The Legion of Honour), formerly the Royal Order of the Legion of Honour ('). (french: Légion d'honneur, ) is the highest French order of merit, both military and civil. Established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, it has been retained by all later French governments and régimes. The order's motto is ' ("Honour and Fatherland"), and its seat is the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur next to the Musée d'Orsay, on the left bank of the Seine in Paris. The order is divided into five degrees of increasing distinction: ' (Knight), ' (Officer), ' (Commander), ' (Grand Officer), and ' (Grand Cross).



During the French Revolution, all of the French orders of chivalry were abolished and replaced with Weapons of Honour. It was the wish of Napoleon Bonaparte, the First Consul, to create a reward to commend civilians and soldiers. From this wish was instituted a , a body of men that was not an order of chivalry, for Napoleon believed that France wanted a recognition of merit rather than a new system of nobility. However, the did use the organization of the old French orders of chivalry, for example, the . The insignia of the bear a resemblance to those of the , which also used a red ribbon. Napoleon originally created this award to ensure political loyalty. The organization would be used as a façade to give political favours, gifts, and concessions. The 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 Eagle), a rank that wore the insignia common to a Grand Cross. The members were paid, the highest of them extremely generously: * 5,000 francs to a , * 2,000 francs to a , * 1,000 francs to an , * 250 francs to a . 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." This has been often quoted as "It is with such baubles that men are led." The order was the first modern order of merit. Under the monarchy, such orders were often limited to Roman Catholics, and all knights had to be noblemen. The military decorations were the perks of the officers. The , however, was open to men of all ranks and professions—only merit or bravery counted. The new legionnaire had to be sworn into the . All previous orders were Christian, or shared a clear Christian background, whereas the is a secular institution. The badge of the has five arms.

First Empire

In a decree issued on the (30 January 1805), a grand decoration was instituted. This decoration, a cross on a large sash and a silver star with an eagle, symbol of the Napoleonic Empire, became known as the (Grand Eagle), and later in 1814 as the (big sash, literally "big ribbon"). After Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of the French in 1804 and established the Napoleonic nobility in 1808, award of the gave right to the title of "Knight of the Empire" (). The title was made hereditary after three generations of grantees. Napoleon had dispensed 15 golden collars of the among his family and his senior ministers. This collar was abolished in 1815. Although research is made difficult by the loss of the archives, it is known that three women who fought with the army were decorated with the order: Virginie Ghesquière, Marie-Jeanne Schelling and a nun, Sister Anne Biget. The was prominent and visible in the French Empire. The Emperor always wore it, and the fashion of the time allowed for decorations to be worn most of the time. The king of Sweden therefore declined the order; it was too common in his eyes. Napoleon's own decorations were captured by the Prussians and were displayed in the (armoury) in Berlin until 1945. Today, they are in Moscow.

Restoration of the Bourbon King of France 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 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 became the second-ranking order of knighthood of the French monarchy, after the Order of the Holy Spirit.

July Monarchy

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

Second Republic

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

Second Empire

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

Third Republic

In 1870, the defeat of the French Imperial Army in the Franco-Prussian War brought the end of the Empire and the creation of the Third Republic (1871–1940). As France changed, the changed as well. The crown was replaced by a laurel and oak wreath. In 1871, during the Paris Commune uprising, the , headquarters of the , was burned to the ground in fierce street combats; the archives of the order were lost. In the second term of President Jules Grévy, which started in 1885, newspaper journalists brought to light the trafficking of Grévy's son-in-law, Daniel Wilson, in the awarding of decorations of the . Grévy was not accused of personal participation in this scandal, but he was slow to accept his indirect political responsibility, which caused his eventual resignation on 2 December 1887. During World War I, some 55,000 decorations were conferred, 20,000 of which went to foreigners. The large number of decorations resulted from the new posthumous awards authorised in 1918. Traditionally, membership in the could not be awarded posthumously.

Fourth and Fifth Republics

The establishment of the Fourth Republic in 1946 brought about the latest change in the design of the Legion of Honour. The date "1870" on the obverse was replaced by a single star. No changes were made after the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958.


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 (').

Grand Master

Since the establishment of the Legion, the Grand Master of the order has always been the Emperor, King or President of France. President Emmanuel Macron therefore became the Grand Master of the Legion on 14 May 2017. The Grand Master appoints all other members of the order, on the advice of the French 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. * Grand Chancellor: General Benoît Puga (since 23 August 2016) * Secretary-General: Luc Fons (since 2007) The Grand Chancery also regulates the National Order of Merit and the ' (Military Medal). 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 Camp des 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 ' or the '.


There are five classes in the Legion of Honour: * (Knight): minimum 20 years of public service or 25 years of professional activity with "eminent merits" * (Officer): minimum 8 years in the rank of * (Commander): minimum 5 years in the rank of * (Grand Officer): minimum 3 years in the rank of * (Grand Cross): minimum 3 years in the rank of 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, zealous and contributing to the growth and well-being 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. the actual membership was 67 Grand Cross, 314 Grand Officers, 3,009 Commanders, 17,032 Officers and 74,384 Knights. Appointments of veterans of World War II, 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 ( in French) are automatically dismissed from the order. Members convicted of a misdemeanour ( in French) can be dismissed as well, although this is not automatic. Wearing the decoration of the without having the right to do so is a serious offence. Wearing the ribbon or rosette of a foreign order is prohibited if that ribbon is mainly red, like the ribbon of the Legion of Honour. French military personnel in uniform must salute other military members in uniform wearing the medal, whatever the rank and the military rank of the bearer. This is not mandatory with the ribbon. In practice, however, this is rarely done. There is not a single, complete list of all the members of the Legion in chronological order. The number is estimated at one million, including about 2,900 Knights Grand Cross.

French nationals

French nationals, men and women, can be received into the , for "eminent merit" () in military or civil life. In practice, in current usage, the order is conferred to entrepreneurs, high-level civil servants, scientists, artists, including famous actors and actresses, sport champions, and 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. Until 2008, French nationals could only enter the Legion of Honour at the class of (Knight). To be promoted to a higher class, one had to perform new eminent services in the interest of France and a set number of years had to pass between appointment and promotion. This was however amended in 2008 when entry became possible at Officer, Commander and Grand Officer levels, as a recognition of "extraordinary careers" (). In 2009, Simone Veil became the first person to enter the Order at Grand Officer level. Veil was a member of the , a former Health Minister and President of the European Parliament, as well as an Auschwitz survivor. She was promoted to Grand Cross in 2012. The acceptance of being awarded the Legion of Honour is not mandatory. The composers Maurice Ravel and Charles Koechlin, for example, declined the award when it was offered to them.

Non-French recipients

While membership in the is technically restricted to French nationals, foreign nationals who have served France or the ideals it upholds may receive the honour. Foreign nationals who live in France are subject to the same requirements as the French. Foreign nationals who live abroad may be awarded a distinction of any rank or dignity in the . Foreign heads of state and their spouses or consorts of monarchs are made Grand Cross as a courtesy. American and British veterans who served in either World War on French soil, or during the 1944 campaigns to liberate France, may be eligible for appointment as Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, provided they were still living when the honour was approved.

Collective awards

Collective appointments can be made to cities, institutions or companies. A total of 64 settlements in France have been decorated, as well as six foreign cities: Liège in 1914, Belgrade in 1920, Luxembourg City in 1957, Volgograd (the World War II 'Stalingrad') in 1984, Algiers in 2004, and London in 2020. French towns display the decoration in their municipal coat of arms. Organisations to receive the honour include the French Red Cross (), the (Abbey of ), the French National Railway Company (), the (Prefecture of Police of Paris), and various (National (Elite) Colleges) and other educational establishments.

Military awards

The military distinctions () are awarded for bravery () or for service. * award for extreme bravery: the is awarded jointly with a mention in dispatches. This is the top valour award in France. It is rarely awarded, mainly to soldiers who have died in battle. * award for service: the is awarded without any citation.

=French service-members

= 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 of the . Bravery awards lessen the time needed for the award—in fact decorated servicemen become directly chevaliers of the , skipping the . NCOs almost never achieve that award, except for the most heavily decorated service members.

=Collective military 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 from the . 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 a Knight of the Legion of Honour: * 1st Foreign Regiment * 1st Marine Artillery Regiment * 1st Marine Infantry Regiment * 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment * 1st Photographic Technical Unit (USAAF Forward-deployed Reconnaissance Unit) * 1st Parachute Regiment * 1st Regiment of African * 1st Regiment of Algerian * 1st Regiment of Riflemen * 1st Regiment of Senegalese * 1st Train Regiment * 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment * 2nd Marine Infantry Regiment * 2nd Regiment of Algerian * 2nd Regiment of * 3rd Algerian Infantry Regiment * 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment (Regiment walk from the Foreign Legion) * 3rd Regiment of * 4th Regiment of Tunisian * 4th Regiment of * Joint 4th Regiment of and * 7th Algerian Infantry Regiment * 8th Infantry Regiment * 8th Regiment of * 9th Regiment of * 11th Marine Artillery Regiment * 23rd Infantry Regiment * 23rd Marine Infantry Regiment * 24th Marine Infantry Regiment * 26th Infantry Regiment * 30th Battalion of * 43rd Marine Infantry Regiment * 51st Infantry Regiment * 57th Infantry Regiment * 112th Line Infantry Regiment (French infantry regiment consisting of mostly Belgians, known as "The Victors of Raab") * 137th Infantry Regiment * 152nd Infantry Regiment * 153rd Infantry Regiment * 298th Infantry Regiment * Fighter Squadron 1/30 Normandie-Niemen * (Naval Infantry) * Moroccan * Paris Fire Brigade * (Colonial Infantry Regiment of Morocco). Book of the regiment will be fighting its most decorated emblem of the French army.

Classes and insignia

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: ** ' (knight): badge worn on left breast suspended from ribbon ** ' (Officer): badge worn on left breast suspended from a ribbon with a rosette ** ' (Commander): badge around neck suspended from ribbon necklet * Two dignities: ** ' (Grand Officer): badge worn on left breast suspended from a ribbon, with star displayed on right breast ** ' (Grand Cross), formerly ', ', or ': the highest level; badge affixed to sash worn over the right shoulder, with star displayed on left breast The ''badge'' of the is shaped as a five-armed "Maltese Asterisk", using five distinctive "arrowhead" shaped arms inspired by the Maltese Cross. The badge is rendered 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 ' on a blue enamel ring. The reverse central disc is also in gilt, with a set of crossed ', surrounded by the Légion's motto ' (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 ') 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 ' (French Republic) and the motto '. The ''ribbon'' for the medal is plain red. The badge or star is not usually worn, 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. For less formal occasions, recipients wear a simple stripe of thread sewn onto the lapel (red for chevaliers and officiers, silver for commandeurs). Except when wearing a dark suit with a lapel, women instead typically wear a small lapel pin called a barrette. Recipients purchase the special thread and barrettes at a store in Paris near the Palais Royal.


File:Chevalier-legion-dhonneur-empire-1804.jpg|Original ' insignia (1804) File:Chevalier-legion-dhonneur-empire.jpg|Late Empire ' insignia: the front features Napoleon's profile and the rear, the imperial Eagle. An imperial crown joins the cross and the ribbon. File: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 '). A royal crown joins the cross and the ribbon. File:Chevalier-legion-dhonneur-2e-republique.jpg|Rear of a Republican cross, with two crossed French flags File: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. File:Offizierskreuz.jpg|Current medal for the officer class, decorated with a rosette File:Legion Honneur CKS plaque p1090335.jpg|Chiang Kai-shek's ' plaque. In his day, the plaque was made of silver. File:Legion Honneur CKS p1090334.jpg|Chiang Kai-shek's '. This is the reverse of his Grand Cross. File: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. File:Legion of Honor - Knight.JPG|Charles Lindbergh's Legion of Honour File:Legion dHonneur mg 3440.jpg|Insignia with figure of Henry IV File:Legion dHonneur mg 3456.jpg|Certificate File:Certificate - ORDRE NATIONAL DE LA LEGION D'HONNEUR.jpg|Certificate for Major G M Reeves, a British recipient in 1958 File:Commandeur de l'Ordre de la Légion d'Honneur avers.jpg|Commander of the Order of the Legion of Honour

See also

* List of recipients by name * List of British recipients of the for the Crimean War * List of foreign recipients of the * ' * Ribbons of the French military and civil awards

References and notes

; Notes ; Citations

External links

Official website

''Code de la légion d'honneur et de la médaille militaire''

on the website of the French Ministry of Culture * {{DEFAULTSORT:Legion of Honour Category:1802 establishments in France Category:Awards established in 1802 Category:Civil awards and decorations of France Category:French awards Category:Military awards and decorations of France Category:Orders of chivalry of France