Legion of Honour
The Legion of Honour is France’s highest military decoration that recognises military personnel and civilians for their bravery or honourable service to the country.
During the French Revolution, all military decorations were abolished. Napoleon Bonaparte was aware that that a system must be put in place to award both military and civilian persons alike for extreme acts of gallantry or honourable service.
The idea of this award was put to the vote and was passed by the Legislature with 166 out of 276 voters.
The Legion of Honour was divided into five degrees: Knight, Officer, Commander, Grand Officer and Grand Cross.
The award was first instituted by Napoleon Bonaparte on May 19th 1802.
The medal can be awarded to anyone for their outstanding achievements, including sports figures and high level civil servants.
At first, each person who was awarded the Legion of Honour had to swear “on his honour, to devote himself to serving the Republic”. In 1804, the word ‘Republic’ was changed to ‘welfare of the Empire’.
Bonaparte awarded the first Legion of Honour in 1804. Amongst the first to be honoured were 18 marshals, 5 cardinals and several scholars, scientists, writers and composers. By 1812, 1,400 civilians had been awarded.
The medal is a five-sided double-pointed star shape and is made of white enamel. It is encircled by a green wreath of oak and laurel leaves and surmounted by a similar yet smaller wreath. The star and the red ribbon have never changed.
Originally, the medal featured the profile of Napoleon on the front and the eagle on the back. This was changed under the Restoration to Henry IV and three fleurs-de-lis. Two tricolour flags were replaced by the royal insignia.
The head of “Marianne”, symbolic figure of the Republic, has appeared on the front of the medal since 1870, with the tricolour flags on the back.
On the front of the medal is the inscription “Republique Francaise” (French Republic) and inscribed on the back is “Honneur et Patrie” (Honour and Fatherland).