On This Day in Napoleonic History – 14 July 1804

14Legion of Honour is created

Legion of Honour was established, open to all social classes and aimed to award outstanding services to France. The first medals looked like five-pointed crosses with a red ribbon. The award that had ‘Honneur et Patrie’ as its motto came with a significant monetary stipend. The Legion was not limited to the army, however – civilians could also attain the honour if they could demonstrate military virtues.

The award was not universally popular, however. Republicans believed the Legion of Honours was akin to reintroduction of social distinctions and undermined revolutionary concept of equality. At the meeting of July 14, 10 out of 24 councilors present voted against the institution. Nine of them later accepted either the Cross or the title of Count.

Napoleon said to his critics, ‘You tell me that class distinctions are baubles used by monarchs. I defy you to show me a Republic, ancient or modern, in which distinctions have not existed. You call these medals and ribbons baubles. Well, it is with such baubles that men are led.’

Captain Blaze, an officer of the Imperial Guard, reminisced, ‘The Emperor Napoleon was often known to take off his cross of Legion of Honour and place it with his own hands on the bosom of a brave man. Louis XIV would first enquire if this brave man was noble. Napoleon asked if a noble was brave.’

Napoleon was right about the motivational power of the Legion, especially in the army, where it would inspire countless heroic actions.

Leave a Reply