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What is the Legion d'Honneur?
Legion d'Honneur - Monnaie De Paris
The medal is France's highest honour

Seven British veterans have been awarded the French Legion d'Honneur for their role in the country's liberation. But what is it?

The medal is France's top accolade for an elite group of people who distinguish themselves through civilian or military valour.

The award was initiated by the then First Consul of the French Republic, Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1802.

With no proper system of reward for merit, he wanted to re-establish the principle.

"If anything, the French...have but one feeling: honour. They thus need something with which to sustain these feeling: they need distinctions," declared the future Emperor.

First woman

The medal was part of a programme introduced by Napoleon to reorganise the nation, which also included a new civil code and the State Council.

He insisted such an honour should not be divided into military and civilian classes, so opened the award up to citizens.

The original four ranks awarded - legionnaire, officier, commandeur and grand officier - were extended to five with the grande decoration in 1805.

These were later changed to chevalier, officier, commandeur, grand officier and grand croix - ranks which remain today.

Other than extraordinary services, 25 years service was deemed necessary for both the military and civil sectors.

Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon said civilians and military were equal parts of one nation

Those chosen to enter the Legion d'Honneur were required to swear an oath, first to the Republic and then to the Emperor.

In 1803 Napoleon awarded the first insignia at an official ceremony.

Recipients included the naturalist Bernard de Lacepede.

Every time the French political system changed, the Ordre royal de la Legion d'Honneur had to adapt, but it retained its central characteristics.

In August 1851 the first woman, Marie-Angelique Brulon, was honoured within the rank of the chevaliers for her military services during the Revolution.

By the outbreak of World War II 200,000 people had received the honour, 60,000 of whom were civilians.

The number continued to grow until measures were taken to ensure its prestige was not lost.

A proposal to appoint someone to the Legion d'Honneur must be put forward by a government minister.

Overseas recipients do not have to conform to all the strict rules of accession that apply to the French.

Cities have also been decorated, including Belgrade in 1920 and Stalingrad in 1984.

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