto is Honneur et Patrie ("Honour and Fatherland"), and its seat is the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur on the left bank of the River Seine in Paris.[2]



In the French Revolution all French orders of chivalry were abolished, and replaced with Weapons of Honour. It was the wish of Napoleon Bonaparte, the First Consul and de facto military dictator, to create a reward to commend civilians and soldiers and from this wish was instituted a Légion d'Honneur, it was also conferred to be hereditary on the grandchildren descendants of his siblings ,[3] 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, like 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.

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 (great 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,
  • And 250 francs to a légionnaire.

First remittance of the Légion d'Honneur, 15 July 1804, at Saint-Louis des Invalides, by Jean-Baptiste Debret (1812).

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."[4] This has been often quoted as "It is with such baubles that men are led."

The order was the first modern order of merit. The orders of the monarchy 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 jewel of the Légion has five arms.

First Empire

In a decree issued on the tenth Pluviose XIII (30 January 1805), a grand decoration was instituted. This decoration, a cross on a large sash and a silver star with an eagle, became known as the Grand Aigle (French for "Grand Eagle"), and later in 1814 as the grand cordon ("large sash"). After Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of the French 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. including the grandchildren descendants of his brother Joseph Bonaparte.

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.[5]

The Légion d'honneur was prominent and visible in the 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 refused 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.

Restoration of the Bourbon Kings 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 fleur-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

File:Louis Philippe King of the French 1843.jpg

Louis-Philippe, 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 revolt in Paris (1848) brought a new republic and a new design to the Légion d'honneur. A nephew of the founder, Prince Napoleon 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. President Napoleon staged a coup d'état and made himself emperor of the French in 1852.

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 army in the Franco-Prussian war brought another Republic. 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, the Hôtel de Salm, headquarters of the Légion, was burned to the ground in street fighting; the archives of the order were lost.

In the second term of President Jules Grévy, 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 these scandals, but he was slow to accept his indirect responsibility, which caused his eventual resignation on 2 December 1887.

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

Current organisation

Legal status and leadership

The Legion of Honour is a national order of France, meaning a public incorporated body. The Legion is regulated by a civil law code, the Code of The Legion of Honour and of the Military Medal. While the President of the French Republic is the Grand Master of the Order, day-to-day running is entrusted to the Grand Chancery (grande chancellerie).

The Grand Master

François Hollande, Grand Master of the Legion since 2012, wearing the gold and red insignia of a Grand Cross.

Since the establishment of the Legion, the Grand Master of the Order has always has been the Sovereign or the President of France. As of 2013 President Francois Hollande is Grand Master since 15 May 2012 and ex officio, Grand Cross of the Order.

The Grand Master appoints all other members of the Order, on the advice of the Government. The Grand Master's insignia is the Grand Collar of the Legion, worn only by the President of the Republic, as Grand Master of the Order.

The Grand Chancery

The Grand Chancery is headed by the Grand Chancellor, usually a retired general, and the Secretary General, a civilian administrator.

The Grand Chancery also regulates the National Order of Merit and the médaille militaire. There are several structures funded by and operated under the authority of the Grand Chancery, like the Legion of Honour Schools and the Legion of Honour Museum. The Legion of Honour Schools are élite boarding schools in Saint-Denis and Les Loges in the forest of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Study there is restricted to daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters of members of the order, the Médaille militaire or the Ordre national du Mérite.[6]


There are five class in the Legion of Honour :

  • Chevalier (Knight): minimum 20 years of public service or 25 years of professional activity, and "eminent merits"
  • Officier (Officer): minimum 8 years in the rank of Chevalier
  • Commandeur (Commander): minimum 5 years in the rank of Officier
  • Grand Officier (Grand Officer): minimum 3 years in the rank of Commandeur
  • Grand Croix (Grand Cross): minimum 3 years in the rank of Grand Officier

The "eminent merits" required to be awarded the order require the flawless performance of one's trade as well as doing more than ordinarily expected, such as being creative and contributing to the growth of others.

The Order has a maximum quota of 75 Grand Cross, 250 Grand Officers, 1,250 Commanders, 10,000 Officers and 113,425 (ordinary) Knights. As of 2010 the actual membership was 67 Grand Cross, 314 Grand Officers, 3,009 Commanders, 17,032 Officers and 74,384 Knights. Appointments of veterans of the Second World War, French military personnel involved in the North African Campaign and other foreign French military operations, as well as wounded soldiers, are made independently of the quota.

Members convicted of a felony (crime in French) are automatically dismissed from the order. Members convicted of a misdemeanour (délit in French) can be dismissed as well, although this is not automatic.

Wearing the decoration of the Légion d'honneur without having the right to do so is an offence. Wearing the ribbon or rosette of a foreign order is prohibited if that ribbon is mainly red, like the ribbon of the Légion. French military members in uniform must salute other military members in uniform wearing the medal, whatever the Légion d'honneur rank and the military rank of the bearer. This is not mandatory with the ribbon. In practice, however, this is rarely done.

Civilian awards

French nationals

French nationals, men and women, can be received into the légion, for "eminent merit" (mérites éminents) in military or civil life. In practice, in current usage, the order is conferred to entrepreneurs, high-level civil servants, sport champions[7] in as well as others with connections in the executive. Members of the French Parliament cannot receive the order, except for valour in war, and ministers are not allowed to nominate their accountants.

French nationals initially enter the légion at the class of chevalier (knight). To be promoted to a higher class, one must demonstrate new services to France and a set number of years must pass between appointment and promotion.

Non-French recipients

Technically, membership in the Légion is restricted to French nationals.[8] Foreign nationals who have served France or the ideals it upholds[9] may, however, receive a distinction of the Légion, which is nearly the same thing as membership in the Légion. Foreign nationals who live in France are submitted to the same requirements as Frenchmen. Foreign nationals who live abroad may be awarded a distinction of any rank or dignity in the Légion. Foreign heads of state and the wives or consorts of monarchs are made Grand Cross as a courtesy.

Collective awards

Collective appointments can be made to cities, institutions or companies. A grand total of 68 cities and villages, among them foreign cities such as Algiers, Liège in 1914, Belgrade in 1920, Luxembourg in 1957 and Stalingrad (today's Volgograd) in 1984 were decorated. Cities display the decoration in their coat of arms. They share this distinction with the Red Cross, the abbey of Our Lady of Dombes and the state-railway company SNCF.

Military awards

The military distinctions (Légion d'honneur à titre militaire) are awarded for bravery (actions de guerre) or for service. When awarded for bravery, the Legion is awarded jointly with a mention in Dispatches.

French nationals

For active duty commissioned officers, the Legion of Honour award for service is achieved after 20 years of meritorious service, having been awarded the rank of Chevalier of the Ordre National du Mérite. Bravery awards quicken the time needed for the award. NCOs almost never achieved that award, except for the most heavily decorated service members.

Non-French recipients

Active duty members of the French Foreign Legion are awarded the Legion in exactly the same conditions as French soldiers. In 1998, all surviving veterans of the First World War from any allied country who had fought on French soil were made Knights of the Légion if they were not so already, as part of the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the war's end. The French government awarded the Légion d'Honneur to 100 selected D—Day veterans on 6 June 2004.[10] Bob Dylan was awarded the Legion on Nov. 14, 2013, for his contributions to such causes as the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, and for his artistic "cry of liberty." [11]

Collective awards

Collective appointments can be made to military units. In the case of a military unit, its flag is decorated with the insignia of a knight, which is a different award than the fourragère. Twenty-one schools, mainly schools providing reserve officers during the World Wars, were awarded the Légion d'honneur. Foreign military units can be decorated with the order, such as the U.S. Military Academy.

The Flag or Standard of the following units was decorated with the Cross of Knight the Legion:[12]

  • 112th Line Infantry Regiment (French infantry regiment consisting of mostly Belgians, known as "The Victors of Raab")
  • 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment
  • 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment (Regiment walk from the Foreign Legion)
  • 1st Foreign Regiment
  • Infantry-tank Regiment Marine (Colonial Infantry Regiment of Morocco). Book of the regiment will be fighting its most decorated emblem of the French army.
  • 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment
  • 1st Marine Infantry Regiment
  • 2nd Marine Infantry Regiment
  • 23rd Marine Infantry Regiment
  • 24th Marine Infantry Regiment
  • 43rd Marine Infantry Regiment
  • 1st Marine Artillery Regiment
  • 11th Marine Artillery Regiment
  • 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment
  • 30th Battalion of Chasseurs
  • 1st Train Regiment
  • 8th Infantry Regiment
  • 23rd Regimetn Infantry
  • 26th Regiment Infantry
  • 51st Infantry Regiment
  • 57th Regiment Infantry
  • 137th Infantry Regiment
  • 152nd Infantry Regiment
  • 153rd Infantry Regiment
  • 298th Infantry Regiment
  • 1st regiment of Riflemen
  • 1st Regiment of Algerian Riflemen
  • 2nd Regiment of Algerian Riflemen
  • 3rd Algerian Infatry Regiment
  • 7th Algerian Infantry Regiment
  • Moroccan Goumier
  • 4th Regiment of Tunisian Riflemen
  • 1st Regiment of Senegalese Riflemen
  • 1st Regiment of African Hunters
  • 2nd Regiment of Zouaves
  • 3rd Regiment of Zouaves
  • 4th Regiment of Zouaves
  • 8th Regiment of Zouaves
  • 9th Regiment of Zouaves
  • Joint 4th Regiment of Zouaves and sharpshooters
  • Paris Fire Brigade
  • Fusiliers Marins (Naval Infantry)
  • Fighter Squadron 1 / 30 Normandie-Niemen

Classes and insignia

The five classes wearing their respective insignia (gentlemen): 1 – Chevalier; 2 – Officier; 3 – Commandeur; 4 – Grand Officier; 5 – Grand Croix.

The order has had five levels since the reign of King Louis XVIII, who restored the order in 1815. Since the reform, the following distinctions have existed :

  • Three ranks :
    • Chevalier (knight): badge worn on left breast suspended from ribbon.
    • Officier (Officer): badge worn on left breast suspended from a ribbon with a rosette.
    • Commandeur (Commander): badge around neck suspended from ribbon necklet.
  • Two dignities :
    • Grand Officier (Grand Officer): badge worn on left breast suspended from a ribbon, with star displayed on right breast.
    • Grand-Croix (Grand Cross) formerly grande décoration, grand aigle or grand cordon: the highest level; badge affixed to sash worn over the right shoulder, with star displayed on left breast.

The badge of the Légion is a five-armed "Maltese Asterisk" (for want of a better description – see Maltese Cross) in gilt (in silver for chevalier) enamelled white, with an enamelled laurel and oak wreath between the arms. The obverse central disc is in gilt, featuring the head of Marianne, surrounded by the legend République Française on a blue enamel ring. The reverse central disc is also in gilt, with a set of crossed tricolores, surrounded by the Légion's motto Honneur et Patrie (Honour and Fatherland) and its foundation date on a blue enamel ring. The badge is suspended by an enamelled laurel and oak wreath.

The star (or "plaque") is worn by the Grand Cross (in gilt on the left chest) and the Grand Officer (in silver on the right chest) respectively; it is similar to the badge, but without enamel, and with the wreath replaced by a cluster of rays in between each arm. The central disc features the head of Marianne, surrounded by the legend République Française (French Republic) and the motto Honneur et Patrie.

The ribbon for the medal is plain red.

The badge or star is not worn usually, except at the time of the decoration ceremony or on a dress uniform or formal wear. Instead, one normally wears the ribbon or rosette on one's suit.


See also


  1. Formerly the Royal Order of the Legion of Honour (Ordre royale de la Légion d'honneur)
  2. The award for the French Legion of Hono(u)r 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.
  3. Pierre-Louis Roederer, "Speech Proposing the Creation of a Legion of Honour", Napoleon: Symbol for an Age, A Brief History with Documents, ed. Rafe Blaufarb (New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008), 101–102.
  4. Antoine Claire Thibaudeau (1827). Mémoires sur le Consulat. 1799 à 1804. Paris: Chez Ponthieu et Cie. pp. 83–84. 
  5. The first recorded women's award is 1851, under Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte.
  7. All Olympic Gold Medal winners are awarded the Légion.
  8. Légion Code, article 16
  9. Les étrangers qui se seront signalés par les services qu’ils ont rendus à la France ou aux causes qu’elle soutient, Légion Code, art. 128
  10. Spencer C. Tucker Almanac of American Military History 2012 – Page 2367 In December 2004, on the occasion of his 110th birthday, France's oldest surviving veteran of the war, Maurice Floquet, was promoted to Officer. On 9 and 16 March 2009, Harry Patch and Henry Allingham (both now deceased) were promoted to Officers. "In 1998 the French government awarded the Légion d'Honneur to all surviving American World War I veterans who had served on French soil, and on 6 June 2004, the French awarded the Légion d'Honneur to 100 selected D—Day veterans.
  11. [1]
  12. Officially military units are not members of the Legion, which include only individuals. As for foreign Legionnaires, they are "decorated with the Legion insignia", not "member of the Legion". Do not confuse military units that received the fourragère to the colour of the ribbon of the Legion of Honour (units quoted at six, seven or eight times in the order of the army] with military units whose flag is decorated with the Cross of the Legion of Honour

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