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

The order's motto is (Honour and Fatherland), and its seat is the Palais de la Légion d'Honneurmarker on the left bank of the River Seinemarker in Paris.



In the French Revolution all French orders of chivalry were abolished. It was the wish of Napoleon Bonaparte, the First Consul and de facto sole ruler, to create a reward to commend civilians and soldiers and from this wish was instituted a Légion d'Honneur, a body of men that was not an order of chivalry, for Napoleon knew that France did not want a new nobility system, but a recognition of merit. The Légion used however the organisation of old french Orders of Chivalry, like the Ordre de Saint-Louis. The badges of the legion do bear a resemblance to the Order of Saint Louis, which also used a red ribbon.

Napoleon, as emperor, always wore the cross and Grand Eagle of the Légion d'Honneur
The Légion was loosely patterned after a Roman Legion, with legionaries, officers, commanders, regional "cohort" and a grand council; and the Emperor angrily rebuked anyone who called this institution an order. The highest rank was not a grand cross but a grand aigle, 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 commandant,
  • 1,000 francs to an officier,
  • And 250 francs to a légionnaire.

According to some sources Napoleon declared: — "We call these children's toys, I know, it's been said already. Well, I replied that it's with such toys that one leads men." (The French word means a child's rattle.) 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 legion 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, and later in 1814 as the grand cordon (French for "large sash"). After the reestablishment of the 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 kinsmen and the highest of his 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.

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 (armory) in Berlin until 1945. Today, they are in Moscow.

Restoration of the Bourbon Kings in 1814

Insignias with figure of Henry IV
Louis XVIII changed the appearance of the order, but it was not abolished. This would have angered the 35-38,000 members. The images of Napoleon and his eagle were removed and replaced by the image of Henri IV, the popular first king of the Bourbon line. Three Bourbon Lilies (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 legion became the second order of knighthood of the French monarchy, after the Order of the Holy Spirit.

July Monarchy

Louis Philippe, King of the French, wearing the sash of the order
France's first constitutional monarch, King Louis-Philippe of the House of Orleans, restored the order of the Légion d'honneur in 1830 as the paramount decoration of the French nation. The insignia were drastically altered. The cross now displayed tricolor flags.Louis-Philippe abolished the other orders of the monarchy. 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 Salmmarker, headquarters of the Légion, was burned to the ground in street fighting; the archives of the order were lost.

In the second term of 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 and officers

The President of the French Republic is the Grand Master of the Order and appoints all other members of the Order — by convention, on the advice of the Government. Its principal officers are the Chancellor and Secretary-General.

Current officers of the Order include:

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, in addition to military recipients, to many entrepreneurs, high-level civil servants, sport champions in as well as other people with high connections in the executive. The members of the French Parliament cannot receive the order, except for valor in war, and ministers are not allowed to nominate their accountants.

French nationals are always initially received in the légion to the class of chevalier (knight). To be promoted to a higher class, one must prove new services to France and a set number of years must pass between appointment and promotion. The only exception is the President of the Republic, who is made a grand cross de jure upon his accession to the presidency. Foreigners are not admitted in the légion as such, but may be decorated with the insignia of the légion. A foreigner can be decorated directly with the insignia of a higher class. Foreign heads of state and the wives or consorts of monarchs are made Grand Cross as a courtesy.

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 2000 the actual membership was 61 Grand Cross, 321 Grand Officers, 3,626 Commanders, 22,401 Officers and 87,371 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.

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. 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 were also promoted to Officer.

Members convicted of a severe crime (plain crime in French) are dismissed de jure from the order. Members convicted of a lesser felony (délit in French) can be dismissed too.

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 of knighthood is prohibited if that ribbon is mainly red, like the ribbon of the Légion.

Collective appointments can also be made to cities, institutions, companies, or 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. Cities proudly display the decoration in their coat of arms.

Twenty-one schools, mainly higher educations schools providing the bulk of reserve officers during World Wars, were awarded the Légion d'honneur. They share this distinction with the Red Cross, the abbey of Our Lady of Dombes and the state-railway company SNCF.

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 five classes:
  • Two dignities :
    • Grand'croix (Grand cross) formerly grande décoration, grand aigle or grand cordon: badge affixed to sash worn over the right shoulder, with star displayed on left breast.
    • Grand Officier (Grand Officer): badge worn on left breast suspended from a ribbon, with star displayed on right breast.
  • Three ranks :
    • Commandeur (Commander) formerly commandant: badge around neck suspended from ribbon necklet.
    • Officier (Officer): badge worn on left breast suspended from a ribbon with a rosette.
    • Chevalier (Knight) formerly légionnaire: badge worn on left breast suspended from ribbon.

Image:Legion Honneur Chevalier ribbon.svg|ChevalierImage:Legion Honneur Officier ribbon.svg|OfficierImage:Legion Honneur Commandeur ribbon.svg|CommandeurImage:Legion Honneur GO ribbon.svg|Grand OfficierImage:Legion Honneur GC ribbon.svg|Grand'croix

The sitting President of the Republic, as grand master of the order, wears the Grand Collar of the Légion, which is presented to him upon his investiture.

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) enameled white, with an enameled 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 enameled 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. Instead, one normally wears the ribbon or rosette on one's suit.


Image:Chevalier-legion-dhonneur-empire-1804.jpg|Original Légionnaire insignia (1804).Image:Chevalier-legion-dhonneur-empire.jpg|Late Empire Légionnaire insignia: the front feature Napoleon's profile and the rear, the imperial Eagle. An imperial crown joins the cross and the ribbon.Image:Chevalier-legion-dhonneur-LouisXVIII-1814.jpg|Louis XVIII era (1814) Knight insignia: the front features Henry IV's profile and the rear, the arms of the French Kingdom (three fleurs de lis). A royal crown joins the cross and the ribbon.Image:Chevalier-legion-dhonneur-2e-republique.jpg|Rear of a Republican cross, with two crossed French flags.Image:Chevalier-legion-dhonneur-republique.jpg|Fifth Republic Knight insignia: the centre features Marianne's head. A crown of laurels joins the cross and the ribbon.Image:Offizierskreuz.jpg|Current medal for the officer class, decorated with a rosette.Image:Legion Honneur CKS plaque p1090335.jpg|Chiang Kai-shek's Légion d'honneur plaque. In his days the plaque was made of silver.Image:Legion Honneur CKS p1090334.jpg|Chiang Kai-shek's Légion d'honneur. This is the reverse of his Grand Cross.Image:Legion_d_honneur_1.jpg|The insignia of a Grand Cross. Nowadays the star of a Grand Cross is gilt. The silver star is the Grand Officer's badge.

The Order and other countries

Technically, membership in the Légion is restricted to French nationals. Foreign nationals who have served France or the ideals it upholds 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:

  • Camille Papin Tissot, French radio pioneers, experimental physicists, Légion d’honneur en 1901, officier légion d’honneur en 1909.

  • Hicri Fişek, Turkish professor of international Law, received the Légion d’honneur (Chevalier 1964; Officier 1975).









  • Robert Parker, the American pre-eminent wine critic, received the title of Officier.
  • E. Sreedharan Indian Technocrat known for Konkan Rail and Delhi Metro Rail Projects.




  • Giorgio Armani, the Italian fashion designer.
  • David Petraeus, the American Commander of CENTCOM is among the recipients.
  • Kutateladze Samson Brigade General Member of Parlament Georgia

  • Gibraltarian British couture designer John Galliano, creative director of Christian Dior.
  • British Author J. K. Rowling, writer of the acclaimed Harry Potter series.
  • Software innovator, Francois Bourdoncle, co-founder of Exalead
  • Historian Robert O. Paxton, widely recognised for his expertise on the Vichy regime in France during World War II.
  • Dame Carol Kidu, received the title of Chevalier, for her efforts on promoting human rights. She was the first Papua New Guineanmarker citizen to receive the award.
  • Japanese manga artist Riyoko Ikeda, for the highly popular manga "Lady Oscar" which takes place during the French Revolution
  • Decorated World War II Veteran, Great Grandfather, Settimeo Tiberio, recognised for his valor during the D-Day invasion.
  • CNN Senior Correspondent Jim Bittermann for his service in U.S./France understanding over his almost 30 years resident in Paris.
  • Veran Matić, Serbianmarker journalist and editor-in-chief of B92 "for the fight he has always led for independence and freedom of the media".
  • Ružica Đinđić, humanitarian, widow of the late Prime Minister of Serbiamarker Zoran Đinđić "because of her active work at the foundation she heads".
  • Sgt. Lee M. Brown, Alpharetta, GA. A decorated World War II veteran of the U. S. Army 5th Ranger Battalion "for his valor on Omaha Beach during the D-Day landing".
  • Asha Pande, Foreign Language Deptt., University of Rajasthan, Indiamarker, for encouraging the teaching and cultural activities of France.
  • Sir David King, Former Chief Scientific Advisor to the H.M. Government
  • Wynton Marsalis, is an American trumpeter and composer was awarded the level of the insignia of chevalier of the Legion of Honor on Nov 6, 2009
  • John Harry Kellers- Long Island, N.Y.-U.S. Navy veteran of World War II- LCT 539- for valor on Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings.
  • Jacob Noah Cutler - Valley Stream, Long Island, N.Y. - U.S. Army veteran of World War II - V Corps Patton's 3rd. Army; for valor on Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings.
  • Clint Eastwood, American actor, film director, film producer and composer.
  • Dr. Ralph L. Bourgeois,MD - Lafayette, LA - Captain U.S. Army 93rd Medical Gas Treatment Battalion and Mobile Field Surgical Hospital during World War II; for contributions to the liberation of the French Republic during D-Day at Utah beach and with the advancing front line American troops across France, Belgium and into Germany as well as dedication to the preservation of the French language through the Council for Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL).

Locations associated with the Order

A grand total of 68 cities and villages, amongst them Liègemarker in 1914, Belgrademarker in 1920, Luxembourgmarker in 1957 and Stalingradmarker (today's Volgogradmarker) in 1984 were decorated, as were 51 regiments and the Military School of Autunmarker.

The Order has its own élite boarding schools in Saint-Denis and Les Loges in the forest of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. A thousand children and grandchildren of the members of the order are educated there. Study there is restricted to daughters, grand-daughters, and great-grand-daughters of members of the order, the Médaille militaire or the Ordre national du Mérite.

See also


  1. French, translatable as "Legion of Hono(u)r" (see spelling differences), but known as the Légion d'honneur to avoid confusion with similarly-named decorations (e.g. the Philippine Legion of Honour)
  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. The first recorded women's award is 1851, under Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte.
  5. All Olympic Gold Medal winners are awarded the Légion.
  6. Légion Code, article 16
  7. 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
  8. Bravest of the Brave, Mark Seaman. O'Mara Books Ltd. London 1997. p 233.
  9. Palm Beach Civic Association
  10. Richard Jenrette
  11. "University of Sydney Arts Handbook". University of Sydney. Retrieved 2 August 2008.
  12. "Consulat général de France à Sydney" France In Australia. Retrieved 2 August 2008.
  13. BBC News
  14. Mini biography of Guadalupe Loaeza
  15. Video Chirac décore Poutine - Chirac, Poutine, Légion, d'honneur, Elysée - Dailymotion Share Your Videos
  16. BBC news about Amitabh Bachchan's award of the Légion d'honneur
  17. [1]
  18. BBC news about Clint Eastwood's award of the Légion d'honneur
  19. GGN news about David Lynch's award of the Légion d'honneur
  23. Sarkozy tells Peres France is Israel's true friend - Israel News, Ynetnews
  24. "Sarkozy décore le président du Botswana pour sa bonne gouvernance", AFP, 20 March 2008 .
  25. France honors wartime service of Charles Durning
  26. MSN article about Spielberg receiving the honour
  27. AFP: Légion d'honneur: Ingrid Betancourt, Dany Boon et Sonia Rykiel distingués
  30. JKR receive the Legion of Honor award from French president
  31. Décoration de Mme J.K. ROWLING, romancière
  33. "French honour for Dame Carol", Liama Abaijah, The National, 13 February 2009
  34. "Décoration de Dame Carol Kidu", French embassy to Papua New Guinea, 12 February 2009
  35. B92 editor-in-chief, Đinđić widow get top French accolade
  36. [2],Veterans Day 2009: Remembering our heroes

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