The Ordre de la Légion d'Honneur / Order of the Legion of Honor is France's highest award.
It has been instituted by Napoleon Bonaparte on 29 Floreal an X (19 May 1802). It has been established as a national order open to both officers and soldiers, and civilians, for outstanding services.
The insigna itself has only been created on 1st July 1804, with a 5 arms, 10 pointed star, the star of conquerors. The badge did not change a lot in more than 200 years, even if each French political regime more or less modified it until 1870. The actual insigna of the Legion d'Honneur is very close to the one chosen in 1870, with the end of the Second Empire (Napoleon III) and the institution of the 3rd French Republic. Most books or websites describe these changes, and the OMSA Medal Database contains a lot of nice pics...
Only 4 classes existed at the beginning : Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandants (Commander), Grand-Officier (Grand-Officer). The higher class, "Grande-Décoration" (also called "Grand-Aigle") has been established on 30 January 1805. It now corresponds to the Grand-Croix (Grand Cross). On 1st March 1808, Napoleon I re-established nobility in France (Noblesse d'Empire), and the recipients of the Légion d'Honneur became Knights.
Napoleon III is the first having decorated women, and artists (writers, authors, theatre players...). A new Code of the Légion d'Honneur has been implemented by General de Gaulle on 28 November 1962, and it is still in use. It limits the number of Legion d'Honneur members : 75 Grand-Crosses, 250 Grand-Officers, 1250 Commanders, 10,000 Officers and 113,425 Knights.
Attached is a pic of an insignia of Knight of the Légion d'Honneur - 5th French Republic (actual).
Pic : Ed Haynes - OMSA Medal Database.
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