The Legion of Honour: its origins and history [fr]

On 13 November, on the occasion of the inauguration of the France-Ireland Memorial, the French Secretay of State to Veterans and Collective Memory, Jean Marc Todeschini, will award the Légion d’Honneur to three veterans from the Second World Ward: Albert Sutton, James Moore, and Albert Sutton.

The National Order of the Legion of Honour is the highest French order for military and civil merits bestowed in the name of the President of the Republic.

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It was established on 19 May 1802 by First Consul Napoléon Bonaparte as "the reward for outstanding merit acquired in the service of the nation in a civilian or military capacity”.

The order is divided into five degrees of increasing distinction: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer) and Grand-Croix (Grand Cross). The decoration is a doubled and five-pointed star topped with an oak and a laurel branch. On the observe side, it is adorned with the image of the French Republic and at the back with two French Tricolours surrounded by the motto “Honneur et Patrie” ("Honour and Fatherland").

After the French Revolution swept away the ancient honorific orders, titles, birthrights and privileges and after a decade of political instability and military conflicts, Bonaparte felt the need to restore a comprehensive system of reward, respectful of equality among citizens and that would:

  • reconcile the French people,
  • bring them together around a common ideal of individual and national honour
  • combine the courage of the military and the talents of the civilians, as the symbol of a powerful and unified State.

The Legion of Honour was to embody the main principles of the Revolution: no privileges, no exemptions, no remuneration, but the recognition only of individual merit, acquired and not transmitted.

At first, Napoleon decorated both “his soldiers and his savants” with the military personnel accounting for about 75% of the total. Under Napoleon III, the Legion of Honour started to become more representative of French society and the socio-economic activities of the country.

Since then, the Legion of Honor has continued to adapt in order to reflect the evolution of society with now the application of strict gender parity in civilian recipients and the launching of a citizens’ initiative procedure, which allows private individuals to propose a deserving fellow citizen for admission into the Order. Each year, about 3,000 French and 400 foreigners are in decorated.

For more information, visit the official website of the Grand Chancery of the Legion of Honor: http://www.legiondhonneur.fr/en

Published on 07/11/2016

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