Be admitted to the list and receive the badge of the Legion of Honor is the largest and esteemed French honorary distinction, rewarding military or civilian merits rendered to the Nation. Under the Ancien Régime, the orders of chivalry were reserved almost exclusively for people of high birth; Louis XIV decides in 1693 to reward commoner officers, thus announcing the creation of the Legion of Honor. Nearly a million people have received this distinction since its creation, from the military to the man of letters, from the artist to the athlete, including other lucky people. Let us return to the various orders of chivalry preceding the Legion of Honor.
Orders of chivalry and royal orders
From the Crusades, the most important chivalrous order that has survived the centuries is the Order of Malta, formerly known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem. The missions of these elected officials were military, religious and hospitable. The badge was an eight-pointed white cross.
In France, the royal orders appear from the 15th century. To mirror the order of the Golden Fleece of the Duke of Burgundy, Louis XI created in 1469 the order of Saint-Michel; Henri III attributes from 1578 the order of the Holy Spirit, intended to defend the Catholic faith but especially to retain the elite of the kingdom; Louis XIV wants to reward the courage of all the noble Catholic officers or commoners in 1693 with the royal and military order of Saint-Louis; Louis XV awarded the Medallion of Vétérance in 1771 to all non-commissioned officers and soldiers who had served more than 24 years without fail. Democracy is on the move and these latest distinctions announce the Legion of Honor.
After the marks of honor were suppressed during the Revolution, the Directory nevertheless grants national rewards to soldiers in the form of weapons of honor, luxury weapons made in the Versailles factory!
The Legion of Honour
Created in 1802 by Bonaparte, this national and unique distinction is a symbol of courage and devotion to the nation, attributed to soldiers and civilians, represented by a white five-pointed star hanging from a red ribbon. Louis XVIII restores the royal orders but maintains the Legion of Honor; under Louis Philippe the Legion of Honor once again became the first award; the collar of the Legion of Honor is awarded in the event of excellence, in particular to the President of the Republic.
Rewarding the construction and evolution of different countries, the best known are the Order of the Garter in the United Kingdom and that of the Elephant in Denmark.
The military medal
Created in 1852 by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, it is attributed to soldiers and non-commissioned officers who have demonstrated acts of courage and a large number of years of service. Given to the great military leaders, it is superior to the Legion of Honor. In addition to this military medal, during the two great world wars, the Croix de Guerre, the Order of Liberation and the Medal of the Resistance.
The National Order of Merit
This second national order was created in 1963 by General de Gaulle, to establish a nuance in merit and in attributions. With this distinction, all ministerial orders are abolished except the Academic Palms, the Order of Agricultural Merit, the Order of Maritime Merit and that of Arts and Letters.
The National Museum of the Legion of Honor is located in the Palais de Salm in Paris, on the site of the former stables, a palace built for the Prince of Salm-Kyrbourg between 1782 and 1788. Funded by an open subscription among the legionaries, the museum was inaugurated in 1925.
Residence of the Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor and seat of the Order, it is first of all free and offers impressive collections of decorations of all kinds and from all countries around the world. The visitor discovers windows and follows the explanations thanks to video animations relating to more than 300 famous personages of orders, on the stages of the history of the orders and the role of these distinctions.
A great lesson in good citizenship.
- Once upon a time there was the Legion of Honor: From the cross of the brave to the red ribbon; by André Bessière. L'Harmattan, 2008.