of the Legion of Honour
Robert Baden-Powell, K.C.B., K.C.V.O
Commander of the Legion of Honour, 1922
Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, 1936
B-P is invested in the
Legion of Honor
Legion of Honour, officially ROYAL ORDER OF
THE LEGION OF HONOUR, French ORDRE ROYALE DE LA
LÉGION D’HONNEUR, premier order of the French
republic, created by Napoleon Bonaparte, then first
consul, on May 19, 1802, as a general military and
civil order of merit conferred without regard to
birth or religion provided that anyone admitted
swears to uphold liberty and equality.
Napoleon’s ideas for this order, which finally
prevailed, aroused a certain amount of opposition,
particularly from those who felt the Legion should
have purely military qualifications. After becoming
emperor, Napoleon presided over the first investiture
into the Legion, which took place in 1804 at the
Hôtel des Invalides, Paris. In 1805, schools were
started for daughters of members; later, hospitals
were maintained for sick and infirm legionnaires.
During the Restoration, the Legion became a royal
order, ranked below the restored military and
religious orders of the ancien régime. Upon the
downfall of the monarchy, the Legion once again
became the highest-ranking order and decoration in
True to the stated ideals of Napoleon when founding
the order, the membership of the Legion is remarkably
egalitarian; both men and women, French citizens and
foreigners, civilians and military personnel,
irrespective of rank, birth, or religion, can be
admitted to any of the classes of the Legion.
Admission into this order, which can be conferred
posthumously, requires 20 years of civil achievement
in peacetime or extraordinary military bravery and
service in times of war. Admission into the Legion
for war services automatically carries with it the
award of the Croix de Guerre, the highest French
During the Consulate and the First Empire, Napoleon
served as the grand master of the order, while a
grand council of seven grand officers administered
the 15 territorial units, or "cohorts,"
into which the order was divided. Currently, the
president of France serves as grand master, and the
order is administered by a civil chancellor with the
help of a council nominated by the grand master. The
Legion has five classes, listed in descending rank:
grand cross (limited to 80 members), grand officer
(200), commander (1,000), officer (4,000), and
knight, or chevalier (unlimited). Napoleon himself
made some 48,000 nominations. Foreign recipients in
the classes higher than chevalier are supernumerary.
Promotion from a lower grade to a higher grade is
done according to the service performed in the lower.
However, extraordinary services may admit candidates
at once to any rank.
The changes in design of the insignia reflect the
vicissitudes of French history. Originally, the star
of the order depicted a crown surrounded by oak and
laurel wreaths with the head of Napoleon, while the
other side displayed an eagle holding a thunderbolt
with the motto emblazoned "Honneur et
Patrie" ("Honour and Country"). During
the first Restoration, Louis XVIII, in 1814, replaced
the head of Napoleon with that of King Henry IV of
France, and on the other side introduced the royal
fleur-de-lis emblem. Napoleon III, in 1870, restored
the original design, although he replaced the head of
Napoleon with the female head of the Republic. The
badge of the Legion depicts this head with the
inscription "République Française"; the
reverse side has a set of crossed tricolours with the
motto "Honneur et Patrie."
of Honor." Britannica Online.
[May 18, 1997]
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Please write to: Lewis P. Orans
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Last Modified: 10:10 AM on September 18, 1999