The Légion d'honneur (Legion of Honor (AmE) or Legion of Honour (ComE)) is an Order of Chivalry awarded by the President of France. First instituted by Emperor Napoleon I on May 19, 1802, it is one of the most prestigious French awards and the country's highest civilian honor. This Order replaces the previous Orders of Saint Michael , The Holy Spirit , Saint Louis , Saint Lazarus and Mount Carmel .
The order is conferred upon men and women, either French citizens or foreigners, for outstanding achievements 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 as well as other people with high connections in the executive.
According to some sources, Napoleon declared: On appelle ça des hochets, je sais, on l'a dit déjà. Et bien, j'ai répondu que c'est avec des hochets que l'on mène les hommes. — "These are called [trinkets], I know, it has already been said. Well, I answered that it's with [trinkets] that you lead people." (the actual word hochet means a child's rattle).
The President of France is the Grand Master of the Order and appoints all other members of the Order—by convention, on the advice of the Government. Following Continental practice (unlike the British orders), the Legion of Honour has no Sovereign. Its principal officers are the Chancellor and Secretary-General.
The Order has a maximum quota of 75 Commanders Grand Cross, 250 Grand Officers, 1,250 Commanders, 10,000 Officers and 113,425 (ordinary) Chevaliers. As of 2000 the actual membership was 61 Commanders Grand Cross, 321 Grand Officers, 3,626 Commanders, 22,401 Officers and 87,371 Chevaliers. 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.
In 1998, all surviving veterans of World War I from any country who had fought on French soil were made Chevaliers of the Legion 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 Flocquet, was promoted to Officer.
Members convicted of severe crimes (crimes in French) are dismissed de jure from the order. Members convicted of lesser felonies (délits in French) can be dismissed too.
Wearing the decoration of the Legion of Honor without having the right to do so is an offense.
- The badge of the Legion 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 medallion is a personification of the French Republic with the legend République Française on a blue enamel ring. The reverse central medallion is a set of crossed tricolores with the Legion's motto Honneur et patrie (Honour and Fatherland) and its foundation date on a blue enamel ring. The badge is suspended by a enamelled laurel and oak wreath.
- The ribbon for the badge is plain red; it is worn as a sash on the right shoulder for Grand Cross, around the neck for Commander, on the left chest with rosette for Grand Officer and Officer, and on the left chest without rosette for Chevalier.
- The star (or "plaque") is worn by Grand Cross (in gilt on the left chest) and Grand Officer (in silver on the right chest) respectively; it is similar to be badge, but without enamel, and with the wreath replaced by a cluster of rays in between each arm. The central medallion is a personification of the French Republic with the legend République Française and the motto "Honneur et patrie".
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.
Museum of the Legion of Honor
The Musée national de la Legion d'Honneur can be found at:
- 2, rue de la Légion d'honneur
- F-75007 Paris
- Open daily (except on Mondays) 2–5 pm
RER: Musée d'Orsay (opposite the main entrance of the Musée d'Orsay)