The Order of the Legion of Honor stands at the highest step in the hierarchy of French awards. The insignia was instituted at the beginning of the 19th century, survived the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, the restoration of the monarchy, the Third Republic and world wars, and information about the cavaliers is carefully kept in the Parisian National Museum. The reason for the long life of the Order of the Legion of Honor is that it became the first truly democratic award in the history of the country, since it was awarded without regard to titles and class differences.
Main characteristics of the Legion of Honor
Date of establishment: May 19, 1802.
Number of degrees: 5.
Cross diameter: 40mm 70mm.
Order materials: gold, silver, enamel.
Ribbon material: moire.
Establishment of the Order
The Order of the Legion of Honor emerged from the ruins of the centuries-old rule of the Bourbon dynasty, which was swept away by the Great French Revolution. The 1791 decree put an end to all royal regalia that had existed for many centuries. The hatred of the people for the privileged class was so great that the National Constituent Assembly was categorically against any badges of honor. In May 1792, the government instituted a single Military award, which lasted only a few months. The commanding staff of the army had to hand over the distinguished rifles, sabers and even drums.
The Order of the Legion of Honor owes its appearance to Napoleon Buonaparte, then the consul of the young republic. The far-sighted politician understood well that the country needed an incentive system and persistently promoted his point of view in the State Council. In his speeches, Napoleon urged the government not to treat orders as royal trinkets, and reminded that no republic in history has been without insignia.
Bonaparte realized that the State Council would not approve anything that would even remotely remind of the old regime, so he decided to create an organization modeled on the spiritual knightly Order of the Hospitallers, membership in which was considered a high honor.
The monastic brotherhood was divided according to nationality and languages, and the consul proposed to divide the first order of the French Republic into cohorts according to the number of regions of the country. The main feature of the organization was democracy the number of legionnaires could include citizens of all classes, regardless of ranks and titles.
The draft law was adopted by parliament on May 19, 1802 by a margin of only six votes.
In the early years of its existence, the order was a military-type organization. The first person was the Grand Master, the officer headed the cohort, the commanders stood below, and the junior in rank were called legionnaires.
All those honored to be accepted into the organization took the oath and received a salary. The order had no symbols at the first stage. Admission to the ranks of the organization carried an element of reward, and the pension was a good material help. Ordinary legionnaires received 250 francs a year, which was a lot, since the average earnings of a worker at that time did not exceed two francs a day.
Insignia of the Legion of Honor
In 1804, Napoleon was proclaimed emperor of France, which led to fundamental changes in the structure of the order ranks and insignia appeared. Bonaparte remained Grand Master, the legionaries became knights, and the commanders were renamed Commanders. During imperial times, there were seven categories of awards, but later the number of classes was reduced to five:
- Knight Grand Cross;
- Great Officer;
- An officer;
J.B. Challiot, an official of the Ministry of War, was responsible for preparing the model; the names of the artists have not survived to this day, since in 1871 the archives burned down. In many ways, the decoration of the regalia resembled the Order of St. Louis, which was abolished in 1792 a red ribbon, a central gold medallion with an emperor’s profile and a Maltese cross covered with white enamel.
Napoleon wished that the highest award of the empire was not inferior in splendor to the royal orders of Europe, but at the same time it met the principles of democracy that the revolution brought to society. The order was awarded to both military and civilians, regardless of status and profession.
It was these principles that served as the reason that the order successfully endured all historical storms and remains valid to this day. After the restoration of the monarchy, the authority of the regalia was so high that there could be no question of its abolition, but in connection with the change of power, it was necessary to change the design. Louis XVIII did not dare to place his portrait on the medallion, so for the decoration they took the profile of Henry IV, known for his courage. In 1852, the regalia returned to its original design, but since 1870, the order has adorned the symbol of the French Republic Marianne.
Main characteristics of the order
Legion of Honor: Knights of the Legion of Honor When
Napoleon created the order, at the head of the cohorts he put his military leaders Louis Nicolas Davout or d’Avout, Joachim Murat, Michel Ney and others, and appointed Senator Bernard-Germain as Grand Chancellor de Lasepeda. The emperor had to participate in several ceremonies, as the number of legionnaires was too large. The lists were compiled in alphabetical order.
The highest award of France was presented to foreign monarchs, in particular, Queen Victoria became the lady of the Legion of Honor. One of the interesting awards took place in 1916, when the carrier pigeon, who saved the French garrison during the battles at Verdun, became a cavalier. The gassed bird was able to deliver a message calling for help, after which it died. The next day, the whole of France learned about the feat, and the pigeon was awarded the award posthumously. The stuffed bird is still kept in one of the Parisian museums.
Currently, the president of the country automatically becomes the head of the order, and the chest chain of the regalia is a mandatory attribute of the inauguration. The organization is governed by a council of sixteen people, meetings are held at the headquarters, which is located in Paris on rue Lille. In the same complex of buildings there is a museum, where the exposition presents the grandmaster chain that belonged to Napoleon I.